Among the many holiday advertising slogans I’ve seen and heard over the past five decades, one is particularly memorable (and appropriate here): “Give the gift of music.”
Now, this can be done many times, many ways – singing carols or playing the piano or guitar; buying tickets to a concert at The Capitol Theater (there’s one this afternoon, I hear) … or giving someone you love a vinyl record.
If you’re not sure what bands or songs your pre-teen/teen niece or nephew prefers, there was a company in the 1970s and 1980s that offered a perfect gift solution: K-tel International and its various compilation albums . They included this month’s double album, “The Hit List,” released 40 years ago. I’ll get to the treasures included in it in a minute.
First, a word about K-tel (which is sometimes spelled K-Tel or K-TEL), a Canadian company based in Winnipeg that started life with “as seen on TV” items like food processors, knife sets and ” Miracle Brush,” which, according to the Globe and Mail newspaper, sold more than 28 million units in the 1960s.
Fortunately, the K-tel crew (sorry, couldn’t resist) eventually turned to music, paying recording artists and record companies for the rights to include hit songs on compilation albums.
As an inner sleeve to my hit list double LP notes, these albums make great gift ideas! The tracks mentioned in this sleeve range from rock-oriented collections like “Blast Off” and “Hit Express” to the soulful and easy-listening tracks of “After Hours” and “Love Is…” There also happens to be “The Sound of Bread” on your sleeve as K-tel highlights the 16 greatest songs by David Gates and company. Perfect for elevators everywhere!
My favorite K-tel promotional compilation from 1982 is definitely “NUROCK” featuring “the driving sounds of today’s newest rock stars!” These include Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, John Cougar, Loverboy, Sammy Hagar (still solo, not yet on Van Hagar), Rainbow (latest stars?) and even “Flying High Again” by Ozzy Osbourne. As the promo says, “NUROCK stands for EXCITEMENT”
The “hit list,” which features some futuristic darts on its cover, basically lives up to its claim of being “a great 2-disc set with 22 of the greatest hits of 1982!”—although some of those hits , like REO Speedwagon’s earlier “Keep On Loving You,” charted in 1981.
“Volume One” (the first record), in particular, nearly broke 1000 on the awesomeness chart. Some Top 40 rock hits no longer played on the corporate radio music format since 1980 reappear here: “Do You Believe in Love” by Huey Lewis and the News, “Promises in the Dark” by Pat Benatar and the excellent Someday, Someway by Marshall Crenshaw.
There are also some big hits on “Volume One”: “867-5309/Jenny” by Tommy Tutone (a band, not a solo artist), “Caught Up in You” by 38 Special, “The Stroke” by Billy Squire and “Urgent ” by Foreigner.
Frank and Moon Zappa’s apparently extremely dated “Valley Girl” also hit the top 40 in 1982. “Joe’s Garage” didn’t… but since it’s the last track on side two of the first disc, you can easily pick up the needle and go to Volume Two.
The second entry on “The Hit List” focuses more on R&B hits, including my favorite song by The Gap Band, “You Dropped a Bomb on Me,” which seems to have sound effects from early 80’s video games. The Commodores’ “Lady (You Bring Me Up)” is another highlight from side one of “Volume Two,” and ends with another song almost never heard on the radio anymore: “Your Imagination,” a Top 40 hit by Hall & Oates.
(Unfortunately, “Your Kiss is On My List” isn’t on The Hit List. We’ll have to review Hall & Oates’ “Voices” some other time.)
K-tel’s compilation closes with a blast from Aussie pop stars: Rick Springfield (“What Kind of Fool Am I”), Little River Band (“Man on Your Mind”) and Air Supply (their chart-topping ballad “The One” Which you love”). The second side also features The Pointer Sisters and The Police.
What I really like about this album is that it doesn’t just contain the early 80’s hits that we still listen to all the time (although there are a few of those). For people who weren’t around in 1982, it’s probably a revelation that Rick Springfield had other hits besides “Jesse’s Girl” — you wouldn’t know it listening to ’80s playlists today. (“Don’t Talk to Strangers” and “Human Touch” are a few other gems from it.)
So since one of my relatives (I can’t remember exactly who) gave me a “musical present” for Christmas in 1982, it still provides me with entertainment 40 years later. No turtleneck sweater, fruitcake, or GI Joe figurines could say the same.