The first single I bought was Beat the Clock by Sparks, which I bought from my local Woolies in 1979 or so. I still like Sparks and I like to think that having this as my first single indicates what great musical taste I had as a 10 year old. Actually, the reality is the charts in those years were so strong that you could have sent a chimpanzee into Woolies with a quid and a sign saying "I want a random Top 20 single", and the chances are he would have come out with something pretty decent. Unless he spotted the Pick n Mix counter first, I suppose.
For the next 8 years or so before I went off to college my record buying was mostly done in my local town's music shop (and it was a music shop, not a record shop; there was as much space given over to acoustic guitars, recorders and accordions as there was to Iron Maiden albums). There was nothing cool about the place, it was a family-owned shop that had a couple of racks for records, one of which had Scottish music albums (I hesitate to use the word "folk" here: mostly they were awful records with middle-aged blokes on the cover wearing chunky sweaters and kilts with titles like My Heart is in the Highlands), while the other was for rock and pop. The fact that it has such limited space meant that you soon ended up ordering most of your records, and my friends and I became well-acquainted with the shop's copy of the Music Master catalogue as we ordered such obscure recordings such as Meddle, Houses of the Holy and Master of Reality (before CDs came along back catalogue records seemed to be doomed to obscurity, especially the older ones. You would never see a copy of, say, Pet Sounds or John Wesley Harding in a record shop).
So, happy recollections of more innocent times? No, not really. Most of the time, the ordered records arrived within a week or two, but delays were common, especially if you weren't ordering from the majors. My copy of Black Sabbath's Sabotage, on the cheaper-than-chips NEMS label took seven months to arrive. Seven months! Plus, not everything was available and you would often arrive at the shop hoping to pick up your record only to hear the dread word "deleted".
I now realise that I was buying my records back then in essentially the same way as I buy the majority of my music these days - by mail order. The exception being that I was using the Music Master as opposed to Amazon (and if I could have accessed Amazon on my ZX Spectrum 48K, I would have).
I don't think the music shop is there anymore, not many of them are, having been bit torrented and amazoned to that great high street in the sky. And to be honest, I don't really mourn them. I thought I did, but the process of writing this post has made me realise that, if I'm really honest, I don't. Now on the other hand, I think second hand record shops should be goverment-subsidised, as they are effectively museums of popular culture where you can buy the exhibits. But that's a different post.
Anyway, as it's that time of the year, it's time to wish you all a good Christmas and post a picture of the record below, which may have been the first 12" single that I ever bought (I told you that my 10 year old self had good taste).