We regret to inform you that today’s entry marks the end of this feature as a weekly thing.
I started buying K-Tel collections because they were cheap and readily available nostalgia fodder. After a year of steadily mining that vein, I’ve pretty much tapped it out. There are still about a dozen K-Tel offerings on my vinyl wishlist, but all of them are lower tier jobbers containing one or two songs of interest padded out with excruciating soft rock dross. If a cheap of one in reasonably decent condition happens to cross my path, great, but I’m not going to aggressively seek them out or pay a premium for them.
While it’s a little sad to part ways with something that has occupied so much of my psychic real estate for a year, I don’t have any regrets. It has been a fun experience and a springboard for other lines of inquiry and exploration. It would’ve been nice if it hadn’t involved lethal doses of Hall & Oates, but that’s how the big bam booms.
At least we’re going to close things out with a super-sized doozy of a compilation, one that — GASP! SHOCK! HORROR! — isn’t actually a K-Tel release but a product of their rival Ronco.
I’m very much ride or die with K-Tel in the vintage midlist compilation wars, but the House that Ron Popiel Built truly outdid the Winnipeg Wonder when it came to branding and trade dress. I would’ve bought 1982′s Raiders of the Pop Charts based on the title and sleeve art alone.
What does it have to do with the movie it so shamelessly cribbed its name from? Absolutely nothing, apart from a ludicrous attempt to draft on the branded zeitgeist! That’s precisely what makes it a next-level artifact of in-the-moment ephemera.
Raiders was a UK release and consists of two separate parts sold together to create the value-added illusion of a BOGO bundle deal. This ended up being the biggest stumbling block to acquiring a copy of it, as most sellers only offered one of the two component records from the set and my level of interest couldn’t justify the logistical hassles of tracking both halves down and dealing with the exorbitant shipping rates from the UK to the States. (Seriously, it’s almost triple what I’ve paid to have stuff sent to me from Germany.)
As luck would have it, I eventually found a domestic seller (in Oklahoma, of all places) who was selling both records, in near mint condition, for twenty bucks plus media mail postage.
A1 Madness – Our House
A2 Modern Romance – Best Years Of Our Lives
A3 Haircut 100 – Love Plus One
A4 Clannad – Theme From Harry’s Game
A5 Raw Silk – Do It To The Music
A6 The Chaps – Rawhide
A7 Incantation – Cacharpaya
A8 Fat Larrys Band – Zoom
B1 Culture Club - Do You Really Want To Hurt Me
B2 Pretenders – Back On The Chain Gang
B3 Japan – Nightporter
B4 Heaven 17 – Let Me Go
B5 Tight Fit – Fantasy Island
B6 Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin – Johnny Rocco
B7 Toni Basil – Mickey
C1 Kid Creole & The Coconuts – Annie, I’m Not Your Daddy
C2 Yazoo – Only You
C3 Lene Lovich – It’s You, Only You (Mein Schmerz)
C4 The Beat – I Confess
C5 Toto Coelo – I Eat Cannibals
C6 Precious Little – The On And On Song
C7 Whodini – Magic’s Wand
C8 Pale Fountains – Thank You
D1 Shakin’ Stevens – Give Me Your Heart Tonight
D2 Simple Minds - Someone Somewhere (In Summertime)
D3 Robert Palmer – Some Guys Have All The Luck
D4 UB 40 – So Here I Am
D5 Gregory Isaacs – Night Nurse
D6 Morrissey Mullen – Bladerunner
D7 Kids From Fame – Starmaker
The collection contains and embarrassment of riches — and some just plain embarrassments — from a singular and personally significant moment in pop music history. It’s also yet another reminder that, despite the new wave hype, the British Top 40 could be just as bafflingly awful as its American counterpart was at the time.
Side C is the hands-down high point of the comp, containing a mix of tracks that you’d never find on any domestic K-Tel offering. “It’s You, Only You (Mein Schmerz)” was one of our wedding songs and “I Eat Cannibals” is a favorite of my hard-to-please better half, and their inclusion went a long way towards sealing the deal.
The initial post-workday spin of Side C went atypically well as far as these things go — up until it hit the sugar-blasted nightmare of Precious Little’s “The On and On Song” and the familiar “what the fuck is that crap” echoed from our kitchen. It was even more excruciating than previously objectionable Loggins or Hall & Oates jams because of the lasting trauma inflicted upon my generation by folk-loving Boomer educators.
To this day, I can’t listen to more than a couple of bars of Mary Hopkins or the Kingston Trio without having a stress flashback where I’m standing on the stage of my elementary school auditorium, desperately trying to avoid my third-grade teacher’s wrath by not fucking up the words to some song about flowers or world peace or some other subject that drove home the connotative dissonance of that particular moment. I can’t remember what my mother smelled like or my grandpa’s laugh, but the words to “Top of the World” have been permanently seared in my brain, thanks to Miss Grady’s beady-eyed stare of barely concealed rage.
Where was I? Oh, yeah. The rest of the compilation has seen only a couple of plays since it arrived. Most of the other bright spots appear on other collections in my archive, and among more appealing artists than the Kids from Fame or Shakin’ Stevens. It also doesn’t help that I hear most of them during my daily commute on First Wave’s frustratingly limited “classic alternative” playlist. This might sound like a bum note to end this series on, but I think it jibes fairly well with the overall experience — a handful of things I fondly remember, buried among a lot more shit I’d rather forget.
PARTING BONUS CONTENT:
Since this is the end of the road for this series, I thought I’d toss in a list of my top five K-Tel comps for those of you seeking to start a collection of your own.