Friday, March 4, 2011

The Generic Tape Club

Way back at the end of 1973, right after my family had moved back home 2 Boise, Idaho, & I was living in a sort of small apartment in the basement of the house -- where I was amazed 2 discover that my little battery-operated transistor radio could pick-up signals from as far away as Vancouver, BC, Canada; El Paso, Texas; Oklahoma City; San Francisco; Los Angeles -- my folks bought the 1st decent hi-fidelity stereo system the family'd ever had.
Before that, the best stereo in the house had been an old Magnavox console-stereo-AM/FM radio/turntable/8-track player that sat in the living room with all the other good furniture. But I was the only 1 who ever played it -- that was where freshly-bought 45 RPM singles were auditioned 4 the parents' approval -- & so after a coupla yrs I inherited the old stereo, after my father cut the legs off of it 4 some reason. After that it sat right on my bedroom floor, & had enuf bass 2 shake the house. In fact it was almost all bass....
A door-2-door salesman sold my folks the new stereo, which was totally high-tech (4 back then) -- nice big speakers, gorgeous sound on FM, + a precision turntable that I was warned away from. I wasn't allowed 2 play that until later, tho I could play the radio. That's how I discovered the gorgeous, clear stereo sound on FM. I'd never heard FM stations B4, wasn't even aware they were out there. At the end of '73 or early '74 was when I 1st started tuning-in -- hearing in its earliest days Boise's gutsy KBBK-FM, which was completely automated 4 its 1st few years, & played stuff like Yes's "Starship Trooper" when the station employees thot nobody was listening.... It got 2 the point where I couldn't wait 4 my folks 2 leave the house, so I'd hava crack at the Good Stereo....
Nice as the stereo was, & as good as the new-2-me FM band sounded, I was more Xcited about what went WITH the stereo package.
We also got a big catalog of cassette tapes that could B ordered as part of the payment plan, + a bunch of certificates which guaranteed that as long as we were members of The Tape Club, we could order NE tape in the catalog 4 $1 each.
This wasn't the Columbia Tape Club, or the Capitol Tape Club (my folks were members of that 4 awhile, til they had enuf of getting tapes they didn't order), or the RCA Tape Club. This was just "The Tape Club." Generic. Just like their catalog, which was 50+ typewritten pages of nothing but album titles & artists' names & an order #. They had everything from rock & pop 2 country 2 jazz 2 stuff I wouldn't know how 2 classify -- groups like Flash & Osibisa & Audience, even the Firesign Theater -- I actually know who THEY are.
It didn't take long 4 me 2 latch on2 this, stashing aside my lunch-money dollars in order 2 buy music -- starting a years-long habit of buying music & books B4 I bought food....
Once I got started, I dived in pretty heavily. I started off with Yes's YESSONGS Bcos I was dying 2 hear "Your Move" & "Roundabout" again. I remember Bing sorta disappointed when the 2 tapes arrived & I learned that YESSONGS wasn't a best-of -- it was a 2-tape "live" album. But then I heard it & got sucked-in by the loudness, the crashing drama, the gorgeousness of "Close to the Edge." I lived inside that album 4 months. After that you couldn't stop me. A partial list of purchases, from memory:

Beatles: 1962-1966, 1967-1970, WHITE ALBUM, ABBEY ROAD.
The Who: WHO'S NEXT.
Tommy James & the Shondells: GREATEST HITS.

These were basically bootleg tapes -- that Bcame clear as soon as the Yes package arrived. The cassettes were bone-white, with a typewritten label on each side listing artist & album-title, & THE TAPE CLUB embossed on the bottom of the label. The tapes were shipped inside those old-fashioned, flimsy, clear-plastic boxes that cheap tapes came in back in the very early '70s. There was no factory artwork, no credits, no song listings. Just a tape with music on it.
At the time I thot this was a pretty good deal. At the time the recordings seemed 2 B pretty good quality, better than I could do recording stuff off the radio. They even sounded OK on the fancy stereo my folks had bought.
It wasn't til later that I realized the sound quality on these tapes was pretty abysmal, as if somebody had set-up a microphone next 2 a stereo speaker & sucked-up whatever sound came out. Summa the recordings were a little fuzzy, a little mushy, maybe a little 2 bass-heavy.
I didn't care. Maybe they weren't legit tapes -- & I'd B willing 2 bet all the $$$ I spent that none of the cash went 2 the artists thru royalties -- but those Tape Club folks opened up a whole new world 4 me.
I disappeared in2 those 7 Moody Blues albums 4 a coupla years -- during junior-high & highschool if I wasn't taping songs off the radio I was listening 2 the Moodies. All those albums R perfect in their way -- even IN SEARCH OF THE LOST CHORD, the most dated of the bunch. Even TO OUR CHILDREN'S CHILDREN'S CHILDREN, which I hated at 1st Bcos of its cold distance & its God's-eye view of Reality -- but 1nce it grew on me, I realized it's just as great as the rest. Even ON THE THRESHOLD OF A DREAM, even with the 6 mins of noise it ends on.
I already knew all the Beatles' hits, of course. I just wanted them all in the house. & I disappeared in2 the WHITE ALBUM 4 weeks at a time -- how weird, how twisted it seemed 2 me, compared 2 the Fab 4's earlier work. & ABBEY ROAD -- perfect, especially the epic 2nd side.
I was already a Who fan, had bought their "Join Together" single at age 12, & loved "Won't Get Fooled Again" & "Behind Blue Eyes." But WHO'S NEXT is also an almost-perfect album, Xcept mayB 4 "Love Ain't for Keeping." & I stayed a Who fan til their early-'80s breakup.
The Beach Boys' best-of turned me on early 2 "Surf's Up" & "God Only Knows" & "California Saga."
Most of these tapes self-destructed from overplay years ago. The 1 that held on longest was Tommy James' BEST OF, which I finally trashed after I found a vinyl copy of the album a few years back. Wasn't gonna dump the tape -- no matter how decrepit it was getting -- until I had something 2 replace it with....
Not sure why I stopped ordering stuff from The Tape Club. MayB Bcos I realized the sound quality of their recordings wasn't getting NE better. MayB cos I learned there were actual record stores out there where I could get this same music in far better sound & much more attractive packages. & as soon as I could start going 2 those stores, that's where I went.
They didn't come in a pretty package, & they weren't Xactly high quality, but when it came 2 a low-cost music fix, I owe those Tape Club people a lot. Has anybody else out there ever dealt with those folks...?


R S Crabb said...

Nope, never did dealt with the Tape Club but around 1971 they had these bootleg 8 Tracks of favorite artist and I got a couple of them, Super Hits volume 6, which had an american flag on it and had hits of the time Maggie by Redbone and John Kongos He's gonna step on you again, Helen Reddy Peaceful was on it and the other was An Hour With Led Zeppelin. They sold for 2 bucks at Hy Vee but when I got them home to listen to it, the sound was Godawful Crappy. Sounded like they recorded it off a well worn album. Funny how the 8 tracks were better put together than the Ampex 8 Tracks which would spray out noodles of tape. Eventually the major labels would shut this fly by night operation down but was a cheap way to get music for me back then.

TAD said...

Hey, Crabsta. Yeah, I remember bootleg 8-tracks. 4 a few years you could get them at almost any gas station. I was introduced 2 Rare Earth's ONE WORLD, Black Sabbath's 1st 2, early Pink Floyd, Foghat, Bob Dylan's BLOOD ON THE TRACKS, Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Charlie Pride & lotsa others thanx 2 bootleg 8-tracks....

Barbara said...

Tad, this takes me back...great post.

TAD said...

Barbara: Thanx 4 "following" me & welcome aboard -- it's about time we got some women in here....