Columbia Record Club, 64 Christmas Records - You must.

Gather round, children, and I'll tell you a halloween tale of Christmas that will turn your blood to slightly colder blood! It's the story of the record industry and their persistent attempts to screw the customer by forcing you to do one thing or another.
Way back in history, before anyone had an Internet and could get stuff and say things, record labels wanted you to belong to their club. They would seduce you in by giving you a short stack of records for a very low price. Once you were a member, you would HAVE to buy a minimum of records from their monthly catalog, which could have as many as 200 records. If you chose not to, they'd send you the "monthly selections" anyway at "normal club prices" which means retail, which is pretty damn high, especially for records you don't want and didn't ask for. This happened every month, until you tried to quit, and then you would be billed and litigated to death.

Times are different now, and record companies merely sue children and single mothers. Most business professors would suggest that acting as though you hate any potential customer is bad for business. Most business professors would say that the smart businessman would try to figure a way to motivate people to buy your product instead of stealing an inferior, supercompressed version of it. They may suggest that you're doing something wrong if some people (who obviously have at least a little bit of money) simply refuse to pay for your product. People are passionate about music. It shouldn't be that hard to get people to pay a fair price for it, right? But, never ones to resort to the carrot when there's a nice handy stick (covered with nails and herpes) close at hand, record companies prefer to sue the shit out of their dwindling customer base rather than figure out how to win them back. Good job. Old ads like this one remind us that they're been screwing their customers long before there was a Napster.

Aaaaaanyway, hey look! Christmas albums and year-round favorites! Yep, 1961 was pretty square. But it wasn't all a wonderbread wasteland. There are at least two brilliant jazz albums in there, and here is an explanation why they both make an excellent entry point for those who are jazz-curious, but who are a little intimidated by the weirdness of jazz.

Dave Brubeck's career-defining masterpiece Time Out was the first jazz album to sell more than a million copies. It's an exercise in "odd time" (rhythms with strange counts like five or nine beats per measure). This means it's hard to dance to without spraining your ankle, but don't let that scare you off. Each tune is catchy enough and hummable enough that you won't notice you're humming in a 9/8 time signature. It's structured and rational like Mozart, but still swings too hard to be boring. Once you begin to get your head around the weird rhythms, the deceptively simple melodies and complex time signatures reward those that stare with their ears* on repeated listenings.

Miles Davis' minimalist album Kind of Blue couldn't be more different than Time Out. One hates to say "jazz exploration" with a straight face, but Kind of Blue can help you do it. Its five songs are all blues-structured and ramble loosely to the seven-to-nine minute mark. The bluesiness makes it easy for jazz newcomers to grab on with a minimum of discomfort, being a familiar form. After that, it remains evocative and cool, so once again, you don't get bored. TThis is the album that made Davis famous for saying a lot with very few notes.

Click for big.

*Catch phrase of Ken Nordine, surviving beat poet and voiceover icon.


Craig F. said...


When I used to have a radio show on WCUW in Worcester, Mass., it was right around the time when the Department of Homeland Security was issuing those stupid color-coded "Threat Alert" things every day.

I used to announce the "Threat Alert" and then play a random selection from Ken Nordine's "Colors" album.

"Today's threat alert: Chartruese...Wanted to quit...WHY NOT?!"

Steve Miller said...

Must be Ken Nordine week! yours' is, I think, the third reference in three days...

Way back in history, about the time of this ad, car models often came with a little chunk of molded plastic that was supposed to represent a record player. When cut apart, these little cover minis were just about the right scale to match the models.

Jim Dillon said...

Ken Nordine! When I was a little boy, my dad would get nostalgic twice a year and play his 45 of "The Shifting, Whispering Sands." And when I was in high school he had a series called Word Jazz. Wow. Ken Nordine.

PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

Ken Nordine is still on the air, at least here in the Chicago market. He's on Sunday nights at midnight, when the big hand and the little hand get together to chime the time, right in the middle of the week that was and the week that's gonna be.I have a bunch of his shows recorded to CD off the radio for my own enjoyment.

Now that I think of that, back in my cartoon days at StarToons, his son used to work at a film transfer place in Chicago. He used to do some of our film tests for us, which blew my mind, and still does.

Ken lives in Wisconsin now, I think.

Thanks guys!


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