Beatles records are collectible for two principal reasons. First, we’re talking about the Beatles, and anything associated with the Fab Four tends to become collectible before too long. Second, though short-lived compared to, say, the Rolling Stones and other acts from the 1960s, the Beatles were extremely prolific, which means there’s a lot of their stuff to collect.
This is especially true with Beatles records, which were released at various times in the U.S. and U.K. under numerous labels. There were dozens of LPs, scores of 45s, and even a healthy smattering of EPs.
The first U.K. Beatles single was "Love Me Do," which was released on October 5, 1962 by Parlophone. It charted at number 17 in England (two years later, it would hit number one when released in the States). The first versions of the 45 had a red label on the disc, with blue, yellow, purple, and red horizontal stripes on the sleeve. This is the version of "Love Me Do" with Ringo Starr on drums. A black-labeled version of the single was released shortly thereafter with Ringo on tambourine and session musician Andy White on drums.
Other U.K. singles that are fun to collect are the songs (four each) from A Hard Day’s Night and Help! As for the last Beatles single to be released in England when the band was still together? That would be "Let It Be" on March 6, 1970.
In the United States, before Capitol Records signed the band just before their 1964 appearance on Ed Sullivan, Vee-Jay Records was responsible for the release of Beatles music on vinyl, including singles. By all accounts, they did a poor job. One famous typo was on the 1963 45 of "Please Please Me," which included an extra "t" in the band’s name on some of the earliest pressings.
Also collectible are the 45s from the early 1990s, which Capitol produced in multiple colors—green, red, pink, blue, yellow, etc.—with the words "For Jukeboxes Only!" on the label. Most rare are the black discs with "Birthday" on one side and "Taxman" on the other; only 25 to 50 of these black 45s were shipped.
Anomalies like these are what make Beatles 45s such a rich area for collectors. According to Beatles record collector Jesse Barron, there were about 16 different label variations of the 1964 Tollie Records release of "Twist and Shout," all within about six months...
A step up in size from the 45 is the EP, which generally held two songs on a side. Twist and Shout from 1963 was the first EP in England, but Long Tall Sally is almost more interesting since it was the first Beatles EP to feature songs not previously recorded on a Beatles LP. One of those songs was "I Call Your Name," which was famously covered by The Mamas & The Papas in 1966.
Magical Mystery Tour was released as a six-song, double EP in the U.K., but when it was marketed in the U.S., Capitol decided to package it as a 11-song LP. In fact, only three Beatles EPs were issued in the United States during the band’s heyday. The first was called Souvenir of Their Visit to America. Despite the clumsy title, this 1964 Vee-Jay disc sold very well since it was released at the height of U.S. Beatlemania.
Vintage vinyl Beatles LPs offer collectors amazing diversity. Not only are there records from multiple countries, there are also records in different formats. That’s because during the 1960s, a painful (to the ears) transition from mono to stereo took place. In many cases, monaural recording sessions were turned into stereo LPs during post-production, with predictably poor results.
For collectors, some of the "pure" mono recordings of that decade are therefore highly prized. These include all of the U.K. Beatles albums released in mono, from the 1963 Parlophone release of Please Please Me to 1969’s Yellow Submarine (the last U.S. mono Beatles LP was Magical Mystery Tour in 1967).
Other LPs of note include the U.S. version of Rubber Soul without the words "The Beatles" on the record’s label. In the case of A Hard Day’s Night from 1964, the first pressings in mono and stereo featured a typo on one of the song titles ("I Cry Instead" rather than "I’ll Cry Instead"). A subsequent pressing by a company called Monarch corrected the mistake but left off the running times for each song on the record’s label. These LPs are more rare than the originals.
Unquestionably the most infamous Beatles LP was Yesterday and Today with its original cover of the smiling lads sitting around in butcher aprons with pieces of meat and dismembered dolls in their laps and on their shoulders. About 750,000 copies of this cover were printed, but response to the handful of covers sent out as advance copies convinced Capitol to immediately recall them. Some were destroyed but most were pasted over with a rather boring group photo of the Beatles sitting on, and in, a steamer trunk.
Most "butcher" covers on the market today are LPs that have had the replacement "trunk" photo peeled off. The most rare examples, of course, are the LPs with the original "butcher" cover in its original shrink wrap. The best of these are the so-called "Livingston Butchers," which are any of the 24 sealed "butcher" covers that former Capitol Records president Alan Livingston stored in a closet for more than 20 years before releasing them for sale in 1987. In all cases, stereo versions are the rarest of the rare.
Finally, a few Beatles LPs appeal to both Beatles collectors and fans of Psych rock. Covers such as 1966’s Revolver and 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band certainly fit that bill, but Magical Mystery Tour is also a link to the world of rock music posters, thanks to its cover by renowned poster artist John Van Hamersveld.