Right cover, wrong record. The perils of buying used vinyl

Marc HenshallMarc Henshall
Culture & Industry6 Comments

During a recent impromptu trip to an out-of-town record store, I stumbled across one of my personal ‘holy grail’ albums… Or at least that’s what I thought…

The record in question was an original 1969 copy of Unicorn by Tyrannosaurus Rex (later known as T-Rex, of course) on the British Regal Zonophone label. I’m not old enough to remember the 60s, but I have a fond attachment to the music through my Dad, who is a big Marc Bolan fan. We often talk about the original Regal Zonophone copies of Tyrannosaurus Rex records and how they’re worth snapping up if you can find them. Unicorn, in-particular, is one I’ve been hunting down at a reasonable price for some time now, as it’s the one record from Marc Bolan’s early work that we don’t have on the original label.

I was out of town visiting family, and so I was short of time at the record store. I darted in, headed straight to the T section, and thought, “I’ll just have a quick peek for those elusive Regal releases”. To my surprise, there it was, a Regal Zonophone copy, and for a very reasonable price. The cover was in great shape, but I was conscious of the time, and my wife and kids waiting outside. So in a moment of madness, I threw caution to the wind and bought the record without any visual inspection or further research.

Big mistake. Sadly, the record turned out to be a dud. The cover was indeed a 1969 copy (the stereo version, not the mono release). The record itself, on the other hand, was a different story. The outer sleeve housed a much later copy on the Cube Records label as part of a re-issue set, which included multiple Tyrannosaurus Rex albums…

Bummer. I was disappointed to say the least. Goodness knows how and when the record was swapped. Perhaps the original record was badly damaged, so the owner re-bought the compilation version as a replacement? Or perhaps there was a mix up with a friend’s copy of the same album? 

Whatever happened, I was unlucky, but it just goes to show the importance of taking the time to inspect what you’re buying before parting with your hard-earned cash. 

The old saying: never judge a book by its cover couldn’t be more apt. There will undoubtedly be countless examples of record swaps out there on the used market. How to buy used records is a topic we’ve covered at Sound Matters before, and what I did during that ill-fated record store trip certainly broke all my usual self-imposed rules. What can I say? I took a risk; it didn’t pay off – better luck (and more time on my side) next time.

The Trials and Tribulations of Record Collecting

Naturally, it comes with the territory of record collecting that you will occasionally wind up buying a dub. The continuous hunt for those elusive, rare, or vintage records is all part of the joy of record collecting. It’s quite the buzz when you get lucky, and each record has a story to tell. In some regards, my mixed copy of Unicorn makes for a quirk in my record collection and a talking point among other collectors. An original copy will undoubtedly show up at some point down the line, and when it does, I’ll have both copies as part of that journey. Until then, I will enjoy my new Record Story Day release version on colored vinyl, which is due to arrive any day now.

Some collectors take this experience to a whole new level, as demonstrated by one collector in California who only collects first pressings of the Beatles White Album. In an interview explaining his rationale, record collector Rutherford Chang states, “I collect numbered copies of the White Album in any condition. In fact, I often find the poorer condition albums more interesting.” 

What stories are hidden in your record collection? Have you ever fallen into this trap? Let us know about your experience in the comments below.

  • Avatar David says:

    Back in 1986 I bought a brand new copy of Trilogy by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. It turned out to be a “half copy of Trilogy”: Side A of the album was pressed with EL&P, side B had side had a pressing of side B of Zeppelin I .

    • Marc Henshall Marc Henshall says:

      That is hilarious. I heard another store once, very similar to that, where someone had a Funkadelic record with Santana Abraxas on side B…

  • Avatar Jordan says:

    I’ve had a couple of incidents. One was my fault. I bought an original German pressing of Cream Wheels of Fire. I had looked at it in the store and all seemed legit. But a few days later when I went to clean it I realized that only one of the two records was the German pressing. The other appeared to be an original pressing but from US. I took it back and the store had no problem refunding me my money. They were surprised to see it, too. The labels were not drastically different so, at a glance, it was easy to overlook.

    Another time I ordered a 1975 pressing of Grateful Dead Anthem Of The Sun (the white cover) off a Discogs vendor. When it finally arrived the label design indicated that it was a 1979 pressing so I returned it. One thing about that album though, there’s a lot of confusion about which pressing is which and what label and runout etchings are on each. I won’t buy another one unless I see it in person first!

    Now I always make sure to have my phone with me when I shop. That way I can always make a quick check of Discogs to see which pressing a particular record is. I may not always be looking for an original pressing, but at least I can tell if I’m paying the right price for the pressing I am looking at!

    • Marc Henshall Marc Henshall says:

      Thanks for sharing. Interesting to have a German and US pressing mixed. I always try to use my phone and check like you say, but on this occasion, time was not on my side. I’d probably have taken it back if it wasn’t so far away! That’s the thing when you buy from an out of town store I guess.

  • Avatar Serafin says:

    Good article! My experience was inverse, I had two discs in one folder. I got an used George Benson’s Give me the night and inside were two discs, the right one, who plays ok, clean and no noise , and another one, George Benson’s 20/20. I did not realize until, in the confinment era, I played almost every record of my collection. I did not recognize the songs and I remember that the disc did not have this bad sound with so many clics. When I read the label
    I foung the reason. I am pretty suere the people in the store did not know it, because the second disc was dirt, not revised and prepared to sale.

  • Avatar Gregory says:

    Everyone knows the story of Lynnyrd Skynnyrd Street Survivors and the infamous flaming cover and how it was pulled from the shelves immediately after it’s release. I always kept my eyes open for that cover “just in case” someone didn’t get the news. One day while browsing at a record shop I saw it- the Crown Jewel! I couldn’t believe it! Sealed and with a sticker price of $5.98. This was in the late 70’s and prior to the re-releases which are now plentiful, so I really thought I had something here. Back in those days, I’d purchase whatever album I wanted along with a Maxell UDXL II cassette tape. The album was played once in order to record it to cassette, then promptly placed in a “Boogie Records” (local vinyl & head shop) static free sleeve and put away until I needed to make a new recording. So I put the tape in the deck and started to test a few areas of the album to adjust the sound level, but something was wrong. I knew every note from Street Survivors, and this wasn’t it! I had no clue what it was. The cover: Street Survivors. The Label: Street Survivors. The Pressing:??? I’ve since discovered the album in disguise is Skynnyrds First and Last. It’s in pristine shape and has been played exactly twice. I don’t know if the misprint makes it priceless or worthless, but it is a novelty nonetheless.