the first album i ever bought: herman’s hermits – herman’s hermits

gross ghost @ cat's cradle back room

The First Album I Ever Bought is an occasional guest post series where friends, family, and strangers talk about, well, the first album they ever bought. A new piece runs every Wednesday, and sometimes more often. If you’d like to submit, please see the guidelines here.

The first album that I bought for myself was the eponymous debut album by Herman’s Hermits.  It was summer 1965, and I was 14.

My Uncle Howard and Aunt Edith were en route from Pennsylvania to Florida for a vacation and they broke up the trip with a stop in High Point, NC, to pay us a visit.  I don’t remember much else about the visit, but I do remember Uncle Howie slipping money into my hand as we hugged goodbye.  It was probably five dollars, but I’m not sure.  That was enough to keep me in Tiger Beat magazines for a couple of months, but I forewent my media rag habit and hightailed it to the record store. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t remember the name of the store.

This was the heyday of the British Invasion, so there were a lot of possibilities.  I loved The Beatles, The Animals, Freddie and the Dreamers – pretty much all of the British bands.  But I bought Herman’s Hermits.  Of all the groups, the Hermits were the cutest, and of all the Hermits, Herman, aka Peter Noone, was the cutest.  He still is.  He shows up periodically on PBS to shill for the “Greatest Hits of the 60s”.

I still remember the words to all the songs and the order they appeared on the record.  A lot of them were very silly, covers of old vaudeville songs, but I loved them then and I love them now.  I wonder what happened to this record.  I haven’t seen it in 40 years.

Susan Dillard Donkar is a retired librarian, a skilled whistler, and an aspiring yodeler, and also my mama.


the first album i ever bought: counting crows – august and everything after

counting crows traveling circus and medicine show

The First Album I Ever Bought is an occasional guest post series where friends, family, and strangers talk about, well, the first album they ever bought. A new piece runs every Wednesday, and sometimes more often. If you’d like to submit, please see the guidelines here.

There’s a small possibility that the first album I bought was by Rod Stewart, because I was a big fan when I was in the single digits. My mom once dedicated an entire day to calling in to a radio contest to win us tickets to a concert. I wore an awesome puff-painted sweatshirt and Rod did some crazy split-kicks.

The album that really counts, though, was August and Everything After by Counting Crows. I was 14 and it was summer and my first boyfriend, a 15 year old Shakespearean actor (by which I mean I saw him fake sword fight in Something’s Rotten in the State of Denmark on the middle school stage and immediately fell in love) was away at his family’s camp and since this was pre-internet, we sent postcards back and forth.

The summer was hot and slow as I waited for the mail and laid around on the itchy carpet of my bedroom and listened to Adam Duritz sing about Omaha and the weather in Baltimore and I felt like a musical intellectual for recognizing the ‘sha la la’s in “Mr. Jones” were a reference to Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” (a song, no small coincidence, that lovely boy said reminded him of me, since I did – and do – have brown eyes. Oh, the imagery.) I knew all the words and all the jangling guitar parts, and the longing of that album became a soundtrack to my summer. I can put on “Rain King” even now and feel the transcendent joy of understanding what the guy on the other side of the song was feeling, thinking of heaven and the burning heart of god and black winged birds.

I counted crows in the neighbor’s yard all that summer. I still do it, sometimes, on the highway. One for sorrow, two for joy – the rhyme is right there, potent with mysteries I had yet to understand and feelings I knew all too well. Summer stretches between the end of school and the beginning again, when school is your life and your structure and your boyfriend is also in the marching band in between his A-list acting gigs in the drama club. Fall brings frost and you’ll refuse to wear your coat even though you’re shivering and still all of your friends will sing along when “Round Here” comes on the radio and you’ll rub your shirt sleeve on the steamed up windows of the car, because you all know the words, because music is infinite when it’s shared and you all experienced that longing and that separation from your love. You memorized songs telling you how you don’t have to waste your life now, darling, as though you knew what wasting your life was even about at 14, but you knew about secrets never to be told, code words in the shaky left-handed script of a perfect boy because can you really say ‘love’ out loud in black ink like that on a post card where anyone can see?

He’s married now. I’ve seen the pictures on Facebook. I secretly hope he still sword fights and tastes like Altoids. And maybe ‘sha la la’s will always make him think of me, and of that yellow album cover and August, when we waited and waited and sang.

Andrea LeClair writes stories, chases chickens, and searches for master narratives in the library while also teaching patrons about e-books.

the first album i ever bought: monty python – monty python sings!

riotfest chicago: peelander-z

The First Album I Ever Bought is an occasional guest post series where friends, family, and strangers talk about, well, the first album they ever bought. A new piece runs every Wednesday, and sometimes more often. If you’d like to submit, please see the guidelines here.

Long before I was a music geek, I was a comedy geek. I grew up listening to my father’s Bob Newhart albums and tapes of Jack Benny radio shows. So when I finally took my first trip to the local Sam Goody, I made a beeline to the tiny “COMEDY” section. I was eight years old, and could only afford a cheap cassette. My eyes were immediately drawn to a set of Monty Python albums – I was a fan of the TV show, and couldn’t believe that these existed. I placed a safe bet and went with the “musical” one. As I took it up to the register, my mom joined me. The clerk looked at the cover, gave me a smile, and said “So – who’s going to be listening to this?” My mom laughed and said “Both of us.”

Oh, mom. She was protecting me. For on this album, among the tunes I knew from the BBC series (Lumberjack Song, etc) were tracks from their films and other records. The Penis Song! Every Sperm is Sacred! There was an extended cut of “Medical Love Song” that was even more offensive than the one they released originally. And….”Sit On My Face”. I, of course, adored it. I blasted it like a grumpy teen drowning out his parents with Nirvana. And my Mom and Dad? Well, they just let it go. I think they understood the jokes and thought they weren’t offensive. (Not to mention that they had a nice subversive streak that served me well as a child.)

I still own the cassette, and play it every so often. My current favorite song is one that I used to despise – “Oliver Cromwell”. A previously unreleased track that had been written pre-Python, it seemed to defeat the entire purpose of the record. It was slow, barely musical, and irritating. And I had to fast forward through it each time. Looking back, I realize now that those damn Pythons did it on purpose, just to piss off their listeners. And I love them for it.

Christopher Busch and I went to high school together, which means we both survived the same four miserable years and lived to talk about records. You can follow him on Twitter at @mstcambot.

the first album i ever bought: black sabbath – we sold our souls for rock and roll

riotfest chicago friday

The First Album I Ever Bought is an occasional guest post series where friends, family, and strangers talk about, well, the first album they ever bought. A new piece runs every Wednesday, and sometimes more often. If you’d like to submit, please see the guidelines here.

I was a twelve year old girl in rural Arkansas with a lot of free time and freedom on my hands in 1995. I was rather new to the whole music scene. My oldest sister who had just graduated and left home had been a Country fan; my mother had gone through a gospel phase, and my other older sister, still at home but with no time for me, introduced me to the sounds of Nirvana and the 1990’s grunge scene in muffled tunes through the bed room wall we shared. I’d dabbled a bit in Tom Petty’s music. I think his album ‘Wildflowers’ had come out the year before. I had a radio in my room, but didn’t own any of my own music – and we only got one radio station on it worth listening to – Magic 105.1 Classic Rock. It was summer and on the rural stretch of highway we lived, about a half mile south of us, was a gas station. I used to walk up the road to it nearly every day in the summer for a soda and candy bar, or a pepperoni and cheese Hot Pocket if I was hungry.

On the counter they had one of those metal wire tape racks by the register in the hopes of enticing bored truckers into a tape purchase. I gave it a spin and, having a $5 bill in my pocket, thought I might invest in one of the $3 tapes. I embarked on my half mile walk home through the grasshopper laden grass of the roadside with the album We Sold Our Souls For Rock n’ Roll by Black Sabbath. I had been enticed by its inclusion of Iron Man, which I had heard on the classic rock station. The album opens with the tolling of church bells in the rain, followed by the slow darkly mysterious guitar with the dramatic lyrics laying out a gothic tale of damnation… Needless to say, it spoke to my twelve year old, Edgar Allen Poe reading self. While generationally, I missed the rise of Black Sabbath and the classic metal scene, but an early discovery of Black Sabbath certainly instilled in me a lasting appreciation for it. Those Dark Age themed lyrics, with each song opening like the stage setting for a gothic play, will always ring nostalgic, keeping my early adolescent self alive.

Adrienne Freeman is a freelance writer, blog editor, and website manager with a penchant for Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Lorca, Joy Division, and classic film (especially horror).

the first album i ever bought: n.w.a. – straight outta compton

hopscotch music festival

The First Album I Ever Bought is an occasional guest post series where friends, family, and strangers talk about, well, the first album they ever bought. A new piece runs every Wednesday, and sometimes more often. If you’d like to submit, please see the guidelines here.


When I was a suburban Chicago 4th grader, I had a friend a few towns over whose house rules weren’t nearly as strict as mine.  This made his place the ideal location for get-togethers that would stretch from Friday night to my being picked up Sunday morning for church.

After greeting each other with our secret handshake, we’d dash to the basement of the ranch-style house that my friend, an only child, had commandeered for his bedroom.  Amid snack foods, VHS copies of Die Hard 2 and New Jack City, a tattered 1989 issue of Playboy, we inflicted our own musical tastes on each other for hours as we made “radio show” mixtapes on his dual cassette deck boom box.

Production consisted of dubbing tape-to-blank-tape in real time, with interludes provided by a microphone borrowed from another toy.

Raised on a healthy diet of Beatles and Stones, I was only recently beginning to submit to top 40 radio – the Killer B, B96.3.  My friend and I spent far too much allowance on the cassingles of songs we heard on the station, the only one we listened to.  Cassettes still ruled at the time – CD players were the plaything of your dad’s rich friend.

Public Enemy, Boyz II Men, BBD and even Color Me Badd were in heavy rotation on the Max and Conor Basement Radio Hour, but one day Conor’s newest acquisition changed the game forever.

N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton.

You know the cover.  All five of them, bedecked in L.A. Raider silver and black, standing in a circle looking down at you, gat pointed at your ass.  The album that the FBI tried to ban.

Conor pushed Play.  We were now about to witness the strength of street knowledge.

The vivid descriptions of nonstop criminal activity, the incredibly filthy language, the catchy beats and sampled Motown hooks – I’d tasted filet mignon and would never eat another burger.  We shouted and jumped all over the couch in poseur karaoke for the next three hours.  There have never been two white 11-year-olds more convinced that they were the baddest gangsta motherfuckas alive.

I had to have my own copy of this masterpiece, so Conor made me a dub of the tape and added 2 Live Crew’s Pop That Coochie to fill out space at the end.  I put the tape in my yellow sport Walkman and listened to it in the family’s maroon ’95 Dodge Caravan on the way to church and everywhere else I went.  I wrote my own rap lyrics about a city I’d never been to (L.A.) on my mother’s green-screen work computer, the way I imagined Eazy-E must have done.  I wondered if he would accept a protege.

It was a couple weeks later that I accidentally left Straight Outta Compton/Pop That Coochie, with introductions by Conor himself (“Yo Yo Max Wassuuupp…”), in Dad’s tape deck in the dining room.  He found it and confronted me.  I was certain that I was headed for military school or perhaps the gulag, but Dad had something else in mind.

“Max, what is this song about?” he asked, after an agonizing 90 seconds listening to “Pop That Coochie” with my father.  This wasn’t even the uncensored version – which is “Pop That Pussy” by the way.

“Um, it’s about, like, girls and uh partying and like,” I babbled, with all the grace and poise of a concussion victim.

“This song is about women having sex for money.”

WHY WHY WHY, I asked myself silently, WHY didn’t I cue the fucking tape up to “Express Yourself,” a song where NWA goes out of their way not to swear while denouncing drug use and other destructive behavior.  “Express Yourself” is a Carpenters song compared to “I like the way you lick the champagne glass/it makes me wanna stick my dick in ya ass.”

My attempted justification of owning this mix tape was by far the worst punishment I could have received.  I gotta hand it to the old man; he fought violence with academic procedure.

The Walkman was confiscated although the tape was not destroyed.  A stealthy master bedroom heist returned it to my possession a few weeks later, forever tainted with the Dad Seal Of Disapproval And Do Not Tell Your Mother About This.  The prepubescent suburban gangster and his criminal empire were undone.

Fuck the po-lice.

Max Stewart is a marketing director in Chicago who listens to Biggie and Tupac while preparing PowerPoint decks.  Real gangstas may follow him @Maxochism.

the first album i ever bought: run-dmc – self-titled

hopscotch music festival: toon & the real laww

The First Album I Ever Bought is an occasional guest post series where friends, family, and strangers talk about, well, the first album they ever bought. A new piece runs every Wednesday, and sometimes more often. If you’d like to submit, please see the guidelines here.

I bought my first album around the time that music as I knew it was changing. Bought, however, is an inaccurate representation of this acquisition. One glorious afternoon in 1984 I walked into the Rose’s Department Store in High Point, North Carolina with my mother and emerged with Run-DMC’s self-titled first record stuffed in my corduroys. Cassette. Weird plastic holder and all. My grade school friends and I were in awe of the sounds that were emanating from North Carolina A&T’s WNAA at that time and I raced home to listen to this cassette in its entirety, especially “Hard Times” which I had heard so many times on late night college radio that year. Cassette in the deck and earphones on… I was disappointed. Why didn’t this music sound like when I listened to it on the radio? Was there a problem with the cassette, my father’s old stereo or had my ears suddenly become incapable of hearing this music. I was disappointed and thought my break dance dreams were over. They were over (before they started) but not because of the music. I realized what I was missing while listening to this record was the static. WNAA at the time was a 10-watt low power station and I was at the very edge of the footprint. I had heard “Hard Times” so many times on that station that it seemed almost off-putting to hear the music as clearly as Russell Simmons and Larry Smith intended. That experience led me to hear music with a critic’s skepticism and informs the way I listen to music to this day. In more important revelations, the experience with that cassette and listening to WNAA during that formative time also gave me a musical foundation that went beyond the country music that dominated my childhood. Music is powerful and WNAA and Run-DMC made me a better person by opening my young eyes to diversity that may not have existed for me in that time and place if not for it. Run-DMC’s first record will always be special to me and to this day, I still try to rap “Sucker M.C.’s” all the way through in the shower.”I cold chill at a party in a b-boy stance/ And rock on the mic and make the girls wanna dance”.

Micha Ward is a Director of the Chicago Independent Radio Project and runs Chicago-centric label Notes + Bolts.

the first album i ever bought: the new radicals – maybe you’ve been brainwashed too

j roddy walston & the business @ kings

The First Album I Ever Bought is an occasional guest post series where friends, family, and strangers talk about, well, the first album they ever bought. A new piece runs every Wednesday, and sometimes more often. If you’d like to submit, please see the guidelines here.

I remember my nervous walk into Record Town like my first drink. A dedicated viewer of MTV’s Total Request Live, I’d been watching the video for “You Only Get What You Give” follow “Hit Me Baby One More Time” for weeks, hearing it when my radio clicked on to wake me up in the morning, and pleading with my parents to leave it on when it played in the car (even though it had the word “asses” in it!!). Armed with my first ever discman, I was ready to take the slightly whiny tenor of frontman Gregg Alexander home with me. That album held all the promises of adolescence. Sex, profanity, drugs (which I never did, but enjoyed the illicit thrill of hearing them sung about), and angst. As I was drawn to the anti-establishment, pop-culture-critiquing attitude of the New Radicals, I had no idea that one of my future favorite ballads was waiting to be discovered as well.

Whatever happened to Amelia Earhart?
Who holds the stars up in the sky?
Is true love just once in a lifetime?
Did the captain of the Titanic cry?

Someday we’ll know if love can move a mountain
Someday we’ll know why the sky is blue
Someday we’ll know why I wasn’t meant for you

“Someday” was everything to my always-infatuated, never-requited thirteen-year-old self. It asked and then answered all the questions a hormonal teen needed to hear. The chords pulled at your heartstrings and the unexpected softer side of Gregg Alexander was utterly disarming. I didn’t outgrow it until my first real relationship, heading into college. I think the CD was still in my collection when I passed the giant zippered vinyl binder on to my brother after we arrived in the era of the MP3. When I hear the strains of “Someday” while walking through a mall or dial-surfing on a roadtrip, I get a lump in my throat.

Miranda K. Pennington intermittently blogs at MKP and NYC, and is currently an MFA student and University Writing teacher in New York.