The Opinion Engine 2.0:
What was the first album you bought and when and how? Listen to it again. How do you feel about it now?

Guest answer from Alison Gow.

Music When Stu asked me to write about the first album I bought my first thought was “Wow, it feels like yesterday”, and the second was “ohthankgodit’sacoolone”.

It would take a confessional journalist of Liz Jones proportions to get me to admit a Tight Fit first album purchase... luckily I can admit to it being Scary Monsters and Super Creeps, by David Bowie.

I had, of course, bought singles before - from the wonderful, cave-like Dale’s record store in Tenby’s Tudor Square. I was massively in awe of the imposing owner, Laurie Dale (dad of Charles the Corrie actor, fact fans), and fascinated by, and a bit scared of, the Iron Maiden album covers.

But an album was a big purchase for a nine-year-old - proper sums of cash were required for one, and also it was a commitment I didn’t feel ready to take.

Then my brother intervened.

Martin, four years older than me and the star of the local rugby and cricket teams, was cooler, more popular, and swore better, than anyone I knew.

Despite him warning me that when I started Big School I was not to tell anyone we were related, on pain of pain, and having once frightened me so badly by pretending to be a particularly dreaded Dr Who monster that I fainted, I idolised him.

His best mate had been given an album for his birthday he didn’t want, need or intend to keep and so was selling it.

My brother decided the person who should buy it was me - probably because he wanted it but wasn’t prepared to fork out - and so the pair of them proposed I should hand over some cash (I think it was £5) and in return I would be given music by someone I’d never heard of.

Astonishingly, I agreed and a couple of days later the album, with its weird cover art, was mine.

It was the most baffling, inexplicable thing I’d ever heard. Some of it was in Japanese - Japanese! - and it featured random swearing. I remember leaping, salmon-like, across the room to turn down the volume on It’s No Game Part II before my mum walked into my bedroom in time to hear someone sing the word ‘Shit’.

On a record player with built-in, tinny speakers, even the parts in English were hard to understand; ‘These pieces are broken’ became ‘these pieces of cocaine’ in my tuneless rendition for months... til I found the lyrics sheet, still inside the album cover.

I didn’t understand much of it but I absolutely loved that album. I loathed Fashion, with its nonsense “Beep Beep” refrain - it did ok in the charts - but that was the only track I’d skip.

I loved, loved, loved Scream Like a Baby - I had very vivid mental images of that song, probably informed by WWII films (it’s about political oppression so I was close, but no cigar) - but was baffled by Ashes to Ashes; all I knew was that it sounded terribly sad. My brother told me it was about a drug addict and hinted it was a sequel to an earlier song. My next trip to Dale’s saw me order a copy of Space Oddity (album) which earned me an approving nod off Mr Dale.

So, Stu asked me to listen to SMSC again for this blog post, and think about how it made me feel.

I have a digital copy now, of course, but I also still have my original, rather tatty album, which is as unscratched and loved as ever and it was that I dug out to replay.

Funnily enough, I hadn’t listened to it for years, digitally or otherwise so it was a rediscovery.

Even though I knew it was coming, the brash, shocking introduction still made me jump - all you hear are the crackles of the needle and vinyl, suddenly punctured by guitarist Fripp’s drawling chord on It’s No Game Part I.

What really struck me was how much of my childhood is tied to this album.

I didn’t just play it, I did what behaviourists term ‘active listening’ - questioning myself about how the songs made me feel, and what they brought back.

What I realised was something I hadn’t really thought about before - that this album, bought on a whim, really redefined my relationship with my brother.

We bonded over Bowie and, throughout our teen years when we behaved, at times, in pretty horrific ways towards one another, it was a common ground to which we could retreat.

We would discuss songs, the Bowie looks, have ‘what happened to his eye?’ conversations (pre-internet it was not easy to find out), compete for the best mix-tape, and go on buying sprees. Martin - with a job as glass collector in a local pub - earned more and bought the ‘rarities’ (imports and picture disks mainly) and I bought albums. I still have them; I can’t imagine what would make me part with them, even though all the tracks are on my iTunes.

So how did I feel when I listened to Scary Monsters for this blog? I felt grateful it had introduced me to Bowie’s amazing music, a little amazed at how well it had stood the test of time, and I felt a wave of affection for my big brother.

Because without him, this could have been 900-oddwords about Tight Fit.

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