What Was the First Record You Bought?

12 Essential Records Loved by Audio Nerds


May 19, 2019 Features By

Listening to vinyl isn’t the easiest way to listen to music, especially by today’s streaming standards. Nor does it guarantee the highest-quality listening experience anymore, as high-res lossless digital tracks are more abundant than ever. But people don’t care about that anymore. After decades in decline, the popularity of vinyl has skyrocketed over the last few years. Just look at the numbers.

The fact that vinyl listening is a process is part of its allure. People want the analog experience of placing a record, lowering the needle and watching and hearing as music is created. Moreover, vinyl records have a warmth, crackle and pop that digital audio files can’t replicate. Sometimes those sounds can be considered imperfections, but it makes the music more nostalgic. Certain albums and tracks just sound better through vinyl – it’s inexplicable, but it’s a fact.

Because more and more people are buying vinyl again. I wanted to dive a little deeper. I asked people in a number of music professions, from musicians to music executives, audio engineers to vinyl collectors, as well as other vinyl enthusiasts, to share their stories. What was the first record they bought? What are they into now? And what is their favorite vinyl record of all time? Whether you’re an audiophile or somebody who’s just getting into vinyl, hopefully, you can find some inspiration in the records (and the stories) below.

Some of the below interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Scott Hagen, SVP of Americas at Sound United

What was the first record you purchased?
Hey Jude, The Beatles. I played this all on a little Blue Suitcase turntable. I was only 5 at the time.

What’s the most recent vinyl record you’ve listened to?
Graceland, Paul Simon.

I love Graceland on vinyl because there’s a cohesive storyline that carries throughout the album. Specifically, I really hone into the bassline. I think you have to listen to the album from start to finish, just because of the way it’s composed is very focused on telling a story. When you play it you’re forced to sit and enjoy and be in the moment, but now, many times we consume a lot more music, which is great. But sometimes you forget to pause and just appreciate the music itself. For the most part, casually listening to music is really important to me. But when you want to focus and appreciate music, I think that’s why vinyl is such a good medium for a great story like Graceland.

Your most listened to record?
Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue; Mono edition.

For Kind of Blue, I just bought it three weeks ago with my son. I know it’s a record that is supposed to be in any record collector’s arsenal, but I didn’t have it previously. I was sitting with my wife and youngest son having lunch and listening to some live music on a patio in San Diego, and my youngest son—who is going into the sixth grade—decided he wanted to be in band. This week he’s picking instruments for band, and he decided he wanted to play trumpet or percussion. I asked him what he knew about trumpet and we started talking about famous players, which brought us to Miles Davis’ body of work. We walked across the street to a record store and bought this record right then and there so we could go home and listen to it and explore the trumpet.

Frank Arkwright, Mastering Engineer at Abbey Road Studios

What was the first record you purchased?
The first record I bought was Beach Boys’s Good Vibrations. I bought it in the nearest record shop, in Oxford, when I was 9 years old. I had heard it on the radio and was mesmerized by the sounds and the production. It stuck in my head for months and I couldn’t stop singing it.

What’s the most recent vinyl record you’ve listened to?
The most recent record I bought was Mogwai’s Every Country’s Sun. I got it direct from Rock Action Records. I love its depth, intensity and beauty. The artwork is awesome.

Your most listened to record?
Record I’ve listened to most over my lifetime is Radiohead’s OK Computer. I always find myself going back to this record over the years. I just really connected with it emotionally. Thom Yorke’s voice and Radiohead’s music resonates with me on every level.

Jonathan Levine, Co-Founder and CEO of Master & Dynamic

Photo of Jonathan Levine, courtesy of Christopher Sturman

What was the first record you purchased?
Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. I bought it at a Sam Goody store in a suburban New Jersey mall and I was completely obsessed with it as a boy and adolescent. What a great album cover. Moreover, and I think what really got my attention (in addition to the music) was the fact that it was the first album I can remember that came with all the song lyrics printed inside the album cover. I’m sure I memorized each song and I’m guessing I still know the lyrics to each.

What’s the most recent vinyl record you’ve listened to?
Due to our project for the Michael Jackson estate, creating a bespoke Michael Jackson-inspired headphone to commemorate his 60th birthday, we’ve been listening to a lot of Michael Jackson in the office. I must admit it had been a while, but the songs come right back to you and fill you with amazing memories and remind you very quickly of the music genius and talent of The King of Pop.

Your most listened to record?
Van Morrison’s Enlightenment. I can’t remember when exactly I became a huge Van Morrison fan but it started very early. Even now, he’s still my go-to artist when I’m looking for something to listen to. I’ve seen him about a dozen times in concerts, large and small. Small venues are the best. The song on the album “In The Days Before Rock’n’Roll” helped me name my youngest son. The first line of the song is: “Justin, gentler than a man.”

Kate Mattison, Singer and Songwriter for 79.5

What was the first record you purchased?
The first record I ever bought was a used copy of Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly, and I still have it. I believe I bought it at a garage sale in my hometown of Coshocton, OH.

What’s the most recent vinyl record you bought?
The most recent [record] I bought was Jessie Mae Hemphill’s Feelin’ Good and it is a beautiful record. Shoutout to Ron at Academy Records in Brooklyn for turning me onto her. Dang. Just beautiful blues with such pain and quirkiness in her voice.

Your most listened to record?
Over my lifetime, I’ve listened to Something/Anything? by Todd Rundgren the most. What a record. What an artist. I’ve been a huge fan of Todd for a long time now, and as a songwriter, I think he has influenced me the most. Todd’s production style on this record is spot on – and the entire album just soars. It’s AM Gold, right up my alley.

Jill Furmanovsky, Rock & Roll Photographer and Founder of Rockarchive

Photo: Virgiio Ponce

What was the first record you purchased?
My first vinyl purchase was probably a sevin-inch soul classic like the Harlem Shuffle by Bob & Earl. That particular record was re-released in the UK in 1969 when I was about 15 and a frequenter of soul discos like The Cavalier Club, situated in the Prince Albert Pub in Golders Green. I was one of the girls in Minor’s blue eye shiner, dancing around a pile of handbags – a kind of Southern, Northern Soul!

What’s the most recent vinyl record you bought?
My latest vinyl was part payment for providing some images: It is a box-set by ’70s prog-rock group Wishbone Ash sent to me by the good people at Snapper Music, an independent record label that re-releases classic rock material on vinyl. At one time, Wishbone Ash were capable of selling out major venues around the world, and their double lead-guitar sound was distinctive and impressive. They were one of the bands I photographed most at The Rainbow Theatre in the mid-70’s.

Your most listened to record?
It’s got to be Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. It has two of my favorite tracks of all time: The extraordinary “Shine On” which graces both the beginning of side one and ends the album on side two. Track two on side two is the classic song “Wish You Were Here” – it never fails to give [me] goosebumps when David Gilmour sings it with just an acoustic guitar. Also, I was actually in Abbey Road with Pink Floyd for a day or two when they made that album. I took pictures of them with Roy Harper in Studio 3. Roy sang on “Have a Cigar.” On top of the sublime music, WYWH had brilliant packaging by my late friend Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis. It will always be on my A-list of albums.

Blake Tovin, Founder and Creative Director of Symbol Audio

What was the first record you purchased?
When I walked into our local record store, I’m pretty sure I had no idea who Alice Cooper was – or even that he was a dude – but the 13-year-old version of myself knew a bad-ass album cover when it presented itself. Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies was a tour de force of ’70s album art excess aimed right at me. The record was designed to look like a giant, green snakeskin wallet, which when opened revealed a massive “billion-dollar” bill that included a nuclear missile on the back and the band where you would find a dead president on the front. The record sleeve itself was a photo of the band dressed in white suits surrounded by stacks of cash with Alice in the middle holding a live human baby wearing full Alice Cooper eye makeup. Sold.

What’s the most recent vinyl record you bought?
For me, there is something special about owning a record from another time that was produced at the time it was recorded, a physical artifact of a particular moment. When it was announced a few months ago that a lost tape had surfaced of a recording session that John Coltrane made in 1963 for Impulse!, but was never released – heads exploded. In a sense, this was a record that should have been, but never was; for me, it was the perfect “new” record to buy.

To give some perspective for non-jazz enthusiasts, saxophonist Sonny Rollins claimed it was “like finding a new room in the Great Pyramid.” This wasn’t just another collection of alternate takes stitched together to make a quick buck but a complete album that went missing for 55 years! In addition, the recording comes from the golden period of Coltrane’s “classic quartet” featuring McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums all playing at the height of their powers. In other words, perfect timing in the canon of Coltrane’s recordings. Called Both Directions at Once, a name that comes from a compositional tip Coltrane gave to the saxophonist Wayne Shorter about his improvisational approach: “starting a sentence in the middle, and then going to the beginning and the end of it at the same time… Both directions at once.” Naturally, I went for the deluxe edition with all 14 completed pieces on two LP’s, after all, how many more rooms can there be in the great pyramid?

Your most listened to record?
By the time I went to college I was listening to a lot of jazz and was lucky to be in Philadelphia at the time, a city with great college radio. I was an avid listener to Temple University’s WRTI, a 24-hour jazz station playing everyone from Charlie Parker to Rahsaan Roland Kirk and I’m pretty sure this was where I first heard Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. The connection was immediate and Kind of Blue became the soundtrack to countless late nights throughout college and beyond. This record is a rare case of great art aligning with popular taste and is a musical masterpiece that also sold millions of copies. I often think of listening to jazz from the ’50s and ’60s in a similar way to looking at Modern Art of the same period. The first connection is often on a purely atheistic level but if you dig down to understand the artist’s intention the connection becomes much deeper. Over time Kind of Blue has become more interesting on both an emotional and intellectual level and has stayed year after year. From cassettes to CDs, digital and vinyl – I’ve always had a copy. That said, Kind of Blue deserves to be listened to on vinyl, late at night, as God and Miles intended.

Dominic Baker, Technical Director at Cambridge Audio

What was the first record you purchased?
Electic by The Cult.

What’s the most recent vinyl record you bought?
So by Peter Gabriel.

Your most listened to record?
So by Peter Gabriel.

The reason for the appearance of Peter Gabriel twice on this list is due to a family connection. I was good friends with Peter Gabriel’s children growing up and he even played at my 18th birthday which is partly the reason for my love of his music, as it relates to fond memories in my childhood. Richard ‘Dickie’ Chappell, who mastered records of Peter Gabriel for 15 years, was actually introduced to Peter Gabriel by my mother who placed him at Peter Gabriel’s studios on a work placement. Due to Dickie doing such a good job, Peter kept him on at Real World Studios for many years.

Mathieu Pernot, R&D engineer at Devialet

What was the first record you purchased?
When developing our first phono stage for our first product (D-Premier) in 2009, I knew I’d have to characterize our phono stage in performance, using signal generator of course but also a turntable with real records. The first record was a test record with sinewaves, mono signals, sweeps (continuous and multi-tone) and intermodulation tests.

What’s the most recent vinyl record you bought?
A pristine second-hand copy of Music of My Mind from Stevie Wonder.

Your most listened to record?
The Good Book by Louis Armstrong. A timeless classic, a perfect testimony of its time from an artist at his absolute peak. It has stunning production and audio quality.

Peter Hahn, Co-Owner of the Turntable Lab

What was the first record you purchased?
The first record I bought was a jungle record: Sonz Of A Loop Da Loop Era’s R Yeah 12-inch on Suburban Base. I bought it from the original F Street location of Music Now in Northwest DC. That’s where you went to buy rave tickets in the early ’90s. I remember picking this up because I liked the drawing on the label. It’s still one of my favorite records to this day.

What’s the most recent vinyl record you bought?
The latest record I bought involves an amazing story of coincidence. In the office, we were talking about how great and rare John Maus’ We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves was. I was walking home the same day and I stopped to get a hot dog on the corner of 14th and 1st in the East Village. There are vendors on that corner that sell street junk and the same record was staring right at me. I picked up a sealed copy for two dollars (could have gotten for one dollar, but didn’t haggle). I consider this my lucky record, and won’t ever let it go. Side note: Maus’ catalog was recently reissued on Domino and it’s excellent.

Your most listened to record?
The record I listen to the most is an early pressing of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps. For jazz records, I like to get as close as the original release date. The aged cover and labels add another dimension to the (usually) superior pressing.

Jamaal Layne, Sonos Global Cultural Marketing

What was the first record you purchased?
The Great Adventures of Slick Rick. I bought it at a store named Coconuts which was located in the same neighborhood as my school. This was the first piece of hip hop that I brought into my house. My dad had been letting me pull stuff from his collection which was more leaning toward top 40 and rock and I was just in too deep with hip-hop and this album set everything in motion. I remember the first time I played it for my dad his eyes got so big, I thought he was going to throw me out of the house.

What’s the most recent vinyl record you bought?
Nina Simone’s Nina Simone Sings the Blues. I mean it’s Nina, she is one of my favorites and I just love the way her scratchy voices sound via analog.

Your most listened to record?
Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall and Thriller. These two albums were passed down from my dad to me and I still have them to this day. There are so many scratches on them but they still play and sound as good as when I first got them. I’ve moved several times and these two records seem to always make it in the move and I’m so thankful.

Jason Simon, Guitarist and Singer for Dead Meadow

What was the first record you purchased?
Being part of the DC scene the first new LP I bought was Fugazi’s In on the Kill Taker. That still rules.

What’s the most recent vinyl record you bought?
The most recent album I purchased was Eric Dolphy’s The Memorial Album. Eric Dolphy on the bass clarinet sends shivers up my spine.

Your most listened to record?
I grew up in the eighties so all of my first musical purchases were on cassette and then on to CDs. As my musical tastes started to expand I delved into the small record collection of my parents. The record that stood out the most was Revolver by The Beatles. I didn’t grow up listening to the Beatles so their entire catalog was a revelation to me. Revolver still seems the warmest and most interesting recording of all their records to me.

Patrick Sullivan, Vice President Merchandising at Guitar Center

Photo: Ryan Hunter.

What was the first record you purchased?
My first vinyl purchase was probably late 1990 or early 1991. I went to Rasputin Records in Berkeley, California and picked up Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet and Motley Crue’s Shout at the Devil, probably from the used bin.

What’s the most recent vinyl record you bought?
My most recent purchase would be a throwback. I bought Weezer’s Blue Album after I heard their cover of Asia’s “Africa” recently. There was just enough of that grungy, downstroke guitar and Rivers Cuomo’s uplifting voice to ignite the memories of how amazing “Undone”, “Buddy Holly” and “Say It Ain’t So” were. I had to buy the vinyl.

Your most listened to record?
My most listened to vinyl would have to be Daft Punk’s Discovery. Electronic music has really come of age. For those who are discovering it now, when they go back through the history of the genre, they land on this album as one of the most influential. Daft is like The Beatles of dance music and this album is like Revolver, Abbey Road, and Sgt. Peppers wrapped into one.

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