For most people, picking out the first record you ever picked up and paid for is a painstaking, and often regretful, action. More often than not, that record is an embarrassment to your future self, an album that screams of flamboyant musical preferences usually dictated by bright colours and hyperbolic lyrics. It’s especially true for those of us born near the end of the century when CDs came out quicker than Blockbuster loyalty cards. The same can’t be said for David Gilmour.
The Pink Floyd guitarist is rightly revered as one of the greatest musicians Britain has ever produced. Not only gifted with a finely tuned ear for a song but with the nous and passion for making that song happen, even in the face of his Pink Floyd adversary Roger Waters, Gilmour has been heralded as one of the true greats of the rock genre. Perhaps fittingly then, the first record he can truly remember buying, one that ‘turned him around’, is equally esteemed in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.
Speaking with the BBC’s Matt Everitt for his feature ‘The First Time’, Gilmour opened up about the first record that truly got his motor running and how it would eventually lead him into his chosen career and a wealth of musical accomplishments that few can match up to. The singer was only ten when he first trundled down to the record shops to pick up his first single, the iconic track from Bill Haley and The Comets, ‘Rock Around The Clock.’
“The first record I bought and which turned me around a bit was ‘Rock Around The Clock’ by Bill Haley, when I was ten,” the guitarist told Everitt. Prior to that moment, the songs on the radio had all sounded the same but there was something different about Haley’s tune. “That was the first moment to me when I thought ‘this is something new and original!” effused Gilmour.
Of course, with the bright shining originality of the song, Gilmour was captivated and enthralled. But such is the transient nature of youth, it wouldn’t last. “It was superseded not very long after by ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ by Elvis Presley,” he continued, “which was a step up again, but that first moment with ‘Rock Around The Clock’… It is very hard to describe how new and revolutionary that sounded to me at the time.”
Released in 1955, the song climbed the charts on both sides of the Atlantic but made an indelible impression on Britain’s youth. Only ten years after World War Two, the country was still struggling to get up off its knees but clearly something about Haley and his band resonated with Gilmour and the entire country.
While it may be difficult to draw a straight line between Haley’s landmark rock number and Gilmour’s trajectory towards prog-rock stardom, there’s certainly a connection. Like most rock stars who found fame at the end of the sixties and made their names in the seventies, Gilmour’s idols are plenty and rooted within American street culture.
Though Gilmour would soon turn his attention to The Beatles and their mammoth world-beating power, it was Bill Haley and his jovial song, that stirred something in the guitarist and set him on a path to glory.