A little Musical History
“K-Tel Block Buster Commercial” circa 1976
There is no getting around the fact that the seventies were pretty funky. There was such a wide variety of music produced that if you did not like something, next week there would be something you did like.There was a huge market of teenagers to tap into and hucksters and hustlers alike were there with knives, fry pans, and mood rings for the average guy watching the tube, kicking back in his platform shoes and colourful shirt.
The boomers were veraciously buying music like it was going out of style so it was no wonder a company called K-tel targeted this and made out like bandits. Their famous compilations made it an affordable way to get a good sample of current hits, putting up with the other ‘stuff’ they put on them. As they advertised though, the songs were the original songs by the original artists. That was their appeal. Clearly the songs were shortened at times so the compressed groves of the records could fit all 20 or even 25 songs on the album. When you compress the grooves on the records so much, you tend to lose some of the ‘information’ so the recordings although ‘stereo’ were not of the highest quality; although few noticed I’m sure. The compilations were the best, but K-Tel did do other collections such as Michael Jackson, Elvis, even an obscure Nanette Workman.
The artists were in my opinion helped by K-tel – it promoted their albums in the internetless days.My first K-Tel, one of the over a billion they claim to have sold now was “Sound Explosion”. This boasted Brownsville Station’s “Smokin’ in the Boys Room”, The Stampeder’s “Running Wild”, Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away” and the Chi-lites, Blood Sweat & Tears, Jim Stafford, Sly & the Family Stone, and many more explosive hits as I am sure would have been the bantered at the time.
The titles were pure merchandising schlock: “20 Explosive Hits”, “Block Buster”, “Fantastic”, “Hit Machine”, “Mind Bender”, “Music Express”, “Out of Sight”, “Pure Power”, “Right On”, and of course “Goofy Greats”
The founder of K-Tel Philip Kives was born in small town Saskatchewan, where he became an entrepreneur probably as a result of helping his family make the struggle through the dirty thirties.
As a salesman and product demonstrator he earned enough money to start making his own TV commercials to sell products in Canada and Australia. In 1966 returning to his new home in Winnipeg, Phil release the first compilation TV album titled “Twenty-five Country Hits”, and followed up with “Twenty-five Polka Greats” which sold a remarkable one million copies in Canada and the U.S.
By the late sixties Phil started “K-Tel”. The ‘miracle brush”, the most successful K-Tel product sold over 28 million units. The biggest selling K-Tel album was “Hooked on Classics”, selling over 10 million copies.
You gotta love the ingenuity of the dude. I have always loved and retain all my K-Tel albums. They might not exactly be collector’s items, but they are important in my collection to this day. I always wondered how he convinced all the record labels to allow him to release their artist’s songs. He must have been a true first-class salesman.
Every teenager I knew had a least one or two K-Tel records. Thanks Phil!