Music News & Reviews

Rich Copley: Think back to the first album you bought

Last weekend, I flipped to the music section of Entertainment Weekly and suddenly felt a lot closer to Amy Poehler.

The comedic genius was featured in the "My First Album" item. Her pick, Signals by Rush, put me in the DeLorean and sent me right back to 1982, listening to Subdivisions, the album's cool song about not being cool (remember, "Be cool or be cast out!").

The shared junior high school pop culture already sucked me in, and then Poehler threw in something I really identified with: "The Grease double-album may have been earlier ..."

Yes, the answer to the question what was your first album? is probably much less a matter of fact than it would appear to be. There is that technical first album that you acquire, which for many of us might be a Sesame Street record, or something similar that our parents gave us. Then there is the first album that we went out and bought, and which we might only grudgingly admit to, as with Poehler's nod to Grease.

Mine isn't even that good. My first memory of buying an album at a store with my own money — kind of a big deal because $4.97 was a lot of money to me at the time — was a K-Tel compilation album called The Music Machine. On the other hand, the track listing shows that it is not a bad collection: Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Rose Royce's Car Wash and Wild Cherry's Play That Funky Music. It was a fairly good representation of what was playing on my little AM radio when I was in fourth grade in the late 1970s.

Yes, I'm claiming a K-Tel album as my first. But I also say it was Journey's album Escape — the one with Don't Stop Believin' — that was the first album by a band of my generation that I bought at Mother's Records in Virginia Beach, Va.

Some people can proudly tout their initial album for life. Herald-Leader contributing music writer Walter Tunis replied to my first-album query on Facebook: "For me, it was Cosmo's Factory by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Paid $3.47 for it (the normal price for LPs when I was a kid) at the local Woolco store. I thought John Fogerty was the coolest singer on earth. I still do."

For many of us, though, growing up as a fan of music — or of any form of entertainment — is a series of firsts.

The album I would really like to claim is Joe Jackson's I'm the Man. That's because it was the first album I bought that didn't have any songs I'd heard on the radio, which, when you're 13 or 14 is so cool. (I don't need the radio to tell me what to listen to!)

There might be albums that are your first introduction to a new genre of music. Lexington theater artist Natalie Cummins said Brian Eno's Music for Airports was her introduction to ambient music.

I can't remember what classical album I bought first, but I know it was from that Columbia Records Great Performances series, with the album covers that looked like newspapers — maybe an early premonition of where my life was heading. It was probably Leonard Bernstein conducting Ravel's Bolero or Handel's Water Music. But what I do remember as a first was my first album of modern classical music: the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey, with its eerie music by György Ligeti and others. It was the moment I realized that I like weird stuff, and it started a journey of discovery that I have been on ever since.

And that's what first albums are for many of us who fall in love with music. They are the start of a lifelong journey, which is why we remember them so fondly.