Avalanche! another record store tumbles?
Avalanche! another record store tumbles?
Avalanche! another record store tumbles?
Avalanche! another record store tumbles?

“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?

1 COMMENT

  1. What was your first Single and where did you buy it.

    I read your column here, and it brought a warm nostalgic fuzz all over me

    I remember buying my first single distinctly. Often on corporate away-days or training courses you are asked what your first record was, as an ice breaker. I usually lie and try and make myself sound cooler than I actually am by saying Led Zeppelin or T-rex or something. But the harsh reality is that, like you, the first single I purchased was also ‘Ant Music’ by Adam and the Ants. It was 1980, and I was 9, so perhaps a little forgiveness can be ascribed my way. And, as Adam Ant might have said on another track, ridicule is nothing to be scared of.
    I don’t remember the price, perhaps 50 pence? But I do remember where I bought it. C & A in Derby, which used to be on Victoria Street. I was shopping with my Mum ( I was only 9 remember) and pestered her to let me buy it. C & A had an old fashioned department store in Derby at the time, and I recall the record counter being on the second floor.
    My love affair with Ant Music didn’t last too long, although I did also get the ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ album before I was finished with that shower of idiotically confused glam-punk delinquents.

    My second single was a much more credible entry. It was June 1981 and I was 10 years old. I had been mesmerised earlier by the hypnotic video on TOTP and so, made the long 15 minute bus journey to Ripley on my own, into Fowlers music shop and procured myself ‘Ghost Town’ by the Specials. I wasn’t a massive SKA fan at the time, although I still think their sound stands the test of time 30 years on.
    I didn’t own a decent record player in 1981. From memory, it was an Amstrad tower thing in a cabinet with a twin tape desk and glass door, but the eerie wailing and moaning on that track soaked through my room as I played it again and again. The B-side to ‘Ghost Town’ was the absolutely sublime ‘Friday night-Saturday Morning’, and that one still remains my favourite Specials tracks to this day. (“I like to venture into town, I like to get a few drinks down”. Strangely prophetic. Perhaps that tune had more of an influence on my 10 year old brain than I first appreciated. )

    Soon after that, I had graduated from the Specials to Rock. I still love Rock and Metal but when I was 10, I loved Ian Gillan’s band, Gillan. I liked other metal bands too, like Iron Maiden, Sabbath and Saxon, but I had a real affinity to the ex-Deep Purple front-man’s screeching and wailing. I was buying Gillan singles as fast as my paper-round would finance it. (Happy to say, later on, I managed to see Deep Purple before John Lord passed away, and they didn’t disappoint).

    Soon, I had also graduated from Fowlers and Woolworths to proper record shops. Most of my Gillan back catalogue was acquired at Nightshades in Ripley. I used to love hanging round there where proper metal fans used to frequent. It smelled of smoke and patchouli. There were a couple of arcade machines in the back ( I think I remember up some stairs) and any money left over from Ian Gillian used to end up in Golden Axe or Defender or something similar.

    Paul (I think that was his name, the guy that used to run Nightshades. Long hair and (possibly) a tash) used to order the back issues in for me. I remember him getting in ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ for me. I asked him what was on the B-side. He looked, frowned, thought about it for a second, then just turned the disc over and pointed at it for me. It was ‘Maelstrom’ although I wasn’t sure how to pronounce that when I was 10 either.

    Gillian’s band didn’t last long after 1982, and by the time I was established in secondary school, I was influenced by some older boys ( no names mentioned) and started listing to hip hop and rap. My records after that were Electro albums and the like, and that continued on for a couple of years or more…..

    Yes, I loved vinyl, and buying a record, especially an album, was a real event. I would spend ages fawning over the pictures on the inner sleeve, reading the small print, all the acknowledgements and the like. It was a real feel good feeling to own a great record.

    But it was a love-hate relationship. Remember, I said previously I didn’t own a decent record player. Sound quality wasn’t anything like what can be achieved today. Plus, I was messy and lazy. I would leave discs out to get dusty and scratched, and they would quickly deteriorate into something less than playable. I didn’t own as many as you, nowhere near 200. More like 50 tops. And as the 90s approached, and the onset of CDs came along, my scratchy dusty vinyl became more and more out of favour with me. Its pains me to say now, that one particular afternoon in my late teens, me and a mate spent a couple of hours tossing my vinyl around my garden like Chinese throwing stars and smashing them up with a tennis racquet.

    Of course I feel an attachment to vinyl. I think anybody who lived their teens through the vinyl years must also feel the same. But I think that’s because of a fondness of our teenage exploits, rather than vinyl being better that what technology can give us today. I love retro more than anybody, but we should also acknowledge how good it is now. Nobody in their right mind would suggest going back to video recorders now, just because we used to like them when we were kids. Can you remember the squealing noise they used to make rewinding, and then they would slow down and take forever to reach the end. And remember having to sit through all the trailers at the start of a film. Trailers were rubbish.

    My 17 year old son said to me last November “Dad. Please can I have a set of decks for Xmas?”

    “you can if you want, but you don’t have any records.”

    Blank looks
    After he explained it all to me, and I woke up to the 21st century, we sorted him out with a nice set of Pioneer decks that he lines up 100s of MP3s on and gives him the ability to do everything and more that I used to watch you do all those years ago on that dusty scratchy vinyl. And you know what Pete, it sounds as sweet as chocolate mate.

    cheers Adam

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