HMV, Our Price, Virgin: The place where you bought your first CD

HMV in 1973 Someone here is probably buying a record by Slade

If HMV stores disappear from the High Street it will mean the extinction of the High Street chains where most bought their first music.

Music was always better back in the day. Few things are as susceptible to nostalgia.

The likely demise of HMV, the last major music retailer on the high street, is a sad reminder for those who began buying music in the 80s or 90s that life will never be the same.

Remember the thrill of that first purchase.

Browsing at the racks and deciding on your format - vinyl for the artwork, tape for convenience, CD if you were rich.

Feeling the weight of it in your hand as you approached the counter, a hint of anxiety that the sales assistant might snigger or tut. In branches of Our Price you would bring the empty cassette box to the counter and the impossibly cool looking assistant in black polo shirt would get "the goods" from a cupboard behind them.

Start Quote

My memory is that the Classical section was in a separate soundproof booth, as protection from 'that racket'”

End Quote Andy Marczak

On the way home you would battle with the cellophane before reading the lyrics. Pressing play and you would sometimes be met by crushing disappointment at the realisation you'd been sold a lemon. More often there was a sense that something new and exciting was taking place in your bedroom.

The first record you bought was likely to have been at a High Street chain. Mine was The Rain by Oran Juice Jones on 7 inch at Woolworth's in 1986.

In the 1980s retailers like Woolworths, Boots, John Menzies, Littlewoods and WH Smith had a music department selling chart singles and the odd album. For a wider choice you had to venture to the dedicated chains - Our Price, HMV, Virgin, and in London, Tower Records.

Later you might discover independent record stores policed by sullenly cool staff, as evoked by Nick Hornby's High Fidelity. But HMV and its sidekicks were the gateway record store.

Readers' firsts

  • Jeremy Bolton, Basingstoke: It was Rubber Bullets by 10 CC. It was 49p from Woolworths . I was on a school trip and got told off for spending half of my £1 spending money on a single and not on a present for my mother as we had been told to.
  • Tony Book, Hove: My first 12 inch LP was the musical High Society. it cost £1 and 15 shillings in 1957 in Newcastle. It cost a 'fortune' for me in those days. my most recent purchase is a Bond movie download for 79p.
  • James Grandidge, Wakefield: My first CD was The Beautiful South's debut Welcome to the Beautiful South from HMV Wakefield, complete with controversial cover that was temporarily banned, I thought I was buying a rare item, it turned out that the temporary version became the rare one.

"A lot of people in the indie sector have a patronising view of people who shop in HMV," says Simon Price, music critic for the Independent on Sunday. "But everybody starts that way."

Price remembers queuing up in his local HMV in Cardiff in the early 80s to get a copy of Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye signed by Bananarama. "I think I had a massive crush on Siobhan," he says. Years later he was there to do a signing himself, after writing Everything (A Book About Manic Street Preachers).

HMV had the pedigree. His Master's Voice - the name was august and patrician sounding, the first store opened by Sir Edward Elgar in 1921, and Nipper the dog and the phonograph taken from an 1890s painting.

None of this mattered to the teenage you. HMV seemed cool and edgy to a 14-year-old who'd only vaguely heard of the Stone Roses. It was also huge, like the vast rolling plains of the Serengeti, only populated by the back catalogue of Ned's Atomic Dustbin and Fleetwood Mac rather than big cats.

There was often a perspex stand housing a CD cover and the rubric "Now playing" written on it. Then came the listening post, which seemed revolutionary. Sound from the capacious headphones flooded the senses. It was sometimes hard to control the pelvis and feet.

Until you sensed the man listening to Simple Minds was looking at you.

The in-store gig was another HMV staple. Rather poignantly, the website on Tuesday still displayed a list of acts - Adam Ant, Funeral for a Friend and Bullet for My Valentine - who are slated to play at HMV's stores in the coming weeks.

Signing in Manchester HMV The world's most boring game of Snap

Gareth Harwood, on Twitter as @greedy_fish, tweeted a picture of the HMV dog being put down. He looks back fondly on buying records at Virgin Megastore in Brighton.

"My first CD album is a bit embarrassing it was Cross Road by Bon Jovi - their greatest hits. I washed cars to pay for it. It was an adrenaline rush to get it home."

In his father's day the Virgin in Brighton had a hippy feel with bean bags for people to sit and smoke on. But by the late 90s the HMVs and Virgins were morphing into temples of entertainment - video, magazines, T-shirts, posters and books had been added.

Andy Marczak remembers buying Beastie Boys' (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!) at Reading's HMV. "My memory is that the Classical section was in a separate soundproof booth, as protection from 'that racket'!"

Previously in the Magazine

Madonna lived in Luton. I would see her on Saturday afternoons in the Arndale Centre huddled silently together with the members of Mr Mister, Midnight Star and Mike and the Mechanics.

I spent much of my teenage years with Madonna and visited her often at her alphabetically arranged home in the HMV record store in Luton.

For me the HMV store wasn't just a place to buy music; walking into it felt a bit like slipping through the back of a wardrobe into Narnia.

Freelance journalist Caroline Thorpe recalls the indecision that could strike. "I remember a very troubled and lengthy session in HMV deliberating over whether to buy Definitely Maybe or The Great Escape. Went for Oasis in the end, and never regretted it."

Pete Paphides, the music writer and 6 Music presenter, remembers 1980s Birmingham having a dozen places where you could buy records. HMV was the biggest until Virgin opened a Megastore.

Bob Stanley from indie band Saint Etienne wrote a blog last year highlighting how far HMV had fallen.

Paphides went into the Oxford Street store last week after hearing that there were blue stickers on almost everything giving 25% off. He bought a Charles Mingus album on vinyl. "They had a really good vinyl collection in the basement but not many people knew that. All the people who thought of themselves as connoisseurs had stopped going, they felt it was not for them."

The store had diversified too much. "They were desperate to sell you just about anything. There was a big display of Haribos - you could buy sweets!"

You can follow the Magazine on Twitter and on Facebook

What was the first record you bought? And where was it?

More on This Story

In today's Magazine

Features & Analysis

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • TravelAround the world

    BBC Travel takes a look at the most striking images from the past seven days


  • A bicycle with a Copenhagen WheelClick Watch

    The wheel giving push bikes an extra boost by turning them into smart electric hybrids

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.