Collecting K-tel
GOLDMINE|March 2021
K-TEL RECORDS PRODUCED POPULAR RECORD COMPILATIONS IN ITS DAY. FORBES MAGAZINE CALLED THE RECORD COMPANY, “THE SPOTIFY OF THE '70S.” AND RECORD COLLECTOR RAY CHELSTOWSKI SHARES HIS EXPERIENCE OF COLLECTING THESE FUN COMPILATIONS.
RAY CHELSTOWSKI

Since the late 1990s, the “Now That’s What I Call Music!” franchise has almost single-handedly kept compact disc sales from completely falling off the ledge. The concept is a simple one. Each album compiles a roster of current hit songs into a single release. For nearly 40 years, internationally, these music compilations have delivered the kind of sales performance that equaled what you might expect from a hit record back in the gravy days of vinyl. The most successful volume to date is 1999’s Now That’s What I Call Music! 44. This edition has sold 2.3 million copies and remains the biggest-selling various artists compilation album in the U.K. 2008’s Now That’s What I Call Music! 70 sold 383,002 units in its first week of sales alone. Today the series is simply called Now! and volumes are produced in over 30 countries worldwide.

What’s most surprising about the Now franchise is that it was never a new or novel concept, even if it was treated as one. The business model had made millions for others before Now arrived, with the most popular being the very concept’s own creator, K-tel Records.

K-tel was founded by Canadian Philip Kives, a salesman who started his career selling cookware, iceboxes and other items and pitching wares in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In 1962, he hit upon the idea of selling a Teflon-coated frying pan on TV in what would eventually become known as the “infomercial.” Kives later expanded into selling other items, including the famous Dial-O-Matic and Veg-O-Matic food choppers.

In 1966, K-tel released its first compilation album, 25 Country Hits. It quickly sold out and prompted the K-tel follow-up, 25 Polka Greats. This one sold 1.5 million copies in the United States alone. The hits kept coming and included The Super Hits series, The Dynamic Hits series and The Number One Hits series. K-tel assembled greatest hits from the latest, greatest artists in one single package. There were even thematic compilations like Goofy Greats, Super Bad, Super Bad Is Back, Souled Out, Summer Cruisin’ and a 1950s look-back, Rock ’n’ Roll Show.

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