April 22 marks the 10th anniversary of Record Store Day, a day dedicated to record culture, record lovers, record makers and above all, record stores. Conceived in 2007 at a gathering of independent record store owners in Baltimore after retail chain Tower Records shut down, the day was formed to change the perception that record stores were irrelevant. Since 2008, Record Store Day, or RSD, has been held on the third Saturday in April, and now there are participating stores on every continent except Antarctica.
Since 2008, RSD has had a musical ambassador and, over the years, numerous titles have been released on the day of celebration. This year’s ambassador is St. Vincent and since it’s the big 10, quite a few official RSD titles will drop on April 22. Dozens of record stores in Canada have signed the Record Store Day Pledge in participation, agreeing to act in the spirit of RSD, and sell the commercial RSD releases to their in-person customers on April 22, instead of overcharging or holding product back to sell online.
All this talk of RSD got us thinking about people’s first records. For many, going to a record store and buying that first vinyl (or cassette or CD) was a memorable experience, much like getting one’s first tattoo or piercing. So we decided to ask a group of people who talk about music all day long over the airwaves about their first record store experiences: our very own CBC Radio 2 hosts. Here are their first memories of visiting a record store.
The first record store I went to was Steve's Music in Cote St-Luc shopping centre in Montreal. It was, it seemed to me at the time, a very long bike ride away. I went with five bucks I'd earned from my paper route. It was 1971. I was 10 years old and I knew what I wanted. My friend Andy's older brother was listening to it when I went over and it stayed with me. I remember the wall behind the cash had 45 records — singles — hanging on pegs in the wall, like the tools in your grandpa's work room, counting down the current top 10, but I paid no attention to that. I was in for album rock: The Best of the Guess Who.
My favourite song was Kurt Winter's “Hand Me Down World,” brought over from the band Brother when Kurt left Winnipeg in a hurry after Randy Bachman ditched the band in the middle of a tour. I listened to it so much that our cat got to know that opening driving bass line and used to run into the living room to join me beside the record player. Tina, the cat, died in 1980. The record player's long gone. Kurt Winter died at 51 in 1997, but that song is still around, and still just a little bit thrilling for me, even after finding out just now on Google Maps that Cote St-Luc shopping centre was only 1.5 kilometres from our house.
— Tom Allen (@CBCR2Shift)
"My" record store involved a bus ride and two subway rides to downtown Toronto and Sam the Record Man. I went every Saturday, from the moment I was allowed to ride on the subway solo. It was a huge store and I swear I would look at every album, every week. The albums were covered in plastic sleeves, and by the time I finally left late on Saturday afternoon, I remember my hands were filthy from handling all those records that thousands of other hands had touched. I can't be sure of the first record I bought, but there was a pile of hugely influential records that came out the year I was 13: James Taylor, Carole King and Cat Stevens. I wore out Tea for the Tillerman. "Wild World" made me cry, and “Where do the Children Play” made me pick up the guitar. That was the first song I learned on the guitar. So that track got a ton of extra play as I picked out the notes and played along with the record. I swear I spent half the year in my bedroom listening to music and playing along. As my mother might say, it "kept me off the streets." That was my happy place.
— Laurie Brown (@)
The first record store I really remember visiting was Sam the Record Man right near Yonge and Dundas in Toronto. The one with the big, spinning neon signs. I grew up in the time of cassettes and CDs, so vinyl wasn't really something that I was interested in until much later. One of my best friends worked at Sam the Record Man, and it was when it was still a really fun, busy place. My favourite movie in high school was Empire Records, and Sam the Record Man reminded me of the store in the film. It was eclectic and weird and loud and the staff were friends. I wanted to be part of it so badly.
As far as the first vinyl record I actually bought, it wasn't until I was an adult. I didn't own a turntable until I was maybe 25. I'm pretty sure one of the first records I ever bought was an old secondhand LP of Hawaiian music from the '50s by Willie Alunuai called Hawaiian Holiday. I collect Hawaiian music records now, and I like to play them especially in the winter on those cold nights when you wish you could get out of the snow. There's something about the way an old dusty Hawaiian record sounds on a turntable that just can't be duplicated by an MP3. It sounds far away and mysterious — the way maybe it once seemed to the first person who bought this album when it was new. Not just a dispatch from another place, but another time.
— Raina Douris (@rahrahraina)
The first record store I ever went to was called Treble Clef at Billings Bridge Mall in Ottawa. The year was 1980 and the first album I ever bought was the 45 of Rapper's Delight by the Sugarhill Gang with money I had saved up from my allowance. I got $1 a week and I used to keep the stack in my pyjama drawer. I remember giving the cashier at Treble Clef a pocketful of $1 bills and then running home and playing “Rapper's Delight” non-stop on my parents' turntable until I had it memorised. I still have it memorised.
— Julie Nesrallah (@julienesrallah)
I bought Aaliyah’s One in a Million. I’d already had it on cassette but we’d recently moved up in the world and now owned a stereo that included a CD player and I was excited to listen without having to do the manual work of rewinding and fast-forwarding. I remember spending a lot of time at the store going to the listening booths and listening to other music that had come out. I remember listening to Biggie’s Life After Death record there because I knew there was no way I could bring it home and listen to it there (my mum did not tolerate music with swearing in the house or even music with blanked-out swear words). Somehow I got away with bringing Mase’s Harlem World home but I never played it loud enough to hear. Aaliyah’s One in a Million ended up becoming a classic R&B record and to this day I still bump it regularly. The title song is definitely my favourite but I also loved “4 Page Letter” and did numerous melodramatic renditions of “The One I Gave My Heart To” in my bedroom.
— Amanda Parris (@amanda_parris)
The first record store I visited was good old Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street just north of Dundas Street in Toronto. RIP. That store was a fixture of my adolescence. Going to Yonge and Dundas meant going to Sam the Record Man and spending hours there. The first visit that I remember (because it's the first time I bought music for myself with my own money) would've been in 1989.
Probably just like every other young teen buying his or her first record ever, I felt a rush and a thrill as I held those few square inches of plastic. The cassette was encased in a red, black and white sleeve with Maestro Fresh Wes in silhouette, dressed in a "black, black, black" tuxedo and holding a baton, an image that is indelibly etched upon my memory. This was independence, it was freedom, it was music that my parents knew nothing about. Since it was a single, that's easy: it was “Drop the Needle.” It starts with a sample of the opening of the Symphony No. 5 by Ludwig van Beethoven, played on a synth, before Maestro Fresh Wes comes in with his unforgettably smooth rhymes. A classic that fills me with visions of me standing on Yonge Street, holding that little cassette in my hands, looking out at my city with fresh new eyes. Any time I get homesick, Maestro Fresh Wes is guaranteed to do the trick. And since I moved away from Toronto before Sam the Record Man closed down for good, in my imagination, it's still there, massive neon records spinning on late into the night.
— Paolo Pietropaolo (@paolopp)
The first record I ever bought was Black Sabbath’s Paranoid when I was very young.The Sabbath record cover I remember because my mom was super Christian and I knew that having a Sabbath album would have caused a lot of problems. I remember it had a guy on the cover, when you opened it up, it looked like he had a sword. It was a very strange forest kind of mythology. But I remember it because I bought it used and it was a little worn out. I remember the fade on the album cover, the wear and tear. I bought it for 50 or 25 cents I think.
I put it on and one song kept scratching. But then “Electric Funeral” came on and it was the best feeling I ever had. It was so strange. I hadn’t heard anything like that. My mother’s friend Lon gave me a quarter or 50 cents and said, “Which one do you want to get?” I had heard Sabbath on the radio and heard Ozzy’s voice and heard about who Ozzy was and I thought, “I have to get this.” That record kind of got me into buying albums and music magazines. I didn’t even know that music was a job. I wasn’t really thinking about work at the time but that was the beginning of me as a music curator in my own life.
— George Stroumboulopoulos (@Strombo)
The first record store I visited was A&A Records in Red Deer, Alberta. It was located in a busy mall — in fact it was the only mall in Red Deer. This was back in the 1970s. I wasn't looking for anything in particular but I did dig through a bargain bin of records to see what I could find. I found something I was looking for. It was a Dracula album for a movie. The music was written by Harry Nilsson. There was one song on the album that I liked. It was "Can't Live if Living is Without You." I still get chills every time I hear that song. The album cover was black and white. It featured a photo of Dracula on the cover but the album was a gatefold. In other words, it folded open like a big double door. When I unfolded the gatefold it exposed an entire picture of Dracula with his cape spread wide open. It scared the shit out of me.
— Tim Tamashiro (@timtamashiro)
I was very little. I was in the store with my mom and the memory is pretty faded but I must have been eye-level to the racks of records, and I immediately fell in love with Whitney Houston's picture. This regal and beautiful Black woman on the cover. Being a little Black girl in Edmonton, I didn't see many reflections of myself. So I was in awe. I had to have it and begged my mother to buy it for me under the pretence it was a present for my dad's birthday or Father’s Day.
I remember him opening the gift and looking at it with a little bit of confusion. He had no idea who Whitney Houston was and, really, neither did I. Only a moment passed before I snatched the album out of his hands and went over to the record player to put it on. (He had taught me how: "Only hold the record at the edges," he said. "You don't want to get fingerprints on it.") The album was great, I memorised every song and would pretend I was her, playing and singing to that record every day. I had no idea it would become such a phenomenal success. I think my favourite song was "Saving All My Love For You." It has these long sustained notes that I loved to sing.
— Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe (@MissAngelineTW)
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