There’s an ancient proverb that goes something along the lines of “Second place is just the first place loser.” Number three, then, is…what, an even worse loser? Stuff and nonsense, I say! Three is a magic number, and don’t you forget it. That’s why we’re happy to report that this month’s Top 30 most expensive records list includes the third most expensive record that’s ever been sold in the Discogs marketplace.
The not-really-a-winner-but-that’s-nothing-to-be-ashamed-about is an original 1968 pressing of Would You Believe, the debut album of British songwriter Billy Nicholls, that sold for over $10,300. A princely sum, to be sure, though this can partly be explained by the item’s excellent condition and the fact that only about 100 copies are thought to exist.
So that’s part of the story. As is normally the case with these rarities that somehow manage to fetch a wheelbarrow full of cash despite not being associated with a household name, however, it’s the rest of that story that really makes you go “hmm.”
Billy Nicholls‘ Would You Believe was producer Andrew Loog Oldham‘s attempt to respond to the critical success of Pet Sounds, which had been released about a year-and-a-half earlier. You know, Pet Sounds? One of the most treasured albums of all time? The incontrovertible proof of Brian Wilson‘s eccentric genius? Yep, that Pet Sounds. Well, Nicholls and Oldham fell short because, uh, well, probably because neither of them are Brian Wilson.
Here, let me get on my soap box for a second: I’m not the world’s biggest Pet Sounds fan. It doesn’t have the bite that I like out of my favorite recordings. But that record wasn’t designed to bite. The Beach Boys‘ opus was designed to dazzle, and Wilson pulls it off in such a way that I respect the hell out of what is going on even if I don’t find myself reaching for a listen often.
This is why even I will cast a critical eye on any claims that a record will do things better than, or even similar to, Pet Sounds. When you fire up Would You Believe and start to dig into the title track, you get a handy lesson that shows why that kind of skepticism is appropriate. I mean, hey, this is not a terrible record by any stretch of the imagination. But by the time you’ve unraveled the baroque backing vocal arrangement, the overly-assertive string section’s support, and the banjo/tuba duet in the instrumental breakdown…well, did you see that I just used the phrase ‘banjo-tuba duet’? Yeah, case closed. Closed, glued together, tied up with rope, set on fire, and kicked off a cliff.
Again, though, this is not a bad album. The rhythm section on that opening track really grooves, and the song is a definite earworm. The rest of the album follows suit: yeah, the arrangements might be kind of heavy-handed here and there, but, hell, that’s part of the fun, and the songwriting and playing are strong beginning to end. Classic rock fans should take additional note of that playing, by the way, as Billy Nicholls is essentially backed by the Small Faces over the course of the album, with Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane, Kenny Jones and Ian McLagan contributing their instrumental expertise at various points. Throw in additional work from expert session pianist Nicky Hopkins and bass ace John Paul Jones and you’ve got one hell of an all-star lineup supporting Nicholls.
With all of that going for it, how did Would You Believe turn into a lost classic instead of a top seller? The album is certainly indebted to the sounds of psychedelia. Note, then, that the album would have been heading to record stores at a time when popular music in the UK was moving further and further from those trippier inclinations. A more straight-laced listener base may explain why the charts were cool to the release of the title track as a single early in ’68. On top of that, Oldham managed to get Would You Believe ready for an initial pressing just as financial woes were starting to catch up with his Immediate label, forcing a halt to the scheduled release. That’s how 100 copies of the pretty-good-but-not-great British answer to Pet Sounds turned into a collector’s dream.
Also: who cares whether it’s not as good as one of the greatest albums of all time? The free market isn’t merit-based, my friends. That invisible hand could be flipping us the bird for all we know. If the most expensive albums were also only the best albums, we’d all be paying five figures for our copies of In A Silent Way and Maggot Brain. This record is rare. Plus this copy was apparently in astonishing shape for something which is almost fifty years old. And the goddamn bassist of Led Zeppelin plays on here, folks! If you had $10k burning a hole in your pocket, wouldn’t that be enough reason?
Of course, this isn’t the only thing on this month’s Top 30; as always, click on over to the Top 30 Most Expensive Records from April of 2017 to see the full details of the things that are bringing in the big bucks in the Discogs marketplace. And, as always, keep digging for your own lost treasures in the marketplace, whether the asking price is $10,000 or $10!