[This was my column for GlobalNews.ca. Apologies if any of this brings up some bad memories. – AC]
Anyone who grew up from the late ’60s through to the early ’80s will be familiar with K-tel Records, the Winnipeg-based label founded by Phil Kives, a travelling salesman from Oungre, Sask., (current population: 15).
Starting out with Teflon-coated frying pans and then moving to knives, and the insanely popular Miracle Brush, Kives came up with the idea of selling compilation albums in the middle ’60s when 7-inch singles were still the main currency of the recorded music industry. His idea, novel for the day, was to issue past hits on a single album, which would then be sold at a price far less than if you bought the songs individually.
This was pretty radical, given that every other compilation out there featured feeble covers of the original recording (often overly flowery orchestra versions) and not the real thing.
Kives’ first project was 25 Country Hits in 1966, which is exactly what you got. It was followed by 25 Polka Greats and it sold 1.5 million copies in the U.S. alone. Go figure.
Record labels loved the idea of these compilations because it allowed them to squeeze more revenue out of singles that had peaked and were no longer big sellers. There was some horse-trading, too. A label might insist that in exchange for using a big hit, K-tel would also be required to take a not-so-successful single as well.
Kives based the company out of Winnipeg in a building just off Inkster Boulevard. Records were sold in stores, with a focus on department stores like Simpsons, Eatons, The Bay, Woolworth’s, Kresge’s, K-Mart, and Woolco. I also remember seeing them in a record bin at the drug store in my little prairie hometown. Yes, in the absence of an actual record store, we bought our music from the local Rexall.