“It was a piece of science as much as it was art and beauty and sex and glamour”
Recently I watched the BBC4 doc on the history of the 7″ single. About half way through, Paul Morley says the above quote and I felt it really summed up the golden age of the 7″ single. It inspired me to share a few nostalgic memories about growing up in a time when the act of consuming pop music seemed so much more exciting and required considerably more effort than it does now.
The programme had contributions from the usual BBC4 music documentary suspects (Noddy Holder, Miranda Sawyer, Trevor Horn and the aforementioned Mr Morley etc) but also some lesser seen (and arguably more interesting) key players, most notably Norman Cook, Richard Horley and even bubblegum crooner Neil Sedaka.
Norman Cook waxed lyrical (pun intended) about vinyl being central to the DJ experience and the evolution of dance music. Richard Horley wooed us with snippets from his exhaustive seven inch archive while pontificating on the simple and at the same time complex mechanical engineering feat that is the humble record player. Neil Sedaka showed us the other side of the equation – how, as a young musician and composer he would write his own name on the labels of records just to see how it would look if his dreams of landing a recording contract were ever fulfilled.
For me though, the beauty of the documentary lay in reawakening now long dormant memories of how I fell in love with collecting records and why, despite technology’s attempts to squeeze the very last breath of life out of what really is a redundant format if I’m honest, I still prefer going out and buying records to any of the modern methods of acquiring music. Like everyone else of a certain age, collecting records began with the 7″ single, simply because they were easily carried by small hands and readily affordable glimpses of the tantalizing and fascinating landscape of pop music.
I prob have a couple of hundred 45s. Wings, The Sweet, Bowie, Sabbath, Blondie, Stranglers, ACDC, Sparks, Suzi Quatro, The Jam, Kinks, Kate Bush, Buzzcocks, ELO, Slade, Roxy Music, The Stranglers, Ian Dury – all sorts, mainly from the 70s, but some 80s and 60s. I can’t bear to part with them due to absurd sentimental and emotional entanglement with these slices of perfectly preserved 20th century pop culture. I don’t care what they’re worth on eBay. To me they are priceless.
My fascination for the 7″ probably began in 1977 or 1978, when my brother would hold impromptu parties at our house when my folks went out for the evening on a Friday or Saturday night. He’d pull out the party seven tin stashed at the back of his wardrobe and place me in charge of changing the records throughout the proceedings so he could get on with the more important job of trying to persuade Jill Topham to have sex with him. Aged 8, I’d eagerly change records by torch light on the family ‘music centre’ with it’s ‘stylish’ smoked black glass lid, while a houseful of teenagers in flares smoked benson and hedges, drank double diamond bitter from my mum’s Denbyware mugs and fornicated in the dark. I learned even then that these discs were to be treated with the utmost respect, especially when my brother would growl ‘scratch any of these and I will break your legs’.
But buying my own records wasn’t an option until a few years later.
I used to get the bus to Alfreton every Saturday afternoon and spend the pound I’d earned from delivering Sunday papers in a little record shop at the end of town called Fox’s Records. My first ever self-purchase was Adam and the Ants’ ‘Ant Music’. It was 1980. (Much of the stuff listed above I inherited from my brother when he decided he was too old for music, pub juke box throw outs and second hand record shop benders in my teenage years). But as a blue eyed bowl headed pre-teen, buying a weekly 7 inch single was the highlight of my week. I remember tightly clutching the bag that contained the first record I could truly call my own on the bus home and barely containing my excitement to play it. Years later, the humble 7″ would woo me anew and the romance would begin again as my band Cable began it’s 5 year record releasing career with two 45rpm pieces of shiny black beauty. The (black) circle of life (with a hole in the middle) was now complete – the holy but humble 7″ that had opened my mind to a new and exciting world was now a vessel for me and my fellow band members aural expulsions and more exciting than the lovingly hand drawn sleeves or the spiraled scratch that carried our message was the idea that somewhere, and soon, a youngster would be on the bus home clutching our record and beginning his or her journey into the intoxicating world of pop music.
Maybe I’m just getting old, but even though I’ve thoroughly embraced the digital age, buying music the modern way seems frankly rubbish by comparison. So what was your first 7″ and where did you buy it?