Every K-Tel “current hits” compilation was disposable by design. Their contents were skimmed from the previous seasons pop charts, pressed to vinyl, and released under some ephemerally significant title and trade dress. They stuck it out in the midlist churn for a brief period of topical appeal before getting booted into the realm of deep discount bins.
They provided an affordable try-before-you-buy sampler for source material fence sitters and a cheap omnibus for folks whose tastes shifted in sync with the Top 40 radio playlist. Either way, the truncated songs and dodgy recording quality emphasized the ephemeral aspect of the product. No one expected them to have legs pasts a year or two, which is why so many of them filtered down to kids of my generation by way of hand-me-downs, garage sale crates, or curbside rubbish piles.
Saying something was “a product of its time” is speaking the obvious as a pseudo-profundity. K-Tel comps were products in their time. They appeal to me as old popular periodicals appeal to me, warts-and-all artifacts of specific moments made with little regard for historic reception. They serve as a reminder of what was as opposed to what we’d prefer to remember.
Of all the K-Tel comps I’ve picked up in the past nine months, none epitomize this as perfectly as 1974′s Dynamite does.
Sporting a title pulled direct from the realm of contemporary slang, the album served up a chopped and compressed core sample of a transition period at its most messy moment.
A1 Paper Lace – The Night Chicago Died
A2 Bachman-Turner Overdrive – Takin’ Care Of Business
A3 Nazareth – The Flight Tonight
A4 William DeVaughn – Be Thankful For What You Got
A5 Eric Clapton - I Shot The Sheriff
A6 Kool & The Gang – Hollywood Swinging
A7 Stealers Wheel – Stuck In The Middle With You
A8 Albert Hammond – I’m A Train
A9 George McCrae – Rock Your Baby
A10 Elton John – Honky Cat
B1 Terry Jacks – Seasons In The Sun
B2 Rick Derringer – Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo
B3 Peter Noone – Meet Me At The Corner Down At Joe’s Cafe
B4 The DeFranco Family – Save The Last Dance For Me
B5 Lobo – Rings
B6 Sister Janet Mead – The Lord’s Prayer
B7 Love Unlimited Orchestra – Love’s Theme
B8 Al Wilson – Show And Tell
B9 Gladys Knight And The Pips – On And On
B10 Stylistics – Let’s Put It All Together
The album’s twenty tracks span easy listening, proto-disco, soul, bubblegum, singer-songwriter, hard rock, and Eric Clapton’s coked out stab at reggae. It’s such a pure concentration of sheer Seventies-ness that handling the sleeve without protective gear can cause spontaneous hair feathering and a dangerous hot pants addiction.
I picked it up for Rick Derringer’s “Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo” — the apex of boogie rock sleaze — with the funk-thumping “Hollywood Swinging” and the ahistorically infectious “The Night Chicago Died” sealing the deal. Most of the inclusions are solid — including the singer-songwriter stuff, which I generally despise but here serves as a counterbalance to any rose-tinted delusions.
It also continues the 70s K-Tel comp tradition of throwing in my least favorite Elton John out of all the selections they could’ve gone with at the time.
Dynamite is the platonic model of a K-Tel compilation in form, branding, and qualities both positive and negative — of the moment, in the moment, and forever sporting a slightly battered sleeve with “25 cents” written in magic marker on a label affixed to the top right corner. Its musical contents precede any pop music awareness my toddler self may have possessed, but are familiar nonetheless, thanks to a heavy UHF ad presence and the informal supply chain which flowed down from the neighborhood’s teenagers to us younger folk.
The rock version of “The Lord’s Prayer” still creeps the fuck out of me, and not just because I was raised Protestant, either.