Aug 07

The FreakyTrigger TOP 25 BRANDS: 18: K-TEL

Blog 7 + FT20 comments • 4,449 views

k-tel.jpgThere are a lot of great record labels out there. look, Apple as a brand has already appeared in this list. And for a bunch of music fans knocking together a list of memorable and great brands, it is inevitable that a few record labels would show up. That said I wonder if anyone sitting around that fateful table own many K-Tel records. It is a great brand, a memorable one certainly, but not really for any of the right reasons.

The K is for its founder, Phillip Kives. The Tel was for Television. Hence me showing you the logo where you often saw it.

clevercutcut.jpgK-Tel was not JUST a record label. It also made some “handy” gadgets which we never knew we could live without. They still do: look at the Clever Cutter here which makes “Food preparation easier, quicker and safer with less mess”. How does it do this? Well they appear to have made a pair of scissors with one blade and one chopping board side. Its a mental idea which was probably invented in a shed by someone who never does any cooking, and then flogged to K-Tel who saw a niche in the market. And that niche in the market is mentals who buy stuff off of TV ads. Click through on that link to watch the K-Tel masters of advertising in action. There is never a device that is sold on just one key point. There is always an “And that’s not all…” . K-Tel like Ronco were the masters of pointless devices flogged via the tube. One assumes for the simple fact that if you ever saw any of these devices in a shop you would not the flimsy build and obvious design flaws. In the Clever Cutter alone:
a) Anyone see that onion shooting across the room when the scissors hit a curved bit of skin
b) All the onion bits falling on the floor
c) The food gunk getting caught in its works.

Never mind the quality though, watch the ads. And the ads I particularly lover were those for K-Tel records. Tatty compilation after compilation promising 20 Number Ones!!! Super Hits!!! And these were original artists, 7″ mixes like wot you would hear on the radio (though often mastered lower so they could fit them all on the thin grooved records). All contributing to some sort of secret war between K-Tel and Ronco*. TV advertised though also availible in the shops (no fear for the quality there), K-Tel hoovered up the rights from small labels and stuffed them on to all we had before Now That’S What I Call Music came along. Now albums were the same idea as the K-Tel hits compilations, but had stuff from major labels too – thus muscling K-Tel out of this market. But they continued through the eighties and nineties, slightly daunted, pumping out rave albums. And every now and then on eBay you’ll see and album like the 20 Great Truck Driving Songs, which makes you want to stop and wallow. (And learn how to count, as it notoriously has 24 tracks on it, possible recycled from an earlier trucking compilation).

These days K-Tel is floundering a touch. On the one side it should be able to make a bob or two from all those music rights it snaffled in the seventies and eighties, and is doing deals with iTunes left right and centre. At the same time it is well aware of its own slightly kitsch legacy, which is bad thing. The classic K-Tel website referred to in this interview has been bought out by K-Tel themselves, and now hides in web limbo. AND THAT’S NOT ALL!

Actually it is.

*Who I actually preferred for their tremendous film themed compilations such as Raiders Of The Pop Charts (NOT a double album, rather Buy One Get Two for Free!).


  1. 1
    Pete Baran on 23 Aug 2007 #

    Lest we forget, this mob were on K-Tel:

  2. 2
    Marcello Carlin on 23 Aug 2007 #

    Best K-Tel album ever: In Search Of The Loch Ness Monster by Alex Harvey (1977). Came with a free giant map!

  3. 3
    Billy Smart on 23 Aug 2007 #

    A pedant notes: Raiders of the Pop Charts was Ronco. Star Trax, however is K-Tel.

    I own many, many, K-Tel 20 Chartbusting compilations of the seventies and early eighties. But there are always, always, yet more to be found. They are probably, the records that I listen to the most. Particularly cherished is Hungry for Hits, the gatefold lupine themed 1984 one-off attempt to compete with Now That’s What I Call Music – The Hits Album it is not.

    Of all the many foodstuffs shown, only the banana appears to yield successfully to the Clever Cutter.

  4. 4
    Pete Baran on 23 Aug 2007 #

    My footnote is suppose to accede to the fact that Raiders was Ronco. Apologies for lack of clarity.

  5. 5
    mike on 24 Aug 2007 #

    My K-Tel Top Three:

    1. Sounds Spectacular – 20 World Wide Hits Produced By Phil Spector.

    2. 22 Dynamic Hits, Vol. II.

    3. Music Explosion.

  6. 6
    jeff w on 30 Aug 2007 #

    #2 in Mike’s list above is the first LP I ever owned (as mentioned more than once in Popular comments prolly). K-Tel will always have a special place in my heart.

  7. 7
    Carsten on 15 Jan 2008 #

    Here’s the great story of K-tel:

    In 1962, Philip Kives began hawking gadgets on the boardwalk in Atlantic City.
    He returned to Winnipeg that year, where he starred in what may have been the first infomercial: a five-minute spot in support of a non-stick frying pan, featuring Kives frying eggs live on loval TV.
    In the winter of 1965, Kives purchased the Canadian rights for an album, “25 Country Hits”.
    He included a Bobby Darin single as an additional giveaway to sweeten the album’s appeal; his first entry into the mail-order record business sold 180,000 pieces.
    Kives moved on to new territory. “You can’t imagine what it was like”, he recalls. “I was being paid $1,000 per year to work the family farm in Saskatchewan, the next thing I’m on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, then I’m on TV, and then in 1965 in five months I made a million dollars in Australia selling the Feathertouch Knife. All of a sudden, I’m driving a Cadillac convertible, I was Big Time. From there I went to America and the record business”.
    Kives’ second release was a rock ‘n’ roll package, “Groovy Greats”, bought from the same U.S. source and promoted on TV along with the names of music stores where it could be purchased, his hirst appearance at retail outlets. The big break came with “25 Polka Greats”; the compilation sold 1.5 million pieces in the U.S. alone.

    International hook
    Translating K-tel’s U.S. success to the U.K. market provided a rude awakening for Kives, who remembers, “I lived in London while I was putting together my first English compilation. Believe me, it wasn’t easy. For four months, they wouldn’t talk to me, they’d avoid me. They’d say, “do your kitchen gadgets, your choppers and slices, and leave the music to us”. Out of the U.K. came “Hooked On Classics”, the late-’70s medley of orchestral themes set to a dance beat that sold 8 million pieces. Kives bought the trade name along with the initial package, then expanded on the concept to create a “Hooked On…” format.
    By the early ’80s, by Kives’ own admission, “We were flush with cash, and we invested in areas we never should have entered. We bought lot of real estate in oil country, and when the oil market crashed in the mid-’80s, we were in serious trouble. But the biggest mistake we ever made was buying Candlelight Music, which was our downfall. We lost $18 million in one year with that company [which sold oldies albums on a mail-order subscription basis].

    Post-Chapter 11 gadgetry
    “After Chapter 11 proceedings and reorganization, I put in $3.5 million in cash and wound up with 80% of the company, the rest divided between the shareholders, and concentrated on doing what we knew best, which was music”, Kives continues. “We cut back on TV in the States. By 1986, I started the gadget business again in Canada, took it to Europe, specifically to Germany and the Scandinavian countries and Australia”.

  8. 8
    Carsten on 15 Jan 2008 #

    More about Philip Kives – K-tel’s big boss.

    Headline: Making Money: It’s Fast, It’s Easy and It’s Simple. It’s Amazing!
    Deck: Got your attention? Catchy adjectives like this are what captivate
    audiences, according to the guru of hard-sell infomercials – Philip Kives.

    “When I used to be a ‘pitchman,’ selling on the boardwalk of Atlantic City,
    it occurred to me that instead of selling to only eight or nine people at a
    time, I could go on television – do the exact same thing –
    and sell to thousands of people at the same time!”
    And hence, was the birth of K-Tel International. And Philip Kives is the man
    who is credited with inventing the hard-sell television commercial, changing
    the face of advertising forever.
    A true international success story, Philip Kives is better known as the man
    behind the marketing of The Miracle Brush, The Super Slicer and Thigh
    Born and raised on a farm on Ounger, Saskatchewan, Kives was desperate to
    abandon the rural life. Before ending up in Atlantic City, Kives made his
    way to Winnipeg where he sold vacuum cleaners, sewing machines and cookware
    door-to-door. “I wanted to get off the farm and I was so hungry that I
    worked very hard to be a good salesman. My situation forced me to be
    aggressive,” recalls Kives.
    Although Kives’ personal situation may have forced him to show his best
    selling skills, this was hardly his first selling experience. Even as a
    10-year-old boy growing up on the farm, his sales personality was apparent.
    “I used to run a small trap line, catching rabbits and weasels, and I used
    to sell the fur I would catch along with fur I used to buy from the other
    kids at school. I would send it to Regina where I would resell it at
    auctions. I would make $1 or $2 per piece of fur.”
    Although it is on the farm that Kives may have been introduced to selling,
    it is when he was selling door-to-door that he learned about perseverance.
    “I knew that my closing rate was one out of three, on average. To increase
    my sales, I had to increase my number of calls. When the day was over, when
    all the other salesmen would go play pool or go to the beer parlour and
    drink, I would continue to make calls at night to bring up my average.”
    Thinking of ways to make more sales is something Kives was good at.
    Oftentimes, he had to get pretty creative in order to overcome sales slumps
    or obstacles. This was especially true in the early stages of K-Tel, when
    store owners were very hesitant to do business with Kives.
    “They didn’t want to carry my products. Nobody knew me, who I was, they didn
    ‘t know K-Tel, nobody ever sold anything this way before, or they just didn’
    t like my selling style. They said it was ‘too hard sell’ and didn’t want
    any part of it.” But Kives knew that if he didn’t get the store owners on
    his side, he wouldn’t be successful. Thinking creatively, he managed to push
    products on them and forced the market in England, Germany and Australia.
    And eventually, when customers were demanding K-Tel’s products, store owners
    came to love Kives.
    In 1962, when Kives went on air with a nonstick frying pan by Teflon, he
    sold 12,000 units in five months. In 1966, he started selling records.
    Today, Kives still writes his own commercials and uses much of the same
    lingo he has always used: he insists that the adjectives ‘Fast, simple,
    easy,’ and ‘its amazing’ still work.
    What has changed today, however, is the way that people buy. That’s why
    Kives has gotten involved in online selling. And the people that Kives deals
    with – buyers for big retailers – have also changed.
    “There are new people and new ways of buying. They buy with a computer
    nowadays. The biggest challenge is just keeping up with times, no matter
    what you’re selling,” he says.
    One thing that remains constant, according to Kives is the fact that “You
    cant make a good commercial without a good product. And a good commercial is
    what sells.”

  9. 9
    Carsten on 15 Jan 2008 #

    For anyone who watched TV in the ’70’s, memories of K-tel are indelible: An announcer furiously extols the merits of household products like the Miracle Brush or the Veg-O-Matic or several best-selling “Saturday Night Fever” -inspired collections (“Disco Fever!”), the song titles endlessly scrolling down the screen. The name K-tel became generic for “compilation album,” the ultimate compliment our culture can pay to a brand name.
    Both gadgets and records are intrinsic to the K-tel success story.
    In 1962, the company’s founder, Philip Kives, was demonstrating such products on the Atlantic City boardwalk, and soon was starring in his own (and possibly the first) infomercial, a five-minute TV pitch for a non-stick frying pan. His initial profits funded the first K-tel compilation album in his native Canada, and soon Philip Kives was in the music business with anthology packages like “25 Polka Greats”.
    K-tel’s compilations then took on a trendier aspect, from “Psychedelic Mind Trip” of the late ’60’s through easy-listening early ’70’s pop (“Believe In Music” and “Out Of Sight”) onward to the disco era.

  10. 10
    Carsten on 15 Jan 2008 #

    In 1997, K-tel still was a music empire, with worldwide operations head-quartered in Minnesota. As the company celebrated its 35th anniversary, the flow of music packages continued unahated, and the company had added to its lineup a medley of new entertainment products, ranging from audiobooks to video titles. K-tel still generated new gadgets, though then the bulk of its telemarketing was aimed at European TV audiences.
    The diverse array of labels within the K-tel organization included the reissue imprints Dominion (representing the bulk of the owned masters, with budget titles and re-recordings of oldies).

  11. 11
    Carsten on 15 Jan 2008 #

    25 POLKA GREATS – K-tel NC 420

    Side One
    Lichtensteiner Polka – Six Fat Dutchmen
    Too Fat Polka – Frankie Yankovic
    Pennsylvania Polka – Frankie Yankovic
    Champagne Polka – Six Fat Dutchmen
    Under The Double Eagle – Frankie Yankovic
    Hoop-Dee-Doo – Myron Floren
    Emilia Polka – Frankie Yankovic
    Barbara Polka – Captain Stubby & The Buccaneers
    Jenny Lind Polka – Myron Floren
    Clarinet Polka – Captain Stubby & The Buccaneers
    Ohio Polka – Frankie Yankovic
    There’s A Tavern In The Town – Six Fat Dutchmen

    Side Two
    Beer Barrel Polka – Andrews Sisters
    Friendly Tavern Polka – Lawrence Welk
    In Heaven There Is No Beer – Whoopee John
    Mother In-Law – Johnny Bomba
    Blue Skirt Waltz – Sokach-Habat Orchestra
    Oneta Polka – Roman Gosz
    Beautiful Brown Eyes – Dick Rodgers
    Who Stole The Kishka? – Walter Solek
    Whoop Dee Doo – Gene Wisniewski
    Helena Polka – Frank Wojnerowski
    Cuckoo Waltz – Whoopee John
    There’s A City Called Hamtrack – Russ Morgan
    Bring Out The Little Brown Jug – “Happy” Harry Harden

    If you grew up in certain households in the midwest in the early 1970s, it’s likely you or your parents had a copy of this legendary album in the archives. Released in 1971, it was one of the earliest LPs from the Minneapolis firm of K-tel International. And it was a great demonstration of K-tel’s mode of operating in fitting over two dozen songs on an LP: edit the heck out of several of them, merrily slicing away choruses and entire musical passages in the process.

  12. 12
    Carsten on 15 Jan 2008 #

    They have names such as “Believe In Music”, “Fantastic”, “Juke Box Jive” and “25 Polka Greats”.

    You might have some of them gathering dust in milk crates under your basement stairs. Or if you don’t have them, then your parents do, or your kids do, depending upon your age.

    We’re talking, of course, about K-Tel records.

    But here’s something you may not know: K-Tel was a Canadian company based in Winnipeg. And it was started by a slick huckster from Saskatchewan named Phil Kives.

    K-Tel albums were compilation discs — many of them boasting “24 original hits” and “24 original stars” — which had their heyday in the 1960s and 1970s.

    K-Tel callously edited and faded out songs early, to fit in as many tunes as possible on barely round pieces of ultra-cheap vinyl. But here’s a personal admission — back when I was a kid buying K-Tel albums, I didn’t know the tunes had been chopped. To this day, the “regular” versions of some classic songs from the ’70s seem hideously long to me.

    K-Tel albums were omnipresent not only in discount stores, drugstores and department stores, but in oft-repeated bullet-to-the-brain TV commercials.

    At first K-Tel sold things such as non-stick frying pans, miracle brushes and patti-stackers. Kives learned quickly that he could peddle just about anything through the magic of TV.

    For a while K-Tel was the Canadian licensee for Popeil, an American company that was gadget-crazy and would achieve its own level of craptacular fame. But when the relationship between K-Tel and Popeil fell apart, Kives needed something to fill the gap.

    Luckily, the world was alive with the sound of grossly abbreviated music.

    One of the very first compilation albums — 25 Great Country Artists Singing Their Original Hits — was being sold in the U.S. Kives crossed the border, bought a thousand albums, hustled back to Winnipeg and went on TV hawking them.

    K-Tel did not own the rights to anything. The albums were being sold illegally in Canada. But they sold like hotcakes.

    As Thomas says , “Proving it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission, (K-Tel) made amends … and nothing says sorry faster than a big bag of money.”

    With the proper rights acquired, K-Tel had the compilation-album market basically to itself for half a decade. The foray led to side-products like the “record selector,” a plastic contraption that clunkily would flip your records forward as you searched for the one you wanted.

    “When the album compilations started, I wanted so bad to be on one of them,” Winnipeg-native Randy Bachman — a founding member of the Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive. As a young musician, it was Bachman’s way of rubbing shoulders — figuratively, rather than literally — with the Beach Boys or the Supremes.

    The formula reached its apex in the early 1980s, when K-Tel’s Hooked On Classics was nominated for a Grammy Award. But all good things must end, and K-Tel started over-reaching.

    The established record companies always had a love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with K-Tel. They liked collecting licence fees, but they hated the charts being littered with K-Tel albums.

    K-Tel eventually got the bright idea to have artists re-record versions of their hit songs, to cut out the established companies entirely. It’s amazing how many well-known artists cast aside their integrity and lined up for the extra payday.

    B.J. Thomas, who was famous for songs such as Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head and Hooked On A Feeling, says that “99% of the people can’t really tell the difference” between the original version of a song and a re-recorded version. Actually, B.J. we think that’s closer to 50-50.

    Anyway, it was the last straw for the established labels, who started manufacturing their own compilation albums. K-Tel also tried to expand into things like movies, oil and real estate, with predictably disastrous results.

    After much legal maneouvring, K-Tel still exists today, in greatly diminished form. But K-Tel holds a special place in the collective heart of a generation.

    A 12-year-old kid in the ’70s had a choice between buying a Donny Osmond record, an Elton John record, or a K-Tel record that had Donny Osmond, Elton John and 20 other artists.

    That went a long way for five bucks.

  13. 13
    Carsten on 15 Jan 2008 #

    Here’s the autobiography of Philip Kives, the creator and owner of K-tel International:

    I was born on a small country farm, near the town of Oungre, Saskatchewan, Canada -population less than 200. My parents originally came from Eastern Europe. But, because of the hardships suffered by the Jewish people, the Jewish Colonization Organization relocated them, first to Turkey and then, in 1926, to a new frontier in Western Canada. Here, I was born in 1929, the third of four children. We struggled on our small farm, living on welfare for many years, as did other farmers in our area. It was ‘the dirty thirties’, where drought, grasshoppers and crop failure were common place, making farming almost impossible. We had no power or running water. I recall the difficulties of hauling drinking water over four miles, as there was always a shortage. I remember milking cows daily from the age of five and helping my family churn the milk by hand. We would then sell the cream and earn approximately $2.50-$2.80 a week. Whatever we grew in the garden, plus the butter and the cheese that we made, and chicken and eggs that we raised…was what we lived on.

    I started my first entrepreneurial venture at the age of 8, when I set up my first trap line. Not only did I sell my own furs, but I bought furs from all the other kids in school and re-sold them at fur auctions. I made just enough money to buy my few clothes for the year.

    By the early forties we got our first used car and tractor and things started to improve. I finished high school, but with all my responsibilities on the farm, I was not able to further pursue a formal education

    In 1957 I left the farm for good for the lights of the big city of Winnipeg, Manitoba. I had various jobs: from taxi driver to short-order cook. Then I tried my luck selling door-to-door, such items as cookware, sewing machines and vacuum cleaners. I had difficulties making sales at first. But, in approximately six months, I became a top salesman and ran a crew of sales people of my own. In 1959, I made $29,000. This was like a million dollars to me, as only a few years earlier I was barely making $1000 a year on the farm.

    By 1961, my brother Ted and I made our way to the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. I was demonstrating in the Woolworth Store facing the Boardwalk. This wasn’t quite as good as being on the Boardwalk itself, but it had the advantage of being protected from bad weather. I learned quickly that only the strong survive. If you did not produce, you were out of the Woolworth Store in a flash, as other people were waiting to take your place. I was a keen observer and learned the art of demonstrating a variety of products.

    In the spring of 1962, I returned to Winnipeg and came to the realization that instead of demonstrating to a few people at one time, I could try television, where I would demonstrate to masses of people all at once. I made a live 5- minute T.V. commercial on a tephlon non-stick fry pan. To my surprise, sales took off at a remarkable pace. I quickly spread the T.V. advertising throughout Canada and this 5 minute commercial became the world’s first infomercial ever. (From that point, I always wrote and directed all of the K-tel commercials). Unfortunately, tephlon was a new product, and the tephlon peeled off the fry pan leaving a lot of tephlon- coated eggs. However, although this product had problems, I learned a valuable lesson… the power of T.V. advertising. I then bought some great products from a supplier named Seymour Propeil, who is the father of Ron Propeil of the company Ronco. I went on to sell these products, such as the Dial-o-matic, the Veg-o-matic and the Feather-Touch Knife, with great success through T.V. advertising.

    In August 1965, I left for Australia and within 10 days I was on T.V. with the Feather-Touch Knife. I was a one-man show, and operated from a hotel room with no staff or office. However, the girls at the front desk of the hotel were very nice to me, and were kind enough to answer my business calls and take all my phone orders.

    By Christmas I had sold one million knives and netted a dollar a knife. All I did was sell the product into the store and buy the television time. After the difficulties of farming, I couldn’t believe how easy this was. By the end of 1965, Seymour Propeil, said to me that he would not sell me any more products as I was getting “too big”. That was when I was forced to find and develop my own products. Consequently, I entered the music business.

    In early 1966, I returned to Winnipeg from Australia. My father was ill and passed away shortly after. Around this time I released the first compilation TV record , ‘Twenty-five Country Hits’ with a Bobby Darren give-a- way. Then, I released a Rock album, followed up by the big hit ‘Twenty-five Polka Greats’, which sold a million and a half in Canada and USA.

    In the late sixties I started my company K-Tel and the rest is history. My biggest selling product was the Miracle Brush, selling 28 million in the late sixties. My biggest music seller was ‘Hooked on Classics’, selling over 10 million… and it is still selling today. By the early eighties K-Tel sold over half a billion albums world-wide.

    One of my special moments was being inducted into the (CPSA) Canadian Professional Sales Hall of Fame in 2002. I was honoured for creating the first infomercial and changing the face of advertising in the world. Today we continue to license our music catalogue of over 6000 tracks to other users. We have set up a digital distribution network with companies like iTunes, where our music is sold all over the world. I still go to work every day and love to put together a winning product. I am extremely active both mentally and physically and feel I am just too busy to get old.

  14. 14
    CarsmileSteve on 15 Jan 2008 #


  15. 15
    wichita lineman on 5 Jun 2008 #

    I collect K-Tel albums. There, I got that out of the way so it’ll appear in a top-right box and might catch the eye of like-minded deviants.

    Ronco and Arcade worked at a push, but the muddy brown circle with a weird white ‘K’ used to get my pulse racing faster. I couldn’t afford to buy that many singles in the 70s, so 20 in one hit for £2.99 was always going to work for me.

    One I know I’m missing – Hit Action from ’76 (I think). Can anyone help? These things are so worthless they’re hardly ever listed on Gemm or ebay.

    Sorry Tom, didn’t intend to turn this thread into Swap Shop. But I do have three copies of Believe In Music that need a home…

  16. 16
    DJ Punctum on 5 Jun 2008 #

    Hit Action is particularly low-priced, no doubt due to the photo of Gary Glitter on its cover. Good compilation, though, full of awkward-to-get tracks like “Spinning Rock Boogie,” “Little Does She Know” and Silver Convention’s terrific non-hit “Everybody’s Talking ‘Bout Love.”

  17. 17
    wichita lineman on 5 Jun 2008 #

    Cheers DJP. The Supersonic comp (non-K-Tel) has a GG photo on the cover that kinda jumps out as well.

    Sounds like a good track list on Hit Action, and that confirms it’s ’76. Dunno the Silver Convention tune.

    Mounting Excitement? Need one. Used to have it but it somehow got lost. It includes Racey’s extremely good non-hit Rest Of My Life.

    I’m also fond of picking up non-UK K-Tels, an intriguing portal into, say, Dutch pop culture at a specific moment in the 70s. German comps seem to be generally German-language heavy, with Ronseal-efficient titles like “Black Music”.

  18. 18
    sonro on 3 Sep 2009 #

    What type(brand) of television is that you put the K-tel logo on?
    it’s very retro cool….

  19. 19

    […] like mine, swell their record collection when you were a youngster with those only available from K-Tel records that were advertised on the TV? Mine certainly did and I still have some of the Top of the Pops […]

  20. 20
    Tara on 28 Dec 2018 #

    Can anyone PLEASE??? Tell me the name of the 70s Ktel album with KNOCK 3 TIMES, SKYHIGH, 50 WAYS TO LEAVE YOUR LOVER, And more??

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