Columbia House Music Club. That was the one that advertised on TV and in magazine? They sent you, what was it? Eight? Twelve? records or tapes or 8-tracks for a penny. But you committed to buying eight more (I don't remember the exact number) at regular club prices. Oh, and when you bought your first album at club prices they sent you another eight. And to make sure you really thought you were getting away with something, the TV adds let you in on the secret -- that you could writte the numbers of additional items you wanted in those extra unmarked blank boxes. So, all in all, you got like twenty-zillion albums for the price of one. Or so it seemed.
My purpose here isn't to look at how the club worked or how it made money. I'll let Mental Floss do that.
I was in high school, with a growing interest in music, and a Walkman (technically, a Toshiba portable stereo). So I joined Columbia House, and chose to get music on cassette tape. Yeah, choosing cassette was stupid -- the sound quality on prerecorded cassettes was pretty awful. But what did I know?
I remember having all sorts of fantasies of joining under a fake name, then (after getting the free tapes) claiming that I never signed up. It must have been some prank. And, no, I'm not sending you back these tapes. Thank you very much. But I didn't do that. What I did do was cancel my membership after my obligations had been met and freebies had been received. Then I rejoined to start the process over again. I bthink I only once ended up buying something I didn't want (because I forgot to return the monthly featured album on time).
I remember a lot of the albums that I got, though I don't recall much about the order.
I got a bunch of Barry Manillow tapes -- my sister liked him, and so I, worshipful little brother, felt that I had to as well. Don't get me wrong. I still kind of like a few of his songs -- "Mandy" (hey -- she came and she gave without taking, but I sent her away) "Copacabana (Disco)" and "I Write The Songs." But my tastes have gone elsewhere. Now, I'd be satisfied with a greatest hits package.
I got three Supertramp albums (because I liked "The Logical Song"), Being With You by Smokey Robinson (because I'd heard the title track on radio a bunch of times), The Captain and Tennille's Greatest Hits (remember "Love Will Keep Us Together"? Apparently it did, since they're still married), something by Dionne Warwick (I must have recognized a song title or something), and a compilation of The Lettermen (I have no idea why). No, that'snot the complete list. But it gives you an idea of what I was interested in.
So I listened to these tapes on my Walkman, and brought them with me on shabbatons (weekend trips with Jewish youth groups) with Young Judea. I still remember one of them. While the cool kids were listening to AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" on a huge boombox, I was hanging out with my friends and a small Radio Shack tape recorder (that usually stayed with my TRS-80 computer), playing "Rainbow Connection" from the soundtrack to The Muppets Movie. I still remember Miriam going through my box of tapes, and then asking dissapointedly if I didn't have any Billy Joel? Years later, we were hanging out and I told her I had Billy Joel. She just kind of looked at me funny. The moment was gone.
I still had those tapes years later, long after I had lost all interest in most of them, bought vinyl versions of the ones that still interested me, and bought CD versions of most of those. Those old cassettes, with their hissing background noise and their cracked and broken cases still sat on my shelf, mocking me. With my wife's encouragement, I eventually threw them out. She knows that I have Billy Joel.