nancy-sinatra-these-boots-are-made-for-walkin-rhinoThere is nothing like your first time, and by that I am referring, of course, to the first time you purchased a 45.

Going to a record store and buying a 45 is a uniquely boomer experience. Because, alas, there are no more 45s. Or, for that matter, record stores.  

The phrase “buying a 45” means nothing to the Millennial. (Unless, of course, you’re in a red state and they assume you’re talking about acquiring a handgun.) But most of us boomers remember the first time we heard a song on the radio and thought: “I have to own that.” 

These days, it’s all about “information wants to be free.” But back then, it was “This song—‘Love Me Do’ or ‘Happy Together’—wants to be MINE.”

So you’d walk to the local record store, or get your mom to drive you, put down your dollar, buy your first single, then bring it home and play it on whatever device you had. 

Usually, it was a device you shared with the rest of your family.

Which meant that an integral part of this experience was inflicting your song on others. You didn’t just quietly groove to the tune through earbuds. You put it on the turntable (remember turntables?) and played it.

And then you played it again. 

And again.

And again. 

Until your sister stormed out of her bedroom to say that if you played “I’m a Believer” one more time she was going to take it off the turntable and jump on it.   

(Which was exactly the way you’d respond two months later when she sought to play “Kentucky Woman” to death.)   

Experiencing a song this way defines our generation, just as helping oneself to an illegal download and enjoying it on an iPod characterizes our children’s.  

The music we blasted at age 12 defined who we were.     

Not only that, but I believe that your first 45 suggests something about who you still are, or at the very least contains important clues to your character, in a way that’s every bit as significant as your birth order, Zodiac sign, or response to a Rorschach or Scientology Personality Test score.    

I recently asked a number of Boomer pals, “What was your first?”

Isabella, still a rebel at heart, danced to the Beatles’ “Revolution” on a portable turntable. Stephanie, now a syndicated cartoonist, was drawn to a silly novelty song, “The Purple People Eater.” At age 12, my sweet-natured pal Peter fell for the blissful vibe of the Carpenters’ “Sing, Sing a Song,” while my edgier friend Liz went for Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’!”—drawn, she says, to the singer’s “aggressive confidence.” Jan’s pick, the unrequited love classic “Johnny Angel,” foretold, she says,  “many angst-filled years to come.” Whereas Steve and Richard, who both married early and well, went for the happy, upbeat everything-will-be-all-right message of “Red Rubber Ball.” 

My pal Caroline’s first 45 was “Stop! In the Name of Love.” Now she practices family law.  

They all thanked me for bringing up such a fun topic. Thinking about the music you loved at age 12 is unlikely to make you feel glum. Even if, like me, your first 45 was Barry McGuire’s 1965 hit “Eve of Destruction,” a despairing little rant about how messed up the world was. Basically, it was racism, war, hypocrisy, and nuclear annihilation with a back beat, featuring cheery lyrics like “They’ll be no one to save/with the world in a grave.”  

Barely 13 and I was already fretting about civilization and its discontents. Decades later, although a wisecracker on the surface, I’m still a worrier at heart.      

And Mark, the man in my life? His first single was the Rolling Stones’ “Get Off of My Cloud.” To this day, he’s a man who hates a buzzkill.  

“Eve of Destruction” and “Get Off of My Cloud.” Could this be the clearest case ever that opposites attract? 

Luckily, we both love music. The two of us were browsing an indy music store recently when I noticed a large section devoted to newly released vinyl 33s. 

“Turntables are making a comeback,” enthused the record store clerk when I asked him about it.  

Maybe so. But I’m pretty sure the 45 is gone for good.  

And that’s okay. After all, “to every thing there is a season.” Which may be from the Book of Ecclesiastes, but we all know it from the single the Byrds cut in 1965. 

Perhaps it was your first.

 

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  • wsm July 29, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    actually, it was paperback writer, the beatles

    Reply
  • Kelly July 28, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    Great essay! I’m from a different era but I really enjoy talking about 1st Cds with friends. It’s definitely different but still tells something about a person and is really nostalgic.

    Reply
  • jody July 28, 2013 at 8:53 am

    My first was I Get Around by the Beachboys. Always was attracted to those “bad boys”.

    Reply
  • Andrea Kushner Lynn July 26, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    My sister and I grew up with Stephanie. We finally found each other on facebook after 30 years. Every time I heard a song which reminded me of the good old days with Steph, I knew exactly where we were and who we were all with. I love this article and the name of some of these songs brought back so many great memories.

    Reply
  • Stephanie July 26, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    Another great essay, Roz! I LOVED my 45s and indeed played them till they were scratched to bits. They were the gateway to buying my first lps, many of which I still have. Music really did define our lives back then and opened our minds as well!

    Reply
  • kate July 26, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    Terrific piece! It brings back such great memories! My oldest sister’s favorite 45s were Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini and Mi Casa Su Casa by Perry Como. I still know them better than the national anthem.
    I missed buying or listening to 45s myself because we moved out of the country and my sister stayed for college. But I remember the total thrill when she sent us a package in 1967 with 3 albums: Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper’s and The Doors. I was 10 or 11. Those 3 albums introduced me to “real” music, and to the entire phenomenon of American youth culture which I literally did not know existed.

    Reply
  • Mark Lowe July 26, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    Wonderful!

    Reply
  • Andy July 26, 2013 at 11:58 am

    Build Me Up Buttercup by the Foundations! Your essay started it playing over and over in my head. Thanks!?!

    Reply
  • Isabella July 26, 2013 at 11:36 am

    A great topic, worthy of “scientific study”. This essay should be submitted to the 2 Steves – Levitt and Dubner, who wrote “Freakonomics”.

    Reply
  • Nancy July 26, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Spinning Wheel

    Reply
  • hillsmom July 26, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Sorry that I was unable to reply to you about the 45s. I don’t think I ever bought any, and I’m not a “Boomer” either. Probably the first LP I bought was something by Ella…which reminds me that I have a big box of LPs stored and nothing to play them on. Sigh…

    Reply
  • Nancy July 26, 2013 at 8:55 am

    I’m only a boomer by the skin of my teeth…and in some classifications I just miss the cutoff. So, I think 45s were “out” when I made my first musical purchase in 1977 of Sean Cassidy’s eponymous LP album…mostly for the sake of one song I loved, ” Da Doo Ron Ron!” I carefully saved up for weeks before making the momentous purchase!

    It’s not an entirely happy memory, my family (pop-hating parents and a couple of musically-edgier brothers) laughed me to shame and I ended up hiding it away somewhere after only a couple of plays on the shared family turntable. But before mortification struck I do remember that feeling of joy and anticipation!

    Don’t feel too sorry for me, I then saved up more money and bought myself a clock radio on which I quietly listened to whatever Pop station I wanted, up in my bedroom, away from the teasers. 😉

    Reply
  • Roz Warren July 26, 2013 at 8:16 am

    Thanks, everyone, for sharing your first! I’m just sorry that I couldn’t included all of the songs that my friends told me about when I was “researching” this essay. Wendi, I too play 45s for exercise, in the form of downloading music videos to watch while I’m walking on the treadmill. (My current favorite: Blurred Lines. A great treadmill rune.)

    Reply
  • Leslie in Portland, Oregon July 25, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    My father built a “hi-fi” in our downstairs “party room,” and I spent many an hour there listening to 33’s. (Never had any 45’s, probably because my father’s turntable had to be loaded manually.) My first 33 was an album by The Limeliters, and I listened mainly to folk and folk-rock albums for years. I still have all those albums and love to listen to them, but now also listen to lots of classical music, blues and jazz. Music will always be a constant in my life. Thanks for another great post, Roz!

    Reply
  • Toni Myers July 25, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    Roz, thanks, you are hilarious. It was Elvis and I think “Heartbreak Hotel”

    Reply
  • Cheryl Fleming July 25, 2013 at 8:47 am

    Interesting article.. Since my parents would not let me listen to the Beatles.. to radical for a 12 year old.. I did get to listen to the Monkees.. and “I’m a Believer” probably drove my siblings nuts.. radical did come… to Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”… em… what does that say about me..- Cher NY

    Reply
  • Corinne July 25, 2013 at 7:22 am

    I wish I still had my swirly blue box of 45’s. I’m not sure what my first was, either Elton John with Crocodile Rock, which my dad got me for Valentines day or Donny Osmand Puppy Love. Do you remember the Popcorn Song by Hot Butter? Perfect for a bunch of 8 year old girls to bounce around to! Thanks for bringing back such fun memories.

    Reply
  • Wendl Kornfeld July 25, 2013 at 6:35 am

    My first 45 rpm purchase was in 1958, and it was “Beep Beep” sung by the Playmates. Something of a novelty song.

    I still play my 45s for exercise — the melodies evoke wonderful feelings of a simpler age while the beat just makes me get up and move!

    Reply