One Penny

I’ve lamented the lack of music easily available to me pre-drivers license.

There was a small section devoted to albums, cassettes, and 45s in the one diminutive department store of my hometown. There couldn’t have been more than three hundred titles and the lot of it would have fit easily into our den.

(which was of the typical, Midwestern, wood-paneled variety, circa 1979)

This lack of a proper record store was hardly an issue for the first year or so as this small selection of music available to me was strictly the most popular stuff – AC/DC, Journey, Styx…

It would be another year before I would be searching for titles that might require a trip to the nearest record stores, fifty miles (and several hours spent with the parents) away.

As I made my way through the final months of junior high in the spring of ’82, the sum of my music collection was, perhaps, half a dozen cassettes including Christopher Cross’ debut, Journey’s Escape, and J. Geils Band’s Freeze Frame.

I was hardly cutting edge. I was a thirteen-year old kid in a town that sometimes didn’t make the map and those handful or so of titles had been purchased with most of the little wealth I had at that age.

So, it was a momentous morning that spring when, sprawled on the den floor leafing through the Sunday paper for the comics, I stopped, mesmerized by the text on the insert.

The bold headline promised me a dozen titles for a penny and my eyes scanned the titles from which I could choose.

I had certainly seen this offer before but my interest in music had reached a critical mass and I had to own more. This was a no-brainer and as I penciled in my selections I chose with the careful consideration of someone manning a key in a missile silo.

And so, I entered into a contractual obligation as a member of the Columbia Record & Tape Club.

Four to six weeks later I arrived home from school to hours and hours of music, the smell of newly-opened cassettes filling the air.

Each month, a new catalog arrived and I pored through the titles as I fulfilled the however many tapes it took for me to fulfill the deal.

I suddenly had a music collection.

I soured on the club by the following spring for the lack of liner notes. The stuff Columbia House had licensed would have a simple paper sleeve with the album cover art.

I needed more.

And, as my friends and I now had drivers licenses, I no longer needed Columbia House.

I don’t recall all of the cassettes I snagged with that intial haul of a dozen. There was Queen’s Greatest Hits , The Best Of Blondie. and Air Supply’s debut.

Here are four songs from four tapes which I do know arrived on that glorious April afternoon in 1982…

Joan Jett And The Blackhearts – Victim Of Circumstance
from I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll

The title track from Joan Jett’s I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll was a juggernaut. The song caught my ear the first night I heard it and, within a day or two, everyone at school was abuzz about it. The song dominated Q102’s Top Ten At Ten for what seemed like forever.

By April, I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll had been joined in the nightly countdown, on various evenings, by several other songs from the album including Crimson And Clover, You’re Too Possessive, and the driving Victim Of Circumstance.

(the latter two being about as close to punk rock as most of us had ever gotten)

Loverboy – Take Me To The Top
from Get Lucky

I’d wager that radio in our part of the Midwest had to have embraced Loverboy as much as anywhere south of their Canadian homeland. Not only did the hits from their first couple albums – Turn Me Loose, The Kid Is Hot Tonight, Working For The Weekend – get played incessitantly, other songs got plenty of attention, too.

Take Me To The Top was an album track that all of the rock stations were playing. The moody, mid-tempo song had the expected Loverboy mix of synthesizer and guitars that was heard blaring from every Camaro in town.

Aldo Nova – Fantasy
from Aldo Nova

The deciding factor when I selected that chosen dozen was, usually, song recognition. I wanted songs that I had heard, preferably on the radio but, also, on the jukebox at the bowling alley.

(hence the Queen and Blondie compilations)

One title on which I “gambled” was the debut by Canadian Aldo Nova. The cooler-than-cool Fantasy was the only song I had heard, but I dug it so much I had to get the full cassette.

Quarterflash – Find Another Fool
from Quarterflash

I’ve duly noted how fetching my friends and I found Quarterflash lead singer/saxophonist Rindy Ross to be. And, for a brief year or so, the usually mellow rockin’ group notched a few hits.

I suppose the only song most people remember Quarterflash for is Harden My Heart, but the follow-up Find Another Fool was quite popular at the time, too. It’s got a far more frantic feel with a similar lyric of a woman scorned and is a bit like the kid sister to some of Pat Benatar’s more New Wave-tinged tracks from the early ’80s.

10 Responses to One Penny

  1. Perplexio says:

    Despite being about a half generation younger this post brought back some memories for me. The record/cassette store situation in my town was very similar to yours. One of my older brothers joined Columbia House in the early 80s. I used to sneak into his room and listen to his music when he wasn’t home. I remember him being big into Loverboy and I think he also had that J. Geils Band tape that you mentioned. His music collection largely shaped my own tastes in music. Thanks to his incessant playing of Chicago 16 & 17, Toto IV, Asia’s s/t debut, Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits Vols I & II I too became fans of those bands. And he had many of those albums thanks to his Columbia House membership.

    The record store situation hadn’t improved much in my town by the time I was in middle school and later high school so I too joined Columbia House for a few years in the early 90s.

    Thanks for bringing back some memories.

    • I often wonder how my musical interests might have been altered had I had older siblings.

      • Perplexio says:

        My 2 oldest brothers (they were 15 & 16 years older than me respectively) had moved into the basement and turned it into their bedroom. I rarely went down there. They had a KISS poster that as a toddler I found to be rather terrifying. The also had a Colecovision gaming console, a ping pong table, and probably a few dime bags of weed stashed into nooks and crannies they’d discovered and hoped that my parents weren’t also aware of.

        I also vaguely remember wandering into my sister’s bedroom (she was/is 14 years older than me) and asking her to play her 8-track of Billy Joel’s “The Stranger” several times. For some reason even as a toddler the cover photo on The Stranger really spoke to me.

  2. My hmphs says:

    How many times did I find that ad in TV guide, pick out my 6 or 12 titles, and tape my penny to the insert only to have my sister or mom tell me that it was a ruse and that I’d have to pay $20 per album 10 more times over the next year. Sigh.

    Oh. “Fantasy” was the theme to my junior prom. Good song, but not necessarily one that creates romantic memories…

  3. […] worn out the cassette of Toto’s mega-selling Toto IV that I’d purchased from the Columbia Record & Tape Club. The band was hardly reinventing fire, but to a kid just discovering pop music, it was a thoroughly […]

  4. […] thought XTC to be an odd name when I came across it in one of my Columbia Record & Tape Club catalogs. Then, I noticed their album English Settlement on the Rolling Stone […]

  5. […] was the same year I joined the Columbia Record & Tape Club and one of those dozen cassettes I received for that lone penny was Queen’s Greatest […]

  6. […] (a significant portion of that collection courtesy of Columbia Record & Tape Club) […]

  7. […] the spring of 1982, I joined the Columbia Record & Tape Club, increasing my music collection by approximately 120% when those first dozen selections […]

  8. […] I was certainly unfamiliar with XTC at the beginning of 1982, though I would at least know the name of the English trio by that spring when I took note of the listing for English Settlement and the unusual band name in a catalog for the Columbia Record & Tape Club. […]

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