After realizing the value of K-Tel compilations as historic-nostalgic core samples of my wayward youth, I decided to dig a bit deeper into that vein, past the hazy recollections of pre-adolescence and into the primordial murk of my early childhood.
When all is said and done, I am a child of the Seventies. The eight years I spent drifting through that era of glittery, earth-toned excess left an indelible imprint that successive decades have failed to erase. When I was younger and still concerned with things like “punk credibility,” I would attempt mask my affections behind a mask of sneering irony. Now that I’m older, I’ve quit trying to hide my Me Decade damage.
Like classic rock, muscle car fetishism, and an insatiable appetite for processed comfort food, that inward-directed gaudiness of that decade is an undeniable part of who I am. It’s not the whole picture, but its a big enough component of it that there no point in pretending otherwise.
And, honestly, “empathy fatigue” and backlash be damned, I’m thankful the first epoch of my existence was shaped — no matter how imperfectly or incompletely — at a time where consideration for others and liberation from traditional gender roles was given such emphasis.
Alongside the liberal attitudes of the decade, the pop music of the time worked its way into and shaped my impressionable neural pathways. That’s especially true of the material released during the first half of the decade when the bubblegum, glam, folk-rock, pop country and singer-songwriter blended together and emulsified into the uber-mellow blanket genre of “soft rock.” I won’t make an impassioned argument about its historical significance — this ain’t Pitchfork or the AV Club — but my love for it is utterly sincere.
That affection is utterly lost on Maura, who is three years older than I am and just as much a product of those times as I am. The difference, I suspect, is that she was the child of Irish immigrants whose youthful soundtrack tended toward the Clancy Brothers. I was the domestic product of a blue collar neighborhood in an outer ring suburb, where cock rock and schmaltzy pop were white trash anthems.
Those genres — alongside funk/soul transitional stuff and eventually disco — were K-Tel’s bread and butter during its rise to the top of the compilation album heap. Their one-stop hit-shopping approach was as compelling to me in 2016 as it was to the masses forty-odd years ago, as it meant an efficient means of acquiring a collection of cherished tunes without chasing down scores of individual single releases.
My first purchase along these lines was a copy of 1972′s Believe in Music.
The album is pretty typical of K-Tel releases from this era and showcases why its compilations got stuck with such a bad rep. The sleeve is a masterpiece of generic insta-shabby chic. The emphasis on volume over fidelity meant a reduction in recording quality, exacerbated by truncations and edits to the included tracks.
(At least three versions of the album were released. I got the one without the Slade track. Damn it.)
A1 Looking Glass – Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)
A2 Daniel Boone - Beautiful Sunday
A3 Lighthouse – Sunny Days
A4 Mouth & MacNeil – How Do You Do?
A5 Hollies – Long Cool Woman
A6 Donny Osmond - Go Away Little Girl
A7 O’Jays – Backstabbers
A8 Raspberries – Go All The Way
A9 Andy & David Williams – Fly Pretty Baby
A10 Rod Stewart - Maggie May
A11 Bobby Vinton – Sealed With A Kiss
B1 Cher - Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves
B2 Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show - Sylvia’s Mother
B3 Donny Osmond - Sweet & Innocent
B4 Argent – Hold Your Head Up
B5 Eric Clapton - Let It Rain
B6 Brownsville Station – Let You Yeah Be Yeah
B7 Bulldog – No
B8 Five Man Electrical Band – Money Back Guarantee
B9 Rick Springfield – Speak To The Sky
B10 Albert Hammond – Down By The River
B11 Gallery – I Believe In Music
In some cases, the cuts are unnoticeable. In others, they’re an act of mercy. When they are obvious, however, they are agonizingly so.
I bought the album specifically for “Brandy” by Looking Glass, and was appalled to discover they chopped out the first thirty seconds of the song. That’s the best part of the song, for fuck’s sake — the audio equivalent of easing into a warm bath on a chilly day.
The version of Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” suffered even worse. The bulk of the pseudo-Celtic instrumental bits that defined the track got stripped away, leaving a two minute remnant worthy of a soup commercial jingle.
Apart from the Raspberries pioneering bit of power pop, the rest of the material works best as an aggregate mood-setter and testament to unyielding mellowness. It makes for an odd and somewhat sinister listening experience, simultaneously sleazy and sickly sweet like the era that spawned it.
It’s unsettling, but that’s not necessarily a negative from my perspective. There’s enough there to evoke demi-lucid flashbacks and the warm haze of nostalgia, but it’s also loaded with sharp reminders to dissuade me from lingering too long or getting lost in a labyrinth of romanticized myth.
I’m a child of the Seventies. Not a prisoner of them.