An ode to the music shop: what was your first music purchase?

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I have had a long-term relationship with music stores since I was 11. My mom took me to see That Thing You Do! and I fell hard for everything: the dudes, the band, the music. I immediately asked if we could get the soundtrack, and shortly thereafter took my first intentional step into a music shop. Sure, I had been into them before, but never with a purpose — never when I was looking for something that would change my life.

I quickly started quite the habit, buying as many cassettes and CDs as my mom would allow. Once I started working a sizable portion of my income went toward music, and I eventually started working at a music store in my local mall. Whether or not it’s a genre I’m into, I love just spending time surrounded by music. The oft-quoted line from Almost Famous, “… if you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends” has been a mantra of mine since I first heard it. Even though I have bought thousands of CDs, tapes, and MP3 albums since 1996, my first still takes up residence in a very special, hallowed place in my heart.

My son recently picked out his first CD (disc three of Motörhead’s Deaf Forever) and all of these feelings came flooding back to me. Like myself before him, my son had been into a music store before — he’d even weighed-in on discussions about what we should pick out — but he had never gone in knowing he was picking out his very own music for the first time. The experience was pretty incredible.

Like many a music fan (and four-year-old), he initially went a little wild, running into the store yelling about looking for Motörhead or Judas Priest. He bounced from section to section, commenting on posters and album covers, noting the differences between design elements and the size of records versus CDs. Music has always been something we’ve bonded over, and this experience was no different. I could feel his excitement.

We found three options, and he picked the only one with a grisly, slightly terrifying demon on the front of it. With that, he was set: he found his first album. We made our way up to the counter and completed the purchase. Of course, then we got to finish up the experience in the best way possible: ripping open the CD and putting it on our car’s player.

My favorite thing about picking out your first record is that the experience is something you’ll always remember, just like other important firsts. To me, picking out your own music is a crucial rite of passage. I feel like the choice you make is indicative of what kind of music will move you in the future — in my case, my soundtrack introduced me to The Beatles, and I’ve never stopped loving them.

This all has me wondering: what was your first music purchase, and why did you pick it out?

Comments on An ode to the music shop: what was your first music purchase?

  1. I received Stone Temple Pilots’ Vaseline as an 11th birthday gift and I think when I got my first CD player (that thing was the BEST CD player I ever owned) I bought R.E.M’s Monster and Live’s Throwing Copper. I still have all of them and love them 😀 ps. I love your son’s musical tastes!

  2. My first CD was Abby Road (Beatles). My dad’s a pretty quiet man, but he’d get excited about music he loved and he loved the classics from the 60’s. So, when I had my first crisp $10 bill I’d earned from babysitting, I took myself to a store and got me a copy.

  3. We didn’t have a whole lot of money growing up, so while I had a second-hand boombox and some goodwill tapes, it was a long time til I actively sought out a CD. (Plus, we were pretty sheltered, and pop music was discouraged.) However, when The Prince of Egypt came out, I fell in LOVE with the movie and was determined to save up for the soundtrack. None of the local stores had it (which is insane because ALL-STAR CAST Y’ALL), so my dad showed me how to order it online. I scrimped and saved for MONTHS. I had a meagre stash of a few dollars from the last few birthday cards, so every penny I found on the sidewalk, every quarter I earned for doing extra chores, the dollar I got for straight A’s: all of it went into the jar, which I found dump out on the family room floor and patiently count on the regular. Finally, the day came when I had exactly the necessary $12.99 in cash! I was ECSTATIC, and had my dad help me place the order, only to be blown over by the discovery that I needed to pay $5 shipping and handling! I bawled, convinced I would never own it, and was apparently a heartbreaking enough picture that my parents ordered it on the spot, an almost unheard of treat at the time.

    At least a decade later, I still know every word and sound effect to the whole thing, and have the precious (but much-battered and no longer functional) CD tucked away somewhere. I’ve loved a lot of music over the years, but I will absolutely never forget that one soundtrack.

  4. Reading these comments makes me feel so old…
    The first record (record!) I bought was Mozart’s The Magic Flute, in 1977 – I was five. I think the second was the Grease soundtrack.

  5. The first song I fell in love with was Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” that my sister and I had it for our Pocket Rocker ( and I listened to it so much it broke.

    First cassette tape I ever remember calling my own was a Beach Boys tape. I don’t remember which one though.

    First CD I ever owned (it was a gift) was Sarah Mclachlan’s Surfacing album

    First CD I ever paid my own money for was Offspring’s Americana album

  6. Ooh I love this topic!!
    First music I got for my own was the 2cd Michael Jackson History cd set. I vaguely remember going to get it I think but I’m pretty sure it was my 5th birthday. I’m not sure what I bought first for myself but I think it was savage garden as well and yes I too still listen and sing along occasionally – strictly for nostalgia purposes.
    I was lucky enough to grow up with music obsessed parents so we always had it on, and they’ve got great collections. It was mostly the zeppelin, beatles, stones type classic rock, along with a lot of folk and blues, and a little reggae.
    As a kid I learned to put on the records and I was so proud of myself for doing it right – not scratching them etc. My favourites were Cat Stevens Tea for the Tillerman and Bowie’s Ziggy.
    I still can’t go on road trips without the greatest hits of Queen, though these days the trip must always start with Motorhead’s Ace of Spades which I always joke is my theme song. I like it because it sounds like getaway music.
    My favourite band of all time is Pink Floyd, to the point that I’m emotional about how much I love them. I grew up with all their records which was awesome but when I was a teenager I started feeling all emo about how I wished I was around when they were releasing stuff, so I could hear it fof the first time etc. etc. Anyway one year I was listening to the radio and this song came on and it turned out to be On the turning away, which is such a beautiful song I’d somehow never heard before. To this day I can still remember the visceral joy of hearing this song for the first time. It was the best moment
    The only thing I can really compare it to is seeing Mumford and Sons live about a year ago in our town hall, and I was right in the second row standing and they did a couple songs totally acoustic- turned all the gear off and just sang. I was only about a metre away and they’ve got this way of making you think they’re singing to you, and they love it. So that was amazing

  7. My first purchase (with my hard-earned lemonade stand money) was the Tragic Kingdom cassette. No Doubt was probably inappropriate for a first grader, but “Just A Girl” and “Don’t Speak” were the soundtrack of many elementary school play dates, with my sweet sweet boombox.

  8. I have always been surrounded by music. I always got music as a present from preschool days, and I got to grow up on 1 hour of MTV in the morning after my dad went to work. On weekends, my cousins would put it on at our grandparents’ house. In the first grade, I got a recorded tape of Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet. My mom’s friend had even drawn rain on it. I subscribed to different album suppliers’ monthly services in my tweens. Music was always there.

    I’m trying to remember the first thing I bought from a record shop…

    My first memorable purchase was when I took all my rap CDs and exchanged them for a couple of punk gems in 1994. My mom was so pissed because she had supported my music habit from the time I was born, and I was taking some of what she gave me to trade in on my own. I was growing into a person that didn’t need her so much. I want to believe that her anger was really mischanneled fear about my personal growth, but I think she was really angry she wasted so much money on CDs. Music was one of my greatest loves.

    I know this is supposed to be a fun post, but is anyone else deeply dissatisfied with the music of today? It seemed like before we were surrounded by greatness and new experiences. Now though…not so much.

    • speaking of MTV . . . this will totally give me away if anyone in my family ever reads this, oh well! For a short time in the mid-1980s, my dad owned an ice cream parlor/restaurant that he called Video Cream. It had several television screens in it, all of which always played MTV. My pre-music-buying childhood memories feature songs like “Money for Nothing,” “Take on Me,” and “Sledgehammer.”

      • Sledgehammer was DEFINITELY the first music video I remember seeing! I was *mezmerized* and couldn’t believe it. It was also shortly after my parents got a color TV so it kinda blew my mind on so many fronts.

        Amazing to imagine little you sitting in an ice cream shop, watching videos. Sounds like kid heaven.

    • “but is anyone else deeply dissatisfied with the music of today? It seemed like before we were surrounded by greatness and new experiences. Now though…not so much.”

      YES! I agree.

      However, I will say there is good music today, it’s just harder to find, I think. There’s technology that allows us to find music we may not have been able to find 15-20 years ago…but you have to dig deeper. It seems like the radio stations play the same dozen songs over and over, and MTV/CMT doesn’t play music videos anymore. So, there are great artists who may not have big bucks or radio support behind them and they may never get to make the impact they could if everyone heard them.

      Off topic, I know… but I have a lot of feelings about this topic!

      • I agree — SO MANY FEELS ON THIS. I was just recently talking with a friend about how ready I am for music to make an exciting shift. There’s some amazing stuff out right now, but I’m in the mood for a massive pop cultural jump into something new.

      • An easy shortcut that I’ve found is NPR’s All Songs Considered podcast, as well as their Tiny Desk series. For my tastes, anyway. Notable discoveries include Lucius, Kishi Bashi, Daughter, Mother Falcon…

        From there, to find similar acts you can punch new favorites into Spotify/Pandora/, or find festivals they play and see who else is playing, look at who their openers are and whom they’ve opened for, and so on. I agree that radio and TV are pretty worthless now if you want something outside the usual. But it’s never been easier to get to something you’d like thanks to streaming services and recommendation engines on the internet.

    • Oh my god, I had Now 3! It pains me to admit that I continued to buy them up until Now 9. Then in high school I made a playlist of my favorite tracks that I *totally unpretentiously* titled “The Best of Mediocrity” and banished the rest from my collection.

    • This happened with me and Revolver by The Beatles! My first concert was Backstreet Boys, and when I fiiinnnaaalllyyyy started coming out of that phase I fell right into one that’s still going strong.

  9. Stephanie, this is a great and engaging post!

    My first tapes, bought with my dog-walking money, were Spin Doctors’ Pocket Full of Kryptonite, Best of Madonna, and a Pearl Jam tape (though I don’t remember which one). These were soon followed by a Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits tape. But I guess I remember the Spin Doctors one most vividly. The other tape purchases were heavily influenced by my four older siblings’ music habits, especially because I shared a bedroom with my three older sisters and loved watching/listening to them sing and dance in front of the mirror from my top bunk of the bed. But oh those Two Princes, Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong, and Pocket Full of Kryptonite songs. Those were MINE. I saw the Spin Doctors on Saturday Night Live (maybe 1991 or 1992?) while my sibs let me stay up late with them. It dawned on me that I could go to HMV or Tower Records just 10 or 15 blocks away and buy a tape! I really do remember that train of thought!

    Now right I’m nursing my little Z and am wondering what music she will pick out for herself.

    Thanks for making me think of that.

    • It’s such a trip! I never would have predicted that my 4 year old would like Motorhead — neither of his parents are into metal — but he totally does. He loves other music as well (Beatles, John’s solo stuff, Billy Joel, etc) but his passion for Motorhead is true. It’s amazing.

  10. The first non-kids album I was ever given was a KNOTB. I was highly displeased as I was not into them at all, unlike most of my 8, 9 & 10 year old friends.
    The first album I ever bought for myself was Guns N Roses album Appetite for Destruction. I got it on cassette at a yard sale for $0.25!
    I can’t remember what my first cd purchase was, but it was either a Pearl Jam album, or Metallica’s Black Album

  11. Being the Gemini I am, I was about thirteen or so, and had been muchly a life-long country fan. Being at that tender age where I wanted to be cool, I started to listen to a lot of radio and fixated on a few *very* different genres. The first two albums I remember begging my dad to buy me that weren’t the latest country hits were Tool’s “Undertow” and Jewel’s “Pieces of You.” I think we got it at a big box store though.

    We moved to Arvada, Colorado, home of the infamous Black & Read — a used a new books/music/gaming emporium where I spend MOST of my allowance through my teenage years. All my geeky loves in one space! When I think “music” store, I just think of all the lovingly hand-labeled bins of gently used CDs and vinyl records at B&R.

    My fiancee says that “Four Rooms” made him want to work the hospitality industry. “Empire Records” made me wanna work in a record store.

  12. I’m struggling to remember what my first tape was (a gift), but I’m pretty sure it was NKOTB, given my HUGE obsession with them. The posters, the bedding, the curtains, the music, the VHS tapes, the buttons….

    The first piece of music I bought with my own money was the cd single of Color Me Badd’s “All 4 Love.”

    I was given a huge stack of 80s hair metal vinyl records when I was young, and I’ve been slowly adding records to the collection as I shop in used vinyl stores. My obsession with Empire Records fuels this.

  13. My grandma took me on a special trip to a music store to buy the Voices That Care cassette single. That was the 1991 Desert Storm celebrity benefit power ballad. I loved it so, so much. Listening to a cassette single on repeat mode requires a lot of dedication and fingers on the rewind button, and I listened to it for hours on end. Still have it too.

  14. I know I must have bought something before, but to me the first CD I ever bought (and I had to save and wait months to get it) was Californication. It was January 26th 2000, I was 14 and two days later I fell in love with that band for good.

    And I still keep the receipt to prove it

  15. What a great topic!! I can’t remember what I first bought with my own money. I started working at 16 and bought a lot of CDs with my own earnings.
    But I do remember the first CDs that were mine, and not the families.
    I was 9, and I got given a CD player for Christmas from my parents. My brother gave me silverchair’s frogstomp and The Lion King soundtrack for the same
    Christmas. I still have both CDs to this day! They are well loved, and show their age.

    • Frogstomp! I remember thinking the multi-colored frogs in the booklet were just the cutest. Then I listened to the CD itself…it was love. Instant angsty love. Still find the frogs cute.

      Alas, my Lion King cassette went to audio-tape heaven a long time ago.

  16. I think my first purchase was a cassette of Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York. The same album, later, was the first home-burnt cd I received from someone who had the original (I remember thinking What?? You CAN’T copy a cd!!)
    I kinda miss my compilations and how easy it was to take a song here, a song there and build them.
    When my mum bought the first car that had a cd player instead of cassette, it was terrible not being able to listen to a certain compilation made by my brother that lived permanently in the car. Now that car is mine (12 years and going strong) and the player only reads original cds because the burning softwares have changed so much.
    I hate technology.

  17. In 1994, I bought Blues Traveler’s Four with the allowance cash I’d earned cleaning my took a good month or two of cleaning to save up. I was 8, I finally had $15 and it was my first CD. I was in heaven.

    I still have this CD and it still works perfectly – despite its heavy use – and I still love it, 20 years later.

    • File under Weird Things I Did In High School: I used to write parodies of pop songs, get on Napster and download the MIDI or karaoke track, record myself singing the parody, and then put it online. It was mostly Britney Spears songs, but Weird Al is totally the reason I started doing this.

  18. I sat here for a long time, remembering CDs I loved vs CDs I owned vs ones I’d bought. And I was all about to say I hadn’t actually bought myself a CD until I was into my 20s, and bought the album for the Wicked musical, when I realized I had bought an earlier one. I bought the Joydrop albums, Viberate and Metasexual back in high school. But I don’t often buy albums, I was gifted more albums and had a lot of mixed tapes, CDs and downloaded or shared music.

    Man though, mixed tapes were my childhood. I remember one tape just named “(My Dad)’s Favs” that got played over and over and over again at the cottage because we all wanted to dance to American Pie.

  19. First album I ever owned when I was 10 or 11, was a b-day gift from my uncle – the self titled “Wings” album (Paul McCartney’s ‘other’ band). Not sure what the first piece of music I bought for myself was, but it undoubtedly was a 45 rpm record. At $1.99 (CDN) at Woolco, they were very affordable for most young teens. This was in the early 80’s, so I’m sure it was some top 40’s bit of fluff. I have all of my cassettes, vinyl & CD’s still. My friend’s grandmother passed away a few years ago, and I bought her *ROUND* record player off of the family – it’s mid 70’s, and it’s electric blue – this was the closest pic I could find of one: … 390050511/

  20. For the longest time, I remember that I owned exactly three CDs: Spice Girls – SPICE, Korn – Follow The Leader, and Hole – Celebrity Skin. The Cure was very absolutely my favourite band since I was about 6, though. I was absolutely certain I was going to marry Robert Smith. or the Cryptkeeper from Tales From The Crypt.
    Most of high school was spent living in a pair of second-hand CD/record stores called Echo and Penny Lane, it was a beautiful time.

  21. My first album was a tape of the Presidents of the United States of America (I was maybe 6 or 7 years old). I had gotten money for my birthday, and I made my mum drive me to the record store, but once I got inside I was too shy to go explore. So I just went to the counter and pointed at that tape behind the guy saying “I would like to buy that one.”

    That said, I still ADORE that album.

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