Private and Promotional Vinyl Records

Before a vinyl record was released to the public, a small number of copies were often pressed and sent to distribution-company executives and radio-station disc jockeys for promotional purposes. In some cases the limited press runs of these promo records (they were called demo records prior to the 1970s) were produced so the band could approve the final layout, album-cover art, and sound quality.

Because of their small quantities, as well as the fact that changes would often be made to the finished product, these private and promotional pressings are highly valued today. Promo records that differ from the final, official release are most coveted.

Some promo records had a cutout—usually a trimmed corner—or a hole punch to indicate that they were not for public sale. Others were adorned with stickers saying, “Not For Resale” or “For Promotional Use Only.” (Despite the warnings on these stickers, in most countries it is legal to resell promo records after the stock record has been released.) Later promo records featured a destroyed barcode. In a few instances, promo records can be collected along with their accompanying paperwork, which was included with the demo so the recipients could verify their approval—such documentation generally increases a record’s value to collectors.

Pressings of British demos were usually less than 1,500 copies. In the United States, far more copies of promos were produced, which is why American discs don’t tend to be as valuable as those pressed in the U.K.

Demo records date to the days of 78s—some of the most sought-after of these are Elvis Presley promos. However, 45s are the most widely collected vintage promo records today. The first 45 ever pressed, RCA’s “The Whirl-Away Demonstration Record,” was a promo record. It featured snippets of songs, including Eddy Arnold’s “Bouquet of Roses.” Though many copies were made at the time, there is only one known version of this seminal 45 demo today.

Ironically, the oldest promo records are not necessarily the most desired by collectors. That’s because the trend of including tracks or different packaging for the promo didn’t come about until the early ’70s.

In the 1950s and ’60s, demo records tended to be identical to their stock counterparts, with the exception, of course, of the sticker, hole punch, or cutout. By the 1970s, though, bands deliberately released promo records that were never intended to make it into the mainstream. Led Zeppelin and Cliff Richards were early pioneers of this practice, while one of the famous firsts came from the Rolling Stones, whose promo-only album was aptly named, "The Rolling Stones Promotional Album."...

David Bowie released a solely-promotional EP, with two tracks featuring Mick Ronson and two tracks featuring Dana Gillespie, that was meant only for radio stations. Another method of release was to highlight certain songs on the demo, like the Kinks did with "Give the People What They Want" in 1981—only four tracks were on the promo. More recently, Oasis released a 12-inch promo covering the Beatles song, “I am the Walrus,” which never made it onto any of the band’s albums.

The Rolling Stones were also one of the first bands to use different sleeves for promo records. One of the rarest promo records is the Stones’ “Their Satanic Majesties Request” with a padded silk sleeve. In many more cases, the covers and sleeves of promo records were colorless, hence the other term for them, “white albums.”

Some of the most fascinating promo releases came in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when record companies were switching from mono to stereo. Some artists whose music was only released in stereo, like the Grateful Dead, Cream, and Janis Joplin, actually distributed mono promos solely for play on the radio. These are fairly rare, as are mono releases such as Paul McCartney’s “Ram” and Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy,” both of which were released in mono only to radio stations.

Other promo records are desired because the order of tracks got changed between promo and stock release. This was the case with Art Garfunkel’s “Watermark” LP. On some promo copies of Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music,” the words “white boy” were removed for radio consumption, apparently to avoid being offensive. Similarly, the first promos of Michael Jackson’s “Ben” featured rat noises in the background—these were edited from later-issue promos and all stock releases.

The charm of promo records began to dissipate in the latter part of the ’70s as bands began putting everything but the kitchen sink onto these private releases. Often t-shirts, badges, and other band paraphernalia came with the discs.

A few decades later, possibly sparked by backlash to the CD takeover of music, promo records made a comeback. They became popular in the 1990s in dance/techno/electronic music circles, as DJs spun obscure tracks that had never been released to the public. In pop music, stars like Madonna and Prince also released promotional records.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Vinyl Divas

Vinyl Divas

Vinyl Divas pays homage to international female opera singers of the LP era. Chronicling more than 800 singers, the… [read review or visit site]

317X

317X

Despite its mysterious title, 317X is plain and simple—an online gallery of vintage LPs, with a 1950s vintage fee… [read review or visit site]

Mybeatles.net

Mybeatles.net

Jesse Barron's collection of Beatles 45s, picture sleeves, magazines, books, and memorabilia. Browse singles and al… [read review or visit site]

Association of Vogue Picture Record Collectors

Association of Vogue Picture Record Collectors

This great site, from the Association of Vogue Picture Record Collectors, offers detailed background information an… [read review or visit site]

The Remington Site

The Remington Site

Since 1999, the Remington Site has offered classical music collectors a glimpse into Remington Records, an independ… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Barbara Mcnair You're Gonna Love My Baby 45 Motown Promo Northern Soul Vg++ Led Zeppelin I 1 Turquoise Lettering - Uk First Press 1969 Lp Superhype CreditMinor Threat / Filler Org 7" Red Sleeve Yellow Label, 1st Press, Dischord Led Zeppelin I (1969) Uk Turquoise Superhype 1st Press Lp Uncorrected Matrices!Led Zeppelin Ii Promo Rl Robert Ludwig 1969 Atlantic Sd 8236Misfits Earth Ad Wolfs Blood Plan 9 1983 First Press Purple Vinyl Danzig RareThe Beatles 2x Lp White Album Uk Apple Mono 1st Press Lowest Number Ive Seen -1Vg/g+ The Rising Storm -calm Before -remnant Records Promo Original Garage PsychThe Beatles Let It Be 1st Press Complete Mint Top Audio 2u Red Apple Box Set~~~~Rolling Stones Exile On Main St Rolling Stones Lp Vg+/nm Promo SleeveThe Smiths Lot Of 21 Lps 45s S/t The Queen Imports 12' Ep Morrissey Promo AskS.o.a. - No Policy Ep 1st Press (green Vinyl) Dischord,henry Rollins,black Flag Pungent Stench - Club Mondo Bizarre - 1994 Nuclear Blast Rare First Press VinylJohn Martyn Solid Air Lp Uk Island 1973 Pink Rim Gatefold First PressTen Feet - Shoot On Sight Rare Uk 1967 Demo Promo / Mod / Freakbeat / Near MintUriah Heep, Very Eavy Very Umble, Orig Uk Vertigo G/fld Lp, Vg+/vg+, 1st Press!Judee Sill Heart Food Asylum Lp Promo Gatefold Led Zeppelin Iii 1970 Uk Atlantic 1st Press W/peter Grant Credit - Near MintThe Incredible String Band The 5000 Spirits Lp Uk Elektra 1967 First Press Pearl Jam Twenty Soundtrack Glow In The Dark Vinyl 3xlp Promo Rare Unstamped!Iron Maiden - Fear Of The Dark Original 1st Press 2 X 12' Vinyl Records.Atomic Rooster, Made In England, Orig Uk Dawn Lp + Inner, Ex/ex, A-1 1st Press!Decomposed - Hope Finally Died - 1993 Candlelight Rare First Press Vinyl Lp DoomRare Northern Soul - Chanel 3-the Sweetest Thing-dakar Promo CopyThe Incredible String Band Debut Lp Uk Elektra 1966 First Press White LabelEagles Self Titled Asylum Sd-5054 Lp Nm Promo Gatefold Karen Dalton In My Own Time Lp Us Paramount 71 Folk Stereo Promo Photo 1st PressWarhorse - Red Sea (1972) Uk Vertigo Swirl 1st Press Heavy Prog Lp 1y/2y G/fTwin Peaks - Vinyl Lp - Badalamenti - David Lynch - Orig 1990 Germany PressDavid Bowie: "love You Till Tuesday" Uk Deram Promo 7" Vinyl Record 45 Top Gemm!Black Sabbath Lp Vol 4 Uk Vertigo Swirl 1st Press Nice CopyJohn Lee Hooker It Serve You Right To Suffer White Label Promo Blues MonoPearl Jam Ten Box Set Sampler Promotional 7" 45 Set Limited Rare! Colored Vinyl.Led Zeppelin Iv 4 - Plum/red Ex Vinyl 1971 1st Uk Press Porky/pecko Duck A//3 B/Led Zeppelin Iv ~ 2401012 Red & Plum 1st Press / Variant 8 ~ A3/b4 Nm/nm/vgThe Beach Boys Pet Sounds Mono Capitol T2458 1st Press [cover-ex Vinyl-vg++]Megadeth - Cryptic Writings - 1997 Capitol Rare Original First Press Vinyl LpSentenced - North From Here - 1993 Spinefarm Rare First Press Original Vinyl LpNirvana Lp Nevermind Promo Orig 1991 Press Dgc 24425 Great Copy RareIggy Pop Lust For Life Ultra Rare Test Pressing Uk Lp Punk Powerpop Rca Pl 12488Van Der Graaf Generator - H To He Who Am .. 1st Uk Press 1970 Pink Scroll **** The Cure - Very Rare French Only Press ! 7' - ***10:15 Saturday Night***John Martyn The Tumbler Lp Uk Island 1968 Black & Orange Circle Logo First PressAwol - S/t Super Rare Private East Coast Heavy Metal Lp Sealed! Guns N' RosesRare 1970 Orig White Label Promo ~ David Bowie ~ Man Of Words Music Groovy PsychSex Pistols " Never Mind .."a3b1 Uk Press With Very Rare 11 Track Sleeve & Disc David Bowie: "space Oddity" Uk Philips Promo 7" Vinyl Record 45, Nm!!!Rare Nirvana Test Pressing Mtv Unplugged In New York Lp Nevermind In Utero TestHigh Tide - Sea Shanties (1969) Uk Liberty Blue Label 1st Press G/f Lp A1/b1John Beverley Martyn Stormbringer Lp Uk Island 1970 Pink Label First PressCaravan - S/t (1969) Uk Verve Forecast 1st Press Canterbury Prog Lp A1/b1Mike Proctor - Mr. Commuter Rare Uk 1967 Demo Promo / Psych / Freakbeat / Mod !Beatles - Rubber Soul 1965 Uk 1st Press -1 'loud Cut'Sadist - Above The Light - 1993 Nosferatu Rare First Press Death Metal Vinyl LotJohn Martyn Bless The Weather Lp Uk Island 1971 Pink Rim First PressDeep Purple Fireball 1971 Uk Harvest 1st Press - Insert - Stunning Copy - Mint Black Sabbath Lp Same Self Titled Vertigo Swirl 1st Press Nice CopyCaptain Beefheart & His Magic Band Mirror Man Buddah Lp Nm Promo Unipak Ivory Tiger - Metal Mountain 1986 Us Private Paradoxx Quest Legend Decoy ParisOtis Redding Sings Soul Ballads Lp 1965 Mono 1st Press!! Brilliant Example!!!!