Where Did Y’All Get the Money to Buy All Those Records When You Were Teenagers?

The other night as Sister #2 was leaving Supergenius HQ, I was talking about what albums I might include on that Teenage Albums thing going around Facebook like a nasty virus. In case it has not infiltrated your feed this are the instructions, “List 10 albums that made a lasting impression on you as a TEENAGER, but only one per band/artist. Don’t take too long and don’t think too long. Repost!”

I was trying to think of albums that made a lasting impression on me as a teenager. For me, teenagehood lasted from June of 1985 to June of 1992. Just trying to figure out the years that my teen years encompassed took me a long time, but then to find the albums that had made a lasting impression that was super hard.

Sure, I can rattle off a crap ton of albums that were released during my teen years that I love now. A majority of the ‘Mats albums would fall firmly in that time span. And, of course, I can think of a ton of albums I love and have made an impression on me that were released before my teenagehood, but none of them I actually discovered as a teenager.

And so I struggled with the list and what to put on it. I pondered it last night as I tried to fall asleep. And I thought about it in the morning as I showered. I love music, this should not be hard. But as I was shampooing my hair, something Sister #2 said struck me.

I had just mentioned how maybe I’d put Belinda Carlisle’s “Belinda” album on there, because of how much I love the song (and the video) for “Mad About You.”
“Yeah,” she said. “While I really love that song, I couldn’t tell you the rest of the album.”

She was right, because I couldn’t name the rest of the album either. Why? Because for most of my teenagehood I did not listen to albums. I listened to the radio and mixtapes I made from the radio. I had a ton of 45s and a handful of records/tapes, but not many.

Why did I not listen to albums? First, it wasn’t a thing my friends and I ever did. We’d listen to music, sure. The radio, mostly. My impressive collection of 45s, but rarely albums.

Records were expensive gambles. Back in the the pre-internet days you could not often try an album before you bought it, especially if your main music store was Musicland at the Northtown Mall. You generally had to base your purchase decision on a single or, if you were hipper than I was, a review in a magazine. So 45s were a much better bet, especially if you were poor and had a meagre income based solely on babysitting. Plus, if you only spent a few dollars on 45s at Musicland, you had plenty of money leftover to get the latest Sweet Valley High book at Waldenbooks. Those were $3.25 a pop.

I didn’t grow up in a house with allowances. We literally lived day-to-day on the tips my mom made as a waitress. So any money spent on music or books came out of my own pocket.

There was that year in 9th grade when I had a job as a dishwasher/busgirl at the Country Kitchen on Highway 65, and I was filthy with albums — Limited Warranty, The Bangles, Cyndi Lauper, The Jets, Madonna. It was an album buying bonanza.

But for the most part, albums were a special occasion gift. Something you got for Christmas or your birthday, and usually bought after the record had produced more than a few hit singles.

So as I peruse these endless Top 10 lists of the people I am acquainted with on Facebook, I think:
“Damn, these people had impeccable taste as teenagers. Taste that has never changed and they have carried up all through adulthood.”

“Wow, I bet these people never grew up in a house where basic utilities were turned off on the reg due to lack of payment.”

“This is stupid bullshit. Why am I giving it so much thought?”

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  1. Wolfdogg 15.Jan.17 at 12:04 pm

    The vast majority of my teenage album collection was from joining and rejoinng record and tape clubs. Or cassette dubs of friend’s albums they got from the same source.

    1. Jodi 15.Jan.17 at 12:06 pm

      I did build my tape collection on bilking Columbia House & BMG. But I didn’t do it until my very late teens and everything I got was mostly garbage that had 0 influence on me. (except for Suzanne Vega and Simon & Garfunkel, they were Columbia House scores).

  2. Susanna Donato 15.Jan.17 at 2:37 pm

    Ditto Wolfdogg’s strategies. I got my first new wave from Columbia Records & Tapes when I was 13. It was sad when I’d burned through all their “cool” options and couldn’t bilk them anymore.

    And then all through my teen years I babysat a lot and I basically didn’t buy anything except music and some clothes at thrift stores. I remember once making an exception and buying a sweater on sale at the Gap for $12 in 1989 — it was a pale-ish olive green V-neck with a great texture — and being SO SCANDALIZED that people paid that exorbitant amount for clothes all the time.

    Not that you saw my list, but yeah, a lot of my taste hasn’t changed that much since then — after all, 13-19 are pretty damn formative years in musical taste. I want to do a 20s list too, because my taste did expand then …

  3. David Gutowski 15.Jan.17 at 9:27 pm

    I bought my first albums as a pre-teen with altar boy money (from serving at funerals and weddings). After that I was as guilty of abusing record & tape clubs, but also used whatever I didn’t put away for school on music.


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