The original “Freewheelin’.” One of–if not the–rarest and most valuable records in the world. A stereo copy sold for $35,000, and a mint mono copy would likely bring $15,000. So it’s big news when a previously unknown copy surfaces. And I’m happy to report one just did.
“The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” is Dylan’s second album, released in late May, 1963. While his self-titled debut featured only two original compositions, eleven of the thirteen tracks on “Freewheelin” were written by Dylan. For reasons still not completely clear, just prior to the album’s release four of the songs were replaced with four newly recorded tracks. Some speculate that because CBS television’s censors wouldn’t let Dylan perform “Talkin’ John Birch Blues” on the Ed Sullivan Show, the CBS-owned Columbia Records pulled it from the album. Others note that the four “replacement” tracks were recorded after the album was completed, and were simply too good to be left off (they included Dylan classics Masters of War and Girl From The North Country.)
In any case, replacement masters featuring the new songs were made, the artwork was changed, and Columbia released the revised album. Except–and this later turned out to be a very big deal–someone at one of the pressing plant didn’t get the message, and a small number of copies were pressed using the old stampers. In the 49 years since the release of “Freewheelin’,” a very few copies have surfaced that play the four “withdrawn” tracks–only two stereo copies are known, and fewer than 20 mono copies. No one has yet solved the mystery of why so few copies escaped Columbia’s pressing plants.
I searched for a copy for nearly 10 years, finally buying one in the early 80’s for $1000–a huge amount for a record at the time. Last month I finally found a second copy–or it found me. An Arizona woman, Lori, emailed to say she had an original “Freewheelin'” for sale, wondering if I’d be interested. I replied that I was extremely interested, and a few hours later Lori and her husband Ray arrived with the album.
Lori told me that she’d been given a box of old albums by her uncle in 1980, and in 1994, while pricing them for a garage sale, she discovered this was no ordinary Bob Dylan album. She was using a “Goldmine” price guide, and saw notations on the back of the album cover suggesting the songs on the album differed from those on the album cover. She noticed that there was a very rare version of “Freewheelin'” and checked the matrix number and confirmed that, incredibly, this was indeed the ultra rare original. In the years since her discovery, she’d made a few half-hearted attempts to sell it, but never followed through–she lived in a rural area, and figured it would just keep increasing in value. She packed it away in a box from a cake tin, and figured some day she’d cash in. But now she was moving to a different state, and decided it was time. She’d found Recordmecca online, was coming to LA for a family visit, and decided to bring the album along, and see if she could find a buyer. Happily, I was her first stop, and we quickly made a deal. And now, the newly discovered “Freewheelin'” is for sale on the Recordmecca site.
In the last 40 years, I’ve checked thousands of copies of “Freewheelin'”–but have never found an original. If you want to check yours, here’s what to look for:
Original copies have matrix numbers ending in -1A on both side (see photo below,) and include these four songs: Rocks and Gravel/Let Me Die In My Footsteps/Gamblin’ Willie’s Dead Man’s Hand/Talkin’ John Birch Blues. Stereo copies list the rare tracks on the labels; mono copies list the replacement tracks. In either case, the record must play these four songs, not just list them on the cover or labels.
Regular copies have matrix numbers ending in -2 or a higher number, and include these four songs: Girl From The North Country/Masters of War/Bob Dylan’s Dream/Talkin World War III Blues. The labels list the correct tracks and the disc plays these four songs.
(Note: Original Canadian copies and some promo copies of “Freewheelin'” list the rare tracks on the cover or labels but play the regular tracks. For more details, check the excellent Dylan discography site “Searching For a Gem” – scroll down 1/3 of the page.) If you find one, let me know !