Friday, January 20, 2006

The first record

I often hear this question asked between music fans: what was your first album? For me, I can't give a straight answer because there are various categories (and formats) involved. Here are some of them:

a.) Vinyl album that was given to me
Early on (as in, five or six years old), I had a couple of Alvin & the Chipmunks records where they covered such classics as "Leader of the Pack" and "Jessie's Girl." At the same time, I had a record from Showbiz Pizza (a place very similar to Chuck E. Cheese) featuring music that the house animatronic band played.

b.) Vinyl album that I bought for myself
Pet Shop Boys, Actually. Hearing "It's a Sin" and "What Have I Done to Deserve This" on the radio and on MTV really grabbed me to get this. This is the only 12" vinyl I've ever bought.

c.) Cassette tape that was given to me
Starship, No Protection. I got this when I was in 3rd grade because our teacher allowed us to play one tape from home. Since I didn't have a proper tape of my own, I convinced my father that I needed one and chose this. I still love the singles off this record like "It's Not Over ('Til it's Over)" and "Nothin's Gonna Stop Us Now."

d.) Compact disc that was given to me
After my father got a CD player and speakers in the mid-80s (which still work and are in great condition in my parents' den), my parents decided to buy some CDs. Along with greatest hits collections from Simon & Garfunkel, John Denver and various big band music, my parents bought us kids Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band's Born in the U.S.A. I don't think I was a fan of Bruce before I got this (I don't think I had ever heard his stuff), but I was a fan after the first listen. The title track still gives me chills.

e.) First compact discs that I bought for myself
U2's War and R.E.M.'s Document. With getting a portable CD player for Christmas, I needed to get some CDs to play. After much debate about what to buy with a Sound Warehouse gift certificate, I went with these two.

What's interesting is that of all the "firsts" of listening to music, the biggest impact I had was from a record I didn't own until a few years ago: Michael Jackson's Thriller. Here's the story: Back in '84 or '85, while my sister and I were over at a neighborhood friend's house in New Orleans, I saw that she had a copy of Thriller and asked to hear it. For some reason I was really excited about having the ability to control how many times I could listen to a single track. I think I asked to hear "Billie Jean" three or four times in a row. My mind was blown.

It's strange how we look back at our first gateways into music with a sense of embarrassment. Of course I don't listen to those Alvin & the Chipmunks records anymore for several reasons (I have no idea where they are, plus I'm a stickler for original versions, not cover versions), but they were just right for my age. We would like to think that we were born with a great taste in music, but we often aren't. I wouldn't have understood Minor Threat's Out of Step when it first came out (I was two) nor would I have understood Echo & the Bunnymen's Ocean Rain when it first came out (I was five).

As much as I moan about certain bands/artists that are out there now that are only for younger people, I have to remind myself of where I came from. If you can get a person involved with music at a young age with something easily chewable, chances are greater that you can inadvertently condition that same person to seek out the not-so-chewable. The major record companies know that when you're young, you don't know/don't want to think about a lot of "real world" issues, so they peddle the light and fluffy.

Somehow people of all types come around in some form or another to the cynical "real world." Just like that line in Almost Famous where Lester Bangs tells William Miller where he'll meet his fellow classmates someday ("You'll meet them all again on their long journey to the middle"), I get the feeling I'll be talking "shop" with former Hawthorne Heights and Fall Out Boy fans someday in the near future. Hey, you gotta start somewhere.

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