Format firsts. (3)

First vinyl album:
1967-70 – The Beatles (1973)

beatles6770A few months earlier, my father had changed his old Fiat (registration WWW 187 G) for a new Fiat (come on, do you take me for some kind of FREAK). Out went the old in-car 8-track cartridge player, which we listened to on the school run in the mornings: Andy Williams, Simon & Garfunkel, The Carpenters, The Sound Of Music, Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, and the REALLY BORING one: Mario Lanza in The Student Prince. Instead, the new car came equipped with a radio/cassette player, for which new music had to be purchased. Easily my favourite of the new cassettes was the recently issued Beatles retrospective 1962-66, also known as the “double red” album. I had grown up with most of these songs, and so – even at the age of 11 – was experiencing my first kick of nostalgia.

As for its companion volume 1967-70 (the “double blue”), nothing would persuade my father to buy it – his reason being that 1967 was when the Beatles “went funny”. Long hair, weird music, dodgy Indian gurus, that awful Yoko Ono woman who RUINED John Lennon… and, of course, DRUGS. (My grandmother was firmly of the same opinion: “It’s such a pity, and they used to be such NICE boys.”) Attempting to catch him in a weak moment at a petrol station, I had almost succeeded in getting him to buy Sergeant Pepper. Only when scrutinising the cassette case did he suddenly remember that this dated from their “funny period”, and was therefore Not Suitable.

Of course, all of this only served to heighten my curiosity. As a boy, I was very much drawn to the aesthetic of the weird, the wacky, the surreal, the fantastic. I liked anything which broke the boundaries, pushing things further, stimulating my already highly active imagination. Thus the detailed, multi-coloured cover of Sergeant Pepper interested me enormously. This was one step further than The Sweet, Slade, T.Rex or David Bowie. It suggested a forbidden fantasy world of unimaginably rich possibilities.

So what could be better than a complete double album’s worth of The Beatles after they went weird? I was just beginning to understand the concept of an “album” as opposed to a mere “LP”, having heard a piece about the subject on Radio One. Albums existed on a more elevated, adult plane, as complete artworks in their own right. They were still a little bit advanced for me – but nevertheless, I thought it was about time I owned one.

At that time, I had just become aware of the albums chart. Top of the pile in the summer of 1973 was the soundtrack of That’ll Be The Day, starring David Essex and Ringo Starr: another double album, heavily advertised on TV, featuring many rock and roll classics from the 1950s. With late 1950s nostalgia starting to feature heavily in the chart pop of the time, I was interested in finding out more. Also, I did rather fancy buying the Number One album in the charts, merely for the sake of owning the Number One album in the charts. Once again, there was a little more at stake than mere access to a bunch of songs.

Back in the music department of Boots The Chemist, at the start of the long summer holiday, I dithered. Perhaps I should listen to That’ll Be The Day in one of the booths? My sister and I stood beneath the speakers, listening out for the songs which had been featured on the TV advert. As Jonny Tillotson’s Poetry In Motion blasted out (we knew that one), one of the shop porters paused in front of us, in his long brown coat, and did a little “rock and roll” comedy jig for our benefit. We giggled.

However, there was something a little dowdy about the album. It didn’t quite come to life, in the same way that all my favourite glam-rockers did. Black and white, not glorious Technicolor. Beatles it was, then.

And so it came to pass that Side One, Track One of my entire album collection was Strawberry Fields Forever, a song which I had never heard before. I can still picture myself placing the record on my little Bush player with the smoked perspex lid, and perching myself on my bed, lyrics in hand. Golly, was it ever weird! Creepy weird, sinister weird, nightmare weird – with a freaky coda that faded back in, startling and unsettling me. It sounded like how I imagined an LSD trip would be, and confirmed in my mind that I would never, ever try anything like that for myself. It was a blessed relief when Penny Lane came on next; I remembered Peter Glaze and the gang singing it on BBC1’s Friday afternoon kids’ show Crackerjack, and felt a strange shudder of longing for my own early childhood, and for the comforting security of the 1960s.

(Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that I bought this album only a couple of weeks after my parents told me they were divorcing, and my mother moved out of the family home. Interesting timing.)

Equally weird stuff was to come: I Am The Walrus, which embarrassed me by using words like “bloody”, “knickers” and “pornographic”, and disgusted me with images of semolina pilchards climbing up the Eiffel Tower, Lennon’s oddly pitched voice twisting with mockery and menace. But worst of all was A Day In The Life, whose two discordant orchestral crescendos I could scarcely bear to hear, filling me with an overpowering sense of dread. Again, something very dark and very wrong seemed to be taking place.

However, all of this was counterbalanced by sweet, playful, wistful songs such as Hello GoodbyeFool On The Hill, Hey Jude and many more: a clear majority for the light over the dark. By the end of the fourth side, the group’s collective journey through the madness was demonstrably over, as more conventional arrangements took over, and a sense of mellow, valedictory maturity came to the fore. It was scarcely possible to believe that this was the same group who had recorded She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand, and I presumed that such naive juvenalia must have embarassed them by its existence. That short reprise of She Loves You at the end of All You Need Is Love: they were obviously laughing at their pre-enlightened selves, jumping around for the Grannys and the screaming little girls, in their boring matching suits. Aged 11, on the cusp of being a teenager and longing to get there as soon as possible, I felt much the same about my own early childhood: silly Enid Blyton books, silly Play School and Andy Pandy on the telly.

Nostalgia for a lost idyll; impatience to attain maturity and win freedom; fear of the dark mistakes that adults might make; delight at the breadth and scope of the human imagination; curiosity for whatever might happen next. Not a bad way to start an album collection, all told.

What was your first album?

title unknown – Abba (guyana-gyal)
Thriller – Michael Jackson (Buni)
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John (d)
Inflammable Material – Stiff Little Fingers (Chav Gav)
Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy – Elton John (“bob”)
Songs In The Key Of Life – Stevie Wonder (
Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles (patita)
Parallel Lines – Blondie (annie)
Tapestry – Carole King (asta)
EITHER Safe As Milk – Captain Beefheart OR The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter -Incredible String Band (Tina)
Clodagh Rodgers – Clodagh Rodgers (Nigel)
Rio – Duran Duran (vit)
Transformer – Lou Reed (Debster)
Mud Rock – Mud (NiC)
Human Racing – Nik Kershaw (Adrian)
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap – AC/DC (bytheseashore)
Thriller – Michael Jackson (eric bogs)
Can’t Stand The Rezillos – The Rezillos (andy)
Sweet Baby James – James Taylor (Dymbel)
Love At The Greek – Neil Diamond (Alan)
Choke – The Beautiful South (Will)
Greatest Hits – Helen Reddy (looby)

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