In this interview, Jesse Barron discusses collecting vintage Beatles records and memorabilia, especially rare variants of early Beatles releases (both 45s and LP albums). Based in South Carolina, Jesse can be reached through his website, Mybeatles.net, which is a member of our Hall of Fame.
About 12 years ago a coworker told me that they saw a picture sleeve on eBay from The Beatles selling for 500 dollars. My sister had given me a Beatles 45 picture sleeve when I was quite young. I went to make sure I still had it, and it was similar and still in excellent condition. So that started up my interest again. I had a couple of more Beatles 45s and albums, and I did a little research on the internet and found out they were worth some money. Then I realized I was missing some Beatles records, so I thought it’d be nice to finish out my collection, and started to search for more pieces for my collection.
I was born in 1964, so I wasn’t there when it was all going on, but when I was about 4 or 5 years old, I remember my older brothers and sisters listening to them on the radio. In junior high school I started to listen to them more and more and bought a couple albums here and there. Now it’s an ongoing process.
There are so many different Beatles items like memorabilia and toys, I decided to focus on 45s and records. There was such a demand for 45s back then. Capitol Records had big printing plants in Los Angeles and Pennsylvania. They even outsourced to Decca Records in Gloverville, NY and RCA Custom records in Rockaway, New Jersey, because there was such high demand. That’s why there are so many different variations of the record labels. And that’s also why I got so interested. I happened to come across another record that was the same song, same catalogue number, but it looked different.
Some of these people were in such a rush to produce them that they didn’t go over all the proofs. They started to make some adjustments and just winged it on getting different types of label variations. That got me interested in collecting all the different labels. Twist and Shout, for example, was released on Tollie Records, but there’s probably about 16 different label variations all produced within six months. The Beatles had by far the most variations, more than Elvis and The Beach Boys. With their popularity, they just had to get them out as quickly in huge quantities. People could afford 45s, it was about 49 cents to a dollar to buy one.
Collectors Weekly: What are the differences between the records?
Barron: It’s not the song, that’s the same. But on We Can Work It Out, for example, one label might have “We Can” on the top line and “Work It Out” underneath, while the other might have “We Can Work It Out” all the way across. Different printing plants. On the flip side of “All You Need Is Love” is “Baby You’re a Rich Man.” One might say “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” and on another variation there’s no comma.
There are a lot of other subtle differences. Ringo Starr was credited for one of his first songs, “What Goes On”, which is on the back of “Nowhere Man.” He wrote it himself, with some help from John Lennon and Paul McCartney. But, when it was first released is just credited “John Lennon – Paul McCartney,” which was incorrect. Over 740,000 records were sold in just eight days after its release. Later pressings were corrected to read “Lennon-McCartney-Starkey” (which is Ringo’s real name),” which are actually more valuable as they are much rarer.
A lot of these errors happened at the very, very beginning with “Please, Please Me” and “Love Me Do.” Capitol Records in 1963 in England did not have the rights to The Beatles yet and America Capitol Records didn’t want to release the singles for The Beatles. So their manager Brian Epstein shopped their records around to some very small record companies, Tollie Records, Swan Records, and VJ Records.
“‘Twist and Shout’ was released on Tollie Records, but there were probably 16 label variations within six months.”
VJ Records got one of the contracts and accidentally spelled The Beatles with two ts, B-E-A-T-T-L-E-S. That particular label is worth well over 1,000 dollars today. A little side note, a lot of people have records that are in very poor condition, and one thing people are adamant about with collecting records, is finding the highest quality, best condition, like the day it was released record. So just because you have an item from that era, doesn’t mean it’s a pot of gold in your attic. It’s all about keeping the records in pristine condition.
I want to collect every Beatles label that was manufactured in America, but sometimes my wallet can’t afford a thousand dollar record, so I might buy a 25 dollar record that’s a little scratched up. But I’m not in this to resell, I’m purely a collector who loves and respects the Beatles.
Then there’s picture sleeves. A lot of people don’t understand why record picture sleeves are so unique. When a new single would come out, you’d go to the record store and there were long aisles of cabinets with records and record sleeves. The goal was to capture the buyers attention, so there’d be something clever or funny on the sleeve. Record sleeves were only made for the first few months after the release of a record… after that the record would just be in a standard blank sleeve. So the picture sleeves were always the thing to collect.
I started with sleeves and eventually started picking up albums. Then I found myself picking up a little Beatles toy here and there, and that started the memorabilia side of my collection. I love to have people over at the house and they can see rooms and rooms of stuff.
All the memorabilia is behind glass to keep it from getting dusty. None of my records are still in the picture sleeves, because if you keep them in there it will create an impression ring around the sleeve. I keep the records in acid free mylar archival sleeves made for 45s, in a big binder so people can pull them out and look at them. I do have a couple of things in a safety deposit box, but the majority I have displayed. And I still put the 45s on and play them just like the good old days. It’s a fun hobby.
Collectors Weekly: What’s the most unique item in your Beatles memorabilia collection?
Barron: I have a 1968 Huffy Yellow Submarine bicycle, which is very unique. Huffy gave these bicycles away as a promotion and they were all small girl bicycles. They were all yellow and the seat is leather and embroidered with the yellow submarine. 2,000 of them were made and none were for sale, just promotional giveaways. A lot ended up being thrown away or destroyed because people moved on from The Beatles, so there’s only about 400 left in the United States.
There were so many consumable Beatles items back then, talcum powder, lipstick cases, perfume, and so on. People would use them and throw them away, so they can be hard to find, and that’s what I try to look for and collect. Another unique item I own is the Yesterday and Today album cover, known as the butcher cover. The Beatles were photographed with a bunch of meat and headless baby dolls in their laps. It was about 1966 when the original photo was taken for the cover by Bob Whitaker. After the executives at Capitol Records cleared the cover, it got to the printing plants in America and people were upset. 750,000 copies were pressed, packaged and shipped out by Capitol to its distributors. It was a much different society than the British culture with a different sense of humor, so they changed it. Some of those record sleeves are still floating around out there for around 4,000 dollars… it’s a very sought after album.
Collectors Weekly: How many albums are in your collection?
Barron: Around 2,000 45s. Not just The Beatles, but also their solo records. The one I have the most of is the “Twist and Shout” 45 off Tollie Records. I have about 18 to 20 different label variations. The rarest one I have would be “My Bonnie,” a song they used to do in Hamburg, Germany. They recorded some songs for Decca Records with an artist named Tony Sheridan, the English version of Elvis. The Beatles backed him up while in Hamburg, he was the one who got them into the recording studio in Germany in 1961. They recorded “My Bonnie” and it was never intended for release in America, but a few records slipped through.
I have a Decca “DJ” version of the record and it actually says “Tony Sheridan and The Beat Brothers.” Sheraton did the lead vocals and Pete Best was the drummer (Ringo wasn’t with them yet). That record is probably worth about 2,500 dollars. On the memorabilia side, the things I treasure most are my autographs. An autograph is very personal, it wasn’t manufactured, it wasn’t a toy. I have an authorized, authentic set of Beatles autographs. They were always giving autographs out but people didn’t really maintain them. It’s very hard to find a good set of Beatles autographs. One of the rarest is one of the very last signed by The Beatles when they were a group, from the afternoon when they went into Abbey Road studios and decided to break up.
Collectors Weekly: Where do you find your records and memorabilia?
Barron: eBay is always a starting point. Years ago it was easy to accumulate a record collection because people didn’t really know what they had and there weren’t that many people online like there are now. I was able to shop on eBay and acquire a lot of my records, some for a dollar or five dollars when they were worth 100 to 400 dollars. I also purchase from some retail people who are in the record business. There’s a shop out in Los Angeles that I buy from, Micro-Groove Records. Mostly eBay though.
Collectors Weekly: Where do you do your research?
Barron: Through other collectors and researchers. Perry Cox, in Arizona, is a world renowned labels expert and has done many price guides for Elvis, Beach Boys, and Beatles records. There’s also Bruce Spizer, an attorney in New Orleans who’s a Beatles nut and loves Beatles records. Both Cox and Spizer wrote guides. There’s also Joe Hilton, who has a site called BeatleBay.com. He’s more into memorabilia like toys and display items, and wrote a couple of books on memorabilia. Jerry Osborne also wrote a book in the 80s, which seems to have become the standard. The prices do go up and down and fluctuate, sometimes I see a record on eBay for 100 dollars and the next week I see the same album for 50 dollars, so it’s very hard to put a price on things, especially older items.
Collectors Weekly: What are some interesting things you’ve learned about The Beatles through your research?
Barron: In late April and early May, 1964, The Beatles not only had the number 1 song on the top 100 list, they had the number 2, 3, 4, 5, and an additional 6 or so other songs in the top 100. There’s no other band that came even close to that. The Beatles were that good. There are over 300 Beatles songs you can listen to on a 45 or an album. Between 1964 and 1970 they released around 14 albums, all of them number 1 on the charts except for 1 of 2. That’s two albums a year.
In 1957 or 58 they went to a booth in a five and dime drugstore and record a song (before 1964 they were called the Quarrymen, and before that, Johnny and The Moondogs. ) So they recorded an original song Paul McCartney wrote called “In Spite of All the Danger”. He has the only 78 speed record that exists. So that’s the first recording, it was George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and another gentleman that was in the Quarrymen. 1960 to 1962 is the next time they were recorded, that was by Decca Records, a lot of rock and rollish type songs. They did a lot over in Hamburg, Germany with Pete Best on drums. They were called The Silver Beatles, and did a lot of cover songs.
Collectors Weekly: Any advice for new record collectors?
Barron: Figure out what you want to collect. Do you want to just own music you can listen to and enjoy, or do you want to start getting the older stuff. You also have to look at how much money you’re willing to spend. If you’re looking to collect The Beatles, get all the CDs and mp3s which are very hard to come by because they’re very reluctant to put their music out digitally for official release. Love what you’re collecting and make sure you want collecting to be a long term thing and that you won’t get sick of what you’re collecting.
(All images in this article courtesy Jesse Barron of Mybeatles.net)