Wednesday, July 30, 2008

First Time

The first record I ever owned was 'by' Bugs Bunny. I was 5 and had been handed down an old wind-up gramophone which played 78s. One day, its lid fell down, causing the needle to bounce and ‘stab’ the disc, shattering it. A year later, Russell Thompson (my uncle) gave me my first 45. He worked at Decca Records (UK) and the record that started it all off for me was Bill Haley and His Comets' 'Rock Around The Clock'. It had a great B-side, 'Thirteen Women' which, apparently, was the original A-side in the States until they flipped it. My dad had a huge classical lp collection, all neatly shelved (I once found a Playboy featuring Jayne Mansfield in amongst the Handels) but never played because, for years, he never had a proper gramophone that worked. Periodically, my uncle would come over and give me whatever he had kicking about. He was a showtunes guy… '76 Trombones', 'Oklahoma', so he didn’t mind giving me the noisy, kid stuff. Decca was a pretty big distributor (EMI and Pye were the other major UK record companies back then) and they had a number of different labels including Brunswick, London American, Coral, Monument and Atlantic on their books. The next 45s he gave me, roughly in order: Sandy Nelson's 'Let There Be Drums', Del Shannon's 'So Long Baby', Bobby Darin's 'Multiplication', Pat Boone's 'Johnny Will', Little Eva's 'Keep Your Hands Off My Baby', Del Shannon's 'Little Town Flirt', The Tornados' 'Globetrotter', 'Robot' and 'Ice Cream Man', The Caravelles' 'You Don’t Have To Be Baby To Cry', The Cascades' 'Rhythm Of The Rain' and Billy Fury's 'Like I've Never Been Gone' and 'In Summer'. You’ll notice in several cases, he gave me the follow up to the hit. I remember asking him for The Tornados' 'Telstar', Jet Harris & Tony Meehan's 'Diamonds', Little Eva's 'The Locomotion' and the Billy Fury & The Tornados EP, but I guess it slipped his mind. Those record company people...
Then, in mid-1963, he started coming to lunch on Sundays more frequently, and things started to get really good. I got an advance of 'Come On' by some group called
The Rolling Stones a week before my 10th birthday and from then on, whenever he came over he’d give me a (25) box of all the latest Decca releases. All the early singles by The Zombies, The Small Faces, The Stones (all, except 'Little Red Rooster', for some reason), The Who, Them, Lulu, Marianne Faithfull, Dave Berry, Marc Bolan (pre-John's Children, let alone Tyrannosaurus Rex), The Marauders, The Big Three, Tom Jones, The Righteous Bros, Ned Miller, Solomon Burke, The Mojos, The Moody Blues, Los Bravos, Billie Davis, The Nashville Teens, Goldie & The Gingerbreads, The Alan Price Set, Unit 4 Plus 2, Chris Andrews, Bern Elliott and the Fenmen and Twinkle showed up, much to my delight. I didn’t have a record player, so I took these records over to John Hopson's, 'Chunky' Lang's, James Curry's or Peter Lloyd's where we'd play them endlessly along with their Ronettes, Shangri-Las, Beatles and Dave Clark 5 discs. One night, a group called Them performed 'Here Comes The Night' on Top Of The Pops. Blew me away. I knew Russell would be over in 3 days but it wasn’t soon enough so after school on Friday, I went to Tudor Records in Muswell Hill and it, along with The Yardbirds' 'For Your Love' were the first records I ever laid out cash for. The Yardbirds were on Columbia, through EMI, so there was NO chance Russell would be bringing that one along and if he brought the Them, then I'd just trade it. Soon after, he showed up with a test pressing of the first Them album. To this day, it’s my most played record. Talk about depth...and Van Morrison was only 19 when he recorded it. 'Mystic Eyes', 'Gloria', 'Little Girl', 'Go On Home Baby', 'Bright Lights Big City', 'Route 66', 'Just A Little Bit', 'You Just Can’t Win', 'I Like it Like That'…the record’s packed with great performances of great songs. They made the Stones sound like wannabes and if Van hadn’t always displayed such a miserable personality, they probably would have done a whole lot better. The first album I bought was the Stones’ 'Out Of Our Heads'. I got it at a store near Tottenham Court Road and it got a ton of play on the little mono Dansette-type record player my parents got me for Christmas that year. In 1966 Russell decided to quit Decca because he "couldn’t stand the music they were putting out!" Bah! So now it’s 1970, I’m away at school, slowly building my collection, scoffing at those buying Jethro Tull, The Incredible String Band and Black Sabbath albums and one day Peel plays 'Hamburger Midnight' by an outfit called Little Feat. He mentions Roy Estrada and Lowell George had formed the group and since I’m the only guy I know with 7 Mothers Of Invention albums by that point, I get a little excited. I have to own a copy. Unfortunately Warners decide not to release it in the UK but I learn my first 'import' could be found at a couple of stores in London. A place called Virgin Records had it, and when term finished, the first thing I did was make for an address on Oxford St. Turns out it was a bloody shoe shop and in my desperation I ask a salesperson if they'd heard of Virgin Records. They jerk a thumb to a staircase in a back corner of the store. I climbed a flight of stairs to find a room with a circular couch in the middle of it. 4 or 5 headphones were strewn across it - no 'listening booths' here - and some hippies browsing through the album rack. The smell of hash permeated the place. Most of the albums were unfamiliar to me (unreleased in the UK) and there were several plain white covers with an ink-stamp across the front. Dylan's 'Great White Wonder', 'Blueberry Hill' by Led Zeppelin, and other 'unofficial' albums by The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd nestled next to one another. Bootlegs. Cost a fortune. Damn, now I had to get a job...get some money coming in.

1 comment:


I have to rwad that list of freebies from your uncle slowly, resting every 5 or so names. He quit Decca!!!!