is “street fighting man” the most valuable picture sleeve in the world?

Es­ti­mated reading time is 10 min­utes.

IN LATE AUGUST 1968, the Rolling Stones re­leased “Street Fighting Man” as the lead single for the un­re­leased BEGGARS BANQUET album. It was the group’s follow-up to Jumpin’ Jack Flash, which had been a world­wide smash. While it topped the Cash Box Top 100, for some in­ex­plic­able reason it stalled at #3 on the Bill­board Hot 100

As Street Fighting Man was of a quality sim­ilar if not quite equal to Jumpin’ Jack Flash, I as­sume now that everyone as­sumed then that an­other top-tenner was on the way. 1

Such was not the case: radio pro­gram­mers around the country ap­par­ently mis­con­strued the meaning of the song, re­lying on the title in­stead of the lyrics for the record’s message.

The Amer­ican Street Fighting Man pic­ture sleeve (London 45-909) is the Holy Grail for Rolling Stones record collectors.

Cer­tainly, the song’s title could give anyone cause for pause: are the Rolling bloody Stones trying to in­cite a riot? That would not have been dif­fi­cult to image at the time: For those of us who lived through that time, 1968 is re­mem­bered for the as­sas­si­na­tions of Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy, fol­lowed by a summer of riots capped by the po­lice riots at the De­mo­c­ratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion in Chicago in August.

So, de­spite my political/cultural bona fides—which can be de­scribed as having formed a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away—I can easily see radio sta­tion man­agers quaking in their boots at the prospect of playing this record.

Having to deal with the pos­si­bility of their station’s switch­board lighting up with irate callers would not have been worth the ben­efit of playing the record.


Street Fighting Man: cover of the September 9, 1968, issue of Melody Maker.

The sup­posed “ban­ning” of Street Fighting Man by some AM radio sta­tions in the US caused the UK’s leading music weekly, Melody Maker, to run a front-page story on the event.

“Street Fighting Man” lyrics

But the ac­tual mes­sage of the song is not in the title, it’s in the lyrics. And the ac­tual mes­sage is not one of an­archy, but ennui:

Every­where I hear the sound
of marching, charging feet, boy.
Be­cause summer’s here and the time is right
for fighting in the street, boy.

Well now, what can a poor boy do,
ex­cept to sing for a rock and roll band,
be­cause in sleepy London town
there’s just no place for a street fighting man.

Hey! Think the time is right for palace revolution.
Be­cause where I live the game to play is com­pro­mise solution.

Well now, what can a poor boy do,
ex­cept to sing for a rock and roll band,
be­cause in sleepy London town
there’s just no place for a street fighting man.

Hey! Said my name is called Disturbance.
I’ll shout and scream!
I’ll kill the king!
I’ll rail at all his servants!

Well now, what can a poor boy do,
ex­cept to sing for a rock and roll band,
be­cause in sleepy London town
there’s just no place for a street fighting man.

Rather than in­citing riots, the song seems to con­cern the recog­ni­tion and res­ig­na­tion of the singer to the fact that he’s not a rev­o­lu­tionary, just a singer in a rock and roll band, per­haps a frus­trated rev­o­lu­tionary wannabe at best.

Or, he could be saying that he is a rev­o­lu­tionary, but there’s just no place for him be­cause no one else is interested.


Street Fighting Man: front cover for picture sleeve to London 45-909, "Street Fighting Man" / "No Expectations.""

The photo on the front of the pic­ture sleeve for London 45-909 shows three cops standing over a downed man with a woman giving him aid. This makes it ap­pear as though the three had beaten up the one, al­though that is an assumption. 

Sleeve deemed inappropriate

London Records had or­dered a run of pic­ture sleeves for the Amer­ican re­lease of the single, which was the norm for any single by the Rolling Stones. But the norm was usu­ally a posed photo of the group, which ranged from the striking (such as Let’s Spend The Night To­gether) to the just plain silly (think of Jumpin’ Jack Flash. 2

For London 45-909Street Fighting Man / No Ex­pec­ta­tions, someone in London’s graphics de­part­ment opted for an­other kind of image: the sleeve was a plain black and white photo with a rather garish or­ange border. But it wasn’t the border that caused anyone’s eyes to turn to the sleeve. Here is how Bon­hams de­scribed the sleeve in its catalog:

Street Fighting Man was the first pic­ture sleeve re­leased by the Stones that did not fea­ture an image of the band. The single was first re­leased in Au­gust of 1968, just be­fore the Chicago De­mo­c­ratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion, where riots broke out be­tween demon­stra­tors and the Chicago po­lice force.

The Stones’ pic­ture sleeve used two im­ages de­picting po­lice bru­tality taken from one of the many riots that had broken out in over one hun­dred U.S. cities [ear­lier] that year. The record com­pany deemed the sleeve to be in­ap­pro­priate and it was im­me­di­ately withdrawn.

No one knows for sure how many ex­am­ples of this sleeve have sur­vived but most col­lec­tors es­ti­mate the number to be be­tween ten and eigh­teen copies, placing it among the rarest pieces of Rolling Stones memorabilia.”


Street Fighting Man: back cover for picture sleeve to London 45-909, "Street Fighting Man" / "No Expectations.""

The photo on the back of the pic­ture sleeve for London 45-909 has three dif­ferent cops ei­ther holding down or helping up a man. This makes it ap­pear as though the three had beaten up or were about to beat up the one, al­though that is an as­sump­tion, not a known.

What can a poor boy do

The poor wanker in London’s art department—who may go for­ever un­named and there­fore unenshrined—could have been obliv­ious to his en­vi­ron­ment and simply thought the photo ap­pro­priate for a record with such a title. We will prob­ably never know if any heads rolled or po­si­tions were ter­mi­nated due to the en­suing fiasco.

Someone at London must have seen the sleeve prior to its gen­eral re­lease and de­cided, “No way in hell is that going out of here!”

As far as we know, al­most every copy was de­stroyed. Now, when a pic­ture sleeve for a new single by a major record-selling artist is man­u­fac­tured, it is mass-produced on a large scale. While we may never know how many were made, we can as­sume that it was in the thousands—if not the tens of thousands.

We can also as­sume that every one of those sleeves went through some kind of heavy-duty paper-shredder and ended up in tiny pieces, all de­stroyed prior to the record’s gen­eral release.

It is pos­sible that not a single sleeve found its way onto the racks of re­tail stores any­where in America in 1968. Daring to as­sign a number to how many copies of the sleeve es­caped de­struc­tion is not some­thing that I am willing to do.


Street Fighting Man: rejected "public utinal" cover art for BEGGARS BANQUET album.

Street Fighting Man: front cover "R.S.V.P." art for BEGGARS BANQUET album.

Top: This photo of a public re­stroom is what Stones wanted for the front cover of BEGGARS BANQUET. For­tu­nately, someone with taste at Decca was willing to go toe-to-toe with Jagger and re­fused to use it, de­laying the re­lease of the album by months. Bottom: The Stones set­tled for this the bland yet tasteful cover in­tended to re­semble a fancy in­vi­ta­tion. That it was re­leased around the same time as THE BEATLES nat­u­rally brought ac­cu­sa­tions that the Stones were once again aping the Fab Four. 4

Avid Record Collector’s price guide

Nonethe­less, a few copies of the pic­ture sleeve did es­cape the shredder—possibly by a few sticky-fingered London employees—and they can be found for sale on a rare oc­ca­sion. Need­less to say, they are among the most valu­able record-related col­lec­tables in the world! Below find my take on the few doc­u­mented sales of this sleeve found on the Internet.

  In 2008, a copy graded VG++++++ (sic) was of­fered at auc­tion on eBay, and while the seller may have been dis­playing a sense of humor about grading the sleeve with re­dun­dant plus-signs, the image of the sleeve used on the ad is heavily marred by record in­den­ta­tion and wear.

And, it may not even be the item be sold, but a photo pulled from the Internet!

Nonethe­less, it sold for $9,001.

That is the only copy of the London Street Fighting Man pic­ture sleeve to sell on eBay in the past ten years!

  In 2011, Bon­hams also sold a copy of Street Fighting Man:  their copy (lot #2264) does not list a grade, but if the pic­ture used is the ac­tual item, then it ap­pears to have been in near mint (NM) condition.

Given its beau­tiful con­di­tion and being sold by so pres­ti­gious a firm, it com­manded a hefty $17,080!

  In 2015, an un­graded copy was auc­tioned on eBay. While the seller did not as­sign any grade to it, he did in­clude three notes on the sleeve’s condition:

1. “Sleeve has a couple bends and white spots near edges.”
2. “Sleeve has some white marks on the edges and very slight fading in the coloration.”
3. “This is not a ver­i­fied sleeve, the gloss of the paper around on the edges are pos­sibly ques­tion­able and are hard to com­pare without seeing it in hand.”

Nonethe­less, it sold for $17,1000!

That the damage didn’t dis­suade sev­eral bid­ders is understandable—after all, it was the first copy of­fered for sale on eBay in six years! But the fact that its au­then­ticity was ques­tioned by the seller makes this trans­ac­tion rather extraordinary.

  In 2017, an un­graded copy sold for $3,199. This is an ab­surdly low price which I be­lieve was achieved by the sell­er’s ab­surdly bad ad­ver­tise­ment: The seller did not verify the au­then­ticity of the sleeve nor did he grade the sleeve! The seller in­cluded an ex­cel­lent photo of the sleeve but did not as­sure bid­ders that the item in the photo was ac­tu­ally the item for sale. The seller pack­aged the Amer­ican sleeve with a Cana­dian record, which must have con­fused some bid­ders al­ready not con­fused by the above!

Unauthorized reproductions

High-quality re­pro­duc­tions of the Amer­ican London pic­ture sleeve were man­u­fac­tured in the ‘80s and usu­ally sell as col­lec­tables. Alas, nei­ther I nor the Avid Record Col­lector knows how to dif­fer­en­tiate the better re­pro­duc­tions from the au­thentic sleeve.

•  In 2012, six copies from one seller sold for $100 each.
In 2012, an ob­vious repro that was not listed as a repro sold for $305.
  In 2013, a repro that was listed as a repro sold for $203.


Street Fighting Man: Danish picture sleeve for "Street Fighting Man."

This is the rather rare Danish sleeve that uses the same photo as the Amer­ican sleeve but in a more at­trac­tive design.

Danish picture sleeve

Un­known to Stones col­lec­tors for years was the fact that Decca of Den­mark had also is­sued this single in 1968 with a pic­ture sleeve as Decca F-22825 (below). It used the same black and white photo that ap­peared on the No Ex­pec­ta­tions side of the London sleeve, ex­cept the Danish art de­part­ment added red and yellow washes to it.

While this is a rather rare record sleeve, it is not in the same league as the Amer­ican sleeve:

•  In 2013, a copy graded M- sold for $619.
  In 2011, a copy graded M- sold for $633.
  In 2013, a copy graded EX+ sold for $454.

There are dozens of other sales of this Danish sleeve, with prices paid varying dra­mat­i­cally due to time, con­di­tion, and con­fu­sion. Check them out on Pop­sike.


Street Fighting Man: photo of Anita Pallenberg from the movie PERFORMANCE.

This is a photo of Anita Pal­len­berg some­time in the ’60s when she was glo­ri­ously beau­tiful. Check her out with Mick Jagger in the movie Per­for­mance, which is still one of the best rock-related movies ever made.

The world’s most valuable picture sleeve?

To as­sign a re­al­istic NM value of this pic­ture sleeve, I have three sales upon which to make an assessment:

  There is the $9,001 paid ten years ago for a copy that the seller was un­willing to grade NM in an eBay auction—which means that it may have sold for less than it should have.

  There is the $17,080 paid seven years ago for a copy graded NM. This was sold by an in­ter­na­tional auc­tion house with a vast, es­tab­lished clien­tele in a well-designed, well-written advertisement—which means that it may have sold for more than it should have.

  There is the $3,199 paid a year ago for an un­graded copy in an ad­ver­tise­ment that prob­ably left most po­ten­tial bid­ders con­fused if not down­right wary.

So, working with that, I would as­sess the value of a NM copy of this sleeve at $12,000-18,000.

But should a mint (M) copy show up for sale by a rep­utable dealer, I would not be sur­prised to see it sur­pass $20,000.

If I am ac­cu­rate, then the Rolling Stones’ Street Fighting Man (London 45-909) is the World’s Most Valu­able Pic­ture Sleeve! 5

The Rolling Stones’ banned Amer­ican ‘Street Fighting Man’ is the World’s Most Valu­able Pic­ture Sleeve! Click To Tweet

Street Fighting Man: rejected inner sleeve photo for BEGGARS BANQUET album.

FEATURED IMAGE: Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards—or was he Keith Richard then?—Bill Wyman, and Brian Jones as beg­gars ban­queting. Photo by Michael Joseph, and why this didn’t grace the front cover is a shame.



1   The single Street Fighting Man de­buted on both Bill­board and Cash Box sur­veys on Sep­tember 9, a Sat­urday. Giving it two weeks of breathing time, that would put its re­lease date at ap­prox­i­mately Au­gust 26, a Monday. The re­lease of the album as held up be­cause of a pissing match be­tween Jagger and Decca over a taste­less cover photo and wasn’t re­leased until December!

2   For more on the Amer­ican sleeves, refer to Rev­e­la­tions on the Rolling Stones.

3   Hint to fu­ture sellers: you do not ever want to tell anyone that you’re relisting an item be­cause of a buyer who re­neged on his win­ning bid. It doesn’t sound “right” (kosher?) to many po­ten­tial bidders.

4   For more on this covert art dis­pute, refer to “Rolling Stones Battle Over ‘Beggar’s Ban­quet’ Album Art­work.”

5   There is a con­tender for the title of the World’s Most Valu­able Pic­ture Sleeve, but I’ll save that for an­other article.


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