Thursday, September 17, 2009

Flea Market of Memories

Flee, Market of Memories!

A reader emailed me a few days ago and asked what the first record was that I ever bought.

And I had to think long and hard about it. The first record I bought -- not the first record I asked my parents to buy me or the first record I remember playing. The first one I actually bought.

And of course, the temptation to make up some lie about the hippest, most underground, most amazing record I could think of is very strong. But here's the truth.

When I was around 7, there was a big flea market in the center of our little town. (There might also have been a carnival there at the same time, I'm not positive.) And I had 40 or 50 cents saved up in allowance.

The market had the usual artsy crap (poorly made leather wallets, crocheted bags with lame designs, etc.), but I made a beeline for a covered tent area with stacks and stacks of books and a small crate of records. I decided that I needed to buy a record. With my own money. It seemed like the most grownup thing in the world.

I immediately went for the 45s (thinking I could get more bang for not-even-a-buck) and hunted through them. Now, I was only 7, so I didn't know what to buy and didn't recognize any of the names on the labels.

I guess I could've asked someone, but I didn't want people to think I wasn't cool (even though, at age 7, I can guarantee I was the polar opposite of cool), so I bought something at random: "Kind of a Drag" by the Buckinghams. (I may even have thought that they sounded English and everything English was cool). The woman took pity on me and threw in a pseudo-hip hat that fell apart almost immediately.

But the 45... that was made to last. Now, it was already in bad shape -- major clicks and pops throughout the song, surface noise that made the record sound even muddier than the garage rock (with horns) the band was aiming for. This was clearly a record that had been well loved and well-played by the first owner (and maybe also by a second or third owner) before it got to me.

I had a crappy record player for kids (one step up from a Close & Play) and a few records from my parents (including "Peter and the Wolf," part of a failed attempt to steer me away from rock & roll), but this was the first record I'd selected and the first 45 I'd ever seen. I played it over and over, examining the label for clues (like a pre-teen Kremlinologist). I even played the flip side (and would wonder every time why the A-side was so much better). And although I loved the music, the ultra-hip detachment of the lyrics bothered me... even at age 7. If someone doesn't love you, isn't that a bigger deal than just an offhanded "kind of a drag"? If that's what it meant to be a grown-up, maybe it wasn't something I wanted after all.

I know now that "Kind of a Drag" was the first single the Buckinghams released, that it went to #1 in 1967 (beating out records by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones), and that they weren't English, but were from Chicago.

Sadly, I lost that 45 over the years, but thanks to the magic of YouTube, here is the first record I ever bought (free pseudo-hip hat that falls apart not included):

By the way, this is video features an extraordinarily bad fake performance: no microphones, guitars plugged in, and no horn players. But my favorite thing is the drummer, who seems to be pounding on a footstool standing in front of a bass drum, then playing snare and cymbal rides and on cymbals and snare drums that aren't there.


Alex said...

Bonus Buckinghams video: (with lovely surface noise at the beginning and a bit of warping): "Hey Baby (They're Playing Our Song)":

Late Blooming Mom said...

Still have a bunch of 45s. Just can't part with 'em. Some really wacky ones like a transparent yellow 45 of HEY LITTLE COBRA (a sort of watered down Beach Boys imitation). and HALDEMAN, ERLICHMAN, MITCHELL AND DEAN. Yes a 45 about the Watergate conspirators. Now that dates me.

Alex said...

Wow... that Watergate 45 sounds pretty bizarre -- and is selling on eBay for five bucks right now. (And, according to this guy, it bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100 for several weeks.) Lyrics for those who are interested are here: