When people ask (and they never do) what was the first record I ever bought, I tell them my first single was Get It On by T.Rex and my first album was L.A. Woman by The Doors. This is a lie.
My Mum used to work at WH Smiths, back in the day Smiths had a good record shop as well as books and stationery. As an employee my Mum got a decent staff discount so it made sense to send my Mum off with a list that she would give to Cindy who was the young attractive (bit of a schoolboy crush) assistant who knew about these things, and she would get the records for me.
So, that being the case, the truth is, my first single was Lady Rose by Mungo Jerry. Actually it was an EP, extended play, in other words it had two tracks on both sides, also, for some reason, you had to play it at 33rpm and not 45rpm. I found this out the first time I played it. Nevertheless I was delighted, and a few singles followed, I can’t remember them all, but one was The Witch Queen Of New Orleans by Redbone. More of how New Orleans was to be a life changer in other bloggettes.
However, I wanted to go to records shops, I wanted to buy stuff. Anyone of a certain age who enjoyed buying records will know that solitary, therapeutic joy of flicking through racks and racks of albums covers, enjoying the artwork, the curious titles, and that frisson of risk when you finally commit to an album that you may only know one song on, or maybe you don’t know any, you just know you liked another record by them, or maybe you just like the cover.
You are about to spend hard earned, OK, ‘hard earned’ is an exaggeration in my case, but you are about impart with what seemed in relative terms, a load of money for something that held no guarantees that you would like it. This was part of the thrill, the not knowing, the guessing, going on intuition alone. Your mates might have liked it, some pretentious review in New Musical Express may have liked it, but this is you, it could be rubbish. Also, in those days, I was buying second hand albums a lot of the time, and although one would dutifully inspect the vinyl for scratches etc. It could still be damaged, It could still get stuck. I am probably making this sound more dramatic than it really is. But it wasn’t like buying a jumper that you could try on, or a piece of equipment that had a function, this was a piece of art, totally subjective, and only a few clues as to whether it was going to be any good or not.
Imagine buying a painting that was in a brown paper bag, someone had told you they liked it, you liked one of their other paintings, you had seen a tiny bit of the painting, but you had no idea what the whole thing was like. This was the gamble you took every time you bought an album. Also, you couldn’t bring it back if you didn’t like it. I miss those days.
Of course today you can hear the whole damn thing before you buy it, download it for free if you want, there is no mystery.
Buying a single was different, you were buying a song you had heard on the radio, maybe several times, you knew what you were getting. Occasionally there would be the bonus of a great B side, but that wasn’t why you bought it.
So let’s address the lie I confessed to at the beginning of this. The first single I actually went into a shop to buy was Get It On by T.Rex. I still love it even though I remember playing it about twelve times in a row when I first got it home.
The first album I bought was a reggae album on the budget (but later to become cool) label Trojan. It was called Double Barrel by Dave and Ansil Collins. It cost me 99p. I loved the two singles; Monkey Spanner and the title track, and at the time I didn’t really know what reggae or ska was. However I didn’t really like the rest of the album at the time and bizarrely I ended up throwing it away. A few months ago I bought a download version on iTunes forty six years after buying the album. I still don’t like it much.