A BEGINNERS GUIDE TO COLLECTING
By Raymond Elliot ~
The 1986 Smiths’ album, The Queen Is Dead is the “greatest album of all time,” according to the October 2013 issue of Britain’s NME magazine, in their list of The Top 500 Best Albums. Not The Beatles, David Bowie, Pink Floyd or Bob Dylan. Of course, this subject could be argued amongst music fans until the human race takes its last breath. What is clear is that they are the most influential rock band to come out of the 1980s. A band from the ‘80s, who are not an ‘80s band. In five short years (1982-1987), The Smiths would also solidify themselves as one of the top bands in history.
The Smiths, formed in Manchester England in 1982 when guitarist Johnny Marr got together with lead singer Steven Patrick Morrissey. Drummer Mike Joyce and bassist Andy Rourke would join up shortly thereafter.
Signed to the small, independent label Rough Trade, The band would only make four studio albums. The Smiths (1984), Meat Is Murder (1985), The Queen Is Dead (1986) and Strangeways Here We Come (1987). They also released several compilation albums, most notably Hatful Of Hollow (1984), Louder Than Bombs (1987) and The World Won’t Listen (1987). Other “Best Of” and “Singles” collections have followed as well.
Luckily for the fans, The Smiths have released over 20 singles in the U.K. alone. Of course these releases come in several different formats. 7” and 12” vinyl records, CD singles and a few cassette singles. There are also many different pressings in various other countries of all of the band’s releases. Collecting them has become a heartfelt obsession of mine and many other fans.
There are many reasons for fans to start collecting The Smiths vinyl. First, are the songs themselves. Followed by the striking cover artwork. I’m still surprised that many fans don’t know that there is a message imprinted on the inner part of most of the Smiths vinyl releases. Take a closer look, if you haven’t already.
If you are old enough to have been around during the ‘80s and ‘90s, you probably have a good head start on your Smiths/Morrissey collection. If you’re just starting out, you’re in for a pleasurable, if expensive experience.
First off, you should be able to easily find all of The Smiths albums, remastered by Johnny Marr, which are available through Rhino and Rhino UK. They’ve done a great job with these reissues, although the retail cost is very high. Also, a few of the Morrissey albums have been rereleased, some with new, updated covers and different songs. Almost all of the original Smiths and Moz 7” singles have been reissued in import box sets, although they have left out a few. Personally, I’m very happy that they have not yet reissued the 12” singles and hopefully they never do. I’m guessing the cost of production makes this non-feasible.
Of course, getting your hands on as much vinyl is first and foremost. But, for the hardcore collectors, it’s the promotional items that are the real prizes. From the promo CDs and records, to the posters, tour merchandise, test pressings, magazines, backstage passes, cassette and VHS tapes, DVDs and autographed items (Beware of counterfeits, it’s a huge problem).
When I think back to the mid ‘90s and my trips to local L.A. record stores, I recall being able to easily find some original Smiths and Morrissey 12” singles and albums. If you’re seeking these items nowadays, be prepared to pay a hefty sum. That’s if you can actually find anything that hasn’t been gobbled up by the hardcore fans. Even the Post-Smiths, Morrissey vinyl is becoming quite hard to find. Some of which, have not been reprinted since their initial releases. I’ve recently seen copies of Morrissey’s Southpaw Grammar for $60-$120. There really is no official price guide for any of these collectible records — just what fans are willing to pay. I’m afraid that eBay is the best, if not riskiest way to find what you’re looking for. Just don’t get too discouraged; there are still some good deals out there.
Lately, it seems posters have become the hot item with collectors. Maybe because the fans are getting a bit older and are having them framed as artwork. This has been the case with the collectors I have spoken to. The original Smiths promotional Rough Trade “Cartel” posters have seen prices skyrocket as their scarcity increases with time. The other ones which have become increasingly tough to find, are the giant 60”x40” Subway posters of both The Smiths and Morrissey. I know of a few fans who have paid $75.00 and more for these.
I’ve been very lucky with my collection. I got started while working at Hot Rocks Records in Covina. We had a really good import distributor in England at the time that would get the new releases to us before any other stores in California. I usually made sure to grab one copy the CDs and vinyl, as well as the UK subway posters. My collection grew rather quickly.
I also lucked out, when I got to spend two days in Manchester. It was about a month after the 1997 Pasadena Smiths Convention. Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke were nice enough to give me a tour of the city. After seeing all the best Smiths-related spots, I got the chance to see Mike’s personal collection in his basement. He had multiple vinyl copies of every Smiths release, which he then proceeded to give me. One each of every LP and 12” and three-to-four copies of each 7”. Yes, I know very well that this is not the way most Smiths’ collectors got started.
Before I discovered The Smiths and Morrissey, I would always read all the lyrics on the liner notes from my other records in my collection. It was a must for me, although most of my friends had no idea, nor did they care what the lyrics meant to the songs they were hooked on. So when I first understood the meaning of the Smiths song “Rubber Ring,” I knew I had discovered something different from what I was used to. Sure, other songs told stories, but this was the song speaking directly to me. Basically saying: “don’t forget me as you get older.”
To me, The Smiths career mirrored that of James Dean, one of their heroes. It was over almost before it began. They called it quits at the absolute peak. Maybe this is a good thing. They left us with musical gold. I really don’t think that The Smiths ever made a bad song. This is something no other band that I know can claim.
I once asked Johnny Marr if he would sign a few Smiths 7” records, to give away as prizes at the annual Smiths/Morrissey Convention. He nodded his head and as he was signing the “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me” cover… He pointed to it and said: “This is my favorite Smiths song.” I said: “Too bad you guys never played it on tour.” He countered with: “We toured enough.”
The 2014 Smiths/Morrissey Convention will take place on Sunday March 30th at The Avalon in Hollywood. musicconventions.com