Record Clubs, K-Tel and Cutouts

Before Spotify and Amazon Music, there were Record Clubs, K-Tel and the Cut-Out bin. Finding the hits we loved was a lot harder!

Record clubs made their margins on “stiffs”, giving you a list of LPs to choose from each month that included a lot of  stuff you didn’t necessarily want. Supply was limited. Demand was high. We often ended up with more than a few marginal albums among the more enduring selections in our collections.

And there was always the problem of getting stuck with a knock-off, a re-recorded Record Club version that was not at all like the tune we heard on the radio. The most excruciating for me was Free’s album version of “All Right Now“. The single mix (Hear it Here) was what we played on Top 40 Radio. It was totally different and light years better. You have to dig deep into the Amazon library to find it among the dozens of inferior album versions. It’s worth the work. If you liked the tune, you’ll know why the minute you hear it.

In the 1970s, Philip Kives‘ K-Tel label discovered that they could license oldies and create compilations of “20 Original Songs by 20 Original Artists” (Here’s a typical K-Tel Commercial from the late 70s). Even these collections included their share of duds and a few re-records, but they were a step closer to what we all wanted: To buy the music we wanted without having to listen to the junk that came with it.

When record stores still thrived, we would cruise the “Cut-Out” bins, where artists on the way down ended up. Occasionally, we’d find a gem amongst the trash.

Then came Napster. In the early days, before the RIAA woke up, it was a treasure trove of illegal content shared via peer-to-peer connections. With a little ingenuity, you could fill every hole in your collection. By 2001, file sharing was at its peak. The record companies at last took notice and lawyers only had to persecute a few grandmas who didn’t know their kids were using their PCs to steal music to make Napster reexamine it’s business model.

Today, if you are willing to do some detective work, you can find just about anything you want on YouTube. The company apparently made piece with the record companies so the plethora of private citizens who upload video versions of their faves can stay out of harms way, often augmenting pristine digital audio with synced up video from a performance on Shindig, Hullabaloo our Ed Sullivan.

Perhaps it’s because tech has made us an increasingly lazy people. Record companies and middle men like Apple, Amazon and Spotify, have made it much easier to create playlists of our favorite tunes. And the dollars added up. That’s turned out to be the ticket. It was just like buying 45s at Harmony House (a Detroit record store favorite for my fellow Motowners).

No Record Club rules. No K-Tel knock-offs. No filler cuts we didn’t really want.

Sounds like it could be a radio station tag line.

As Generation Z comes into its prime, memories of how we consumed music will be things scholars read about in history books. Everything from Super Bowl commercials to the latest hits will be available, often before they appear on traditional linear networks. The market will more fully control what becomes a hit. And artists will have to become much more savvy in promoting their artistry.

Wistful memories of gaming the record clubs and scanning Napster will recede. And the hits will just “keep on comin'”.

Quick Takes:

Smart Speaker Penetration is up to 66 Million Units In U.S.

People under age 30 don’t know a world without The Simpsons in it.  The cartoon series that started as a feature on the Tracy Ullman show and just passed Gunsmoke last year as the longest running TV series in history.

For the Boomer generation, the 1964 New York World’s Fair opened our eyes to the future. Disney played a huge role providing attractions at 4 of the pavilions. “It’s a Small World” still draws visitors in Disney parks today, 54 years after Pepsi presented the original. The tune is said to be the most often played in history. The Fair proved to be a money loser, returning only 19 cents on the dollar to bond holders. Here’s a sanguine documentary, that reflects so many of our memories about the experience. (Thanks Jeff!)

This Day In History:

1940, Walt Disney’s second feature length movie, “Pinocchio” premieres.

1959, Buddy Holly was buried in Lubbock, Texas. His tombstone reads “Holley”, the correct spelling of his given surname and includes pictures of a guitar.

1963, The first Beatles single ‘Please Please Me‘ was released in the US on the Vee Jay label. Capitol Records, EMI’s United States label, were offered the right to release the single in the US, but turned it down. Dick Biondi, a disc jockey on WLS in Chicago and a friend of Vee-Jay executive Ewart Abner, played the song on the radio today in 1963, becoming the first radio announcer to play a Beatle record in the United States.

1964, Pan Am flight 101 was greeted by over 5,000 Beatles fans as it arrived at New York’s JFK airport, bringing the band to the US for the first time. WINS DJ “Murray The K” Kauffman alerted the faithful to the flight number.

1969, Doors singer Jim Morrison was arrested for drunk driving and driving with no license in Los Angeles, California. Less than two years later, he would die of heart failure in Paris, two years to the day after the death of the Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones, and approximately nine months after the deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.

1970, “Hollywood Palace” airs it’s last episode on ABC TV. Among the performers and hosts on the show were Bing Crosby. He made the first and the most appearances as guest host: 31 in all, including his family in several of the annual Christmas shows. The program premiered on January 4, 1964, as a midseason replacement for short lived The Jerry Lewis Show.

1974, Mel Brooks’ film “Blazing Saddles” opens in movie theaters starring Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder. “How bout some more beans, Mr. Taggart?” (Video)

1979, Stephen Stills became the first rock performer to record on digital equipment in Los Angeles’ Record Plant Studio.

1979 Fred Silverman’s “Supertrain” TV Anthology debuts on NBC. It’s considered a “superbomb”, one of the worst shows of the year. (Video)

Much More Music:

1969, The Who recorded ‘Pinball Wizard’ at Morgan Studios in London on this date. The track is featured on their 1969 rock opera album Tommy & was released as a single in 1969. It reached No. 4 in the UK charts and No. 19 in the US. . (Video)


1970, Led Zeppelin scored their first No.1 album with Led Zeppelin II. It was released in November 1969, and featured the No. 4 single ‘Whole Lotta Love’. (Video)


1970, One Hit Wonders Shocking Blue went to No.1 with ‘Venus’ on this date, making them the first Dutch act to top the US charts. Bananarama covered the tune 16 later. (Video)


1976, Paul Simon started a three week run at No.1 on the US singles chart with ’50 Ways To Leave Your Lover’, the singers first solo US No. (Video)


Today’s Birthdays:

1817: Frederick Douglass, African American to hold high rank in US government. (d. 1895)
1867: Laura Ingalls Wilder, American author (Little House on Prairie), born in Pepin, Wisconsin (d. 1957)
1885: (Harry) Sinclair Lewis, American writer and social critic (Nobel Prize in Literature 1930), born in Sauk Centre, Minnesota (d. 1951)
1887: James Hubert] Eubie Blake, American ragtime composer and pianist (Memories of You, I’m Just Wild About Harry), born in Baltimore, Maryland (d. 1983)
1908: Clarence Buster Crabbe, American swimmer (Olympic gold 1932) and actor (Tarzan the Fearless, Flash Gordon), born in Oakland, California (d. 1983)
1915: Eddie Bracken, American actor (Summer Stock, Young & Willing), born in Astoria, New York (d. 2002)
1917: Milton ‘Milt’ Holland, American drummer, percussionist, ethnomusicologist (film Tinkerbell’s tinkle, Bewitched’s nose tinkle), born in Chicago, Illinois (d. 2005)
1919: Jock Mahoney [Jacques Joseph O’Mahoney], American actor and stuntman (Dallas, Yancy Derringer, Day of Fury), born in Chicago, Illinois (d. 1989)
1934: King Curtis [Curtis Ousley], American musician, bandleader and saxophonist (Memphis Soul Stew), born in Fort Worth, Texas (d. 1971)
1946: Sammy Johns (Chevy Van) (d. 2013)
1949: Alan Lancaster, bassist with English group Status Quo. He left the band in 1984.
1960: Actor James Spader
1962: Singer Garth Brooks
1966: Comedian Chris Rock

Today’s Quote Worth Re-Quoting: “Remember when people had diaries and got mad when someone read them? Now they put everything online and get mad when people don’t.

We leave you with Billboard’s number one from this week in 1983. “Africa” was a one week chart topper for Toto, but the tune has a hook that is still instantly recognizable 36 years 17 albums and over 40 million records later.

Thanks for listening!

Scott Westerman
Host and Producer – Rock and Roll Revisited
Author: Motor City Music – Keener 13 and the Soundtrack of Detroit