It was time to graduate from 45s. Cleaning, ironing, and babysitting for neighbors were about to pay off in a new musical adventure. I had scraped up enough from my various after-school jobs to buy an album–a 78 LP!
There was no lack of exciting new sounds to choose from in 1966. Yet, it didn’t take much time flipping through the records at my local W.T. Grants before I found it, under ‘A’ for ‘Animals.’ “House of The Rising Sun” was getting lots of airplay on WABC. There was something haunting and gritty about the sound, which set it apart from the bubble-gum pop tunes and ballads of the early 60s.
My heart was thumping along with the beat of the music and I hadn’t even put it on the turntable yet! In fact, I wasn’t able to play my new treasure for the first few days I owned it. This was a new kind of torture. Our family Hi-Fi system shared sacred space with the TV. The TV was always on. The Animals would remain caged for a while longer.
When Saturday night finally came, I couldn’t wait to go to my new babysitting gig. After dinner, teeth-brushing, and bedtime stories, I tucked my two young charges into their beds. I surveyed the living room and found the Hi-Fi system. Mine…all mine! I relished the thought. No asking permission or squabbling with siblings. I could just press the buttons and play the music I was longing to hear.
I pulled out the album and used a butter knife to slit the plastic. If you did it carefully, you could open the edge to remove the record and keep the wrapper intact to protect the cover. Albums had cover art worth protecting back then. Slipping the vinyl out of its cardboard, I took great care to hold the record by its center and edges. A smudgy fingerprint on the grooves could cause a skip. I tilted the large disc in my hands, marveling at the pristine beauty and symmetry of the shiny grooves. This was a virgin record, and it was all mine, to enjoy for the evening! (As I write this I wonder if Richard Branson had a similar infatuation with brand new vinyl; if a memory like mine inspired him to name his company Virgin Records?)
I figured out the unfamiliar stereo system in no time. Electronics had fewer buttons in those days! Then I listened, as rapt as a true believer listening to a church sermon. Except this was the Church of Rock ‘n ‘Roll, and I was being baptized by the Blues. I didn’t know it was ‘The Blues,’ not back then. It was Rock ‘n Roll, but earthier than the Rock I usually rolled to in those days.
The bold guitar chords, the driving beat, and the gravelly voice of Eric Burdon reached deep into my body and soul. I couldn’t sit still. Without the critical eyes of parents or siblings, I felt light and free. I cranked up the sound and flailed around the living room stomping, swaying, and spinning to “We Gottta Get Out Of This Place,” “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” and “It’s My Life.” When I had played both sides through, I flipped it over and played it again, and again. I played it so much I’m sure it rearranged my DNA.
My babysitting career with that family only lasted one night. But the memory of letting loose to my first LP, “Best of The Animals” has stayed with me for decades. In this age of iPods and MP3 players, I realize it’s a type of memory unique to us ‘older kids.’ I can’t imagine how this story would have played out if I could have simply pressed a button on something called a computer and loaded into a small box attached to something called earbuds.
The smell, the shine, the sleek beauty of vinyl; the mystery and magic created as a thin needle transfers grooves in that vinyl into sensuous sound; a young girl’s body celebrating her budding sexuality in a hedonistic dance; this is the stuff of sweet music memories!
And what about you– do you remember your first LP?