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 a year long search 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 within a month I did find a copy of Out of Time for £10 in a shop called Bulldog Records in Bletchley, near Milton Keynes.
A few weeks later I found Green for £7 in Carmel Records, Southend, and in the same month, Reckoning for £10 at the Southend Record Fair.
After another two months 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?
Q. If I buy another record costing £5, what is the average price of the two records?
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.
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, 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, in 2022, the price averaged 40, with a highest price of £80. In 2016, before the 2019 repress, the average price was slightly higher, at £45.
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 quite high 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 after a reissue.
For example, when The Black Crowes’ Southern Harmony and Musical Companion was reissued, original copies stopped selling for £40 and fell to around £25 – not that much more than the reissue. Before Teenage Fanclub reissued Grand Prix in 2018, original copies of that album fetched £120. Originals in 2022 attract average prices of around £45.
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 of £160, whereas in 2016 the average price was £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), unchanged by the release of a Record Store Day re-issue (which includes the flexi-disc and which fetches around the same price!). Pulp’s Different Class meanwhile regularly reaches over £200 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…