My introduction to the concept of bootleg records was an ad in the tabloid pages of The Buyer’s Guide To Comics Fandom around 1976 or so. Before that, I may have known that bootlegs existed, but this was the first time I’d ever encountered concrete evidence of that. The very idea that there might be practical availability of unreleased recordings by The Beatles intrigued me and enticed me beyond all reason.
But it took me a while to actually get a bootleg to call my own. The first one I recall seeing was a Beatles boot I spied on the rack at a record store in a Cleveland mall over Christmas break in late ’77/early ’78. I have no recollection whatsoever of what the Beatleg was nor what it contained; my funds were limited, so I bought a couple of 45s instead (“Father Christmas” by The Kinks and “(It’s Gonna Be A) Punk Rock Xmas” by The Ravers). My first bootleg acquisition was a different Beatles boot, The Deccagone Sessions, which was a mix of Decca audition tapes, BBC tracks, and things like the audio track from the “Revolution” video and “Some Other Guy” live ‘n’ distorted at The Cavern. I bought it at (I think) Syracuse’s Desert Shore Records in the late spring or summer of ’78.
My next bootleg was either a live Beatles boot called Youngblood or The Sex Pistols‘ Spunk, an ace collection of the Pistols’ demos. There was an Elvis Costello & the Attractions bootleg called 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong, and a New York Dolls boot called Dallas ’74. In the early ’80s, I snagged a copy of Tails Of The Monkees, a picture disc that purported to be a collection of live Monkees recordings but really contained in-concert performances by Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart. A subsequent Monkees boot called Monkeeshines served up some TV performances, 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee vinylized the group’s little-seen TV special, and an awful bootleg called Live In Los Angeles attempted to preserve the on-stage reunion of Michael Nesmith with his former prime mates Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork in simply wretched, inaudible sound quality.
I never really accumulated all that many bootlegs, but I had a few. I had a handful of titles of (at best) questionable legitimacy by The Sex Pistols and The Flamin’ Groovies, plus a boot of The Beatles’ almost-released Sessions. I had some live boots by The Ramones, and my favorite among those was Blitzkrieg ’76, a Boston live radio performance that included the fab song “Babysitter;” other than a mention of “Babysitter” in an issue of Creem, this was the only evidence I ever encountered that The Ramones used to include “Babysitter” in their live shows. A 1989 visit to Berkeley netted me used copies of The Beatles’ Christmas Album and Paul McCartney‘s Back In The USSR, both of which I presumed were bootlegs, though I suppose it’s possible that one or the other could have been legit (and underpriced).
I also had a few bootleg live cassettes: The Flashcubes (my only long-form Flashcubes document for a very long time), KISS, The Bangles, The Replacements, The Rolling Stones, Johnny Thunders, The Flamin’ Groovies, perhaps some others that I’ve forgotten. There were some Beatles sessions on cassette, too. On CD, I had The Beatles’ Get Back and another copy of The Beatles’ Christmas Album, and a Pandoras disc of dubious legality.
Nowadays, of course, there’s no challenge in getting most of this formerly-illicit material. What was once the stuff of bootlegs can be found on legitimate releases as bonus tracks, or on vault-raids like The Beatles’ Anthology sets and The Monkees’ Missing Links. And everything’s all on YouTube anyway. But I still remember the allure of bootlegs, the thrill of scoring secret music you couldn’t get just anywhere. You couldn’t beat the bootlegs.