Collector's Corner: Punk Rock Memorabilia
By Mike Frigerio
Mentioning the words Punk Rock to most people evokes images of safety-pinned, mohawked punks slamming into each other, and loud raucous noise. But what these same people don't realize is that many items related to this sound that changed the world are now highly prized collectibles to a growing base of affluent fans. With punk reaching the mainstream, and many of the classic acts now being recognized by the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, perhaps it's time to reexamine the music and its influence.
Punk began as a reaction to the mid 70's malaise in the music industry. Overblown production allowed the big acts of the day like the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac to churn out huge sounding arrangements on their LPs. Tired of the soft music they heard on the radio, a new sound began to develop on NYC's Lower East Side.
The New York Scene
Finding a home on the Bowery at CBGB, avant-garde bands like Patti Smith and Television began to gather a following in 1975. The music began to expand when a quartet of leather clad miscreants all with the same last name began their tenure at CBGB. This was the Ramones. The Ramones were truly different. Torn jeans, extremely fast guitar chords, and only stopping between songs long enough for bassist Dee Dee Ramone to shout out 1-2-3-4 became hallmarks of their sound. Soon, limousines were parking in front of the tiny bar at 315 Bowery, as record company executives stepped over bums passed out in the street to investigate this strange scene.
The Ramones' first LP followed, recorded on an anemic $3000 budget. The Ramones would prove to be the most influential band in Punk. However, since most Ramones records are re-released on CD with extended track lists, most of their records do not have any great value, except for obscure foreign pressings. Indeed, most of the first wave NY punk acts recordings can be easily obtained as they were quickly snapped up by major labels. Bands like Blondie, the Talking Heads and Patti Smith went on to sell millions of records from these humble beginnings.
The most valuable artifacts of the early NY scene include gig flyers and promotional posters, most of which were destroyed. Some of these early posters can fetch up to $100 - $200 each. The rarest Ramones items are a promotional mini baseball bat made to promote the punk classic "Beat On The Brat," and the letter opener produced for their second LP, Leave Home. Both of these will sell for well over $500.
The London Scene
Meanwhile back in London town, UK pub bands began to protest against the government's repressive policies and high unemployment. Bondage store owner Malcolm McLaren imported the ideas he had seen in NYC - chopped spiked hair, and safety pinned clothing, and recruited four likely looking lads in the first manufactured Punk act, the Sex Pistols.
The UK media jumped on this new fad, and the release of their sarcastic God Save The Queen 45 cemented the band's place in rock history. The song's popularity at the time of the Queen's jubilee led to the band being banned all over Britain, and when the song reached #1 on the UK charts, state controlled media refused to even publish the title, leaving the top spot blank that week. The original EMI 45 is now worth several hundred dollars.
Punk really exploded in the UK after the Ramones exported their sound at a 1976 show in London's Roundhouse club. Many of the early punk acts like the Clash, Damned and Buzzcocks were on hand to witness the event, and the ferocity of the Ramones onstage attack led to every UK band attempting to speed up. The disaffected youth of England molded the music into a form of political protest, with the Clash and Pistols the leaders of a social movement. The threat was not taken lightly by UK police, who would often arrest punks, and ban performances. The UK market for 45 RPM singles led to a number of rare releases with non LP B sides. Most of these 45s have since plunged in value due to the recordings being now easily obtainable on CD collections. The most prized items are again the posters and assorted artifacts. In particular, flyers for the aborted Anarchy In The UK tour are highly prized and can fetch several hundred dollars.
By the early 80s, the stigma of the word "Punk" caused the music to be marketed under the term "New Wave." Bands began to explore the new Synthesizers, which were becoming more accessible in price, changing the whole dynamic, and flirting with disco music. In revulsion, fans of the loud fast sound created a new style, "Hardcore Punk." Here is where the most valuable punk recordings can be found.
These bands were hopelessly out of the mainstream, and adopted the DIY, Do It Yourself motto, recording and releasing their own music on 7" 45 singles, which could be pressed in quantities of 500 to 1000 fairly cheaply. An early adopter of this business model was a bunch of Horror fans from New Jersey, the Misfits. The Misfits 45s have become the most valuable of all punk records. When Metallica recorded 2 of their songs in the mid-80s, Misfits records went through the roof, and nowadays, $500 might be enough to purchase one of their early recordings.
Other notable acts from this time include Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Angry Samoans and Kraut. Small labels began to spring up, based around local punk scenes. Records on the labels Touch & Go, SST, and Dischord are all desirable, but you must beware, as many have been reissued over the years. Signs you may have an original recording are non glossy sleeves, no distributor names on the record backs, and cheap plain labels. For example, later Misfits reissues will have the Caroline Distributors name on back below the Plan 9 logo. This will make the difference between an original record worth $500 and a $5 reissue.
Ronald Reagan's election led to the further growth of this movement, and Hardcore became more political in content. Bands like the Dead Kennedys and Millions of Dead Cops railed against the status quo, and records from the 1982-4 period are highly sought after. Reagan's reelection signaled an end to most of these bands. For the most part punk was forgotten in a cloud of late 80s glam metal bands with huge hairsprayed heads and spandex gear.
Since then, Punk has come back in a big way. Mid 90s bands like Green Day, Rancid and the Offspring went on to sell millions of records, and helped to keep this sound at the forefront of modern music. Record labels exploit the sound for sales, and most recent bands are toothless and would have been called pop bands in the 80s. A notable exception is Anti-Flag, one of the most political bands today. Things to watch for from the current acts include early non-major label releases, obscure 45s, and flyers and ephemera. These items will surely grow in value over time as these bands cement their places in history. As long as there is social injustice, bigotry and inequality in the world, Punks will be around to protest and stand together against the machine.
The author's website, where you can find an archive of vintage punk images and some values of rare punk artifacts
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Punk & rock records auction values site
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Punk & rock collectibles site with many sellers
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Punk flyer archive from Arizona punk acts
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Punk flyer archive
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Punk music site featuring the modern era bands
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About the author:
Mike Frigerio is a well known author in the area of collectibles, rock, and wrestling and has consulted on several book and film projects. An experienced photographer and writer, his work has been published internationally in over 30 magazines. He has traveled all over the Americas in search of collectible toys and created several trends, including the Nightmare Before Christmas collector's craze. Mike has built an internationally known collectible toy company at The Vintage Toy Depot.
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