Welcome back to Turntable Talk! Thanks once again to all the regular readers and welcome to any new ones. If you’re keeping count, this is our 14th instalment…if you’re wondering about past topics, I indexed the first dozen here. For any new readers, briefly, on Turntable Talk we have a number of guest columnists from other music sites, sounding off on one particular topic. This month, our topic is Feels Like The First Time. No, no, we’re not going X-rated here, we’re talking about a different kind of first – the first album our guests ever bought.
Today we wrap it up and I look back at …the first!
Thanks to all the guest writers for the great trips down memory lane! Interestingly, four mentioned Beatles-related records (themselves or solo works by Paul McCartney) among their very firsts. Not me, though I do think a Wings album made it into my first half dozen or so LPs.
I was lucky, I grew up in a house where there was often music playing. My parents both liked music and seemed to appreciate a range of styles. My Mom was more pop-oriented, liked the Beatles, Tom Jones I think – probably partly because he was Welsh like her, but probably partly because she was a woman with eyes and most women back then seemed to think Tom had “it”. My dad, when I was young, seemed to like older country music and often had that on in the car; he’d also soon get to appreciate some more traditional music like marching bands, anthemic pieces. He didn’t go in for much rock or pop, but he did like Seals & Crofts, and a few other acts of the ’70s. Then there was my older brother, old enough to like more of what would be “FM” rock – Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Led Zep, some Alice Cooper to annoy my mom if nothing else. If I had a leaning back when I was really young, it would probably be for easy-listening pop songs I heard in the background, and would later find to be things done by artists like Classics IV (whom I still like listening to), Dionne Warwick, the Mamas & the Papas.
I was “stuck” with listening to whatever happened to be on in the house until, I think, Christmas 1971. Or sometime around then. I was given a little transistor radio of my own… one that was about the size of a thick celphone by today’s standards, with a tiny gnurled dial on one side to change the AM stations and a volume on it somewhere. It came with a single earbud, if I wanted to listen in privacy. That’s when everything changed.
I quickly found Chum radio in Toronto, at the time the most popular radio station in the land. It was a typical AM, top 40 (although they put out a weekly chart that was actually top 30 instead as seen in the example below) music. And I listened a lot. It was one of the very few perks of being sick a lot. I had a bit more time to listen when other kids would be out playing, or even at school some days. I seem to remember all the music that came from ’72 more clearly than many years and much more so than any year prior. “Summer Breeze” (one my dad liked), “American Pie”, “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”, “Brandy”, “Long Cool Woman” … so many great singles to enjoy and sing along with. I still enjoy them now, but sing along a whole lot less frequently!
My parents gave me an allowance – probably 50 cents a week, maybe equivalent to two or three bucks now. Not much, but it made five or six year old me feel rich. I wasn’t a candy fan generally, and didn’t share my brother’s love of comic books, so for me, my money went to two things – baseball (infrequently hockey) cards and records. At the time, I didn’t have anything to play records on, but my brother had a portable record player he sometimes left out, and there was a good one in the living room that was part of my dad’s stereo. Somewhere along the way Dad taught me how to switch that on and turn it to the turntable. So many a trip to the mall with my mom were highlights to me, because I could go to the Eatons department store and go to their records section downstairs, and buy a 45. If I’d been saving for a few weeks, maybe two. I think the 7” singles were about 59 cents each then. I couldn’t tell you exactly what one I bought first but I do remember having and loving “Tightrope” by Leon Russell and “Nice To Be With you” by Jim Gold & the Gallery from that year. And “Rocketman”, by Elton John of course.
Elton became my first “favorite” musician and was everywhere on Canadian radio back then. Canucks loved him and there was lots of material to love – between November ’71 and October ’73, he put out four new albums, one of them a double-LP. That’s a fast clip! By 1974, there was another and, more significantly for me, I was given my first stereo of my own! It was an all-in-one that I loved; gaudy looking in a way that would now be considered retro-cool. White plastic, with rounded corners, silver knobs for volume, bass, treble (something on a kids’ stereo back then not found on half the mainstream units these days – go make sense out of that!), a light up orange display for sliding the channel tuner up and down. It had an 8-track player in it, and a turntable on top, with a smoked-glass looking cover. I wish I could find a photo of it, but even Google seems stumped by that search. Anyway, that went on my bedroom dresser and opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me, including making tapes (8-track) from the radio and playing my records whenever I wanted. By then I had a lot of singles, but sometime around then, end of ’74 or early ’75, I bought my very first LP … Elton John’s Greatest Hits.
Why not ? Ten of his singles all in one package, and I loved all of them. Well, nine of them off the bat, the tenth, “Border Song”, his very first single (which was a top 40 in Canada still) was new to me, but I quickly grew to like it a lot. Oddly, for some reason I can’t recall, as much as I loved his music, I think by then I only had “Rocketman” and “Bennie and the Jets” as 45s, so it was getting a lot of songs I absolutely loved all at once – “Crocodile Rock”, “Honky Cat”, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, “Your Song”… My brother disapproved. He scorned Elton because he figured he was a gay man . My bro’ used a slightly less polite term. That was only rumored back then, but turns out he was right. But I didn’t care, I loved his music, and that was that. Neither did most Canadians or Americans care, it seemed. The album was #1 in Canada for 14 weeks in total and in the U.S. was the top-seller of 1975. It’s diamond-status in both and has sold well over 20 million copies, and would probably be above that had MCA not eventually discontinued it and put out more extensive greatest hits packages instead.
After that, I can’t remember my second album purchase, but it might have been going backwards to get his Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, or forward to his Captain Fantastic that came out later in ’75. Or a K-tel … who didn’t love those 20-song hit compilations back then?
Not too long after 1975, my enthusiasm for a lot of Elton’s new work diminished, but his Greatest Hits was a record I played and played and played for years. Making it a pretty good expenditure of a month or so’s worth of allowance , close to 50 years ago.
That’s our memories – I’d love to hear your firsts . Feel free to comment on them.