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. 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.
The term ROIR is sometimes used to describe these recordings, meaning, “Records Of Indeterminate Origin.”
The History of Bootleg Records
Bootleg records have been around since the 1930s; there are numerous 78 RPM records in existence that are unauthorized. The term 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 material by any artists of their choosing. The first big sellers were The Great White Wonder, a collection of unreleased Bob Dylan songs, and Kum Back, an album of songs from the then-unreleased Beatles album, Let It Be. These records were, when new, offered for sale in mainstream record stores, generally in plain white covers with rubber-stamped titles. Over the next few years, hundreds, if not thousands, of bootleg records appeared on the market, most of them live recordings, as live recordings are much easier to obtain than unreleased studio material.
Over time, the makers of these records expanded their offering of bootleg records to include hundreds of artists, and the quality of their pressings was expanded to include color covers as well as colored vinyl. The laws against bootleg records were also strengthened by Congress, and by the mid-1970s, the number of titles pressed each year began to fade. Bootleg records continued to be pressed and sold, but they were harder to find, and were mostly likely found in collector’s shops, rather than in mainstream record stores.
The best-known of the early label was one called Trademark of Quality. Their pressings were generally of high quality and usually pressed on colored vinyl. They issued hundreds of titles in just a few short years as an active label, and some of their titles sell for upwards of $1000 today, particularly the few that were pressed on multicolored vinyl.
Bootleg records are still made today, though the market has mostly moved to compact discs. Most serious collectors of any artist with a long recording career will have at least one or two bootleg records in their collection, as they are interesting recordings and represent a time when the record collecting world was somewhat more free-spirited than it is today.