On K-Tel

As reported on Largehearted Boy, My Old Kentucky Blog has a posting on a bunch of bands who have covered the classic BOC song “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” One of my wife’s favorite covers is the clubby version from Apollo 440.

A quick search on Google turns up all kinds of references to the song, including the classic SNL skit refered to as “More Cowbell.” It’s one of those songs that will likely be popular for a long time to come. It’s odd considering what the song is actually about. When I was a kid (pre-Junior High) “Reaper” was one of my favorite songs. I got a cassette of K-Tel’s The Rock Album in 1980 which I must have listened to non-stop. I was fascinated with the song. I remember pressing play and pause repeatedly so I could frantically scribble down the lyrics (in RED ink as I recall) to it. This was a method I used to capture the lyrics for all of my favorite songs. It was especially useful for capturing the lyrics to LOVE SONGS that I’d give to whoever I had a crush on at the time. I clearly had more free time back then. I was 11 or 12 at the time.

It seems that my music listening as a kid included many K-Tel collections, and most of them seemed to include some Blondie song or “My Sharona” Click on the album title to see the album art and track listing courtesy of K-Tel Classics:

The Rock Album (1980) This was the first K-Tel tape I ever owned. To this day, I feel it really captures that late-Seventies rock sound. Permanently engrained in my synapses, to this day when I hear any of the songs from this one I immediately anticipate what would be the next song on the tape– and really shouldn’t “Dream Police” follow “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper?” In my mind it always will!

This album seemed to always be in every tape case I owned and in every car, too. At one point I attempted to re-create this cassette from CD sources. I guess I was afraid that the K-Tel magic would eventually fade. This caused me to seek out the really crappy Jethro Tull concept album Stormwatch to get the driving “Something’s On The Move” which was by far the best song on that album, and one of my favorite Jethro Tull songs. Although, that is probably due to its inclusion on the K-Tel record, now that I think about it. I also picked up a Robin Trower collection to get the bluesy “Too Rolling Stoned.”

Surprisingly, in 1997 Sony Music Special Products put out a 2-CD version of The Rock Album (Volume 1 Volume 2) that went out of print almost as soon as it appeared. I managed to pick up Volume 1 from Amazon, but the only Volume 2 they carried at the time was a cassette version. What Sony did was take the original album and spread it over two discs– maintaining some of the original mix, but then adding some questionable tracks to flesh it out– “Keep on Loving You” by REO Speedwagon was the only additional track to Volume 1 from the original sequence, but then they took the balance of the tracks and added Steve Miller, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bad Co., the schmaltzy “Heard It In A Love Song,” by the Marshall Tucker Band and two songs I consider to be more 80’s– “My Sharona,” and “Jeopardy” by the Greg Kihn Band. As luck would have it, while I was doing some digging for this post, a number of Volume 2’s showed up, so I ordered one! My first plan will be to lovingly restore the track sequence…

I guess this says quite a bit about the impact of this album that someone at Sony was able to convince the powers that be to allow a re-issue– albeit a botched one– of this album.

Rock 80 (1980) I’m pretty sure that I got this one after The Rock Album. This the other K-Tel tape that shaped the music that I listened to. Looking at this track list, you can see that this is on the cusp of what would eventually be called “New Wave.” Most of the artists on this album would forge strong careers during the 80’s– The Pretenders, Cheap Trick, Pat Benatar (two tracks!), Joe Jackson, Blondie (two tracks!), Nick Lowe, Gary Numan. It also includes a number of one-hit wonders that would prove to be important in their own way, “Pop Muzik” by M, “My Sharona” (Surprise!), and the song that I feel is overdue a comeback, “Driver’s Seat” by Sniff ‘n’ The Tears. This is another of my wife’s favorite songs lately.

Masters of Metal (1984) I purchased this tape during my “metal period.” This is a surprisingly good cross-section of artists, in my opinion. Some great songs, “Lick It Up,” “Breakin’ the Chains,” “Rainbow in the Dark,” “Street of Dreams,” and one-hit wonders Zebra with “Who’s Behind the Door.” I question the inclusion of “Tom Sawyer” and the bad choice of “Dancing In The Street” representing Van Halen, but overall the mix works pretty well, and spent a lot of time in my car.

Out of This World (1979) This is an import K-Tel release of Moody Blues songs. I remember purchasing this from the Musicland in Dubuque. I don’t know if this was purchased in ’79, though. The album cover is using the Moody Blues logo that they used on the Octave album– which was the last one for keyboardist Mike Pinder. My family listened to a lot of Moody Blues when I was a kid. We saw them in concert in ’81 in Ames, IA., for the Long Distance Voyager tour, which was pretty exciting for me. This is a very good collection of Moody Blues songs. At the time this was the only release that was even close to a “Greatest Hits” collection for them outside of the odd compilation This Is The Moody Blues.

Power Play (1980) Apparently, most of the K-Tel tapes were purchased in a one-year period. The link on the title is for the Canadian release, which is different than the US release. The US release has Blondie and “My Sharona” on it, but also has some of the same tracks: “Jane” by Jefferson Starship, Journey, and a song that I still really like, “Stomp” by the Brothers Johnson– who also perform the great “Strawberry Letter 23” that shows up in Quentin Tarantino movies.

Images (1980) This was a Christmas gift from an uninformed relative. I may have listened to this once or twice. I seem to remember the Bernadette Peters song. I remember being pretty disappointed because it was so “easy listening.” Still, from a K-Tel perspective, a pretty even collection considering what the songs were.

It seemed like K-Tel was everywhere back then– and a lot of people bought these compilations. K-Tel wasn’t doing anything new, really. There had been other companies before them to make compilations records, but K-Tel did it most notoriously with loud, bright TV commercials and new releases seemingly every week! K-Tel’s legacy is carried on by the “Now That’s What I Call Music” and just about anything released by Razor and Tie spinoff Musicspace. Someone on a board I was looking at this morning pointed out that even though these compilations are not considered for the “serious” collector– they do a very good job of showing what was popular when they came out.

One thought on “On K-Tel

  1. Pingback: K-Tel Fan Site Shut Down at Time to play b-sides

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