Reflections on International Record Store Day
The first record I bought was ‘Piece of the Action’ by Bucks Fizz, the UK pop outfit who shot to fame after winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1981. The two-girl/two-boy combo was irresistible to punters, especially when, in what would become their signature move, the boys ripped the flirty skirts off the girls mid-dance sequence. Bobby G, Mike Nolan, Cheryl Baker and Jay Astor were the original incarnation, eternally blonde and smiling, like the foundation group for a brave new world.
I loved their hair, and their matching jungle-esque outfits. I did not see the awkward in their dance routines. ‘Piece of the Action’ appealed to me not just because it was poppy and ear-wormy with classic 80s handclaps, but because the lyrics were so moving: the singer was a loser, on the outside looking in. At eleven, I was a worried girl, perfectly placed to fall in love with pop music. I looked to music videos like they were dreams, run-throughs of what life could be like, and subconscious preparation for all the great and awful things to come.
I was a fan of the 45. Initially this was due to financial constraints – albums were more expensive, and my pocket money was capped at $2.50 a week. But I grew to like the portability, the surprise of the B-side. I even liked the physical action of having to get up to turn the disc over. With a single, I could have a three-minute vacation in one feeling, and then move on to another. A single was like flirting, an album was commitment. I hassled my parents until they agreed to take me to Bucks Fizz’s lip-synched performance at Doncaster Shopping Town. This was my first experience of communal fandom – and I still have locked in my memory the moment of reaching their table, receiving their smiles, the light that seemed to shine from them to me. It was a feeling I would try to recreate for years afterwards.
After that I bought ‘Making Your Mind up’, but by the time ‘Land of Make Believe’ came out tendrils of doubt were curling: the Bucks Fizz utopia, judging from the video, was about sailor whites, fake clouds, cocktails and maillots. I noted a sadness to Bobby G’s eyes – it might have just been the way his face fell, but who was to say it wasn’t contagious? I was ready to move on; doing time at Brashs after school, studying the top fifty, trying to work out which single I would buy next: would it be Phil Collins? Duran Duran? Sheila E? Every week there were new candidates waiting behind the counter. David Bowie said, ‘Tomorrow belongs to those who hear it coming’ and I like to think that’s how I was operating.
Today my singles collection lives in three vinyl-covered carry-cases with accordion sides. When I open one, my eye dances across the familiar sleeves: blue for Epic, blue for Island, red and yellow for EMI, dull black for Astor and Columbia, black and red for A&M. Then there are the mixed-up sleeves; the quirky patterned one-offs; the generic whites and handmade cardboard ones for orphan discs; the prized EPs and picture sleeves protected in clear plastic casings. I love the mismatched jumbly way they look, the touch of their soft-worn paper covers. I don’t know why but they always make me feel hopeful.
A casual flip through my 45s won’t give you a bead on my personality. Or will it? It’s all over the place. Certainly when most of the records were acquired I was in that sorta formless teenage state – punk this week, fifties chick the next. There are freak picks – records that when I look at them now make me cringe, or puzzle; one hit wonders bought for poetic refrains (‘What if I were Romeo in black jeans?’); flirtations with scene and genre (‘Pump up the Jam’, ‘Kinky Afro’); and singles so stylistically opposed that I can’t believe the same person appreciated them – Lou Gramm’s ‘Midnight Blue’ vs Chubby Checker’s ‘Limbo Rock’, The Masters Apprentices’ ‘Undecided’ vs Tears for Fears’ ‘Sowing the Seeds of Love’. And then there are songs like time machines: as soon as I hear the first chord I am in my teenage bedroom, inside my blue-painted walls. I see myself sitting on my floor, or lying on my bed, and I’m transported to ‘Lost Weekend’ by Lloyd Cole, ‘Gloria’ by Them, ‘Take Five’ by Dave Brubeck. Music filled the empty spaces.
When I first started collecting records I didn’t know anything about labels, or re-issues, or what was worth what. There was no online market – it was all trudging by foot, borrowing from friends, taking chances with the Trading Post. Sometimes I would hear a song and get a magic feeling, a certainty that I would find that song and own it some day. I frequented secondhand record stores, swapping ho-hum MOR I’d bought at op-shops for desired items. On weekends I went to record fairs and rotary markets and had long conversations with old record blokes about the nine lives of David Crosby and the significance of the first Sex Pistols gig. I played everything on my $50 Sanyo with only one working speaker and it sounded perfect.
At my first record store job I was given the task of stocktaking, which in those days meant writing down the title and quantity of every album in the store. I remember my shock at realising just how many records Barbara Streisand had put out, and awe that she’d managed to look like a completely different person with each release. I remember the first time a co-worker put a joke record in my stash bag, that beautiful feeling of kinship that only a certain kind of person was going to ‘get it’, and I was one of them.
Vinyl wasn’t just a shortcut to happiness or sorrow, it was a shortcut to communication. Other record store jobs followed, but I never got over my first. This International Record Store Day I’ll be thinking about the times in my life when every day was record store day, when I got paid to sit and serve and pathologise customers, to trade trivia with my coworkers and crab about who had next go on the stereo. And I’ll give Bucks Fizz a spin, for old time’s sake, but I might refrain from watching the videos.
Image: Bucks Fizz still