Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Friday, February 17, 2012

Collecting Rare Soul Records

The world's most expensive record.
When you collect soul records, you can often encounter some crazy, out of this world prices. What some people would pay for an original, first pressing of a 7” single is hard to believe and even harder to justify to your wife. When I casually explain to some of my uninitiated friends that some Northern Soul records go for the equivalent of a mortgage payment, they all think that I’m pulling their leg. Rarity + condition + desirability = big bucks!

The question remains. Does paying a record an insane amount guarantee that you’ll end up with a great tune? In my opinion, the answer is no. Conventional wisdom dictates that when you have a good tune, you have a commercial hit. But sometimes, great tracks slip through the cracks and don’t have the popular acclaim it deserves. This is the case of small, independent labels that had poor distribution and PR. Mods have been known, over the years, to seek out those unknown gems.

What is great about music like Soul and RnB is that it’s impossible to know everything and you’re always discovering something new. I love scouring flea markets in the hopes of finding a rare record. The thing I can’t wrap my mind around is how come some of these records can fetch a few thousand dollars. I can make a case for a song that will light a dance floor on fire or pull at your heartstrings. What about those songs that are just average or at best, mediocre?

Let me try to illustrate my point. Not too long ago, I came across this record from The Jokers on eBay. I didn’t know anything about it and was curious to hear how it sounded. “Alright, that’s an OK song. Nothing that blows my mind”, I thought to myself.

Out of pure curiosity, I decided to follow the auction. Would you be surprised if I told you that it ended at 1500$! I investigated a little bit further and found that it’s the actual going rate. I know that when I started to seriously collect 45s, I thought you had to be a lunatic to pay more than 40$ for a record. I have since loosened my purse strings a bit. But 1500$? Really?

I say I collect records but in reality, I don’t. I buy vinyls to play them. The number one reason why I spin these little round disks is to make people dance. It’s that simple. If I had a record that expensive, I probably wouldn’t DJ with it. I would be too afraid that I would accidentally break it, loose it or have it stolen. The worst-case scenario would be to have beer poured on it. Now you’ve ruined two precious things!

Aside from owning something really rare, what justifies paying those kinds of prices? It’s not like a piece of art that you can display for everyone to enjoy. Now let’s compare it with one of my all-time favorite soul tracks. Give Me One More Chance by Wilmer and the Dukes was a minor hit in the Buffalo, upstate New York area in 1968. I paid 5$ for it a couple of years ago and it gets a crowd going every time. Grant you; it’s not that rare. But between you and me, I think it’s far superior then The Jokers song. Even if it wasn’t as good, is The Jokers worth paying 300% more?

Some people might throw that argument in my face when they learn of the prices I paid for original 60s scooter accessories for my Vespa or my Lambretta. Good point. But at least I can drive down the street on my scooter, showing off the shinny accessories!

Paying 1500$ for a record! Now I know why they are called The Jokers.


  1. Interesting but as you know it's all subjective.

    In comparing the two records I wonder if there's a difference in the styles appreciated by mods/soul fans on the different sides of the Atlantic.

    The Jokers record has been popular in the UK for years and is a guaranteed floor filler - it has the right pace, and right breaks, to suit the dancers, it's a little bit different from the norm also which makes it stand out, and because it is known as a rarity that gives it added kudos (rightly or wrongly, probably wrongly but there you go).

    Wilmer and The Dukes is new to me and to be honest I couldn't listen to much of it - too frantic, too forced, to "club soul" and it would kill a dance floor here.

    Therefore I can see the disparity in price even without the rarity factor counting for much.

    As for not being able to compare to works of art that can be appreciated by others, that's surely wrong - DJs buy these things BECAUSE they can, and will, be appreciated by others.

    Anyway, just my view to a thought provoking article. Cheers.

    1. You are right. It is all subjective. And you point out a valid fact. There seems to be a subtle yet noticeable difference between what is popular in the UK and what gets regular play in North America. I find it fascinating when you think that it's all about essentially the same music, soul.

      I knew this would start an interesting debate and it forced me to listen to these songs more attentively (this is one in particular) and I'm starting to see why some people dig it. My wife actually quite enjoys it.

      But would I pay 1500$ for it? I'm afraid not. Maybe if I won the lottery...

  2. I have been a collector and DJ on the UK Mod scene for over 20 years. During my DJ slots you can here me play 6T's Soul, Jazz, R&B & Boogaloo.
    ALL from original 45's.

    In your blog you state that the Jokers 45 went for $1500 . The 45 is rare, as rare as Rocking Horse Doo Doo... Luckily enough I managed to aquire one many moons ago, before it reached it's full "Northern Soul Scene" popularity. Hence the overated price hike.
    A 45 can triple price over night, just by one DJ giving it a spin at an event.

    What I'm trying to agree with you is that not every so called rare soul 45 is worth the "end bid price!!"