Thursday, February 24, 2011

My First Record Club

I started collecting albums when I was 8. The first record I ever owned was Destroyer by Kiss, which I purchased at a yard sale for 25 cents. I would love to say that I still have that record, but I’ve long since traded it away (for other albums, I believe). Of course, I do own the remastered CD, so it’s not like I don’t have Destroyer, I just don’t have my first copy of Destroyer.

When I turned 10, I got two cassette tapes for Christmas that I had been dying to own. The first was Knee Deep In The Hoopla by Starship. I was a huge fan of We Built This City, which sounds dated and cheesy to me now, but at the time, it was an incredible rock song. The second album was Stay Hungry by Twisted Sister. We’re Not Gonna Take It was a massive anthem that I had to hear on a repeat basis. I still own both of those cassettes and they both still work.

When I hit my teen years, I started requesting tapes for my birthday. The bands of the day that I heard on the radio needed to be added to my collection. I would borrow albums that friends had and copy them until I could afford the original myself. When I would get birthday or holiday money, it went to buying more albums to add to my collection. Then one day I saw an ad in the paper (or maybe it was in a music magazine) for Columbia House.

Buy 12 albums for a penny, the ad proclaimed. 12 albums for a penny? What was the catch? How was it possible to get 12 albums for such a low price? How could I sign up for this? After doing some research, I decided to give it a shot. I had saved some of my allowance and by then I was working (odd jobs and part time selling newspapers), so I knew that I could pay the bill when it arrived. I picked my 12 albums, bought the first one for the low price of $7.99 and then got three more for free. 16 albums all at one time was an amazing experience.

I remember sending away the coupon with my album selections and waiting for the mail to arrive. Every day, I would check the mailbox, hoping that my shipment would come. It took a while, but the day that package showed up was one of the finest days of my youthful life. Seeing the big brown box with my name on it was a jubilant experience. When I ripped that box open and saw the massive amount of cassette tapes that fell out, I was in Heaven.

I had never received that many albums at one time. I was overwhelmed! How was I going to listen to them all? And of course, I wanted to play every one of them right then and there. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough time to pull that off before bedtime. Compromising, I picked the one I wanted to hear the most and popped it into my little boom box. Then I tore open the packaging of all the other cassettes and read their linear notes. It was one of the greatest days of my life.

From that moment on, I was hooked. Record clubs became my best friend (and a huge drain on my bank account). As the booklets showed up every month, I would go through them, picking out albums that I didn’t own and ordering them for my collection. Every time a package appeared in my mailbox, I got that same giddy feeling that I did the day I received my first one. Getting new music brought me phenomenal joy.

From Columbia House, I would go on to join BMG music and order even more cassettes. Both companies are responsible for filling the majority of my record collection early on in life. They also were the recipients of a lot of my money, but it was worth it. I stayed a member of both record clubs until they finally dissolved in the mid 2000s. With the advent of ITunes and online record shops, Columbia House and BMG could no longer keep up, even though they tried as hard as they could. When they finally closed their doors, it was a sad feeling. It was as if part of my youth had been killed forever. No longer could I order 12 CDs at a time and wait for that package to arrive in the mail.

These days, it’s all instant gratification. We can now go onto ITunes and order any album that our heart desires. If we don’t want the whole record, we can order just the single, or select songs. And while that is really convenient, it takes away from the joy of discovering the entire album. It also takes away from building patience. Once an order was placed with a record company, it was days before that package arrived, which helped me to appreciate it more when it came. Now, with instant downloading, it’s one listen, maybe two, and then it’s off to the next great thing. Hey, what else can I buy online? It’s a shame and it takes away from the joy of the entire record.

When I look over my vast music collection, I still see a lot of cassette tapes that I got from either BMG or Columbia House. When I listen to them, it’s with a smile on my face. Remembering how I would get goosebumps while opening the package filled with multiple albums for me to enjoy. I don’t know if I will ever experience that feeling again, and that is a real shame. Columbia House and BMG Music, you are missed. Thanks for all the great memories.

Comments are open. Feel free to post some.


Will said...

I joined RCA (later renamed BMG) in 1985 and Columbia House in 1987. It was the huge box of tapes from Columbia House that was exciting. I liked their wider selection also. I was always a New Wave and post punk fan. I waited especially long for back orders and sought out outdated catalogs from friends or I would write down catalog numbers when reading the ads in magazines at doctor's offices or anywhere I could. I bet they hated me for ordering all the obscure stuff that no one was promoting. :) Still it was annoying that both clubs would sometimes send generic labels or white tapes when they should have been transparent plastic. Oh well. All said and done I had over 500 cassettes in 1995 when I stopped ordering. By that time I had gotten into LPs and had amassed more than a thousand from thrift shops, yard sales, record stores, etc... Ccombined with my singles and a few 8-tracks, I had around two thousand titles in 2005 when I sold them to a record store for something like $60 in trade. I miss the liner notes and covers but I have been able to download almost ever song in MP3 format. Since my PC has replaced my turntable/cassette player and even MP3 player it is convenient to have them all in one place. I tag each meticulously to include full sized covers, some liner notes and even some lyrics. I have actually never paid for one MP3 and hate iTunes. I feel that with more than ten years of heavy purchasing, I shouldn't have to buy them again. I do the same with everything media. Saves so much space too. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed your stroll down memory lane.

Will said...

Also, you could still get that feeling of waiting if you order them off eBay or some somewhere like that. It feels the same when you receive a package 2 weeks later with a box full of books or records. :)