As soon as my friend Paul posted the Winnipeg paper’s obituary for K-Tel founder Philip Kives, I knew it was just a matter of time before The New York Times gave it their stamp. Margalit Fox did not let me down:
Act now! Be the first on your block to read this obituary of the marketing guru who — as seen on TV — sliced, diced and polkaed his way to fortune!
As noted in her write, K-Tel’s commercials were ubiquitous in the 1970s. She mentions the ads for the Miracle Brush and Veg-o-Matic (I would have brought up the Rhinestone and Stud Setter, but apparently that was from K-Tel’s archrival, Ronco), but for any Top Forty-besotted kid, the best were for the compilation albums: “Music Express”! “Sound Explosion”! “Music Power”! “Hit Machine”! All featuring ORIGINAL HITS BY THE ORIGINAL ARTISTS!
The very first LP I ever owned — a 1972 gift from my parents — was a K-Tel album, “20 Power Hits.” It featured some classic singles — the Delfonics’ “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind,” the Edwin Hawkins Singers “Oh Happy Day” — and some real duds, including the Bells’ “Stay Awhile,” which I hated even as a 7-year-old.
There was always something cut-rate about K-Tel that went beyond the cheesy ads. I can remember having trouble placing “20 Power Hits” on the record changer because the hole was just a little small for the spindle. In fact, after a few years of this, the album actually broke. That never happened with releases from Columbia or Capitol.
But as a source of various artists collections, K-Tel was unmatched … at least until Sessions and other major label-sponsored imprints got into the act. (You kids don’t know how good you have it with those “NOW That’s What I Call Music” collections.)
Still, the reputation lives on. The albums were so commonplace that Pravda Records paid tribute to them in the 1990s with some collections of covers, including “20 More Explosive Fantastic Rockin’ Mega Smash Hit Explosions!” and “Star Power!” You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Enormous Richard do “Music Box Dancer.”
And perhaps ironically, K-Tel had a role in one of the best boxed sets I ever bought. In 1993, K-Tel’s affiliate Era Records put out the 4-disc “The Brill Building Sound,” still one of the essential overviews of the late-’50s and early-’60s pop era. Among the songs featured: Barry Mann’s “Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp),” the Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” Skeeter Davis’ “I Can’t Stay Mad at You” and the Raindrops’ “The Kind of Boy You Can’t Forget,” with those amazing, thunderous drums. Combine it with the Phil Spector box and Rhino’s girl-group collection and you’ve got some of the most well-crafted music of the time. (OK, on “Brill Building” you also get Tony Orlando’s “Bless You” and Paul Peterson’s “My Dad.” What’s a boxed set without a few bum tracks?)
So Philip Kives, let me raise a Miracle Brush to you. You were — dare I say it? — an original artist.