I’ve posted quite a lot about the Candle Lions, which is an absolutely iconic collectable. But it’s by no means the most difficult thing to find: copies do turn up regularly, and my strong advice is to check Discogs regularly, where usually the prices are much more reasonable than you get via an Ebay bidding war.
But that begs the question: what are the most difficult things to find? I’m going to leave aside the sort of “one off” items such as acetates and so on, and stick to the list of more or less standard releases. You can always make things more difficult as a completist anyway by including far flung material – Tibetan Swoon Cassette or Philippines 7″ Singles anyone? – which tend to turn up randomly if you have your eyes open, but for the sake of this post I’m going to stay reasonably mainstream.
It’s slightly unscientific in that I’m relying on my own experience: it’s quite possible I picked up some things early on that are now impossible to find and I don’t know that because I’m not looking any more. But you do get a feel for what’s on the market after a while so I don’t think this is far away from accurate.
I’d also say that rarity doesn’t necessarily imply valuable. Value for collectables is a function of how many people are competing for something and how much they’re prepared to scrap it out. I remember talking to a book dealer about a frantically rare illustrated book I happen to have a copy of, and he explained that it would probably be worth relatively little, because it’s so difficult to find that people don’t bother to collect it. You need to find a market with a bit of active competition.
Anyway, in vague order of difficulty, this is what I think the list is:
- “When Love Breaks Down” – a Scandinavian compilation from Sony Nordic “Music Matters”. This was a full 2004 commercial release, but unlike most similar releases is not readily available anywhere. It’s actually a pretty good compilation too.
- The cassette single of “Electric Guitars”. At the time this was released, Prefab Sprout’s star was very much on the wane and they were entering a trough period where they were too recent to be hip and in competition with Britpop for any sort of attention. This was combined with the rise of digital formats and a rapid decline in cassette sales, so I suspect very few of these were made. I’ve only ever seen one for sale.
- A playable CD Copy of “Hey Manhattan!”. The UK CD Pressing Plant CBS used in the late 1980s, PDO, introduced a manufacturing flaw where over time CDs would react to something – theories include air or acid in the card packaging – and take on a bronze colour. The defective disks are referred to as “bronzed” and although they will sometimes play in an analogue CD player with a lot of noise similar to surface noise on a badly damaged piece of vinyl, can’t be read reliably on a digital player (i.e. with error detection on the transfer) or ripped. I spent years patiently buying copies hoping for a good one, and eventually succeeded to my utter surprise and delight: it is now wrapped carefully in protective material and hopefully won’t degrade further. There is also a European release on a 3″ CD which I’ve never been able to find. Slightly worryingly, other Sprout releases at the time were also pressed at PDO, but so far are not so prone to damage as “Hey Manhattan!”. As a side effect, even unplayable copies are difficult to get now as dealers chuck them.
- “Cowboy Dreams” single release. This was a 4 track single, including the “Radio Edit”, “Blue Roses”, the album version of “Cowboy Dreams” and the video. It was announced pre-release of “The Gunman” and there are copies about, but it was pulled and is very difficult indeed to find now. The one track promo in a card sleeve is quite common in UK and Spanish versions, so don’t be fooled!
- BBC In Concert Transcription disk CN4747/S. This skirts the edge of my category of “mainstream”, but I’m including it because it was a commercial release of sorts and these disks are collected by the “ologists” of other bands. It’s a fascinating area in itself: the yellow sleeved transcription disks were superb quality and known to collectors; as a result, for “big” bands they were widely bootlegged in a sort of facsimile format – you can usually tell these because they have black and white labels instead of a more commonly used green, or have vividly coloured vinyl. But for Prefab Sprout no one bothered with a bootleg, and probably not many copies were issued to the foreign stations who tended to be the collecting source. So “scarce” doesn’t do it: these are virtually impossible to get hold of. The copy I have was expensive and damaged, but I have made it available in a fully restored audio version.
So there we have it: another list of impossible things, or nearly impossible at least. If you have any of these, think yourself blessed or offer them up on Ebay!