July 1972 was a good time to walk into a record shop and buy your first 7” single. (12” singles did not exist yet.) You might have asked for one of the releases that had been #1 in May or June and was now making its way down the charts, “Vincent” by Don McLean perhaps, or “Metal Guru”, which would turn out to be the last of four UK chart-toppers for T Rex. You might have bought the latest Slade hit, which spent a week at #1 at the start of the month (“Take Me Bak Ome”), if only to annoy your parents or teachers with the band’s habit of mis-spelling their titles. Or you could help “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper to reach the top spot, as it would early in August.
Ignoring songs that reached #1 you might, in the summer of 1972, have spent your pocket money on a classic Top 10 hit like “Starman” by David Bowie or “Silver Machine” by Hawkwind, or even the Motown re-release of “My Guy” by Mary Wells. I, on the other hand, armed with a 50p piece with which to make my first ever purchase of a vinyl record, went for something else.
I owned other singles, all given as presents or bought at my request. The Beatles double A-side “Eleanor Rigby” / “Yellow Submarine” was the first to have a dedication to me on its paper sleeve, a simple “To Sean”. But I had never gone up to the counter of a record shop and bought something with my own money.
Nobody had warned me that this rite of passage was not a rehearsal. It was the real thing. My choice would stay with me forever. Nobody said, “Think of it. This decision is one that you will remember for the rest of your life. In future discussions you will have to own up to what you decided on that July afternoon. Is this something that you will be able to look back on with pride or pleasure in the decades to come?” If anyone had said such a thing to me, would I have changed my mind and gone for something that was clearly a classic (like “Vincent”), something more fashionable (like “Starman”) or something edgy (like “School’s Out”)? Probably not. I would still have said the same thing to the woman behind the counter at West 4 Tapes and Records: “Can I have ‘Puppy Love’ by Donny Osmond please?”
Yes, I was one of the many thousands of pre-teens who helped Donny Osmond to his five-week run at the top of the charts with that Paul Anka cover, before Alice Cooper took over. I could have waited for a few weeks, and spent my pocket money on “Mama Weer All Crazee Now” (Slade), “You Wear It Well” (Rod Stewart) or “All the Young Dudes” (Mott the Hoople) which, come September, would make up the UK’s “Best Top 3 Ever”. In fact I did buy a single in September 1972, soon after returning from our summer holiday in Ireland: “Too Young”, the old Jimmy Young song, Donny Osmond’s follow-up to “Puppy Love”. It reached #5 in the charts.
Not content with making the same mistake twice, I attempted to compound the error the third time I went to buy a single. I asked for “Why”, Donny Osmond’s third release, but maybe the woman in West 4 Tapes and Records took pity on me. She told me that they didn’t have it and suggested I choose something else. I went for “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John. If she had been following my progress as a record buyer she might have thought “Third time lucky”. As for me, I have to live with the fact that the first single I ever bought was “Puppy Love”. I would offer photographic evidence of this, but, aged 15, I played frisbee with it in the back garden, and then smashed it to pieces with a hammer. That was an entirely different rite of passage.