Friday, 14 February 2014

The first record conundrum

“Oh wow, that’s way cooler than mine.”

That’s the typical response I get from people when they ask me what the first record I ever bought was.  The answer?  ‘Union City Blue’ by Blondie.  A great tune indeed for a mere child of 8, and not one that can be matched by many when they were that age.

But I have a secret to tell.  I’ve never revealed this to anyone before, not even Mrs Robster who knows pretty much everything about me.  Here goes:

The truth about the first record I ever bought myself, in person, is… I actually don’t remember what my first record was.  It’s a horrifying thing to admit, a music fan who can’t remember his first record.  The thing is, I was surrounded by so much music and other people’s records – mum’s, dad’s, John’s, Uncle Bill’s – and always had records bought for me that the first time I actually went into a shop and bought a record for myself has kind of been lost.  It should have been a defining moment in my life, but I just cannot for the life of me recall it.

The more I think about it, the more unlikely it seems that ‘Union City Blue’ was actually my first record purchase.  Oh I had it, that’s true.  But at the age of 8, it’s more plausible that I saw the video on Multi-Coloured Swap Shop[1] and asked my mum or one of my aunts[2] to get it for me the next time they went to Barnstaple.

So if it wasn’t Blondie, what was it?  What was the first record I ever bought?  My memory is far from what it used to be, and sadly for one reason or another I no longer have the vast majority of records I used to have so it’s not a case of just digging them out and having a look.  There are, however, a few possibilities:

Blondie – Union City Blue (1979)
OK, so let’s start with the ‘urban legend’, the record I’ve convinced everyone (including myself to a certain extent) was my first.  It wasn’t the first record I owned, though again I can’t put my finger on what was.  It came out around the same time as ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ by Queen, but I distinctly remember getting that from Uncle George and Aunt Phyllis for Christmas, so that’s not a contender.  What counts against ‘Union City Blue’ being my first is the year.  In late 1979, which is when it came out, I was just 8-years-old.  While I was really into music, my first love was football, in particular the mighty Reds, Liverpool Football Club.  I was therefore almost certainly going to be kicking a ball around the backyard on a Saturday afternoon rather than traipsing around boring shops with my mum[3].  If I wanted a record, I’d ask her if she could buy it for me, and if I was lucky she’d oblige.

It’s not a record I remember personally buying either, so I’m reluctantly coming round to the idea that this idea of ‘Union City Blue’ being my debut purchase may actually be a myth.

Adam & The Ants – Antmusic (1980)
This one is more realistic.  Coming a year after ‘Union City Blue’, ‘Antmusic’ heralded a new dawn for me.  I didn’t know it at the time, but Adam Ant would, over the next 12 months, become my new musical hero.  There is something nagging at me that strongly suggests this was my first purchase, though I’m not sure why.  I was hugely proud of this single; it became one of my most played and I still have it to this day, crackles ‘n’ all.  I think I can even recall being in Woolworth’s and picking it up off the display, though whether I personally took it to the till and paid for it I can’t say.  Either way, this is a pretty strong contender and probably on a par with Blondie in the ‘cool first records’ stakes.

I’d like to think if it’s not Blondie, then ‘Antmusic’ was my first, mainly because of what most of the alternatives are.  I do believe that this track’s parent album ‘Kings Of The Wild Frontier’ was the first album I bought (the first album I owned was Abba’s ‘Super Trouper’, but I was given that for Christmas from mum and dad along with my first record player).

The Specials – Ghost Town (1981)
Tenpole Tudor – Wunderbar (1981)
Another two records it’s more than OK to admit to owning, particularly ‘Ghost Town’.  I think I did buy this one myself, but not sure I can say the same for the Tenpole Tudor one.  My first record player – which I was gifted the previous Christmas – was what triggered my record-buying habit.  It started small-scale, but I thought I could handle it.  Inevitably though I craved more and more and over the years it just spiralled out of control…  1981 was a year I bought more than a few records.  I would stay with my Aunt Dot and Uncle Bill in Plymouth for a week during the summer when I was a kid.  I recall buying Aneka’s ‘Japanese Boy’ that year and it being a song Aunt Dot particularly enjoyed.  I was 10 - surely I can be forgiven?!

1981 also saw some truly terrible records, ‘The Birdie Song’ by the Tweets was one I remember.  Did I buy it?  Not telling….  I did buy ‘One of Us’ by Abba though.  Still one of the most tear-jerking songs ever written and undoubtedly one of their best.

Bow Wow Wow – I Want Candy (1982)
Now I definitely, without any doubt whatsoever, bought this one myself. It was my first limited edition – a one-sided etched 7” purchased from Woolworth’s in Barnstaple.   The cover depicted Annabella Lwin lying on a leopard-print blanket wearing very little indeed! Enticing, certainly, but pretty sure it wasn’t my first record as by 1982 I was becoming a fairly hardcore record buyer. Every spare penny I had in Christmas, birthday or pocket money I saved to buy records. Still, a decent purchase nonetheless.

So having done some research, I kind of drew the conclusion that maybe ‘Union City Blue’ was not my first record at all, but it was more likely ‘Antmusic’ which is still OK.  Failing that, it was probably ‘Ghost Town’.  Not a bad list, I think you’ll agree.


Something was bugging me.  It’s hazy, but I seem to remember there once being a record shop in Torrington Square, where Ian Baker (no relation) subsequently had a barber shop for years.  I also seem to very vaguely recall going in there with my mum after school one day and leaving with a 7” single.  And that single was…

Well, once again I don’t remember for sure, but it would have been either of these:

Olivia Newton-John – Hopelessly Devoted To You (1978)
John Travolta – Sandy (1978)
Yes, Grease fever had gripped the nation and pretty much everything released as a single from its soundtrack topped the charts.  I had both these records, but can’t say which one I had first, or which one I may or may not have bought in that mysterious former record shop.  In those days, singles stayed on catalogue for years so it was probably still possible to buy pretty much any decent-sized hit of the previous decade or so.  Therefore I may not have even bought either of them when they were in the charts, it may have been months later.  The important thing though is that I was present at the purchase of at least one of them.  Whether I paid for them is another matter – in 1978 I was just 7 so it is unlikely.

And this is where we need to define exactly what the qualifying criteria is. So…

* First record I remember being present at the purchase of, whether or not I actually paid for it which I probably didn’t: Olivia or John;
* First record I remember picking off a shop’s racks that I might have subsequently bought myself: ‘Antmusic’;
* First record I have a vague recollection of buying myself, even though there is a degree of uncertainty over who actually made the transaction: ‘Ghost Town’;
* First record I know for certain I bought myself, where I bought it, when I bought it, how much it cost – everything: ‘I Want Candy’;
* What I will say to people who ask me ‘what was the first record you ever bought’: ‘Union City Blue’ because it remains the coolest of the lot.

You be the judge.


[1] Saturday morning kid’s TV show presented by Noel Edmonds:
[2] One aunt in particular, Joan (my mum’s older sister), picked up records for me.  She’s always loved music.  It was a Saturday morning ritual that my nan and at least one of mum’s sisters would drop by on a Saturday morning after going to town.  They’d gossip and drink tea in the kitchen while I watched Swap Shop, Saturday Superstore or Tiswas.  Whenever music was played on one of those shows, Auntie Joan would often leave the kitchen and take a peek at who was playing.  It really wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out she bought ‘Union City Blue’ for me.
[3] This was years before shops opened on a Sunday.  We still had half-day opening on Wednesdays!. 


  1. Oh, a real dilemma! If you pretend it's Blondie, you'd have to explain why you were so precocious (I mean: fancying Debbie Harry is okay when you're 13, but with 8? I dunno ...). If you say it was Antmusic, you'd be the guy who fancied a bloke in a pirate costume at the age of 9. If you go for Ghost Town, they'd accuse you to be a careerist who reflected about sociopolitical topics at the age of 10. Conclusion: go for BowWowWow, because it's not wrong to buy a record only because it has a semi-naked squaw on the cover when you're 11! And, in retrospect, it was perfectly alright musically .... : much better than 'Sandy', that's for sure!

    1. A very Freudian analysis there Dirk. Surely no one buys a record just because they fancy the singer. Do they...?

  2. As far as singles go, this one is kinda easy for me because I still have it and I even know where I bought it. The single was I think I love you by The Partridge Family and the year was 1970. I purchased the single at Korvettes Department store and the sticker says it was 49¢!
    Now as for albums, it was a year later and it was Electric Warrior by T. Rex. Now like you, my parents would buy my singles and albums for my birthday and Christmas, but these were the first two I paid my own allowance money for. My dad was NOT happy about the T.Rex album saying it wasn't music for kids...and he was quite right. I know I didn't understand any of it, but Get It On and Jeepster just did something to me as a kid of 8 yrs old.

    1. Echorich - Well, your first album trumps mine! For me it was "Naturally" by "Three Dog Night." Even at nine I was a sucker for bands that featured keyboards. Those ABC/Dunhill acts with keyboards were an early fave. That would be Steppenwolf as well!

  3. Some good choices there. My first single was Kings of the Wild Frontier by Adam and the Ants. My brother and I were jointly given a £1 record token and as I was the oldest I got to dictate what we purchased. It was purchased at Boots in Hereford, and I still have the single, although thanks to the damage inflicted onto it by my first record player, I had to buy a replacement copy a few years ago.
    As for first album with my own money, that was Welcome to the Pleasuredome by Frankie goes to Hollywood. That was purchased with my mum in attendance and I remember trying to ensure she didn't see either the rear cover image or definitely not the image inside the gatefold.

  4. I have a similar story. My first record bought with my own money was Golden Brown by The Stranglers. Or so my story always goes. Truth is I can't be sure.

  5. N street cred here - my first two were Part of the Union by The Strawbs and Tie a Yellow Ribbon by Dawn in Selfridges in 1973 on Primary 7 school trip to London. Can also remember the entire class gathering in the hotel lounge and watching Top of the Pops as if it was a religious experience

  6. Ah the good auld days! When buying music was nearly as big as yourself!! A huge big 12" vinyl record. The excitement when carefully pulling out the piece of plastic from the sleeve in order to ensure that no scratches ended up ruining your music listening enjoyment.
    My first purchase was War by U2 in 83/84. Of course it is uncool these days to like U2 but believe it or not kids, they were cool once upon a time ago! I remember breaking my money box for the first time in order to buy it. Cycling down to my local record store in Rathfarnham. I was probably 10 or 11 at the time. It changed my life forever!
    I don't know if anybody else had what was known as "The good room". This is a room that us kids were never allowed in unless a relative happened to be in the house visiting. I now was allowed (grudgingly) in the good room because the record player was in there. This is where I could escape and listen endlessly to this amazing album. Next purchase was both The Unforgettable Fire and Under a Blood Red Sky. A Live album WOW!! Now I could be Bono!!! Grasping at the poker as a microphone and jumping all over couches and armchairs pretending to sing at the top of my voice. Ah the good old days! Do kids ever get to live that experience that anymore? I think not

  7. Man I'm old! My first record bought was when I was eight as well. Only it was "Imagine" by John Lennon. Like you, I felt from an early age that money spent on records was a holy pursuit that gave back so much more than it cost! I had seen records in various drug and department stores, and others had given me 7" records that I played on an old RCA record player from 1949 that had tubes and it only played the 7" 45s with the large hole!

    On this occasion, I asked my parents to take me to a real hippie record store in the San Fernando Valley where I was given a dollar and wandered into Mecca for the first time, as my parents sat in the car. It took me a long time to pick something out. I was an avid listener to AM top-40 radio by this time... for at least a year! I listened to KHJ-AM… Boss Radio! Strangely enough I did not pick up a record I was familiar with yet from the radio. I recognized Lennon as being from The Beatles who had broken up the previous year. As of that time, I had not heard "Imagine" on the radio yet, but I bought it any way. It might be good!

    As for your selections, they are sterling… er, except for the 'Grease' material, but even I once bought an ONJ single in the mid-70s once! I cannot add more.