I've probably meant to write about this kind of thing for years: first records, the first bands I saw live, and so on. I was prompted to finally visit it by a post over at The Reinvigorated Programmer.
The Programmer tells us of his first record, and links it to his impending trip to see Paul McCartney. I note that, irrespective of his first single, he knows what the first album he owned was. I don’t. I can tell you the first singles I was given (one now spoiled by the epidemic of 70s celebrities having been slimeballs), the first I bought by choice (maximally embarrassing), and various other details. But the first album? I’m not sure. Not sure at all.
I can tell you the first album we owned as a family: it was called Bing and Louis, by Messrs Crosby and Armstrong. We had gone to a hi-fi shop in Glasgow to buy a stereo (which for some reason my parents pronounced “steer-ee-oh”, and did for years thereafter). We hadn’t had any kind of record player before then. I must have been about seven, maybe?
Anyway, the guy in the shop was using this Crosby and Armstrong record1 to demo the turntable, and my Mum liked it so much that he gave it to us. As I recall it was always really badly scratched – crackly, not sticking – so it makes me wonder why on Earth he was using it to demo anything. Unless it was like, “This system is so good you’ll hear every crackle.”
After that initial record, my parents mainly had soundtrack albums – or at least, those were the ones that I remember listening to. The Sound of Music, Paint Your Wagon, Cabaret… I know, the latter was most unsuitable. Except the music isn’t (unless you’re overly influenced by “Tomorrow Belongs to Me”). It was years later before I saw the film.2
And as I think back to the cupboard under the stereo, I’m remembering a couple of albums that were bought for me that are not the one I was going to mention (inasmuch as was going to mention early albums at all, which I wasn’t when I started writing this).
There was an album of really bad versions of TV themes – mainly SF ones, I think, as the only ones I can remember are Doctor Who and Star Trek. The former was bad, but the latter was so bad that I remember my friend Scot saying, “The shite’s coming out” when it started playing one time, after I had described it as “shite”.
Why did we listen to it, then? I dunno. I guess we were musically starved to death.
And something from when I was a bit younger, called, if I recall correctly, Tubby the Tuba. I don’t even want to google that.
I think there was also at least one Disney soundtrack album. Maybe the animated Robin Hood?
The thing I was thinking of, though, that was at least something like a rock or pop album, was given to me by my brother one Christmas. It was called Blockbusters, and it consisted of songs by The Sweet, Mud and Suzi Quatro, making it a seminal influence on me, considering my origin story. And I still have that one.
The connection between the three, as the well-informed musicologist will know, is that they were all Chinnichap artists. Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman were the Stock, Aitken and Waterman of their day.3
It was a great album, with all the hits you could want: “Blockbuster” itself, of course; “Tiger Feet”; “Dynamite”; and of course, “Devil Gate Drive”, and more.
It was only years later that I realised that they weren’t by the original artists. These were the days before compilations like the Now That’s What I Call Music! series, which reliably package up a selection of the year’s chart hits, properly credited and in their original single form. Back then, every year saw another album in the Top of the Pops series, which shared only the name with the TV show. On them you got a selection of the year’s hits, performed by a studio band doing passable clones of the originals.
My Blockbusters album was the same kind of thing, but focused on a single songwriting team.
It was still good, though.
But none of this leads me any closer to remembering what the first album I chose to buy (or asked to have bought for me) was. Possibly it was something by The Beatles. It wasn’t till my sister gave me a reel-to-reel tape of Beatles singles that I really got into music.
But I suspect the only way to be sure will be to do a careful inventory of my records. Which is project for another time.
By now, though, you’re probably desperate to know about those embarrassing or spoiled early singles. Or, you’ve completely forgotten about them.
Some time after we got the stereo, I was given two singles: “The Laughing Gnome” by David Bowie; and “I’m the Leader of the Gang (I am)” by Gary Glitter. Who’d have thought that the second of those would come to be the more embarrassing?
Then a few years later, after Britain’s Eurovision triumph, I took a liking to the Brotherhood of Man, and bought “Oh Boy (The Mood I’m In)”. Which – oh my god! – was in 1977. I am ashamed.
I bought it in Boots (the shop, not the footwear), if I remember rightly. Remember when they were kind of a department store, and sold records?