I’d consider Walls Have Ears, a semi-official Sonic Youth live album compiled from three 1985 UK live performances, one of my crate diggers gold finds. One who has, admittedly, been relatively cheap when it comes to individual records, this one still set me back three crisp Andrew Jacksons. But, as you’ll soon discover, it’s scarcity has pushed up the price a bit.
Let’s dig in and take a look at this oddity.
Walls Have Ears: A Brief History
As noted in the opening, Walls Have Ears is compiled from three 1985 live performances in the UK. The production and manufacture was arranged by Paul Smith of Blast First, and it was originally done so without approval from Sonic Youth. In fact, Thurston Moore noted that the band was originally “livid” that they had no say in the release.
That ultimately led to it being withdrawn from sale.
The original release had a total of 17 tracks. Here’s the breakdown of the live cuts:
- Tracks 1-7 recorded in London on October 30, 1985
- Track 8 recorded in Brighton on November 8, 1985
- Tracks 9-17 recorded in London on April 28, 1985
An interesting tidbit: the April recordings feature drummer Bob Bert whereas by fall of 1985, Steve Shelley had replaced Bert. Shelley of course remained with the band until their 2011 “indefinite hiatus” went into effect.
In his book Psychic Confusion: The Sonic Youth Story, Steve Chick wrote about the album,
“the best illicit releases prove that artists sometimes aren’t the best judges of their own artistic output. The Walls Have Ears is such an album; unloved by its creators, but a crucial and electrifying document of the group at their live best, playing with violent and ecstatic abandon”Psychic Confusion: The Sonic Youth Story (Steve Chick, 2009)
Walls Have Ears: Versions Throughout the Years
In its original form, Walls Have Ears received two vinyl variants in its debut 1986 year with the catalog number Not 1 (But 2). One pressing was numbered and one was not. It was later bootlegged on vinyl, cassette and CD. In this section I’ll run through the various iterations throughout the years and share a Vinyl Unboxing Video of my original numbered 1986 pressing.
As noted, my copy is one of the numbered ones. Here’s my unboxing video of the album:
While my copy is numbered 1172, that means there were at least 1200 numbered copies originally pressed, but I have been unable to find a source that notes the true quantity. Given the statement of the release being “semi-official” and the note about it being withdrawn, it’s questionable what quantity is actually out on the marketplace.
The unnumbered copy from that year essentially matched the numbered, but the white box where the number went is empty.
A third unnumbered version on Not Records has an unknown release year and no numbering box on the back of the sleeve. This version varies from the two confirmed 1986 pressings in that it has white labels with minimal black printing as opposed to full color labels featuring jack-o-lanterns.
The final vinyl version was unofficially reissued in 2022 on Room on Fire, and it only includes 7 tracks on a single record as opposed to 17 across two records like the original. Different rear sleeve that mimics the original’s printed inner and different labels (that inner is pictured below).
Cassette and CD Reissues
The lone version on cassette has an unknown release year and just one person on Discogs has it in their collection. Rather than Walls Have Ears, it’s listed as Brighton Beach Party 11-8-85, and it comes on Who Dat Records.
Rather than the original 17 tracks, this one has 14 so the credibility that it’s actually a version of Walls Have Ears is cause for speculation. But the track list is a close match.
There are two known CD versions in existence. The one with artwork consistent to the vinyl pressings has an undated release year and comes via Experience in Word & Music as cat number EWM 005. The second was released in 1993 on Aulica Records in Italy. Like the one-off cassette, it has a name variation: The Sonic Youth Sound Experience (Walls Have Ears).
Quality and Scarcity
Given it’s essentially a live bootleg album, production is what you’d expect: not entirely the greatest. But for a bootleg, it’s pretty solid. The true bootlegs I have in my collection can be a bit grating to listen to. They lack depth and professionalism.
Here it mostly just lacks depth.
Take a listen to “Green Love (Green Light)” below:
Value and validity, then, comes in its scarcity. For the Sonic Youth fan, an original numbered copy of Walls Have Ears is pretty damn cool.
As of October 31, 2022 this version has a median price of $135 but the least expensive numbered copy on Discogs as of today is a whopping $185! Yes, you can get the 2022 “Reissue” for anywhere from $20 to $40, but you’ll be missing 50% of what the original included.
Here’s the track “I’m Insane”
When it comes down to it, knowing there won’t really be any improvements to the production value and sound quality, you’ll just need to ask yourself: is it worth it?
My answer would be an unequivocal NO.