The yellow label. A plain white paper sleeve. Black type in sans serif font and a little logo at the top… names and numbers and things I didn’t understand. Whilst I’ve often waxed lyrical about the hours spent poring over the 12” cardboard album sleeves of my youth, meticulously exploring the artwork and the unknown song titles, it’s easy to overlook the simple thrill of a first 7” single purchase. Not just the music, not just the fact that you could bring a song you'd only previously heard on the radio or on Top Of The Pops directly into your living room and access it any time of your choosing – but that very specific, peculiar pleasure to be found in every detail of its physical form.
It was the Summer of ’76, I’d just turned 13. With a pounding heart and my pocket money savings in my turquoise purse, I went into Boots the Chemist where there was a little space right at the back of the shop selling records, and I bought Dancing Queen by ABBA. The yellow label and even the fact that it had a plain white paper sleeve, they're indelibly stamped on my mind… and then, ohh, the grooves of joy in that small shiny slab of black vinyl. I was so excited!
I think my copy was very slightly warped – weirdly not badly enough to mar the song for me, but just giving it the merest hint of distortion which then became the norm to my ears. When I hear it now, I rather miss that imperfection, that split second dip in speed in each revolution. The sound was somewhat tinny too, but it didn’t matter one bit. I loved Dancing Queen, it made me feel happy, uplifted. I loved this band of exotic Swedes who had brought it to my TV screen on Thursday nights - they were grown-up and glamorous, but they had a special accessibility. The song, alongside their image, their presence, just spoke to 13 year old girls like me.
Just around the corner, punk was looming its head. Punk found me when I was truly ready to rebel, pissed off with school, seeking refuge for my ever-present ‘outsider’ feelings, needing an outlet for my inner dissenter. Stranglers, Generation X, Buzzcocks and more filled out my little 7” singles box, I studied their different labels, their exciting picture sleeves, I buzzed to their fuzz guitars. But, before all that, before the drastic haircut, black eyeliner and a graffitied school tie, I was a double denim (or triple, if you count the waistcoat), Charlie perfume, blue eyeshadow, ABBA fan - as so many of us were. And still are? Well, not the double denim, etc. – but their songs, their classiness, their story – it’s stayed with us somewhere deep down. So it'll be strange and otherwordly, I'm sure, but I'm really looking forward to rediscovering my inner 13 year old in just under two weeks' time, when I go down to London to see the ABBA Voyage show. And, hopefully, it'll be just as memorable as that very first single purchase 46 years ago….
I shall let you know!