The Beatles have now been broken up for five times as long they existed in the first place, so it’s quite an accomplishment that EMI has been able to consistently find new ways to package the group’s legendary catalogue every few years, even considering that their 1962-’70 run was one of the greatest pop culture phenomena in history.
For instance, a young music fan looking to introduce themselves to the Beatles’ vast body of work without sitting through a whole studio album has their pick of the litter: there’s the “Blue Album” and “Red Album” compilations from 1973, 1988’s Past Masters series, the mid-’90s Anthology three-disc set, 2000’s record-breaking number-one singles collection 1, along with a half-dozen others that filled the years between. Die-hard Beatles fans likely have recent releases like 2003 remix/remaster album Let It Be… Naked, 2006 Cirque du Soleil/Beatles mashup record Love and 2009’s The Beatles in Mono at home, as well.
Suffice it to say that ever since the early ‘70s, it’s been expensive to be a Beatles completist. EMI, which owns the band’s catalogue, isn’t making it any easier this holiday season. Just when I thought I could save up a little money, here comes The Beatles Stereo Box Set, a 16-LP collection that gathers all 14 of the quartet’s studio albums plus Past Masters and Magical Mystery Tour on audiophile-approved, 180-gram vinyl and comes with a 250-page hardbound book. The $450 set is due out November 13.
This latest release isn’t the first time the Beatles’ core catalogue has been packaged in such a way. 1978’s The Beatles Collection gathered the 14 studio albums on vinyl, while 1988’s The Beatles Box Set included the 16 LPs collected in The Beatles Stereo Box Set on CD for the first time. The upcoming set was also released on CD in 2009, with expanded extra content and updated packaging from its late-’80s counterpart.
Your wallet may hurt a little as you load the box set into your trunk with a small crane, but $450 is a walk through a field of strawberries compared to the prices paid/appraised for history’s most valuable Beatles records. The buyers of these next 10 items will probably be working eight days a week for the rest of their lives to afford them.
10. The Beatles (“The White Album”) Decca Export Pressing
Even though they’d stopped performing live, ditched the boy-next-door looks and delved into psychedelia, the Beatles’ worldwide popularity was still at its height in 1968, when the band released what is perhaps their most innovative record, the 2-LP “White Album.” EMI couldn’t handle all of the demand for this self-titled release, so they farmed out some of the pressing duties to Decca Records. Copies of the Decca “White Album,” marked by the absence of “sold in the U.K.” text, are very rare and have gone from $2,000 to $11,000 in recent online auctions.
9. Signed “Please Please Me” single
One night in 1963, John, Paul, Ringo and George signed a copy of their new “Please Please Me” single for a young fan outside Liverpool’s Cavern Club when they saw her standing there. Last year, after holding onto the rare record (made especially valuable because the Beatles rarely held autograph sessions) for nearly five decades, she sold it for $14,600 at the Beatles Convention in London.
8. Introducing… the Beatles
A mint-condition copy of Vee-Jay Records’ Introducing… the Beatles, the very first Beatles album available in the U.S., went for $15,000 in a July 2012 Internet auction. It arrived on shelves just 10 days before Capitol’s more-famous Meet the Beatles! and features a full-page advertisement on the back cover because Vee-Jay didn’t think of creating art for the reverse side until it was too late.
7. Please Please Me first pressing
First pressings of highly-regarded debut albums are always very popular among collectors, and the Beatles are certainly no exception. A first pressing of the group’s 1963 debut with mistakes on the label regarding the songs’ publisher fetched a little over $19,000 during a September 2011 online auction, while a near-mint stereo copy featuring the black and gold label coveted by Beatles fanatics sold for nearly $11,000 in March 2012.
6. Signed Please Please Me album
Whether it’s the 45” or the full LP, the Beatles first single and album have been pleasing sellers for decades. Even though it was in less-than-stellar condition, a copy of the Please Please Me album fetched over $18,000 in an August 2012 online auction.
5. Yesterday and Today butcher cover
The Beatles’ daring original vision for the Yesterday and Today U.S. album cover, which compiled tracks from Help!, Rubber Soul and Revolver, might have been embraced by America’s counterculture by the early 1970s, but mutilated dolls were seen as much too controversial for America in 1966. The Beatles, apparent fans of black comedy, smiled with bloodied, decapitated baby dolls for the original cover and were even able to sneak a few copies on store shelves. However, soon after the album’s release, a more conventional picture was slapped on the front. Now, copies with the original cover are worth between $800 and $12,000, although one fetched $26,000 at this auction.
4. The Beatles & Frank Ifield On Stage
Some music fans might see Frank Ifield’s name being printed alongside the Fab Four’s as more offensive than dismembered babies. Vee-Jay paired the Beatles with the British easy listening star and rush-released this album months before their rights to select Beatles material expired, and it flopped. Certain variations of this release are said to be worth up to $25,500.
3. “The White Album” no. 0000005
Number five, number five, number five, number five, number five. Each original copy of “The White Album” was printed with its own unique number, and since there were four Beatles, the anonymous musician who received copy no. 5 was the first person outside the band to own the landmark LP. In 2008, it sold for $31,000 as part of an online auction. Not surprisingly, single-digit copies are some of the most sought-after Beatles collectibles.
2. Signed Meet the Beatles! album
George gave his sister Louise an autographed copy of Meet the Beatles! in 1963, and in 2006 it sold for $113,000, making it the most expensive signed Beatles album in history and one of the most valuable records period.
1. “That’ll Be the Day”/”In Spite of All the Danger” acetate
If the only copy that’s ever existed is owned by none other than Paul McCartney, then how could this 1958 single not top the list? Actually a single by the Quarrymen, whose members included teenagers John, Paul and George, this one-of-a-kind acetate pressing features a cover of Buddy Holly’s trademark tune on the A-side and is backed by a song bearing the first Lennon-McCartney songwriting credit, “In Spite of All the Danger.” Not that it’s going up for sale anytime soon, but the lone copy of “That’ll Be the Day” is worth $165,000.