Bootleg Records – Live, Unreleased, and ROIR Albums

Bootleg Records – What Are They?

Bootleg records have been around for decades, but a lot of collectors don’t know much about them, and perhaps have never seen one. In the strictest sense, a bootleg record is an album that has been pressed and released by a third party who has no relationship with the recording artist or the artist’s record company and which has been released with neither the knowledge or approval of either. Bootleg records may be released as a tribute to the artist by fans, but it’s most common for them to be sold as for-profit products.
beatles kum back bootleg album

The term ROIR is sometimes used to describe bootleg records with the term meaning, “Records Of Indeterminate Origin.” This is an accurate description, as the records themselves rarely accurately list who manufactured them or where they were made.

This isn’t surprising, as bootleg records have long been illegal in most western countries.

In this article, we’ll discuss the definitions and origins of bootleg records, provide examples of some of the better known ones, and explain why bootleg records hold interest for record collectors.

You can browse our selection of unauthorized/live/ROIR records here.

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Definition of Bootleg Records
Bootleg Records History
Types of Bootleg Records
Packaging
Trademark of Quality Label
Other Bootleg Record Labels
Artist and Record Company Responses
Conclusion

You can browse our selection of unauthorized/live/ROIR records here.

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What Are Bootleg Records?

bootleg records - great white wonder
An early Bob Dylan “Great White Wonder” LP

Bootleg records are singles or albums that have been pressed and distributed with neither the knowledge or permission of the recording artist or their record company. Bootleg records have traditionally been sold to earn a profit for those who manufacture them and to fill voids in the marketplace by providing recorded material by popular artists that is not available through legitimate, licensed recordings.

While the manufacture of bootleg recordings is illegal in most Western countries, copyright laws in the 1960s and 1970s were less strict than they are today, and at one time, bootleg records were so common as to be found in the bins in chain record stores and major department stores.

Most bootleg records contain either previously unreleased studio material or live, “in concert” recordings. Occasionally, bootleg records have compiled rare or otherwise hard to find legitimately released material, though such compilation albums comprise a small percentage of the bootleg market. Historically, most bootleg records have been live recordings, as those are the easiest type of unreleased material to obtain.

The term “bootleg records” is sometimes applied to any unauthorized record, including counterfeit records, which are copies of legitimate releases that are created to fool the buyer into thinking that they are buying an authorized release, and pirate records, which are unauthorized pressings that contain previously released legitimate recordings.

Strictly speaking, the term “bootleg records” only applies to unauthorized releases of previously unreleased material and not pirate or counterfeit pressings. (new window)

Bootleg Records History

The Rolling Stones "Live R Than You'll Ever Be"
The Rolling Stones “Live R Than You’ll Ever Be”

Bootleg records have been around since at least the 1930s; there are numerous 78 RPM records in existence that are unauthorized. It’s quite possible that there were also bootleg recordings available in the cylinder record era, though record keeping from the early 20th century regarding copyright is a bit vague.

The term “bootleg records” is most commonly used, however, to describe unauthorized pressings issued starting in the late 1960s, when various individuals discovered that the copyright laws then in existence did not prohibit anyone from releasing previously unreleased live or studio recordings by any artists of their choosing.

The first of the modern bootleg records was a two record set of previously unreleased music by Bob Dylan. The album was originally released without a title and issued in a plain white cover. This album became known as “Great White Wonder,” and was soon released under that title, with the title rubber-stamped onto an otherwise plain white cover.

Sales figures are unknown, but the album is believed to have sold upwards of ten thousand copies. Of course, with copyright laws not applying to such releases, Great White Wonder soon became copied by other bootleg manufacturers, and the album has since appeared in a multitude of configurations, on black vinyl and colored vinyl, and with and without properly printed covers.

Shortly thereafter, an album by the Beatles called Kum Back appeared in stores, containing material from the then-unreleased Let It Be recording sessions. At this time, numerous FM radio stations around the country began playing both Kum Back and Great White Wonder on the air, and this helped sales tremendously.

bootleg records with paper insert cover
An example of a bootleg record with a paper insert, rather than a printed cover. Note the plain label.

A third title that attracted a lot of attention at that time was a release by the Rolling Stones called Live R Than You’ll Ever Be, which contained recordings from the band’s 1969 American tour. This album, in a rubber stamped white cover, sold so well that it encouraged the Rolling Stones’ record company to release a legitimate live album from the tour in order to take advantage of what was obviously large market demand.

It may seem odd today, but at the time, these three titles and a few others that popped up shortly thereafter were often available in mainstream record stores. We know a collector who bought his copy of Kum Back at a Sears store in Texas when the album was first released.

Over the next few years, hundreds, if not thousands, of bootleg records appeared on the market from a variety of manufacturers.

fake label
A “fake” label. This record plays music by Fleetwood Mac

In the earliest days of bootleg records, most releases had plain covers and plain labels. This was due to the fact that record companies who were pressing these albums were reluctant to put printed labels on the discs, due to their dubious legality. Similarly, print shops that printed album covers for record pressing plants weren’t too eager to manufacture covers for albums which were, even then, technically illegal.

Over the next decade, bootleg records appeared on the market with blank labels, printed labels that correctly listed the name of the artist and song titles, and “fake” labels that listed a nonexistent artist and fabricated song titles. These labels likely came from manufacturing plants that were under contract to major record companies; if someone from a major label happened to stop by the pressing plant, they wouldn’t pay much attention to an album by Bruce Dillon, even though that album might actually play music by Fleetwood Mac!

Types of Bootleg Records

Bootleg records generally fall into three categories:

  • Live recordings – Live, “in concert” recordings probably comprise 80% of the market for bootleg records. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, these tapes were usually acquired by individuals who managed to sneak tape recorders into concert halls in order to surreptitiously record the performances. These so-called “audience tapes” are of varying quality, with some being quite good and others bordering on the unlistenable.Many bootleg records from the mid-1970s were sourced from FM broadcasts, as radio stations often had access to live recordings, including those from syndicated radio programs such as the King Biscuit Flour Hour. The quality of these recordings is generally excellent and virtually the equal of authorized live albums.Other live recordings have been obtained from crew members who worked on the mixing console at the concerts, as many artists have long recorded most or all of their performances.These recordings are usually intended for the artists’ own use, but sometimes employees made copies of them and made those available to bootleggers.
  • Previously unreleased studio recordings – While previously unreleased studio recordings comprise a relatively small percentage of bootleg albums, they’re highly sought after by collectors, who are often interested in obtaining everything they can by artists they follow. Such recordings are relatively hard to obtain, and usually come from record company employees, either directly or indirectly.The Bob Dylan Great White Wonder set, the Beatles Kum Back and the Beatles Ultra Rare Trax series are good examples of bootleg records that contain unreleased studio material. In the case of the Ultra Rare Trax series, the quality of the recordings was the equal of commercially released Beatles albums, as the source material reportedly came directly from the vaults of their own record company.Another Beatles title, Sessions contained recordings for a planned Beatles album of songs they’d recorded but never released that was to have been released in 1985. For various reasons, the project was canceled, but cassette tapes of the unreleased album, made for internal record company use, found their way into the hands of bootleggers, and shortly thereafter, an unauthorized album called Sessions appeared on the collector market.
  • Collections of previously released (but rare) material – While the market for bootleg records usually seeks out previously unreleased material, a few titles have included rare, previously released recordings. These might be singles that were long out of print, obscure B-sides of singles, or recordings that were previously issued only as promotional releases that were not intended for sale to the public.Two examples of such releases would The Complete Christmas Collection by the Beatles, which contained material that was previously only available on records sold through the Beatles Fan Club, and The Paul Simon Solo Album, which was a reissue of a 1965 LP by Paul Simon that was never released in the United States.

Packaging of Bootleg Records

william stout
Trademark of Quality LP with William Stout artwork

While packaging of bootleg records was initially minimalist, with plain white covers and blank labels, competition quickly emerged in the industry and that led to better quality, if still untraditional, packaging. While many covers still had rubber stamped titles, those covers were often available in color. Printed covers soon followed from a few manufacturers, and some manufacturers, notably the Trademark of Quality (TMOQ) label and K&S records, pressed most of their records on colored vinyl.

Printed covers and colored vinyl helped spur sales, especially since few commercially available records in the early 1970s were available on colored vinyl. Albums that had rubber stamped covers began to include printed paper inserts that listed the artist, album title and song titles (and sometimes, the source of the material inside.)

A few titles had somewhat more elaborate packaging. When the company that printed the hardcover tour book for Blind Faith’s only U.S. tour found themselves with thousands of leftover programs at the end of the tour, a bootlegger bought a number of them and packaged them in a box along with a live recording from that tour.

A 10 disc package of Beatles outtakes from the Let It Be sessions was released in the mid-1980s, with every one of the discs on colored vinyl and with the entire set packaged inside a box that resembled those in which theatrical films are shipped. A late 1980s Led Zeppelin set called The Final Option contained 70 records, all on colored vinyl, and was packaged inside a heavy acrylic box.

These sorts of packages are unusual; most of the bootleg records made in the 1970s had simple covers and paper inserts. Most of the titles released in the 1980s had printed covers, though many still included either blank labels or labels with fake information.

Trademark of Quality Label

Various labels used by Trademark of Quality
Various labels used by Trademark of Quality

As the market for bootleg records grew in the early 1970s, a few manufacturers decided that establishing a brand identity might be good for business. While a number of companies attempted to do so, perhaps the most famous of them was the Trademark of Quality label, which is often abbreviated as TMOQ (or less frequently, TMQ.)

The Trademark of Quality label was started by two individuals from California, “Dub” Taylor and Ken Douglas They were the creators of the original Great White Wonder album, and they used their profits from that project to create their own record company.

Trademark of Quality releases included more than 150 titles that included live material, unreleased studio material and a few titles containing previously released (but hard to find) material. The earliest titles in the TMOQ catalog had rubber stamped covers (though most were color covers with stamped titles and paper inserts) and simple labels with either a number (“1” or “2”) or a drawing of a pig on them (either a “sideways” pig on early releases or the face of a pig smoking a cigar on later ones. A few later titles had printed covers with artwork by now-famous artist William Stout and printed labels that included both the name of the artist and song titles.

Most of the titles released by the Trademark of Quality label, which was in business from 1970 to 1976, were released on colored vinyl. Often, the first pressings of a given title were on colored vinyl, with subsequent pressings on regular black vinyl. For a few titles, a handful of copies were pressed on multicolored vinyl. Pressings on the Trademark of Quality label were highly regarded among collectors, as the vinyl itself was of good quality as was the source material of most of their releases.

The latter was an important factor, as the quality control in the overall manufacture of bootleg records was somewhat shoddy. Some companies used poor quality vinyl and often, equally poor quality recordings. Buyers rarely knew what they were going to get when they bought bootleg records, but most of the titles released by the Trademark of Quality label offered good recordings and good sound quality.

Because of this, the Trademark of Quality label is quite collectible today. Most of the material they released over the years has never been made available through legitimate sources, and 40+ years later, most of their titles are quite hard to find. Titles by major artists such as Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd often sell for several hundred dollars, and some titles, particularly those on multicolored vinyl, occasionally sell for more than $1000.

Earlier pressings, with the large “1” or “2” on the labels, tend to sell for more money than the later pressings with either the sideways pig or the still-later “smoking” pig. The two different pig designs came about after Ken and Dub decided to part ways. Each of them continued to press titles under the Trademark of Quality name, but each used their own version of the label.

A label formed in the 1980s that was also known for high quality releases with finely printed color covers and colored vinyl records was a label from Europe called Swinging Pig. This name was an homage to the Trademark of Quality label.

Other Bootleg Record Labels

K&S records on multicolor "splatter" vinyl
A title from K&S records on multicolor “splatter” vinyl

Ken Douglas of Trademark of Quality fame formed another well-known and highly regarded bootleg records label in the mid-1970s called The Amazing Korneyfone Record Label, or TAKRL, as it is known among collectors. This company released about the same number of titles as the TMOQ label.

TAKRL used printed, black and white covers, along with some that were plain white covers with printed paper inserts. As far as we known, all of the titles on the Korneyfone label were pressed on black vinyl.

Other labels of note in the 1970s were the Rubber Dubber label, which released a few titles with rubber stamped covers, Idle Mind Productions and K&S records. Both Idle Mind and K&S tended to use plain white covers with paper title inserts, though both released many titles on colored vinyl.

Many of the titles on the K&S label were pressed on beautiful, multicolored “splatter” vinyl. As this label was based in Canada, many of their records were reportedly seized by Customs officials during shipment to the United States. As a result, many K&S titles are quite hard to find today, though they’re sought out by collectors due to their attractive multicolored pressings.

Artist and Record Company Responses

Not surprisingly, record companies and the artists themselves were largely not happy about the exploding market for bootleg records, as they weren’t making money from their sales and they had no control over either content or quality. In a few cases, the official response to a bootleg release was to issue a similar legitimate one.

mccartney wings from the wings
“Wings from the Wings” – pressed on red, white and blue “Bicentennial” vinyl

When Live R Than You’ll Ever Be was released in December, 1969, the Rolling Stones’ label, Decca Records, responded by releasing the official Get Your Ya-Yas Out not long after. Reportedly, the bootleg recording had sold in excess of 250,000 copies, though exact sales figures remain unknown.

An Elton John concert from November, 1970 that had originally been broadcast on FM radio was released by a number of bootleggers under a variety of titles. The official response was to simply release the concert legitimately, and the resulting album was Elton John’s first “official” live album titled 17-11-70 (or 11-17-70 in the United States.)

Swinging Pig label
An example of a title on the Swinging Pig label

After Paul McCartney and Wings toured the United States in 1976 a three record set, pressed on red, white, and blue vinyl appeared with the title Wings From the Wings. This led to the official release of an authorized set, Wings Over America, which featured almost identical content.

The biggest response to the boom in the sales of bootleg records came from the United States Congress, which passed stricter copyright laws in 1976. This greatly reduced the number of bootleg records being produced, and numerous record stores stopped selling them, due to fear of being arrested for copyright violations.

While production of bootleg records declined in the United States in the 1980s, it increased in Europe, where copyright laws differ. A number of companies produced high quality pressings, often with color covers and colored vinyl, throughout the 1980s.

By the end of the decade, most manufacturing of bootleg records had come to a halt, as the industry moved towards compact discs.

Bootleg Records Conclusion

Bootleg records remain popular with collectors today, as they offer a number of things that draw collector interest. Most of them offer recorded material that is otherwise not available via the artists’ legitimate releases, and many of them were pressed on colored vinyl or even as picture discs, which are two features that always draw collector interest.

The Trademark of Quality label is collectible in its own right, and some titles are available from that label in a variety of configurations – black vinyl, colored vinyl, multicolored vinyl, and so on. Prices for bootleg records on that label that sold for as little as $4 when new now approach hundred, and sometimes even thousands, of dollars.

While not all record collectors are interested in bootleg records, and not all artists are represented by them, they remain an interesting area of record collecting.

You can browse our selection of unauthorized/live/ROIR records here.

Acetates and Test Pressings – Souvenirs of Record Production

Acetates and Test Pressings – What Are They?

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailacetates Example of an acetate label[/caption]

Most record collectors, like any other buyers of phonograph records, are primarily interested in commercial releases; that is, copies of records that were manufactured with the intention that they be sold at retail to the public. These are the kinds of records that are likely to comprise the bulk of anyone’s record collections

Serious collectors are usually interested in owning just about anything and everything produced by artists that they admire, and unusual items such as acetate pressings (also known as “acetates” or “lacquers”) or test pressings. These are records or components of record production that were manufactured not for sale, but to evaluate the process of making the commercial record itself.

As both acetates and test pressings are fairly rare, they tend to command a lot of interest in the collector market. While such pressings by any artist are rare, there is generally a lot of interest in acetates and test pressings by artists who are themselves popular with collectors, such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and so on.

In this article, we’ll discuss the nature of acetates and test pressings, how they are made, why they are made, and what makes them of interest to collectors.

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Acetates and Lacquers

While acetate pressings are usually referred to by record sellers and collectors as “acetates,” the term used to describe them within the industry is “lacquers.” That term makes more sense, as there isn’t any acetate used in the production of these records. For purposes of this article, however, we’ll call them “acetates,” as that’s the popular term used in the record collecting world.

Acetates represent the first step in the physical manufacture of a record, be it a single or an album. While acetates are technically “records” in the sense that they can be played on a turntable or phonograph, they are not pressed out of plastic using mechanical stampers, as are commercial records.

Acetate cutting lathe (photo credit: JacoTen)
Acetate cutting lathe (photo credit: JacoTen)

Instead, acetates are individually created using a cutting lathe, which is a device that loosely resembles a turntable. Acetates are lacquer-coated aluminum discs that are entirely smooth when first manufactured. They are “cut” by placing them on a cutting lathe that has a signal fed to the cutting head from either a live audio source or a performance recorded on magnetic tape. As the music plays, the cutting head cuts a groove in the soft lacquer surface.

The lacquer-coated disc rotates while the music plays, and the recording engineer controls the lathe, which must be periodically adjusted to compensate for changes in volume during the performance and to allow for gaps in between tracks.

In the early days of recording, music was played live in the studio and recorded directly to acetate discs. Since the 1940s, most performances are recorded first to magnetic tape and then transferred to acetates at the convenience of the record company.

Once the cutting process is complete, the disc is playable on any turntable to evaluate the performance, if necessary. Due to the softness of the lacquer coating, acetates are not particularly durable and will wear out and become noisy with repeated play. Acetates that are used for evaluation purposes are not generally used for production. Other discs will be cut for that purpose and then will be nickel-plated as part of the process to produce the stampers that will be used to make test pressings and later, records for sale to the public.

Uses for Acetates

Acetates are made for two purposes – to evaluate a recording and its suitability for pressing records and to use in the production of the finished product itself. For production, an acetate is first nickel plated and the plating is removed to create a negative image known as a father.

beatles acetates
A genuine Beatles acetate

This process can be repeated by plating the father to produce a positive image known as a mother. The mother can be duplicated to create stampers. Typically, a father can be used to create about ten mothers and each mother can create ten stampers. A stamper can be used to press anywhere from 300-1000 finished records.

If all of the mothers and stampers are exhausted due to high production, another acetate must be cut and the process repeated.

Acetates are considerably heavier than records of a comparable size and usually weigh two to three times as much. While most acetates do have a label, these are generally generic labels with blank lines intended to be filled in by hand. Information found on the labels of acetate pressings usually consist of the name of the artist, the title(s) of the song(s) and perhaps the date the disc was cut and the timing of the song(s) on the disc.

Lacquer-coated blanks used to cut acetates used to have more than one hole near the center. One was the usual centering hole for the cutting lathe and/or turntable spindle; the other was a drive hole that fit a pin on the lathe to ensure that the disc wouldn’t slip on the lathe. More modern cutting lathes use a vacuum pump to hold the disc in place, making the drive hole unnecessary.

On rare occasions, there is a third purpose for acetates – sometimes, when a record company is in a hurry to get their album or single to radio stations, they will send acetates directly to radio. These are usually supplemented with regular vinyl pressings as soon as it can be arranged, as acetates are entirely unsuited to repeated play, as might be warranted by having them played on the radio.

Collector Interest in Acetates

What is the appeal of lacquers and acetates to collectors? There are a few reasons that collectors might be interested in owning acetates by the artists whom they collect:

velvet underground acetate
An original 1966 Velvet Underground Acetate that sold for $25,000

They’re rare. Obviously, as acetates must be cut on a lathe, one at a time, they are going to be extremely limited in production. In general, there are probably fewer than a half dozen acetates cut of any single or album title. Most will be used for record production, and the process of plating them to produce a father destroys them.

A few others will be used for evaluation or promotional purposes, though it’s relatively rare for acetates to find their way out of the hands of record company personnel and into the public market. Their rarity alone makes them desirable. A popular album may sell in the millions, but only a couple of people are likely to ever have the opportunity to own an acetate copy of that album.

Good sound – Acetates sound terrific. While acetates are not suitable for repeated play on a turntable, they are playable and they usually sound better than the finished records sold at retail. Acetates are cut directly from the tape, where records are made from stampers that are made using multiple plating processes. Each step on the process to create a stamper creates a slight loss in quality, so acetates that haven’t been worn out from too much play will almost always sound better than finished records.

Unique content – Sometimes, artists have acetates prepared of songs just to hear how they sound as a record, though they may not have any intention of releasing them commercially. These may be working versions of songs that are later changed before release or songs that aren’t intended to be released at all.

On other occasions, acetates may be cut of “working” versions of albums, where the order of the songs may not be final. In other cases, one or more songs may appear on an acetate made early in the production process of an album but the final version of that album may not include them, making the acetate a rare collectible. We recently saw an acetate of the 1977 album The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl that was a working version of the album that contained two songs that were not on the finished LP. Those two songs have never been commercially released, making that particular acetate a desirable Beatles rarity.

About two years ago, someone found a box containing nearly 150 Bob Dylan acetates in a building in New York. Many of these acetates contained unreleased songs and/or different versions of songs from the versions that have been commercially released. Several of these discs have been sold publicly at prices in the several-thousand-dollar range.

bootleg acetate
A Pink Floyd bootleg album issued as an acetate

A few bootleg albums have been released in acetate form over the years, simply as a gimmick. The only titles we have seen like this originated in Japan, usually in limited editions of no more than twenty five copies. As producing discs one at at time is both expensive and labor intensive, product of bootleg acetates as a commercial product is not a very common practice.

Prices for acetates can vary widely, depending on the artist and the content. Obviously, the more collectible the artist, the greater the interest from the collecting community. While all acetates are rare, collectors will be more interested in (and pay higher prices for) examples that feature unreleased material or versions of songs that are not otherwise available.

An acetate of an album by an artist that isn’t particularly collectible might sell for $10 or even less. On the other hand, an acetate containing unreleased material by a well-known artist might sell for thousands of dollars. About ten years ago, an acetate containing rough versions of the material that became the first album by the Velvet Underground sold for more than $25,000. That material has since been released commercially.

An acetate of Elvis Presley’s first recording sold for $300,000 in 2015 to musician Jack White of White Stripes fame.

Counterfeit Acetates

beatles counterfeit acetates
A counterfeit Beatles acetate

Unfortunately, in the collecting world, nearly anything of value has been counterfeited, and that includes test pressings and acetates. They’re rare, they’re in demand, and they can sell for a lot of money, and that has led unscrupulous individuals to create acetates that appear to be original, record company-produced products but are actually homemade items that have no inherent value.

While counterfeit acetates exist for a number of artists, the most common artist represented by these discs is the Beatles. Many of these fake discs have labels that say either “EMIDISC” or have a representation of the Beatles’ own Apple label.

Since legitimate Beatles acetates turn up infrequently, few potential buyers have enough experience to be able to determine if an item offered for sale is a legitimate item or a counterfeit.

Many of these counterfeits have been artificially aged to give them a look of authenticity, and a number of them have sold for three and four figure prices at auction. The best advice we can offer to potential buyer is to know your seller and to get a guarantee when you make your purchase.

Test Pressings

test pressings
A sample test pressing label

Along with acetates, collector also have a lot of interest in records known as test pressings. It’s not a clever name; a test pressing is exactly what the name suggests – a record manufactured for the express purpose of evaluating the finished product.

Test pressings might be manufactured for the purpose of listening to material that is being considered for commercial release or they might be made as a test of production stampers for a finished commercial record.

Unlike acetates, test pressings are vinyl records pressed from stampers and are physically virtually identical to commercially available records. The only difference is that test pressings usually have custom labels similar to those found on acetates. These labels might have the words “test pressing” pre-printed on them and may include blank lines that can be filled in by hand to indicate the name of the artist, the title of the album, the catalog number and perhaps the date of manufacture.

Like acetates, test pressings are occasionally sent out to radio stations for promotional use if the production discs aren’t yet ready, but most of the time, they’re simply used to evaluate the finished product. This would include making sure that the record contains the correct and intended versions of the songs on it, that the sound quality is acceptable and that the playing order is correct.

Test pressings are usually found without printed covers. They are usually packaged in plain white covers. Often they will be accompanied by a “label copy sheet,” which is a sheet of paper that contains the information that would ordinarily be printed on the label of a finished album – the album title and catalog number, the name of the artist, song titles and running times, the name of the record company and publishing information for the songs themselves.

Collector Interest in Test Pressings

Collectors like test pressings for many of the same reasons that they like acetates. While they are made further along in the manufacturing process than acetates, test pressings are usually the first discs made from production stampers, so they will likely sound better than commercially available, or “stock” copies of the records sold in stores.

Scarcity – Test pressings, like acetates, are also relatively rare. While acetates may be unique or limited to just a couple of discs, test pressings are usually manufactured in larger, though still limited, quantities. Unless test pressings are made to be issued as promotional copies, they are generally limited to no more than twenty copies, though the number of discs manufactured can vary widely.

A colored vinyl album by the Doors, issued only as a test pressing
A colored vinyl album by the Doors, issued only as a test pressing
genesis test pressings
A test pressing of the unreleased Genesis live album

Alternate or unreleased material – Like acetates, test pressings sometimes contain either unreleased material or songs that are different in some way from the commercially available versions of that particular album. The 1972 Beach Boys album Holland was originally intended to include a song called “We Got Love,” but the record company was unhappy with the song selection. The group recorded a song called “Sail On, Sailor” that was used in the place of “We Got Love” on the commercial release. A few test pressings of the earlier version exist and are of great interest to Beach Boys collectors.

A few test pressings of Bob Dylan’s 1975 LP Blood on the Tracks exist with different songs from the released version. The album was close to its release date when Dylan decided to rerecord a large portion of the album. Reportedly, only five copies of the test pressing of the original recording are known to exist. One of them recently sold for $12,000.

Test pressings of Bruce Springsteen’s 1975 album Born to Run were sent to radio stations in a printed gatefold cover that was blank on the inside and which featured the name of the artist and the title of the album in a font that looked like handwriting, rather than the block print used on the final version. Several hundred of these “script cover” test pressings were sent out to radio stations and are quite sought after today, usually selling for upwards of $1500 when they’re offered for sale.

The first live album by Genesis, 1974’s Genesis Live, was briefly intended to be a two record set but was ultimately released as a single album. A few test pressings of the two record set were made in the Netherlands. This set includes material that has otherwise never been released, and the few copies that have turned up over the years have sold for as much as $4000 at auction.

The audiophile label Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs released eight titles in the early 1980s as Ultra High Quality Recordings, or UHQR, as they are known. These titles were made using a then-uncommon heavy-weight 200 gram vinyl pressed with a special “flat” profile that the company did not use for their regular pressings. All eight titles were limited to 5000 copies for commercial sale. The company also made test pressings of a handful of titles that they were considering releasing in the UHQR format, but which they ultimately decided not to release.

These titles included all thirteen of the UK Beatles albums, along with A Trick of the Tail by Genesis, Rickie Lee Jones’s first album, and The Grand Illusion by Styx, among others. These rarely-seen test pressings usually sell for upwards of $1000 each on the rare occasions when they are offered for sale.

Unreleased albums – Occasionally, artists will complete an album with the intention of commercial release, only to have the release canceled for any one of a number of reasons. These unreleased albums usually exist in the form of test pressings, and sometimes they turn up for sale.

One good example would be Läther, by Frank Zappa. The album, intended as a four-record set, was recorded in 1977. Zappa’s record company rejected the finished album, though test pressings exist. The album was finally released officially in 1996.

Another unreleased Zappa album, Crush All Boxes, was intended for release in 1980, but was scrapped in favor of releasing You Are What You Is instead. At least one test pressing is known to exist of that title.

Counterfeit Test Pressings

While counterfeit acetates are fairly common, counterfeit test pressings are not. We have seen a few examples over the years, including the original version of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. The most common counterfeit test pressings would be for titles that were otherwise unreleased. Buyers should exercise due diligence when considering a purchase, but as a rule, counterfeit test pressings are relatively uncommon.

The nice thing about test pressings is that they are physically no different from a commercially available album, which means that they can be played as often as any other record. Most collectors don’t buy them to play them, however; instead they tend to buy them as a collectible item in addition to the regular version of the album.

Acetates and Test Pressings Conclusion

While acetates and test pressings could hardly be regarded as something that every collector might find essential, they are unusual and interesting items to add to one’s collection. They’re relatively rare, they usually offer superior sound, and they occasionally offer access to material that otherwise might not be commercially available.

Click here to see our selection of acetates
Click here to see our selection of test pressings

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Record Articles

We have written a number of articles about various aspects of record collecting. We hope you find them to be helpful.

Why do people collect vinyl records? – An explanation about record collecting.

Acetates and Test Pressings – What are they?

Audiophile Records – Albums made to sound better than regular pressings

Beatles Albums – Information about Beatles albums from around the world

Beatles Colored Vinyl Albums – Beatles albums from around the world that were issued on colored vinyl

Bootleg Records – Unauthorized pressings including live albums and ROIR pressings

Butcher cover – The story of the Beatles’ most notorious album – Yesterday and Today

Colored Vinyl – Information about records pressed on some color of vinyl other than black

Counterfeit Records and Pirate Pressings – Information about fake rare records

Japanese albums – Why collectors seek out records from Japan

Lesley Gore records – We have a large collection of albums, singles and more by the singer.

Most Valuable Vinyl Records – The Top 10 Rarest Albums That Were Sold in Stores

Picture Discs – Information about picture discs and their history

Pink Floyd Albums – An overview of unusual records by one of the world’s most collectible artists

Stereo Records and Mono Records – Why collectors prefer one or the other

Vintage Vinyl Records – 9 Reasons Why Collectors Like Them – The reasons collectors might prefer vintage records over new ones

Vinyl Record Collecting Glossary – A collection of useful terms related to records and record collecting

Vinyl Record Storage and Care – Taking Care of Your Investment

Vinyl Records Value – What determines what your records are worth?

White Label Promo – Information about promotional releases

 

Peggy Lee – In the Name of Love red vinyl Japan LP with obi

Peggy Lee - In the Name of Love red vinyl Japan LP with obi

Offered for sale is an original Japanese pressing of the 1964 LP In the Name of Love by Peggy Lee, pressed on red vinyl and including the ultra-rare original obi.

About this copy: This copy of In the Name of Love is an original 1964 Japanese pressing, pressed on red “Everclean” vinyl and including the original lyric insert and the original blue and white obi, which is nearly always missing.

The cover and disc and obi are M-.  The original envelope-style paper inner sleeve is included.

A gorgeous copy of a scarce LP.

Background: In the Name of Love features tracks arranged by Billy May, Dave Grusin and Lalo Schifrin.  The album spent six weeks on the Billboard charts and peaked at #97.

Allmusic had this to say about In the Name of Love:

Peggy Lee works with arrangers Billy May, Dave Grusin, and Lalo Schifrin on this disparate collection of new songs and evergreens. Whether or not she’s taking into consideration the new rock revolution led by her new labelmates the Beatles, she often has her chartmakers come up with light jazz-rock backgrounds, starting with the title song. Lee has long since demonstrated her credentials in the field of Latin music, so she doesn’t seem to have felt the need to treat “The Girl from Ipanema” as a samba; instead, May conceives a swinging rhythm for the tune. Although there are ballads, including delicate versions of “My Sin” and “Shangri-La,” many of these tracks are uptempo, including Lee’s own contribution, her co-write with Schifrin on the movie song “Theme from ‘Joy House’ (Just Call Me Love Bird).” It all culminates in an excellent new song by old Lee compatriot Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, “When in Rome (I Do as the Romans Do).”

You can listen to “The Boy from Ipanema” here:

This record is eligible for PayPal Credit financing by PayPal. U.S. customers may choose to pay later at checkout, and may receive up to six months financing with no interest. Click the banner below for more information. (opens in a new window)

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Peggy Lee – Pass Me By red vinyl Japan LP with obi

Peggy Lee - Pass Me By red vinyl Japan LP with obi

Offered for sale is an original Japanese pressing of the 1964 LP Pass Me By by Peggy Lee, pressed on red vinyl and including the ultra-rare original obi.

About this copy: This copy of Pass Me By is an original 1965 Japanese pressing, pressed on red “Everclean” vinyl and including the original lyric insert and the original blue and white obi, which is nearly always missing.

The cover and disc and obi are M-.  The original envelope-style paper inner sleeve is included.

A gorgeous copy of a scarce LP.

Background:  In the Name of Love features tracks arranged by Dave Grusin and Shorty Rogers.

Allmusic had this to say about Pass Me By:

Capitol aimed songs from Pass Me By at several different markets, and the effect is a scattershot LP with several nuggets but no real cohesion. First up is the delightfully tossed-off popcorn tune “Sneakin’ Up on You,” but it’s followed by the title track, a queasy strike-up-the-band march which surprisingly reached the charts. “Dear Heart” leans toward the countrypolitan sound (it would’ve fit much better as a vehicle for Charlie Rich), and the Beatles cover “A Hard Day’s Night” wasn’t a good match at all; Lee strains to hit the lower notes, and sounds tentative singing the lyrics. While her vocals are on the weak side from a technical standpoint, Lee’s interpretive powers are mostly intact, and her flair on “Sneakin’ Up on You” makes it a natural for one of those swinging novelties often heard on ’60s compilations.

You can listen to “Pass Me By” here:

This record is eligible for PayPal Credit financing by PayPal. U.S. customers may choose to pay later at checkout, and may receive up to six months financing with no interest. Click the banner below for more information. (opens in a new window)

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You Know Who Group – First Album 1965 mono British Invasion LP

You Know Who Group - First Album 1965 mono British Invasion LP

Offered for sale is a nice clean copy of First Album by the You Know Who Group.

About this copy:  This copy of First Album by the You Know Who Group is an original mono pressing on the International Allied Records label.  We’re not aware of any stereo copies of this album; as far as we know, they’re all mono.

The cover and record are M-, and aside from a couple of very minor sleeve scuffs and a couple of spindle marks on the label, the record shows no other sign of play.

A nice curiosity from the British Invasion, and the only copy of this album that we’ve ever had for sale.

Background: Who were the You Know Who Group?   The album came out in 1965, and to this day, no one has yet owned up to being the artists who played on the album.

In 1964, when Beatlemania first hit America, lots of record labels cashed in by signing bands that could play Beatles songs.  They’d quickly record some Beatles tunes and put out an album, and those albums quickly found their way to the junk bins.

Producer Bob Gallo took a different approach.  He hired a band to play songs that were not Beatles songs.  They sang with British accents.  He put out an album that showed the band members (who were not identified on the cover) wearing masks, and called them the “You Know Who Group.”

This suggested that perhaps these guys were really a better-known band that was recording incognito.  It was an interesting ploy, and the result was a minor hit with the song “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue,” which was not the famous Bobby Vinton tune.  Oddly enough, the track with that title that appears on the album is the Bobby Vinton song, and is different from the single.

You can listen to it here:

The album, optimistically titled First Album, didn’t sell particularly well, was quickly deleted, and was not followed up by another LP.  It’s also surprisingly hard to find today, as the singles are somewhat common.

And who was the You Know Who Group?  We still don’t know.

 

Animals – All About the Animals Japan-only LP with obi

Animals - All About the Animals Japan-only LP with obi

Offered for sale is a rare compilation LP by the Animals, All About the Animals, released only in Japan and including the original obi.

About this copy: This copy, with a gatefold cover, is pressed on black vinyl and includes the original lyric insert and original obi.  The record is M- and appears to have had very little play.

In our experience, the black vinyl copies of this particular album sound better than the more collectible (and more expensive) red vinyl ones.  The cover is VG++, with just traces of wear at the corners.  There is some writing on the front cover.  The obi is M-, and includes the “hojyuhyo”, or reorder tag, which is often missing.

This is a beautiful copy of a record which is often found in terrible condition.

Background: While a number of English-language artists were popular in Japan in the 1960s and 1970s, few of them, aside from the Beatles, sold a significant number of records there.  In the case of most artists, their albums would be released in limited quantities and deleted shortly thereafter and reissued at a later date, if demand warranted it.  Instead of keeping catalog titles in print, the Japanese record companies often released compilation LPs instead, figuring that most Japanese consumers would be happy just to own greatest hits albums.  As a result of this, there were hundreds of unusual compilation LPs by English language artists that were released in Japan only.

The album offered for sale is one such compilation.  All About the Animals was released in 1968, and contains most of the Animals’ biggest hits:

House of the Rising SunBring it on Home to Me
Boom Boom
Memphis
I’m Crying
Baby Let Me Take You Home
The Right Time
Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place
Blue Feeling
Around and Around
Gonna Send You Back to Walker
Hallelujah I Love Her So
It’s My Life

 

Mamas and the Papas – If You Can Believe Japan red vinyl LP with obi

Mamas and the Papas - If You Can Believe Japan red vinyl LP with obi

Offered for sale is a rare red vinyl Japanese pressing of If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears by The Mamas and the Papas, complete with original obi.

About this copy:  This copy of If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears is a 1971 Japanese reissue, pressed on red vinyl and including the original lyric insert and obi.  This copy has the “black border” cover.

The cover is VG+, with slight wear on the edges and corners.  The obi is M- and the “hojyuhyo”, or reorder tag, is still attached.

The red vinyl disc is VG+, with a few light marks and a few spindle marks on the label.  While not mint, it’s a very clean copy that clearly has not had a lot of play.

A beautiful and very rare copy of a terrific album and only the second complete copy we’ve ever seen.

Background:  If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears was the debut album by the Mamas and the Papas, and it turned them into superstars overnight.  Containing the hits “Monday, Monday,” “California Dreamin’,” and “I Call Your Name,” the album reached #1 on the Billboard charts.

Allmusic.com gave If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears a 4 1/2 star review:

In the spring of 1966, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears represented a genuinely new sound, as fresh to listeners as the songs on Meet the Beatles had seemed two years earlier. Released just as “California Dreaming” was ascending the charts by leaps and bounds, it was the product of months of rehearsal in the Virgin Islands and John Phillips’ discovery of what one could do to build a polished recorded sound in the studio — it embraced folk-rock, pop/rock, pop, and soul, and also reflected the kind of care that acts like the Beatles were putting into their records at the time. “Monday, Monday” and “California Dreamin'” are familiar enough to anyone who’s ever listened to the radio, and “Go Where You Wanna Go” isn’t far behind, in this version or the very similar rendition by the Fifth Dimension. But the rest is mighty compelling even to casual listeners, including the ethereal “Got a Feelin’,” the rocking “Straight Shooter” and “Somebody Groovy,” the jaunty, torch song-style version of “I Call Your Name,” and the prettiest versions of “Do You Wanna Dance” and “Spanish Harlem” that anyone ever recorded.

The album is also interesting in that there were at least five different covers used for the album in various countries, often with variations intended to disguise the fact that the cover photo was shot in a bathroom.  The most obscure cover was one with a heavily cropped photo with large black border that hides everything except the members of the group.

In Japan, the album was originally released in 1966 or 1967 on the RCA Victor label on black vinyl only with a cover that showed the full bathroom, but with a banner covering the toilet.  When the group reunited in 1971 to release the People Like Us album, all of their earlier titles were reissued in Japan on the Stateside label, and some of those records were pressed on red “Everclean’ vinyl.

As the albums sold best when they were first released, the reissues are quite scarce.  Those reissues included If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, which was reissued with the heavily cropped photo with the black border.

This record is eligible for PayPal Credit financing by PayPal. U.S. customers may choose to pay later at checkout, and may receive up to six months financing with no interest. Click the banner below for more information. (opens in a new window)

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Hollies – Hear! Here! sealed 1965 mono LP

Hollies - Hear! Here! sealed 1965 mono LP

Offered for sale is a sealed original mono pressing of the Hollies album Hear! Here!, released in 1965.

About this copy: The early American Hollies albums are surprisingly hard to find, especially in playable condition.

The copy offered for sale is a scarce original mono pressing, which was only available for a relatively short time before being deleted. The album is still sealed and presumably unplayed.  There are no rips, tears or holes in the cover or wrap.  There is a small amount of foxing on the back cover.

Background:Like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the Hollies’ albums of the 1960s were issued in different versions in the United States and Great Britain.  This was due to the fact that American record companies included singles on their albums and those in the UK did not.

Hear! Here! was the band’s second American album, and was more or less the same as the UK album simply titled Hollies.  The album removed “Fortune Teller” and “Mickey’s Monkey” from the UK version but added “I’m Alive” and “Look Through Any Window” to the LP and then arranged the running order of the songs.

You can hear “Look Through Any Window” here:

 

This is just about the nicest copy of this album you’ll ever hope to find.  Pretty good record, too.

This record is eligible for PayPal Credit financing by PayPal. U.S. customers may choose to pay later at checkout, and may receive up to six months financing with no interest. Click the banner below for more information. (opens in a new window)

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Everly Brothers – The Everly Brothers Show 1970 promo 2 LP set

Everly Brothers - The Everly Brothers Show 1970 promo 2 LP set

Offered for sale is a white label promotional copy of the 1970 live album by the Everly Brothers entitled, The Everly Brothers Show, complete with timing strip.

About this copy: The records are M-, and have had very little play.  The cover is VG, with some ring wear.  The original timing strip is included, but is not attached to the cover.

A nice copy of a live album that is somewhat hard to find today.

Background: After moving from Cadence Records to Warner Brothers in the early 1960s, the Everly Brothers quickly ran off a string of hits which soon dried up.  They continued making albums for Warner for a decade, but the albums they made for the label after 1965 or so are quite hard to find today.

This two record live set, released in 1970, was intended to take advantage of the fact that the Everlys were appearing on television at the time with a summer replacement variety show.  The set captured here includes many of their early hits as well as covers of both Beatles songs and classic rock and roll tunes.