Written by 5:24 am Analog

Bootleg Records and Purloined Tapes – A Recollection

Before illegal downloads and file-sharing there were bootleg recordings for the RIAA to chase down. Back then they were almost as successful at bagging pirates as they are today…



AR-rs live.jpg

When I was a sophomore in College I had a summer job assembling
designer lamps. The “factory” (I was the only employee) was located among a
strip of small storefronts along Brighton Avenue In Allston, Massachusetts. It
was two doors down from a small record shop called Uncle John’s Records where I used to spend a percentage of my
weekly paycheck on Friday after work.

While it may be hard for you young ‘uns to imagine, but there
once was a time, before Virgin and Tower Records, when record shops used to dot
the land. Many were like Uncle John’s
– small, one-owner operations that were as quirky as their owners.

Uncle John’s had a special section, hidden in back, behind the
curtain that separated the public from the private part of the store with
John’s bed and hotplate, that held “bootleg” records. These “bootleg” records
were usually illegal, unauthorized pressings from live concerts and studio
outtakes. At that time bootlegs were the primary target of the RIAA’s
anti-pirating efforts. And, much like today, these efforts were largely an unsuccessful
fools’ errand.

The most famous “bootlegs” were titles from Bob Dylan. The Basement Tapes and The Great While Wonder filled the
several-year gap after Dylan’s motorcycle accident and the release of Nashville Skyline. Some songs, such as
“Quinn the Eskimo” were only available via this recording. Finally, in 1975
Columbia released the “official” version of the original bootleg, in the same
year that Blood on the Tracks came
out.

Other popular bootleg subjects were the Rolling Stones. I still
have one Rolling Stones bootleg titled Live
R Than You’ll Ever Be
on the outer jacket and Live: In Again Out Again on the record label itself. Produced by
Oakland Records, the disc is a live concert recording taken from the same tour
as the official Stones release, Get Your
Yaya’s Out
, with most of the same songs. But the versions of the songs are
from different takes than the legit version. Mick Taylor’s timing on his slide
guitar solo during “Love in Vain” is far better on the bootleg than on the
official release – every time I hear the authorized version I long for the
“right” solo on the bootleg.

One more thing about bootleg LPs – they were expensive. While a
standard disc was around $4, most bootlegs were at least $10, most $25, and
some, like The Basement Tapes cost
upwards from $50 to as much as $200. Also the quality of the pressing,
recording, mastering, and even the vinyl itself on many bootlegs was atrocious.
Try before you buy was usually not an option. I remember a Jimi Hendrix
Bootleg, where the surface noise was so bad it sounded like it was recorded in
a popcorn factory.

As to how many bootlegs I still have in my record collection,
I’m going to plead the 5th. Most vanished over the years, but when I
want to hear what I still consider the best version of the Rolling Stones
performing “Love in Vain” live I reach for the version in the distressed plain
white jacket…

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