Should You Buy Nineties Vinyl?


and a discussion of Record Collector’s Logic.

Also: The Great R.E.M. CD / Vinyl Hunt…

  • Have we reached peak vinyl?
  • Should we all pile in to CDs now the price is a tiny fraction of the cost of vinyl? 
  • Is nineties vinyl going to be a great investment?
  • Or would we all be better off just listening on Spotify?

In this post, we’ll discuss nineties vinyl and look at how easy or difficult it is/was to find R.E.M.’s back catalogue, and see whether it is worth the effort. 

With no R.E.M. albums to my name, I began my search about a year ago: March 2016, at Spitalfields Record Fair, where a copy of Document popped up for just £5. It felt like such a bargain. Surely R.E.M. albums weren’t all that cheap?

They weren’t, but in April I did find a copy of Out of Time for £10 in a shop called Bulldog Records in Bletchley, near Milton Keynes. 

In May I found Green for £7 in Carmel Records, Southend, and in the same month, Reckoning for £10 at the Southend Record Fair. 


That was four albums for £32 – an average of just £8 each. 

In July I found a lovely copy of Automatic For The People for £25 ( I haggled) at Southend Record Fair. 

It was £25, so I used Record Collector’s Logic to justify the purchase. 

You may or may not be familiar with Record Collector’s Logic. It is an excellent formula used to justify expensive purchases. Research has shown that almost all record collectors use it. 

It goes like this: 

Q. How much does the record cost?

A. £25

Q. If I buy another record costing £5, what is the average price of the two records?

A. £30

Q. So how much does the first record really cost?

A. (Using Record Collector’s Logic) £15.

An instant saving of £10!

I thought about that £5 copy of Document and figured the two came to £15 each. It made the £25 cost seem so much more palatable. 

Document still cost £5, of course…

Formulae are useful in life. Here’s another you may find useful:

R = D-1

This flexible and adaptable formula is used to calculate the maximum number of things (record players, records or indeed bicycles, cats etc) that one may safely keep in one’s collection.

In the formula, R equals the maximum number of records (or turntables, cats etc) that one may have in a collection, and D is the number of records or turntables (or cats) in your collection that, were you to own that many, would result in your loved one divorcing you. 

So long as you always have one less (D-1) than that fateful step, that’s the maximum you are allowed to have in your collection. 

I digress. 

For six months I then failed to spot a single R.E.M. album that I didn’t own, or that was in decent condition. A drier spell than that of a man whose wife has found his name on the Ashley Madison website. 

And then just when I was losing hope, in January of this year I popped into my local second hand record shop (Leigh Records) just as someone had apparently sold their entire collection of R.E.M. albums and there were half a dozen of the things in immaculate condition including Fables of The Reconstruction for £10, a collection called Eponymous for £15 and Life’s Rich Pageant for £20, which felt a bit eye watering, but it was very clean and the record collector instinct in me knew you don’t flinch when there’s three together like that. It was like the old adage of waiting around for ages for a bus only for three to come along all at once, only the wait was six months, so more like if Southern Rail were running a bus service. 

After this stroke of good fortune all I had left to find of the classic IRS run was the debut album Murmur, which I felt might be tricky and expensive, and then the ’90s run of albums from Monster onwards which would be merely nose-bleedingly expensive. 

As luck would have it, and much to the detriment of any tension in this story, just two weeks later Leigh Records had Murmur, and for just £5.

I rejoiced, like any self respecting record collector nowadays would: by bragging about it on Instagram:

I have no idea why that was £5 and Life’s Rich Pageant was £20, or why Murmur wasn’t there the first time. It was as though Leigh on Sea had effected an R.E.M. Vinyl Amnesty and people had started handing in their record collections. Sometimes it’s best not to think too deeply about Life’s Big Questions. 

And then came Monster. 

The follow up to “Automatic…”, Monster was released in 1994, just as vinyl sales were beginning a decade long trough of sales (sales of vinyl albums fell from a peak of 1.1 billion worldwide in 1981 to 109 million in 1993 and just 33 million in 1995. By 1997, they were down to 17 million, and plunged as low as 3 million in 2006). 

Despite it selling in decent quantities, in line with many albums released in the nineties, most sales of Monster were of CDs. The vinyl run was not large and due to R.E.M.’s enduring popularity there is high demand for the album on vinyl. On the record collector catalogue and trading site Discogs, the last ten sales of the album have averaged £45.77, with a highest price of £61. 

So when I saw it at Southend Record Fair for £35 it felt like a fair price – notwithstanding the £1 price for a CD in a charity shop and the fact that £35 for a single album is a huge sum of money in itself – it’s funny how value is relative – and I snapped it up. 

Nineties vinyl is an odd thing. It’s expensive now – often upwards of £40 for anything remotely popular – but the recordings were often not analogue, so there is far less of an audiophile argument for collecting the first pressings of nineties vinyl as there might be for analogue-only early pressings of, say, Nick Drake or Led Zeppelin. In the case of Nick Drake the original tapes have degraded so there really can be a discernible difference in an old pressing of Drake’s debut album and a newer copy. Digital recordings don’t degrade the same way analogue recordings can, so there ought not be any discernible difference in quality between one digital recording and another. The desirability of an album is therefore purely an issue of owning an original and / or of scarcity. 

And interestingly, when nineties albums are reissued, there is evidence the price of the originals does comes down. The best time to buy an original copy of an old album is just after a reissue. 

For example, when The Black Crowes’ Southern Harmony and Musical Companion was reissued last year, original copies stopped selling for £40 and fell to around £25 – not that much more than the reissue. Last year, HMV released a pink vinyl 500 copy only run of Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque, and now you can buy original copies of the album for £25-£30 instead of £50. In contrast, Teenage Fanclub’s subsequent album, Grand Prix, has not been reissued and might set you back £120. 

If you had taken leave of your senses, obviously. 

On the other hand, despite a recent reissue, a copy of the 1994 original Definitely Maybe LP by Oasis on Creation will set you back upwards of £75. In this case, the comparative scarcity of the debut album relative to the popularity of Oasis means there is a sufficient market of people who want “the original” to push the price up. 

Other britpop albums now fetch £40-£50, including Elastica’s debut (with poster and flexi-single), albeit it will be interesting to see what happens to the price of original copies after this year’s Record Store Day re-issue (which includes the flexi-disc). Pulp’s Different Class meanwhile regularly reaches over £100 mainly because re-issues don’t have the same “cut out window” that features in the original album. 

Nothing to do with how the record sounds. Indeed, original copies of previous album “His ‘N’ Hers” are still more than double the price (£53 average) of a double vinyl re-issue (£24) despite the latter featuring an extra track: hit single “Babies” on the album proper and having an extra LP of b-sides and rarities. The re-issue is a demonstrably better LP to own – and is cheaper!

Record collecting logic, eh?

So is it worth picking up R.E.M. Albums on vinyl? 

My conclusion is this: the eighties albums are relatively inexpensive – I paid £92 for everything up to Automatic For The People – an eight album stretch – which is a bargain. The packaging isn’t always breathtaking – Fables and Murmur don’t even have a printed inner sleeve – R.E.M. weren’t really a “lavish gatefold sleeve” kind of band. There doesn’t appear to be any quirky “collectors items” out there. No variant sleeves, fan club inserts or “loud” pressings such as you might find with Beatles or Bowie vinyl. 

The nineties albums? These are now not great value – they are too expensive for anyone other than their biggest fans, so it’s worth waiting for a reissue, either to buy new or to see if the price of original copies falls.  

So why buy the albums on vinyl? 

I came to the realisation it is this: that I have liked R.E.M.’s music for years, but I have never taken time out to really listen to the back catalogue. For nearly thirty years I have *not* listened to R.E.M. very much. 

It seems that buying a few albums has given me a reason to play R.E.M.’s music. I spent money on it. And that made me want to get my money’s worth. 

Mainly because I’m tight like that.

Streaming services are great, but can make us lazy. Stumbling across a record spurs me on to actually play the thing properly. To get into it. To play it multiple times rather than moving on to the next thing. And as a result, I have a collection of R.E.M. records that I bought inexpensively enough that they will always be worth at least what I paid for them and which even if they don’t appreciate in value, I will appreciate all the more – which is what it’s all about, right?

And to top it all, I also have the upside of a CD of “New Adventures…” that can’t be worth any less, and which might just be worth squirrelling away just in case CDs become retrospectively and unfathomably popular again…



Categories: Music

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30 replies

  1. Thanks for the interesting articles again! The Q&A Record Collector’s Logic is very familiar to me, somehow you keep justifying this way. The article also proves my point why I collect vinyl. When someone again asks me why I do that, as I could have all the music I want on Spotify, I probably will direct them to this article…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “A drier spell than that of a man whose wife has found his name on the Ashley Madison website” – what a phrase!

    It sounds like you got all of the ones truly worth owning (i.e. the earlier ones) relatively cheaply. The later ones…meh. Anything post “New Adventues…” I’m not sure I’d bother with. Document – probably my favourite R.E.M. album, if not then its “Life’s Rich Pageant” – for a fiver is a bargain.

    I speak as a man who bought a new turntable a year or so ago, dug his vinyl out of storage and found that much of it had disappeared, including all of my R.E.M. vinyl (and all my original Smiths Rough Trade releases) had vanished, and who is currently in the process of trying to seek out vinyl copies to replenish the vaults.

    You’ve given me hope. And a very useful formula. Cheers!

    (PS – “Eponymous” is an IRS singles compilation, not one of B-sides)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. An interesting thing about 90’s vinyl is you had cutting engineers in America like bob ludwig.. Doug sax.. or tim white over here in england, who from lots of work in the previous decade would have been finely tuned at their game in the 1990’s..

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great reading again, thank you.

    The chance of buying an original Bowie or Beatles always outweighs the reissue for me. I recently paid an, admittedly slightly knocked down price as I know the shop owner, of $40AUS for an original Diamond Dogs when I had the choice of $30 on a reissue in the same store.

    Like

  5. Great article (as usual). I find myself in a similar position collecting vinyl of a particular band I didn’t particularly follow in earnest before vinyl took hold of me again.

    In the past couple of years I have found myself drawn towards collecting McCartney’s solo albums, Wings albums (the band the Beatles could have been according to Alan Partridge) and more recently Roxy Music. This seems to come about when I find one or two in nice condition at a fair and it’s seems wrong to leave them there. Before you know it I’ve written their discography on my phone and it becomes an obsession to collect the back catalogue.

    I’m now only two away from completing Wings (although my copy of Venus and Mars is missing the posters). As I found Flesh and Blood and Manifesto for next to nowt recently I’m now on the trail of decent Roxy pressings (not the pricey reissues of course).

    Can you next write an article about my other affliction – rationalising buying copies of albums you already own on vinyl several times over (I now have Aladdin Sane four times and can only think it is like finding an abandoned puppy on the street).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha ha! I know exactly what you are talking about – I know a few people who buy multiple copies of their favourite albums, myself included.
      Well, you can’t just leave them there on their own like that can you?
      As for Aladdin Sane, that was one of my multiple copy purchases – I looked for the fan club insert when they were a fiver or less and found two such copies. One I kept and the other, well – have you seen the price of Bowie vinyl nowadays?

      Like

      • I do this for New Gold Dream by Simple Minds. I have the US marbled edition and a couple of UK versions. I even bought on on the day my friends record store opened, it was in good nick and put money in his till. And a prized Yugoslavian edition with an alternative cover (the religious symbology didn’t sit well in 1982).

        Liked by 1 person

    • Roxy Music is always worth finding – especially for the first half dozen LPs with (for those that had them) pink rim Island pressings, which crop up inexpensively from time to time. And great albums of course.

      Like

      • Thanks. I’ll bear that in mind as I continue my quest.

        I forgot about my Kate Bush completist adventure last year. I’d already got hold of her albums up to The Dreaming (which had only cost me £3). I spotted Hounds of Love and Sensual World for a tenner each in a local shop but had no further funds. The following week they were still there and as I was checking them out the shop owner misread this as hesitation and offered them to me for 3 for a fiver, to which I added a decent copy of Wings London Town. A good day all round.

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  6. Monster is a fantastic album. Love how they just ramped up the guitars back on that album…
    This was a great read by the way!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Love the post. I have been trying to find some 90’s albums on vinyl from Def Leppard…notably Adrenalize, Retroactive and Slang and they are so hard to come by. I can buy them online in VG condition, but they are really expensive. Slang and a retroactive are both around $100 at time and I can’t spend that much. I hope to one day at a decent price. Since I already have the albums in other formats, it isn’t crucial that I have them now.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. $100 for a (not at their peak) Def Leppard album sounds too much for me! I’m sure it’ll get a re-release before too long.

    Like

  9. Record Collector’s Logic. Oh man, this is my life! GREAT POST!

    Also, I totally hear you on the 90s vinyl. There’s a Van Morrison LP I reeeeeeeallllly want but I can never find it cheap, even online. It was 1993’s Too Long In Exile, 2LP gatefold. I’ve NEVER seen one in the wild, and most copies online are priced high even though they have scratches, etc.

    It’s on my grail list, anyway, becsause I don’t live in a town that has decent record shoppes. And even then, this one never turns up. GAH!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I should mention why I want that damn Van Morrison record: It’s kind of my lovely wife and I’s album, from the really days of our dating. A weird choice, I know, but that’s how life goes!

    I do have the CD of it, so we can hear it whenever we want, but of course the LP is so appealing, and then make it hard to get and then my Record Collector Life takes over with obsession…

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Record Collector’s Logic sounds like something I should start using to justify the purchase of some of the more expensive albums on my Discogs list…

    Anyhoo, congratulations on finding the R.E.M. LPs. I tend not to see any in the wild but would likely pick up a few of the early albums if I did. I currently only have Green and the only other WB album I’d want to pick up would be Monster, but I’m not really all that keen on spending the £50 or so I’d need to.

    As for 90’s vinyl, I only own 4 slices (Burning Tree, Cell’s Slo Blo, American Music Club’s Mercury, and Pearl Jam’s Vs). Few others have been on my list for a helluva long time, but I’ve found that waiting for a reissue is a good idea (everything tends to be getting reissued). As you pointed out, the price of the original falls but, from what I gather the reissues tend to be mastered really well given the whole analogue / digital shenanigans (Pearl Jam’s No Code was, according to the hype sticker, mastered for vinyl for the first time).

    Anyhoo, a great read as always. Happy record hunting!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Just wondering what deck/equipment you have? – my old Pioneer sits forlornly in the attic collecting dust, so I’m looking at buying a new deck and wondered if you or your listeners had any recommendations =)

    Like

    • Hello Polly. It’s a good question, and depends on your budget. When I bought a new set up five or six years ago, I bought a Rega turntable (like the RSD themed one you can buy on Saturday). I had a Rega deck thirty years ago – sold it when I sold all my vinyl in the early ’90s – but always liked it and wished I had kept it!
      I then bought a new (but budget priced) Denon amp for just over £100 and bought used speakers off eBay for £80.
      That would be my recommendation, but it all depends on money of course!

      Like

  13. Wish you had told me about R=D-1 15 years ago….. bit late now…. sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I like the point you made about streaming services making us lazy. There is a beauty in the ritual of playing a great vinyl record. Streaming – and mp3’s, for that matter- have made it way too easy to skip songs to the hits; the importance of the album as a whole has been lost. There is artistic reasoning behind musicians presenting those specific songs as a compilation; I miss the love of the album!

    Great formula and excellent article. I will definitely wait for reissued albums before buying. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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