In so many ways, music is the soundtrack of our lives—whether we're driving in the car or settled into a cushioned seat in a concert hall. But for many serious fans, music is just as much about collectibles and memorabilia as it is about choruses and melodies.
Music collectibles can encompass almost anything: vintage records, ticket stubs, concert posters, T-shirts, and even artists’ clothes, not to mention signed paraphernalia. Some bands, like Kiss, have also released board games, comics, and more.
The original kings of rock ’n’ roll marketing were the Beatles. As Beatlemania reached full swing in 1963 and 1964, dozens of companies—some authorized, some not—began releasing machine-autographed beach hats, purses, charm bracelets, trading cards, and even hair gel. Aside from the merchandise, Beatles collectors are often eager to obtain ticket stubs and rare posters, like the one Wes Wilson created for the group’s final live performance on tour at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park in 1966.
Of course, anything even remotely connected to one of the Fab Four is also highly desirable. In fact, a copy of John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics to “A Day in the Life” sold at Sotheby’s for $1.2 million in June 2010.
Each age has its superstars, and Elvis and Michael Jackson rivaled the Beatles in their own heydays. Jackson’s memorabilia draws on the appeal of both his music and his edgy image—rare vinyl records are on par with the clothes he wore, like the famous red leather jacket from the music video for “Beat It.” For Elvis collectors, mint condition 45s from his Sun Records years are highly sought after, alongside even more rare items from his famously flamboyant wardrobe.
While not as popular nationwide, the Grateful Dead boast their own legion of devoted followers (called Deadheads, of course) who prize ticket stubs, postcards, and especially handbills advertising Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests from 1965 to 1967. In particular, Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse created some of the most iconic, and beautiful, concert posters for the Grateful Dead’s shows at the Avalon Ballroom, while Wilson, David Singer, Lee Conklin, and others produced Fillmore posters that were emblematic of the psychedelic style then and are much-desired collectibles now.
Indeed, posters from almost any period and for almost any genre—rock, jazz, orchestral, and country, to name but a few—have become iconic symbols of the music they advertise. In particular, 1960s rock posters for artists like Jimi Hendrix (Rick Griffin’s “Flying Eyeball” is one of the most famous images in rock), Pink Floyd (the early Hapshash and the Coloured Coat posters for the band are late-'60s classics), and Cream helped define the visual aesthetic of a sonic revolution...
More recently, Jim Pollock's posters for Phish have become quite collectible, as have posters produced by the Ames Bros. for Pearl Jam, and just about anything Emek makes for practically anyone.