My First Record Player | #RSD2021

By Lucy Harbron - 14:02

I wasn’t one of those people that grew up with parents spinning records. By the time of my earliest memories, my grandparents had already packed up all their vinyls or long since donated them to charity shops, swapping to CDs. I remember ABBA gold playing in the car to Mcdonalds, or the radio humming quietly in the background of Sunday roasts, but never the grandeur of a turntable. The elusive turntable, the coolest accessory. I pined for one from the first day I heard about the Beatles, read my first NME magazine, saw the cool girl place the needle down in some film in that important hazy time somewhere between 13 and 16. At uni, I saw them casually sitting in the corner of friends rooms, almost forgotten as they shrugged them off as something they’d always had with a small collection of heirloom records gathering dust. Sophie played The Wombats and Luther Vandross on her, I watched an ex by Joni Mitchell’s Blue praying one day it would be amongst shared possessions, spending hours letting my fingers walk over record shop boxes to play the part I wanted. At 18 the excuse was that I didn’t have space, 20 I didn’t have the money, by my 23rd birthday there was nothing stopping me.

I bought my first record player with the money I’d got from an article in NME. My younger self looked over my shoulder as I spent days browsing trying to find the right one, she was the one unboxing it, standing at my side watching me drop the needle all starry-eyed. I think it’s the most affirming thing I’ve ever bought.

I find it so hard to invest in myself, always filling and emptying online baskets contemplating worth and absolutely everyone was sick of me by my 3rd week of almost but not yet buying my record player. It’s so easy to get caught up and made to feel inferior in this purchase. Blogs will tell you that if you’re not buying a £400 turntable with the best speakers available, you might as well not bother. I got so caught up in considering the purity of sound and bass despite being more than happy walking around with £3 headphones when really all I wanted was a record player to work, look nice and give me a place to play the albums I loved loud for my younger self. I realised I didn’t care too much about the technicalities, it was all for her and she definitely isn’t a purist and I still care far more about feel than sound. I got a Denver VPL-200 for £60, the first record I played was the Grease soundtrack.

As someone with a super addictive personality, the pull to buy every album I’ve ever loved is high. I hear one good song and want to run down to Piccadilly Records but I’ve had to practice restraint. Instead, I’ve been letting sentiment guide me. I think about younger me, the classic albums she’d want to brag about that have ended up being a part of my life for a decade. I think of older me and possible future kids excited that they will be the type of people that will grow up with a parent spinning records, I think about the soundtrack I want them to have.

The first album I bought was Folklore by Taylor Swift. It was the release that got me my NME commission, so I bought it as a gift to remember the occasion, for me now, me at 14 and me at 50 when I still want to remember my cool days. Hearing the echoing harmonies on My Tears Ricochet spinning around my living room was immediately almost tear-inducing, I realised why people have always wanted the experience, understanding the longevity of the form.

From Depop, I picked up Patti Smith’s Frederick for my favourite author and Blondie’s Sunday Girl for my old burlesque name. With far less restraint, my 7” collection grows rapidly, containing odd Bowie tracks, French songs I love, and Lennon tracks I felt like I should have.

I went out one lunchtime hunting for Purple Rain. Walking to the record store I rang my mum, telling her about my plan to only buy albums that I love from start to finish, that I would put on and let them play. Purple Rain is the epitome of a start to finish album, a perfect example where the tracks blur into one another and the form of a big continuous disk makes so much sense. £15 got me a holographic special cover, I jokingly offered my mum the giant poster it came with.

Dodie’s Build A Problem was the first album I bought on its release day, taking part in the race for chart success. I wrote a review of the album and she printed it out to stick on her bedroom wall, so I bought her record, printed out her tweets about my review, and added it to my collection as a reminder of a beautiful moment of recognition over a beautiful piece of art.

My boyfriend bought me the Funny Girl soundtrack. I feel no shame in letting Barbra Streisand’s voice blast across my neighbourhood.  

Other albums I’ve acquired through various gifts and eBay finds include: Harry Style’s Fine Line, Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell, a battered copy of The Moody Blues Days Of Future Passed, The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and an ABBA Greatest Hits that I felt my Grandma would approve of. My younger self semi-swoons at the mix of classics and cringe cliché.

The list of albums I want to get grows constantly. Falling into a side hustle as a music journalist, new albums seem to get a fast-track to sentimentality. Writing about albums and artists makes their role in your life feel so intimate, a feeling I sense especially strong for new artists like Dodie and Lord Huron alongside icons like Prince and Jeff Buckley. I want a copy of every album I’ve ever taken the time to write about ideally, a way to physically remember a moment when I let a piece of work take up all my brain space for a day, a week, a couple of hours. I want to find myself holding a physical copy of the albums that has always been important; Patti Smith’s Horses, hear Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel no2 on a record, get my own copy of Joni Mitchell’s Blue, enjoy meals soundtracked by Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue. I want to lug these albums from home to home, hear them begin to crackle, use them to decorate walls, learn exactly where my favourite songs start, be seen finally fulfilling the role of cool-girl setting the needle down and feeling my younger self get butterflies over me now.

Today is Record Store Day and I can get involved, planning my day around a walk to Vinyl Exchange to pick up a copy of Hounds Of Love. It’s not rare, it would still be there next week, but I can get involved today so I’m going to. I’ll hold the disk all wrong, sing along to Running Up That Hill, and think about all the words I’ve written about Kate, about old relationships spent learning her discography, months reconnection and how my love for her has morphed over the years like the record probably will. I’ve listened to the album for years, but now it’ll be mine.

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