The Price of Vinyl

(In which the author shamelessly recycles part of his comment on JC’s original post)

Back in 1980 when I was a student with grant money in my pocket (ah, those were the days), a new release LP would cost between £3 and £4 from boutiques such as Phoenix on Edinburgh’s High Street, or the small Virgin shop on Frederick Street. I still treasure my copies of Siouxsie and the BansheesThe Scream and Joy Division’s Closer, snapped up on release day for the same amount of money as a paperback novel or a couple of pints of beer.

Second-hand rummaging in Greyfriars Market on Forrest Road could net you some classic back catalogue for around £2 a pop. Amongst the bargain gems I unearthed there are four early Can LPs on their original United Artists labels and a 1969 US copy of The Stooges’ first. I recall that Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Pictures at an Exhibition was competitively priced at just £1, or better still, 6 copies for a fiver. My brother took his copy in to flog, and the guy just pulled open a massive drawer full of them and rolled his eyes.

Today, once I’d managed to find ye olde recorde shoppe somewhere, I wouldn’t be able to walk out of it with a new release vinyl LP until I’d left at least £25 on the counter, or probably more. In relative terms, that’s up to twice as much as I should be paying if the price of LPs had gone up by the average amount of most other consumer goods since 1980. Depending on whose calculator you choose, you should need about £4 to £4.50 today to buy what £1 would have got you 40 years ago.

Those days are gone now, and in the past they must remain (That’s enough of The Corries – Ed), for nowadays, vinyl is a niche product whose pricing dynamics are very different from the good old days. In 1980 vinyl was effectively the only way anyone could buy music, except for cassettes, which everyone knew were shit and strictly for home-taping. Even though sales of vinyl recently exceeded CDs for the first time since 1986, the actual numbers underline how nobody really buys music in physical formats anymore, and that the economies of scale in the record manufacturing business in 1980 most certainly do not apply today. Globally, some 19 million vinyl LPs were sold in the first half of 2021, pipping the 18 million CDs sold, but in 1981 consumers bought more than 1 billion vinyl LPs as well as half a billion singles.

In strict cost and profit margin terms, that still shouldn’t account for the hyper-inflation of vinyl prices today, but the niche product effect means that customers are prepared to pay a premium for the retro cachet of the plastic disc. A large part of the niche is also driven by a collector mentality. Much new vinyl is of ‘special editions’ and colour pressings. Some store owners report that if there are both black and colour versions of the same LP, the colour versions will sell out long before the black ones. Some also blame Record Store Day for fuelling this tendency, as they witness people paying stupid money for some frankly shit music purely because of the limited nature of the release.

These pumped-up prices for new discs have an inflationary effect on second-hand vinyl. Many of the buyers are the same collector/hipster buyers of new vinyl, and at the same time the supply of good used vinyl has shrunk in proportion to the decline of physical music media in general. Edinburgh has very few used vinyl shops any more. Here in New Zealand where I live now it’s the same, and the supply of genuinely worthwhile purchases is limited to say the least. That’s not to say bargains can’t be found – not so long ago I found a factory-sealed original pressing of Simple MindsEmpires and Dance to replace my discarded scratched copy for a mere $20 (£10). You cannot, however, walk into a used record shop these days and find yourself wishing you had more cash.

Record fairs are a different matter, and this is where I think the best shopping can be done. Although the sellers are often wise to the value of their merchandise, they are rarely too greedy and value for money can be had. The selections on offer are also more appealing to the ‘Serious Music Enthusiast’, bypassing the sort of badly mauled pop crud that is largely banished to charity shops. At Wellington’s last record fair I scored the expanded version of Stereolab‘s Margerine Eclipse (three discs) for $30, two Style Council LPs for a combined $35, and a mint copy of Nino Rota‘s Concerto per archi (bear with me, I’m a Serious Music Enthusiast) for just $10. For the first time in years, I am in need of larger record shelving.

I foresee the day when, in my old age, I will liquidate a large part of my collection to fund new hearing aids, or at least when we have to downsize to a small unit in a retirement village that definitely doesn’t have room for a thousand LPs as well as all my books and a commode. I see that some people are currently asking over $500 for that Stooges LP, and Can’s Tago Mago in the daft envelope sleeve might net me $300. PiL’s Metal Box, which I hardly ever play because it’s such a pain to get out of that bloody film can, is good for another $200. Even at a modest estimate, I could easily generate $10,000 from my collection and still keep a sentimental hold on some of my most precious darlings, those records of my youth that I saved lunch money to buy because I just had to make them part of my life. Even though I can listen to it all on Spotify, there’s a tactile and talismanic magic to some of those 12-inch plastic discs that will never be lost to music lovers of my generation.

mp3: The Stooges – 1969
mp3: Can – Paperhouse
mp3: PiL – Albatross

Those of us old enough to have fallen in love with records before the digital era have to acknowledge our own part in creating the collectability of vinyl, but it’s still an irritation that prices have been driven skywards by beardy hipsters in pursuit of the same bogus ‘authenticity’ that they seek in vinegary ‘natural’ wines or fermenting the fuck out of everything they eat. But one day, ONE DAY, by God I’ll make the bastards pay.



The question posed by the title of the posting relates to the b-side of the 45 I’m having a look today:-

mp3: Public Image Ltd – The Cowboy Song

It borders on unlistenable, but then again, I’m assuming that was the whole point of it.  Julian Cope, over at Head Heritage, provides as perfect a description as there is:-

“The Cowboy Song”is a throwaway single that sounds like it was ALREADY tossed into the bin: the screech of a needle being ripped and torn back and forth across the surface of a record cuts in as the single begins. Then you hear Lydon in the studio tell the producer it’s so loud, they can’t hear the backing track. Ha; like they fucking even needed to, as they are preparing to scream and toss tambourines in the studio over a towering bass drive and general overall mayhem. The ludicrous “Thick As A Brick”-styled newspaper parody this single originally came wrapped in details the ‘lyrics’ (16 lines of “clipy ty clop/clipy ty clop/clipy ty clop”) but they do not appear on the single. Or if they do, they are drowned out by a deafening racket of multi-tracked screaming, talking and general pandemonium. The only distinct sound is that of the bass guitar of John Wardle (aka Jah Wobble) although it’s oddly un-dub and pre-set to ultra-strum. The lyrics should’ve been “Make it stop/make it stop/Make it stop” so that everybody who bought this single in 1978 could sing along. There’s also further stylus-scratching effects just to drive the rest of us up the wall. When the noise finally subsists, only Lydon’s coughing and sputtering of amphetamine-loosened phlegm can be heard — right before the record picks up after being trapped in the locked-groove for a revolution and a half.

I don’t have the single, but I do have a vinyl copy of Public Image : First Issue, the debut album, on which it is included:-

mp3: Public Image Limited – Public Image

Issued in October 1978, meaning it’s not that long until it turns 44 years of age.  I think it’s fair to say that the tune, and in particular, that killer bass line, have aged spectacularly well. For those who like the technical side of things, (hi JTFL!!!!) it seems it was Wardle’s/Wobble first bass line that he presented to the rest of the group, Keith Levene‘s guitars were double-tracked on the back of a live take and Lydon’s vocals went through a Space-Echo (aka Roland RE-201), a bit of kit which produced delay and reverb effects.

Me?  I just love dancing to it.



Yesterday was Malcolm McLaren and two days ago was Cabaret Voltaire with me admitting that my 16-year old self struggled to enjoy Nag Nag Nag, a situation that hasn’t changed in 2017.

Back in 1979 I also struggled to understand and appreciate much of the output of Public Image Ltd, albeit I adored debut single Public Image. The follow-up Death Disco freaked me out and went way over my head as indeed did the next single Memories.

The difference, however, is that today I can listen to early PIL and really enjoy what I’m hearing with probably no better example than said third single:-

mp3 : Public Image Ltd – Memories (12″ mix)

I think it was being exposed to the emerging Associates and listening out more for bands who sounded similar to Joy Division that made me come to fully appreciate PIL. I had actually forgotten that the single version of Memories, was a totally different mix from that which appeared on Metal Box. It’s about a minute or so shorter in length as well. I feel it’s the superior version as Jah Wobble‘s bass playing is much more to the fore and John Lydon‘s vocal feels more focussed and angry as he rants about how nostalgia for the old days of punk is a waste of time and energy.

mp3 : Public Image Ltd – Memories (album mix)

Here’s the b-side of the single:-

mp3 : Public Image Ltd – Another

Those of you familiar with Metal Box will have spotted that this is a version of an instrumental track from that LP – Graveyard – but with vocals and a bit more bass action.




Three different songs that share the same title:-

mp3 : Electronic – Disappointed
mp3 : Morrissey – Disappointed (live)
mp3 : P.I.L. – Disappointed

The first of these the biggest ever hit single for the supergroup, reaching #6 in 1992. The middle track was originally the b-side to Everyday Is Like Sunday but- the live version I’ve shoved up today is from the flip of the 12″ of Pregnant For The Last Time. The final track is the 12″ version of a 1989 single that barely scraped the Top 40.

The Three Johns (Lydon, Marr and McGeogh) along with Moz, Barney and Neil in one posting? Now THAT’S what I call music…..

Oh and the photo used to illustrate the posting was taken moments after my team, Raith Rovers, had won a cup final with a goal two minutes from the end of extra time back in 2014. The look of disappointment and indeed despair on the faces of the opposition players is quite plain to see…..




From December 2007:-

Yet another of the vinyl treasures that I found during my extended stay in Toronto.

A mint-condition copy of the 12″ of This Is Not A Love Song by P.I.L. For a bargain $10.

But I refuse to believe that the song dates back to 1983. That’s nearly 25 years ago for fuck sake. (WITH THIS UPDATE IT IS NOW 32 YEARS FUXXXACHE!!!).  I’m not ready to accept that I’m getting that old that quickly. Time for the botox and liposuction.

I’ve long owned a copy of this record, but (a) I wore it out through constant playing, and (b) the whiter-than white sleeve was grubby and torn. I’m delighted to have at long last replaced it.

There are four songs on this magnificent piece of plastic – including an original and remix version of the single.

The remix is quite different from the original. Wobble’s bass lines and Lydon’s vocals are identical but the keyboards are far more prominent while the guitar is further back in the mix.

It’s probably a bit more poppy than the actual single, and while it’s pretty impressive in its own right, it just doesn’t have the same impact as what remains one of my all time favourite records.

A few years later, P.I.L. released a greatest hits compilation, which included yet a further remix of TINALS – and one that was completely different. A re-recorded vocal and a horn section that I just wan’t prepared for at the time. For years it was a version that I hated, but I have grown more fond of it in recent times. You can make your own minds up:-

mp3 : P.I.L. – This Is Not A Love Song (original 12″ version)
mp3 : P.I.L. – This Is Not A Love Song (re-mixed version)
mp3 : P.I.L. – This Is Not A Love Song (re-recorded version)




1979 was the year that the Sex Pistols enjoyed the most success in terms of the singles charts with three Top 10 hits. But by then they were a parody of a band – after all it was two Eddie Cochran numbers covered by Sid Vicious plus a Steve Jones rocker that we’re talking about.

The spin-off however was that John Lydon could do no wrong, and even some of his strangest recordings were huge hits.

Like this:-

mp3 : Public Image Ltd – Death Disco

There’s probably never been any better description of this record than that penned by Gary Mulholland in his brilliant book This Is Uncool – The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco.

Despite turning his back on the Sex Pistols’ audience, John Lydon could’ve farted into a paper bag and made the British charts in 1979. The more he told us to fuck off, the more we loved him, at least, for a while longer anyway. So he pushed it as far as it would go.

This record did just about everything a punk rocker was not supposed to, It was long, It had no shoutalong choruses. It has a disco beat, of a sort (the NME originally announced that it was called ‘Death to Disco’, in a air of punk-reactionary wishful thinking). It was based on a diseased Arabic mutation of Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Dying Swan’ from Swan Lake. And it was about his mother, who was dying of cancer. The result was disturbing, blackly comic, moving, profound and so far removed from anything resembling punk, pop or anything else that it had the desired effect – it got rid of the punks.

Oh, how I struggled with this when I was 16 years old. So much so, that it is one of the few records I bought and then gave away to someone else.  I got two old singles by The Jam in exchange, which at the time felt like a bargain.

Fast forward to 1990 and my purchase of a CD copy of the P.I.L. greatest hits compilation and me listening to Death Disco again for the first time in eleven years. By now I knew that great songs didn’t need hooks or memorable, hummable tunes, and that a cauldron of noise in which a screaming vocal fights for your attention alongside screeching guitars over a bass/drum delivery that on its own would have you dancing like a madman under the flashing lights could be a work of genius. I was now able to appreciate Death Disco…..

It is astonishing to realise that this song spent 5 weeks in the charts in the summer of 79, entering at #34 on 7th July, and then taking the #32, #20, #26 and #28 positions thereafter, which means it got at least five plays on Radio 1 (but I’d place a bet there weren’t many more than that unless John Peel gave it a spin).

Mulholland was right. Thanks to Death Disco and follow-up 45 Memories, the punks truly  denounced Lydon as an art-rocker. But then again, if the punks had paid closer attention to what he was always saying about his main musical influences, the early P.I.L. material shouldn’t have come as a big surprise.

Here’s yer  b-side:-

mp3 : Public Image Limited – No Birds Do Sing