My First Album

but are you experiencedHere’s an idea I borrowed from a fellow music blogger: What’s the first record you ever owned? (“Kristian” described the joys of receiving Guns n’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction as a Christmas gift.)

Depending on how old you are, maybe that should read “stole” instead of “owned.” Or it could reference any of the following: 8-track, reel-to-reel, cassette, CD, mp3, mp4, streaming audio, youtube or telepathic transubstantiation (new technology we’re working on here at RCR).

For those of us who grew up in the Sixties, it boiled down to one of two formats – 33 or 45 RPM. And my first buying decision was informed by a small transistor radio that I had perched on the sill of my bedroom window.

Up until I was about 10 years old, that radio was primarily used to broadcast play-by-play coverage of Cleveland Indians games, which I listened to religiously even though the Tribe rarely won. Meanwhile, my first real exposure to rock music involved sitting outside the closed door of my brother’s bedroom while he and his buddies played early albums by the Stones, the Animals and the Young Rascals. God knows what they were doing in there – and I wasn’t really willing to find out. Entering that room would surely lead to great ridicule and maybe even physical abuse. I was all about listening to the music… from a safe distance, of course.

Then I started hanging out with a friend down the street, whose older brother had a curious mix of rock and jazz albums that seemed to capture the spirit of ’67 – The Doors, Thelonious Monk, Jefferson Airplane, Coltrane, Cream, The Beatles (Sgt. Pepper’s)… My friend’s brother made me feel a little more welcome, probably because he was way too stoned to care that a couple of 11 year olds were rifling through his record collection. I also spent a lot of time at the local recreation center, where I heard the song Light My Fire about 1,400 times. Literally. (72 summer days x 20 listens per day… my wife checked the math.)

cklwGiven my newfound interest in hippie rock, I started to tune out the Tribe games on the radio and tune in to CKLW, also known as “The Big 8” – broadcasting out of Windsor, Ontario. Now I don’t mean to give short shrift to the birth of free-form FM radio in Cleveland with progressive rock stations like WMMS and DJs like Billy Bass, “the classical gas, the man with the special stash.” But that little phenomenon didn’t begin to take hold until more than a year after the Summer of Love. Before then, you had to really scour the dial to come up with something worth listening to. And even though CKLW was technically a Top 40 radio station, those wacky Canadian DJs would still manage to weave in a few soul and Motown nuggets – not to mention an acid-fueled rock song or two. Eventually, the station was forced to add more Canadian content (known in the biz as “CanCon”) at the expense of American soul. Goodbye Marvin Gaye… hello Gordon Lightfoot.

Anyway, I probably still had a couple of fresh box scores on the bedside table when I first heard Jimi Hendrix on my Japanese transistor. And I distinctly remember the experience (so to speak). It was like I’d accidentally dialed up a transmission from a distant galaxy, where advanced lifeforms had developed amplifiers powerful enough to vaporize our entire planet. The opening riff of Purple Haze was like nothing I’d ever heard before… It sent a jolt right through me. I kept a watchful eye on my Sony, expecting it to burst into flames at any second: Purple Haze

I had to find out right away who it was. The DJ never mentioned the artist, and the founders of google were about five years from taking fetal classes in computer programming. Luckily, the words Purple Haze were now seared into my skull. So I walked over to my friend’s house to ask his brother. “Oh yeah, that’s Hendrix, dude… he’s heavy.” Haze, Hendrix, Heavy… Time to scrape together all the change I’d gathered from around the house and head down to the O’Neil’s department store with my dad, who’d let me roam while he “rubbernecked.”

o'neil's-polsky's

O’Neil’s, left; Polsky’s, right

In 1967, O’Neil’s was the epicenter of downtown Akron – a massive structure that housed every basic item you’d need for the modern American lifestyle (and if you couldn’t find it at O’Neil’s, you simply walked across Main Street to shop at the store’s doppelganger, Polsky’s). O’Neil’s had a record department on the 6th Floor, and you’d get there by taking a series of escalators that became increasingly narrow and rickety as you neared the summit.

I survived the climb and walked over to a young, crisply dressed man who looked like he managed the New Christy Minstrels. “Do you have anything heavy by Hendrix? Purple Haze, perhaps?” He looked at me like I had a third arm growing out of my forehead, then suddenly remembered the exotic artifact that somehow got filed next to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. On the cover: an odd-looking black man flanked by two even stranger-looking white guys, all three with afros. Inside: some of the wildest sounds ever committed to wax.

I plopped down my four or five bucks – which, if you account for inflation, would mean you’d need to secure low-interest financing to purchase an album today – and made the precarious descent to the first floor, ready to defend my new purchase from any form of assault. If I had somehow lost my balance and fallen head-first, I would’ve sacrificed my face to get that record home in one piece.

I barricaded the door to our family room, carefully took the record out of the sleeve and delicately placed the needle on Are You Experienced. And it opened with that classic riff from Purple Haze. Clearly, I was being way too careful with my new find. This damn thing could protect itself… maybe I should’ve been more concerned about dad’s cheap Heathkit hi-fi.

I could go on endlessly about the many pleasures of Hendrix’s first album. And not all of them had to do with powerful, mind-melting riffs.

The Wind Cries Mary – one of the most beautiful and lyrical rock songs ever written… The Wind Cries Mary

Are you experiencedThird Stone from the Sun, which took thousands of impressionable young teenagers on a trip across the galaxy (and we didn’t even have to leave our bedrooms)… Third Stone from the Sun

Hey Joe – a truly great blues song, right up there with anything by Muddy or Wolf… Hey Joe

And Manic Depression – Mitch Mitchell’s ultimate throw-down to any rock drummer who followed… Manic Depression

As you can probably guess by now, I went on to buy hundreds of albums, even more CDs and enough mp3s and 4s to fill an 80GB iPod. And I have a wall of cassette tapes in a closet that I’m afraid to toss, because one of them might hold that long-lost piece of music that I’ll never be able to get back. But Are You Experienced remains my greatest find, and I don’t think I’ll ever feel as transformed by a new sound as I did when Purple Haze first melted the plastic cover off my half-watt Sony.

This article was tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 thoughts on “My First Album

  • Jes, 04 February 7:27 am

    My uncle (my music guru) played me Wind Cries Mary when I was 12, my first Jimi Hendrix song. It set the standard for me. The foxy lady’s and purple haze’s could never live up to stuff like Castles Made of Sand and Hey Joe. Changed me forever. However, I repaid him by introducing him to The Black Keys and ended up getting him their discography for Christmas this year. I caught his 11 year old singing I’ll be your man, she told me that they listen to TBK everytime they’re in the car. I was so proud.

  • James, 04 February 7:44 am

    KISS Alive II. Much to the dismay of my parents, my uncle started me on KISS at a young age.

  • admin, 04 February 7:49 am

    Jes, so much Hendrix to love… I think “Axis: Bold as Love” is my favorite — even with all the excitement around my first purchase. I’m sure Dan digs the fact that the next generation of 11-year-olds are latching on to his stuff like I did with “Are You Experienced”!

  • Jes, 04 February 8:51 am

    Ooooh…Bold as Love is another one of those slow ones that gets me, and don’t get me wrong…when Purple Haze starts up I can’t walk away without listenin to the whole thing! And I dig the fact that Dan and Pat are keeping the next generation far far away from Lady Gaga!! There’s still hope.

  • rixaidan, 04 February 10:59 am

    A month before starting the 8th grade during a visit with a friend in Columbus, we were listening to a stack of new albums his older brother had bought. Most were terrible….like Cowsills terrible. I told him I didn’t like anything he had and he said well i do have this one last album but it’s really weird. It’s called “Are you Experienced”. I immediately took a half hour bus ride downtown to Lazarus because that was the only place I knew that sold records in Columbus. Stared at that album all the way home to Cuyahoga Falls. Nothing would ever be the same.

  • matous, 04 February 4:53 pm

    Great topic.
    Friends two years older than I had that album, thought it was wild looking. When I finally bought my own records,
    I started with Pink Floyd. I wanted the tune “Echoes” because I had heard it on WMMS late nights. I also bought “Full House” by J Geils. “Whammer Jammer” will always be a favorite. Saw them a year later at the Akron Civic, a classic concert venue.

  • admin, 04 February 5:56 pm

    I went to that J Geils show at the Civic… I think that’s where I lost 30% of the hearing in my left ear.

  • keena, 05 February 12:34 am

    As the youngest of six, I had plenty of siblings falling all over themselves to buy albums, so I didn’t have to. Particularly because one brother was an obsessive music collector from a very young age–evidently making many early purchases at O’Neils.
    But the first album I could really call my own was given to me by my 7th grade “boyfriend” (we barely talked to each other, much less kissed). It was the first Led Zeppelin album, which honestly I didn’t listen to all that much, being more into CSNY, Joni, Carole King and the like.
    Also remember the J Geils show at the wonderful Civic!

  • Mary, 05 February 5:37 pm

    Wow Tim. I had my own Heathkit to take to college, which I remember dad putting together himself, of course. It’s still down in my basement if you want to add it to your collector’s closet 🙂 After CSNY and Joni et al, even I liked Hendrix. Who would have thought?

  • admin, 05 February 6:00 pm

    Of course you like Hendrix… he wrote you a song! I bet that Heathkit has a buzz in the left channel (dad’s signature touch!).

  • Rixaidan, 06 February 11:18 am

    That J. Geils concert at the Civic was the first and only production venture of a late roommate/friend of mine. You lost your hearing and he lost his ass. Our friend Skip got the honor of picking up Magic Dick at the airport and giving him a ride back to Akron on the back of his Harley. Doesn’t get any better than that.

  • Mary, 06 February 11:55 am

    What left channel buzz? Maybe that’s where I got my lack of respect for stereo equipment…

  • Mike, 07 February 11:32 am

    Blues Brothers soundtrack on cassette. That was 1985. I still have it though the tape has twisted in the cassette so it’s not much good to listen to anymore.

  • Christian from Albuquerque, 07 February 7:00 pm

    I remember making out with a girl in high school and stopping to ask her what the hell was playing… “Electric Ladyland” and it has been my favorite Hendrix album ever since.

  • Mark Twain Fame, 17 February 3:03 pm

    I would have to say Nas’ “Illmatic”, back in 94. I was 10. My big bro was listening to it on his double cassette deck boombox in his room…I came it during “It Aint Hard To Tell” with that sooo sweet chopped up Michael Jakcson sample…oh boy my heart fell in love with Hip Hop. But dont worry, as wehat coems with a young Hip Hop Head/Lover you get to appreciate the many influences and samples from classic Soul, Jazz, Blues, & Rock & Roll artists…which in turns makes a teenage Hip Hop Head like myself learn to open my mind and sicover so many great musicians from different generes like MJ, Hendrix, Miles & Coltrane, Phil Collins, Temptations, Earth, Wind & Fire, and soooo many more.

  • Blmuze, 04 March 3:49 am

    Forgetting the Beatles for the moment (which we all are), the first record that was a transcendental experience for me was Cream’s very first LP, “Fresh Cream.” It was early 1967 and I was following my mom around the grocery store. There in an end cap cut-out bin was this album cover with these three freaky looking dudes on it that just screamed “buy me and you will never be the same.” I had to have it. Of course, only a few months later (in June), Purple Haze came out and that was all she wrote. But it was Fresh Cream that started the ball rolling, and it hasn’t stopped since.

  • admin, 06 June 2:08 pm

    My second album was Cream’s Wheels of Fire. I loved Crossroads and Born Under a Bad Sign. The former still sounds great today, the latter couldn’t hold a candle to Albert King’s original, which I came across a few years later. I never played side 4 with Ginger Baker’s endless drum solo on Toad — I think it bored me the first time I heard it. The crazy silver gatefold album cover was a wonderful thing and especially useful for rolling, eh, clove cigarettes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *