A couple of years ago, a woman walked into my Minneapolis record shop with a stack of old albums to sell. I sorted through the records — a rather typical assortment of 1960s and ’70s albums by hitmakers such as Carole King and Pink Floyd. When I finished and offered her several hundred dollars for an album by a Minneapolis band called the Litter she was delighted, but clearly confused.
Her reaction is hardly unique. Many people come in presuming that vinyl featuring icons such as the Beatles or Elvis Presley will reap the greatest reward, and are surprised to learn this is usually not the case. Mainstream acts sold hundreds of thousands and even millions of units, so the ages-old laws of supply and demand are at work here.
Records by lesser-known artists that were produced in quantities of only a few hundred are among the most coveted by serious collectors today. These records were often made for a regional audience.
Minnesota spawned more than its fair share of talented musicians and, in turn, desirable 7-inch and 12-inch records. Some can be worth hundreds of dollars. Maybe one or two are hiding in your attic.
Here is my countdown of 10 of the best, rarest and most valuable Minnesota records of all time, along with 50 very honorable mentions. The list is by no means definitive — records by such groups as the Dynasty, the Valdons and Three Men in Black could easily have made this Top 60. The values I’ve attached refer to records that in collectors’ parlance are in “very good plus” condition (used but not abused), and presume that a willing buyer is near at hand. Happy hunting!
10 Damin Eih, A.L.K. & Brother Clark, “Never Mind” LP (Demular) — This Robbinsdale trio released this psychedelic roller-coaster ride in 1974 in an edition of 300 copies. Because the band never played shows and distribution was virtually nonexistent, the record is almost impossible to find today. Potential value: $500.
9 Jack & the Knights, “Rock the Blues Away” 45 (Mitch) — This fantastic, primitive rockabilly pounder from just outside the Twin Cities clocks in at a mere 97 seconds, and proves that anybody with the right attitude and a cool song can make a great record. $500.
8 The Wisdoms, “Lost in Dreams”/ “Two Hearts Make One Love” 45 (Gaity) — Both sides of the racially mixed St. Paul group’s 1959 single are world-class doo-wop. $600.
7 The Litter, “Distortions” LP (Warick) — All of this Twin Cities group’s locally released 45s — as well as its more progressive second LP, “$100 Fine” — are sought after by aficionados, but the group’s fuzz-guitar-laden first LP remains its most coveted and essential waxing. $600.
6 Wanda Davis, “Save Me” 45 (Project Soul) — Minneapolis-based label Secret Stash gave new life to this obscure Aretha Franklin cover via its inclusion on the fine “Twin Cities Funk & Soul” compilation, but the original 45 is the real deal for DJs and soul collectors alike. $600.
5 The Valquins, “Falling Star” 45 (Gaity) — Not many black vocal groups were recording in the Twin Cities back in 1959, but we are blessed that these St. Paulites recorded this gem (most of them pressed on gold vinyl, no less) for posterity on David Hersk’s prolific Gaity label. $650.
4 The Electras, “Action Woman” 45 (Scotty) — The Litter’s cover version is certainly better known (and arguably the superior record), but this Ely, Minn., quintet was there first with this most classic of snarling, Minnesota garage-punk anthems. $750.
3 The Sonics, “Marlene”/ “Minus One Blast Off” 45 (Gaity) — Included in Norton Records’ two-volume retrospective of late ’50s/early ’60s Twin Cities imprint Gaity Records, this guitar- and sax-driven rocker sounds as if it was recorded in a garage — and probably was! $800.
2 CA Quintet, “Trip Thru Hell” LP (Candy Floss) — This St. Paul area combo’s sole, classic album is probably the kingpin of regionally produced collectibles. Although it was bootlegged and later legitimately reissued, the original artifact has a tangible aura known to make many a psychedelic record collector weak in the knees. $1,500.
1 Bob Dylan, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” LP (Columbia) — Yeah, I know, Dylan and Columbia Records aren’t exactly cut from the same cloth as the small-label obscurities detailed above. That said, I couldn’t resist mentioning what is without doubt one of the most valuable records in the world: the recalled edition of Bob Dylan’s second album. It includes four songs not included on the official release: “Let Me Die in My Footsteps,” “Talkin’ John Birch Blues,” “Rocks and Gravel” and “Gamblin’ Willie’s Dead Man’s Hand.” Original copies have matrix numbers ending in “1A” etched on both sides of the runoff grooves of the record. Stereo copies list the rare tracks on the record labels; mono copies do not. $7,500.
Mark Trehus is owner of Treehouse Records, a south Minneapolis store specializing in rare phonograph records.