How To Tell If That Rolling Stones LP In Your Attic Is Worth £1,000…

Rolling Stones debut cover

My copy of The Rolling Stones’ debut album. The change of colour on the left is where the laminate has peeled away slightly. Well, it is over 50 years old….

Or, Five Reasons Why You Should Buy The Rolling Stones’ First Album on Vinyl…

Or, part two of a quest to discover whether it’s worth buying those early Stones albums on vinyl… (Here’s part One)

Have you ever checked the Rare Record Price Guide (“RRPG”) prices of Stones LPs? They made me wince like I’d just smelled Keith Richards’ breath in his heyday.

  • Rolling Stones First Album: 1st pressing £1,000. 
  • Rolling Stones #2: £130
  • Out of Our Heads: £110
  • Aftermath: £110
  • Between The Buttons: £150 mono
  • Satanic Majesties: £200 mono

£1,000 for the first LP? Aside from the slight problem of not having that much cash, it did make me wonder: Why bother? They’re all on Spotify. Not only might they be highly underwhelming, but wasn’t it all a bit pointless buying original copies? Perhaps Chris was right?

Like the chap Thomas in the bible, I get these minor doubts pop up in my head from time to time. To resolve them, I pop down Spitalfields Record Fair. I can’t help thinking large parts of the New Testament might have had a happier spin if Thomas and a few of his friends had done the same. It never fails to energise the senses, as that unmistakeable smell of musty old record collectors fills the nostrils.

It turns out that you can buy copies of these records in very good condition for much less than £1,000…

Five out of six of the albums were secured over the course of three visits to Spitalfields and Southend Record Fairs. Total amount spent: a not-insignificant £80*, but all were early / “first” pressings. This left me with £20 to find “Satanic Majesties” which was admittedly a problem: I couldn’t find a copy anywhere for less than £40, which was ironic considering my preconception was that it was The Stones’ worst album of the sixties…

But buying the records was not the biggest task. I was reminded of my friend’s challenge: “Find the albums, listen to them, and then come back here and tell us why they aren’t just full of rubbish Chuck Berry covers.”

So here it is: Five Reasons Why You Should Buy The Rolling Stones’ First Album on Vinyl:

1. The copy in your loft might be worth £1,000. 

As we now know, record collectors value the very first pressings of records above all, because the fresher the “stampers” are that actually press the vinyl, the fresher the sound. “First” pressings of the UK release are all on a red/silver Decca ”ear” label (pictured below). There are, however, some differences between first pressings.

Rolling Stones debut Label decca

Here’s an “unboxed Decca label with “ears” (right)

The very first issue, which is the one that fetches big money plays a different version of that first Jagger / Richards composition “Tell Me” with a running time of 2:52. This edition is recognizable by the matrix number (printed between the label and where the grooves end) of side B: XARL 6272-1A.

Here's what a matric number looks like. Is it the one worth £1,000? Dammit, no.

XARL-6271-2A. Trainspotters alert. Here’s what a matrix number looks like. Is it the one worth £1,000? Dammit, no: One number out….

All later issues (with varying matrix numbers) play a different version of ”Tell Me” with a running time of 4:06, albeit there are five label variations and four cover variations in existence, making for twenty-one different versions of a “first pressing”.

You can get further information from the album’s page on Discogs, but check out that running time and matrix number whenever you see a copy of the record. Sleeves that credit the 4th track on side A as “Mona” (RRPG: £250 mint) rather than “I Need You Baby” (£130 mint) are also more highly valued amongst the cognoscenti, for no discernible reason other than it’s a slightly earlier pressing. Needless to say my copy was the latter, and although not mint, sounds great.

Still later pressings have a ”boxed” Decca logo on top of the label, these are considered second pressings, and are therefore a good option for those on tighter budgets.

Here's a "boxed" Decca label of Through The Past Darkly"

Here’s a “boxed” Decca label of Through The Past Darkly”

The concept of paying £900 extra to hear a shorter version of a song may appear odd to you. If it does, congratulations. It means you are normal.

2. The Songs Aren’t All Chuck Berry Covers:

Although there is a great version of “Carol”, technically “Route 66” is a Bobby Troup song originally recorded by Nat King Cole. The two best songs are, in fact covers of Muddy Waters and Slim Harpo songs.

“Would you let your daughter go with a Rolling Stone?” asked Andrew Loog Oldham’s famously provocative editorial. You can just imagine the consternation amongst Britain’s parents hearing the Stones’ version of the Muddy Waters / Willie Dixon classic “I Just Want To Make Love To You”. The Stones’ version isn’t as good as Muddy’s original, but gallops along at a good pace nevertheless.

Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee”, however, is perhaps the best song on the album- with a licentious vocal from Jagger that leaves the listener no doubt what Jagger had in mind when he sang of “buzzin’ round your hive”. The other stand out is “Can I Get A Witness”, the Holland-Dozier-Holland classic originally recorded by Marvin Gaye. The Stones don’t come within a million miles of Gaye’s version, but their faster paced version still rocks, and it’s a great song.

However, the cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do” is less laid back and, dare I say it, more bluesy than the original, more countrified version with some great harmonica playing. “Mona” stands up well to the original too, with Brian Jones embellishing the Bo Diddley sound with some style. On Solomon Burke’s “You Can Make If You Try” ** Jagger’s vocal merely pales into comparison, albeit The Stones deserve huge credit for unearthing such a great B-Side!

3. The front cover breaks new ground: 

On the cover, there’s no clue as to the name of the band. Think that Led Zeppelin were first to do this? Oh no. The Stones were the first pop group to omit the name of the band from the cover.*** Their faces are cast in shadow, in a move reminiscent of the cover of “With The Beatles”. On the reverse, Oldham’s sleeve notes tell us that “The Rolling Stones are more than a group. They are a way of life…”

A way of life....

A way of life….

4. The story behind the first Jagger / Richards composition: 

Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham knew The Beatles through having done some PR work for Brian Epstein. In late 1963, during a frustrating recording session at Studio 51 in Soho, when a follow up single to debut “Come On” was proving hard work, Oldham went for a walk in Jermyn Street, near Piccadilly. By chance, out of a taxi jumped Lennon and McCartney, on their way home from a variety club lunch. The boys asked Oldham why he was looking thoughtful.

“Oh, I’m fed up. The Stones can’t find a song to record.”

“Oh, we’ve got a song we’ve almost written. The Stones can record that if yer like”.

The song was “I Wanna Be Your Man”. John and Paul went back with Oldham to the studio where The Stones were still arguing, finished writing the song, and The Stones had their first top twenty hit. The ability of Lennon and McCartney to write a song at the drop of a hat was not lost on Jagger and Richards.

However, it took further “encouragement” before the songwriting came naturally. Needing material for their first album,  “Andrew Loog Oldham locked his two flatmates in the kitchen of their Willesden basement and threatened not to let them out until they had written a song” says Philip Norman in his biography of The Stones.

“Tell Me” was the result – not the greatest song you’ll ever hear, to be frank, but was the only Jagger/Richards song that made it onto the first LP.

5. The album best captures the early Stones R&B sound: 

The album, released in April 1964, sold 100,000 advance copies, knocking “With The Beatles” off top spot (albeit that had been released in the previous November). It stayed at number one for twelve weeks. This is the best document of why The Stones became so popular. We are effectively listening to the R&B set that The Stones played at The Crawdaddy Club in their earliest days. It also gives us a window into the R&B songs the Stones themselves admired.

The LP was released in the USA six weeks later, on 30th May 1964, and in a different form, as was customary at the time. The USA LP was titled “England’s Newest Hit Makers” and included third UK single “Not Fade Away” instead of “Mona”.

One way that vinyl can work with the likes of Spotify is by using the latter to discover the music that inspired The Stones. So here’s a playlist of the original songs that The Rolling Stones covered. It’s every bit as good, and in many cases a little better than the actual LP.

I reported back to Chris. One album down, and some great reasons why a) this is a great album and b) why it’s worth getting on vinyl:  It’s a potential goldmine, it has great songs, a great cover, there’s a great story behind it and it’s a brilliant historical document.

One down, five to go…

* I managed to pay the following prices:
The Rolling Stones £12.50 (2a 4a matrix)
Rolling Stones No 2 £20
Out of Our Heads £12.50 
Aftermath £20
Between The Buttons £15

** And Rufus Thomas’ “Walking The Dog” for that matter

 *** Fully expecting lots of comments from people with earlier examples on this one…


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19 replies

  1. Through a feat of synchronicity worthy of tantric lovemeister Sting, I too have recently begun to replace my Stones CDs with the vinyl versions. Stupidly I flogged off my LPs in the 90’s when I convinced myself that the CD versions sound better. They don’t. I will be buying through Discogs and Ebay and probably filling the gaps with new pressings. Good luck with your quest and I cant wait for your review of Satanic Majesties.(It’s hard to find anything worthwhile on that stinker. In the wise words of the kids from Grange Hill, ‘Just say no’.)

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    • Yes, you may be right – and I can’t find a copy of it either – it is very pricey. I did a similar thing with my vinyl in the early nineties, but I am not so much replacing my old records as buying different ones. I was more likely to own an Aerosmith LP than a Stones LP in my teens.

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  2. Oooooooh nice one! You SO have me wanting to save my pennies, ship them to you, and send you shopping! I can’t even begin to imagine what shops here would charge for their first LP – if they even had one (unlikely). It’d be A LOT more than you paid, though! Well done!

    My best score, here (and several years ago), was my VG+ copy of Exile, with post cards intact (never separated), for $14. It’s the one in my Gravatar pic. I was so happy to get that one.

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  3. I have been previously amazed by quoted values of Aftermath amongst others but having just read your very interesting article I put on my anorak and went and fetched out my copy of the Stones first album which, if I remember rightly I bought from my mate Dave when he was selling all his Lps in around 1969 to fund a holiday. I have XARL-6271-2A and it lists Mona and not I Need You Baby. I wish I could tell Dave I got a bargain but sadly he left us over twenty years ago. I also bought his With The Beatles as an ex girl friend of mine had borrowed it and I never got it back!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well, admittedly he was not a pop [i]group[/i]. But the earliest pop album I can think of that omitted the artist’s name from the front cover was Frank Sinatra’s [i]Swing Easy![/i], released in 1954 a full ten years prior to the Stones LP.

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  5. You make a strong argument. But for me your Spotify playlist undercuts the basic premise. I’ve never had a quibble with the Stones taste. I just find the originals unassailable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have a lot of time for that point of view. In so many cases that’s absolutely right, especially on the earliest albums – the Stones are a shadow of the originals. Hopefully there are one or two where I have indicated, where they make a decent fist of things, and I give them much credit for turning me on to these original acts.

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  6. I helped my dad move house at the weekend and as he is downsizing he gave me all his old records.
    He told me that this album might be worth a fair penny so i took a picture of it last night on my phone.
    I’m at work at the moment and haven’t got a picture of side B to check the matrix number, but, side A has got the ‘ears’ and the Decca logo is not in a box. Fingers crossed it’s a first pressing i’ll let you know in 8 hours when i get home.

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  7. I have just helped my dad move house. As he is downsizing he gave me all his old LP’s one of which being The Rolling Stones. He told me it might be worth a fair penny so i took a picture of it on my phone last night.
    Unfortunately i only have an image of side one so can’t tell you the matrix number. It has the ‘ear’ mark and The Decca logo isn’t in a box. There are some differences to the label on mine, for instance the top of the label only states ‘Made in England’ and a few different marks on the left hand side. I’m at work at the moment but I’ll hopefully update this post in 8 hours.

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  8. Except for a handful of songs, when Brian Jones died so did The Rolling Stones.
    They should have renamed themselves “The Glitter Twins”.

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  9. Hate to sound a little smug but the first LP I could afford to buy in the second hand record shop in Argyll Street in Glasgow when I was a student was a 1A/1A first pressing of this. It cost me 25/-. I had no idea why my LP was different from everyone else’s copy. Then I found out and after all these years still have it in pretty reasonable condition. The track I didn’t like was ‘Tell Me’; my favourites, Mona, Route 66 and King Bee. My father had bought me a Bang and Olafson turntable when I was ill for a couple of months and the sound was fantastic. Makes downloads rather sad by comparison.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi. I have The Rolling Stones first album. Except the corner right top says London not Decca. The KARL is engraved in album.
    What is the difference. What do u think the value is. Good condition.

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  11. I suppose I’m quiet lucky I have all the early Rolling Stone’s LP’s, I bought some myself, when
    I started work 1962-63,a lot were birthday presents, must check the label’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I have just got my hands on the Stones debut album and side one does have the 1A prefix, side two has 4A. Does this mean it’s a first pressing?
    Thanks

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