Mr K-tel is dead. Canadian marketing genius, Philip Kives passed away on April 27 at the age of 87. In 1962 he founded the K-tel company in Winnipeg selling iconic products like the Miracle Brush, the Veg-o-matic, the Pattie Stacker and, my favourite, the K-tel Record Selector. He coined the catchphrase, ‘As seen on TV’ and essentially invented the infomercial. Legend has it that, on a whim, he travelled to Australia with a tape of his TV commercial and 720 Feather Touch Knives. He arrived in August 1963 and by December he had sold one million knives.
One of his most significant innovations was the compilation album, you know the sort of thing: 20 Original Hits, 20 Original Stars. We cannot claim them to be great quality albums with so much music crammed and condensed to fit on two sides of an LP – but great value nonetheless.
In 1966 K-tel label released its first record, 25 Country Hits, which came with a Bobby Darin 45 rpm giveaway—for the low price of $3.49. When 25 Polka Greats sold a million and a half units he knew he was on a winner. “Record companies in those days didn’t know what compilation albums were. They had a vast catalogue of music they didn’t know what to do with.” K-tel’s highest selling LP was Hooked on Classics which sold over 10 million copies worldwide and was even nominated for a Grammy. It took some classical favourites and put them to a disco beat with hand-clapping keeping time for twenty minutes of continuous music, each piece merging into the next. Sounds tacky I know, but it was a sensation. This platinum record lead to Hooked on Classics 2, Hooked on Classics 3, Hooked on Swing, Hooked on No 1’s… and countless others.
But wait… there’s more.
Although it is hard to claim that K-tel records are of great value, some are certainly collectable. One in particular was Breakdance. The first side is made up of real tracks while the flip side is a lesson on how to breakdance, performed by the house-band Alex & the City Crew. As a bonus the album included a huge detailed poster and instructional rap on how to break. Without the poster the LP is worth a couple of bucks. The complete package, which is very hard to find, can still bring a good $20 – $30. A family favourite was A Family Christmas Album which included a pop-up Manger Scene inside the gatefold cover. Double albums would be promoted as ‘Buy one get one free’.
But wait… there’s still more.
The most valuable K-tel record is a 1977 UK release called Alex Harvey presents Loch Ness Monster which contains eye-witness accounts of sightings collected by the late great Harvey better known for his music with The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. It is a rare collectable because it was withdrawn with only 300 copies making it on to the marketplace. Alex Harvey collectors and Loch Ness Monster believers will battle it out whenever one turns up on an auction site.
But wait… there’s one more.
For some unexplainable reason the highest price ever paid for a K-tel album was £2000 for a compilation LP called Midnight Hustle featuring Bony M, ABBA, 10CC, Status Quo and our own Flash & the Pan. Apart from the fact that it came with a bonus poster of Bony M it is a mystery to me why anyone would pay so much – but that’s collecting for you.
NB. If you liked this article you will love my new book, Tait’s Modern Guide to Record Collecting, available in book stores and record shops or direct from either me or the publisher, Melbourne Books… www.melbournebooks.com.au