We all remember it, don’t we? Walking up to the counter of your local record store grasping in one hand a handful of change and, in the other, a plastic disc that would completely change your life and become the first record you ever bought, is an occasion that should be heralded and cherished like any milestone moment. It doesn’t matter if, like me, the record store was a low rate Woolworths on a forgotten high street or the plastic disc was New Radicals smash hit ‘Get What You Give’ for £1.89 — the magic is all in the memory.
The same can be said for any music lover. Remembering the moment of purchasing your first ever single is almost as good as the single itself. It’s a feeling that rings true all the way along the musical spectrum. From humble fan to music writer to music maker alike, everyone can hold dear the instance they handed over their cash for a slice of art. Even for an artist as esteemed as The Beach Boys heroic maestro, Brian Wilson, the memory of buying his first record, however fuzzy it may be, means it is a song that has stuck with him forever.
The enigmatic orchestrator of some of the sweetest sounds of the sixties, Wilson has often taken on a mythical status in the music world. Never truly able to convey the grand genius he possesses when speaking to his interviewers, Wilson tends to operate just outside of that realm, always offering his thoughts and feelings but always leaving his audience with the sense that they will never fully understand him. The same can be said when he talks about music, especially the songs he likes.
Across his career, Wilson has never shied away from sharing the songs and artists he admires. Hell, in one video, he even went through a list of his favourite songs by The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and, of course, The Beach Boys. Wilson famously noted The Beatles album Revolver as the record that truly pushed him into creating his own masterpiece — Pet Sounds. On many occasions, Wilson has also picked out his favourite song of all time.
When speaking about that track, The Ronettes ‘Be My Baby’, Wilson has always sounded like a genuine fan. Far removed from cultivating a pop star mystique or even trying to distance himself from his ‘rivals’, Wilson always approaches the subject of music, whether making it or talking about it, with complete and utter authenticity. “I remember hearing Be My Baby at home, in my car, everywhere I went,” Wilson told The Guardian. “I thought to myself: ‘My God, I’ve got to do something like that.’ It obsessed me; it was so good. Nobody had ever come close to what Phil Spector was doing with that one song. So I kept trying to come up with something even better. That’s what happened in the 60s. We did things that blew each other’s minds.”
During that same conversation with the British publication, Wilson also opened up about the first record he ever bought. However, there may be a few blurry lines around that stone-cold fact: “I was at high school one day when I heard this on the radio, between class, I guess, and I went straight out and bought it. Maybe it was the first record I ever bought.” The song in question wasn’t some cheap piece of late ’90s tat that offered Marilyn Manson out for a fight, a la New Radicals, but was, instead, a rock and roll staple.
‘Rock Around the Clock’ by Bill Haley and The Comets will go down in history as one of the most influential songs of all time. When scouring the creative crucible of the swinging sixties, you will find a quite obvious connection to the rock and roll that emanated from the Delta blues and beyond. But for many, Bill Haley was their first real introduction to the genre. For the already musically inclined, like Wilson, the song represented a recalibration of what they already knew, hinting that a new future was about to dawn.
“I had been making music all my life but hearing that taught me to write with more energy and precision,” recalled Wilson. “All my friends were into it. My brothers liked it too. Anyone who heard that record would like it.” It was a style of songwriting that Wilson would too employ. Creating songs that only had a heart but had all the shimmying hips one wanted, making music to laugh, cry and dance to. Not many artists can achieve such a feat, but Wilson has done it on almost every record he’s ever put out.
Buying your first record is a memory that will stay with you forever. Whether it is a little fuzzy like Wilson’s or painfully etched into your cerebral cortex like mine, the moment we become avid music lovers, the moment we switch off of the radio and begin our collection, is a moment we should all cherish — even if it is New Radicals.