The Guide #102: What was your first single? Here’s what you told us

Last week, we asked you to share the first single you bought. The response was massive, so this week we’re devoting the newsletter to your single-buying reminiscences. We’ve also asked some of the Guardian’s music writers to share their memories of first singles.

What’s really great is the breadth of the music on show, from novelty songs to stone-cold classics (not to mention the formats: 7inchs, cassettes and even iTunes downloads are represented here). Regardless of whether the songs in question are great or god-awful (and some of these are absolutely hideous, trust me), what connects them is belonging to that lovely period, before ideas of taste or genre or credibility intrude into your thinking, when you’re governed purely by what sounds good to you …
“It sounds almost laughably simple now – and even a bit twee. But to 11-year-old me, the piano motif of Robert Miles’s Children was wondrously lovely, to the point where I would spend £2.49 – surely close to my entire liquid assets at that age – on the cassette single. The cover image on the cardboard sleeve, a techno-Escher rendering of a treble clef, seemed very cool indeed and a good encapsulation of the contents: spiralling psytrance effects and pounding acid bass, but with a classy classical heft to the dramatic strings and that magnificently corny piano line. The earnestness of trance’s beauty surely came from trying to make dancers on ecstasy feel especially melty, but I was completely unaware of that. Instead, it spoke to the earnestness of a nearly-teenage boy, finding things of his own to find beautiful. That piano line has been interpolated into a big chart hit this year, Switch Disco and Ella Henderson’s React, and I get a poignant rush every time it comes on the radio – I still love it, the kind of sturdy, perfectly resolving melody that I most admire in any music.” – Ben Beaumont-Thomas, Guardian music editor

“I could have picked Geno by Dexys Midnight Runners, Call Me by Blondie, or The Brothers Johnson’s Stomp!: all fantastic, all in the Top 30 that week in 1980. I picked Kool in the Kaftan, a sitar-fuelled parody of hippy culture that might have been topical in 1967, but didn’t make much sense 13 years later, and made even less sense to me, given that I was eight and had no idea what a hippy was. The only explanation I can give is that its author, the self-consciously wacky singer songwriter BA Robertson, was never off the telly back then. I’ve regretted it ever since.” – Alexis Petridis, Guardian head rock and pop critic

“I understand that this question is designed to unearth some mortifying relic from my past, but my first single was something I got right: The Great Beyond by REM, I would have been eight years old. I remember buying the tape cassette single, most probably from Asda, during the weekly big shop. My youthful ear was caught by the potent imagery of “pushing an elephant up the stairs” and the trademark Stipe-ian eye-ee-eye-ee-eye-ee-eye earworm; it remains among my favourite REM songs now. There is a slim chance that my actual first single was Viva La Radio by Lolly, which was also released in 1999 (six months before the REM …) and I also owned on tape cassette, but I know which answer I’m sticking to.” Elle Hunt, Guardian features and music journalist

“The first single I bought was Do the Bartman in 1990 on cassette from the local Woolworths. I was nine years old. While I don’t remember really watching The Simpsons at that age, Bart was already established as an icon for my hopes of preteen rebellion, and I remember being drawn to the song’s celebration of rule-breaking and its watered down new jack swing (a genre Michael Jackson, rumoured Do the Bartman co-writer and backing vocalist, would explore more on 1991’s Dangerous, my first album purchase). I must have been an incredibly patient child – for some reason the album version clocks in at an unnecessary 5m and 10secs. Ay, caramba!” – Michael Cragg, journalist and author of Reach for the Stars

“I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper by Sarah Brightman and Hot Gossip. (It was an ex-jukebox record from a newsagent so very affordable).” – Matt Brocklehurst

“It was Diana by Paul Anka, in 1957. I was seven. I played it and played it and played it until it wore through to the (admittedly not very good) B-side. When it wore out, I bought another copy. I now know it was the plaintive opening bar that got me – the wailing brass underscored by twangy guitar – followed by Anka’s quirky delivery. Long before the People’s Princess, this mythical Diana was my girl – Anka was my competition!” – Ian Freeman

“The first single I ever bought was Trapped by Colonel Abrams. I thought it was sooooo cool at the time …” – Karen Nile

“My first single was I Just Wanna Be a Winner by Brown Sauce, AKA Noel Edmonds, Keith Chegwin and Maggie Philbin from OG Saturday morning show, Swap Shop. But you really have to feel for my poor Nana, who I asked for it as a birthday present (and yes, I still have it).” – Jo Nightingale

“When I saw your question I was immediately transported back to 1984 and could clearly see my prized picture disc version of We All Stand Together by Paul McCartney and the Frog Chorus. Clearly not McCartney’s crowning musical moment but I think I was swayed by my parents being massive Rupert the Bear fans and preferring McCartney’s solo work to the Beatles. I like to think my musical tastes have improved over the years but I’ve already got We All Stand Together in my head and will inevitably start playing it on Spotify as soon as I’ve sent this email!” – James Waite (Ed’s note: remarkably, James isn’t the only person ’fessing up to We All Stand Together as their first single. Thanks also to Greg Davis)

“Apple Music (or iTunes, back then). I was eight, maybe nine? My dad told my sister and I that we could buy two songs each. I can’t remember the second one I got, but I remembered begging for Bowling for Soup’s rendition of 1985. My sister, on the other hand, got some songs by Australian pop singers the Veronicas (pictured below). And now that my dad’s gotten rid of his Apple account, those songs are lost to us – except for in my Spotify playlists!” – Sandra Moore

“I’m not counting second-hand singles bought from junk stores, but I can remember the first three full-price chart singles I bought. The third was Ultravox’s Vienna and the second was Imagine by John Lennon. Both have withstood the test of time and retained credibility. The first, All Out of Love by Air Supply, perhaps less so …” – Michael Green

“Jailhouse Rock by Elvis Presley. I was an avid fan until his death and visited Graceland from New Zealand three times for his memorial weeks. Great memories.” – Mary Wright

“Blame It on the Boogie (cool, right?) by … Big Fun (oh), a late-80s Stock Aitken Waterman boyband who faded fast (bought on cassette from Woolworths, natch). Fair to say that the Jackson 5 original has aged better, although I guess even that is not unproblematic.” – Richard Hamilton

“Tainted Love by Soft Cell. I don’t include the Shangri-Las’ Leader of the Pack that my cousin bought for me or the 101 Dalmatians story single with book, featuring the song Cruella de Vil on the B side, as I was below the age of reason. I still have both singles, but no longer have the Soft Cell. It got left in the boxes of 500 or so records left in a house move …” – Caroline Jackson

“My first single was Casanova by Ultimate Kaos, who I found out today: spelled the “chaos” in their name as Kaos; were a group of children put together by Simon Cowell and were actually covering a song from about a decade earlier. Sometimes, you’re better off not putting something into the Wikipedia search box.” – Flor Van der Eycken

If you want to read the complete version of this newsletter please subscribe to receive The Guide in your inbox every Friday.

Leave a Reply

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

Mick Jagger John & Yoko’s Elvis Presley & Priscilla Presley