Jun 102015

UPDATED: I’m bringing this post back to The Main Stage to celebrate the following blockbuster piece from The A.V. Club. Do the math!


Filmmaker Chris Wilcha captured what it was like working at Columbia House during this boom time in a low-key, first-person documentary called The Target Shoots First. Wilcha—who started off in the marketing department as an assistant product manager and was soon promoted to product manager—took a camcorder to work and captured the absurdity and mundanity of the company at that moment in time. He filmed scenes not just in the company’s New York offices, but also at the massive Terre Haute, Indiana, manufacturing, customer service, and distribution center (which employed 3,300 people in 1996) as well as an amusing Aerosmith in-store appearance and a trade-show rendezvous with David Hasselhoff.


Can remember the first 12 records (or cassettes or 8-tracks) you received from Columbia House for just 1¢? If you’re from a younger generation, can you recall your introductory BMG order? If you’re from a younger generation yet and have no idea what I’m talking about, think of those first free downloads you received from eMusic, but without your parents getting mad at you for forgetting to send back the following month’s default “featured” lp and now owing money for the latest Barbara Streisand album, which you don’t want to be caught dead with owning.

Speaking of those default selections that would get sent to your house each month, what’s the biggest turd you ever got stuck owning?


  28 Responses to “Columbia House”

  1. bostonhistorian

    I could never find that many albums I actually wanted so I never joined. Judging from the “Manufactured for BMG” things I see on used album covers however, Boz Scaggs seemed very popular.

  2. cherguevara

    I never got a monthly selection – I quit the club before then. But I did do BMG once and it’s difficult to remember the CD’s I got, but I can recall a few:

    Television – Marquee Moon (it’s true!)
    The Church – Starfish
    Pinchas Zuckerman – Vivaldi’s 4 Seasons (a record club classical selection if ever there was one)
    Vladimir Ashkenazy – Chopin Preludes
    The Pretenders – Greatest Hits (Featuring “I Got You Babe,” with UB40!)
    Some other shit I can’t remember. I might have gotten “London Calling” too…

    The death of the record club also meant the end of the musician’s joke, “hey I just got a 10 record deal with Columbia Records! ….(wait for other person to congratulate you and then…) …I just have to buy one at full price and the other nine are free!”

  3. pudman13

    My biggest memory of these record clubs (I was a member of one arond 1980 or 1981) is that the pressings used for these purposes were noticeably inferior, and invariably skipped on my record player.

  4. tonyola

    I never got suckered into this game. My parents refused to let me join when I was a kid, and by the time I was old enough to buy my own stuff, the record clubs were carrying the wrong selections. “What? No Van Der Graaf Generator? No Hatfield and the North? Screw ’em.”

  5. Biggest Turd? GTR on Vinyl

    Best find? Brian Setzer – The Knife Feels Like Justice


    The Pretenders – Isle of View (live)

    Quick Story – In College we had an informal contest to see who could create the most (and most outlandish) fake Columbia House accounts (using suite B,C,D,E after our address to create “new” addresses”) First Place was a tie between “Whispering Pines” (Dear Mr. Pines, thank you for joining the Columbia House Music Club) and “Daryl Strawberry” (both fake names) with multiple accounts at the same address. We never paid a penny for this.

  6. I signed up for Columbia House when I was 11 or 12, meaning 1974 or ’75, kidz, but that doesn’t excuse my Chicago selections. I can’t recall all that I ordered, but ones that stick out in my mind follow:

    Paul Simon’s first solo album (with the straw hat) and There Goes Rhymin’ Simon

    Chicago (some roman numeral or other) – the album with “Saturday in the Park”; in fact, it may have been their Greatest Hits album, but I remember liking that song best. I also remember fast-forwarding my cassette (yes, I started on the cassette plan; my Mom was on the vinyl plan) to the rock-out coda of “Feeling Stronger Every Day”

    Gladys Knight and the Pips albums, one album with “Midnight Train to Georgia” and another one featuring “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” (I think they were all dressed in white on that cover)

    Charlie Rich’s Behind Closed Doors

    A couple of times I forgot to send back the featured album that they sent each month. I can’t remember, though, what crap albums I was stuck with, but eventually that’s what drove me to cancel my membership.

  7. shawnkilroy

    when i was 7 (1981), my stepdad encouraged me to sign up for 6 cassettes for a penny. he said i could just not buy anything else after that because i was 7.

    I got:
    The Police-Zenyatta Mondatta
    The Who-Face Dances
    Kenny Rodgers-The Gambler
    Motown-20 Great Hits
    can’t remember #6

  8. misterioso

    “rock-out coda of ‘Feeling Stronger Every Day'” my ass…You were mellowing out to “(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long.” You can be yourself here, Mod. We’re not here to judge you, just to ridicule.

  9. misterioso

    You definitely get points for eclecticism!

  10. tonyola

    Oh, Chicago wasn’t all bad. In fact, their first album (Chicago Transit Authority) was quite good if you skipped the long rambling freak-out jams (“Free-form Guitar”, “Liberation”). Granted, things went downhill pretty fast after that, but there are still a few scattered gems on Chicago II and III. That’s pretty much the end there. In fact, that gives me an idea for a future RTH topic:

    Which artists had the fastest decline from a very promising start?

  11. There’s that great joke about the Columbia House Record Club in the Coen Bros’ A Serious Man.

    “I don’t want Santana, Abraxis!”

  12. I think I joined Columbia House roughly around the same time as Mr. Mod, in the mid-70’s. Out of the initial 12 records, I remember getting Boston’s debut LP, Aerosmith’s “Get Your Wings” (on 8-Track, for some reason), “Rocks”, & “Toys In The Attic”, The J. Geils Band “Blow Your Face Out” (I still love that title), The Beach Boys “Endless Summer” comp., the “Tommy” film soundtrack, and a Barry Manilow hits collections, which not only was the worst of the bunch (& possibly one of the worst records I’ve ever owned)…..I have no idea why I would have ordered it, because I didn’t like BM, even back then. I don’t think I ever played a single song on that platter all the way through the one, & only, time I put it on the record player. Also, I never ordered anything else from them, so I basically ripped off Columbia House…I was a baaad boy.

  13. Absolutely — They sent records to Chic N. Choker at our house. Ruined Chic’s credit rating I’m sure . . .

  14. Yup — I remember they were “record club” editions and they did seem inferior — thinner? — I think they were marked with tiny type “BMG Record Club” version and I learned to avoid them while digging around the used record bins.

  15. Oh yeah — Chic got Queen “The Game” the Genesis “Abacab” and Pat Benetar’s “Crimes of Passion.”

  16. 2000 Man

    I remember taking a Youth and the Law class, learning that anyone under 18 in Ohio wasn’t allowed to enter into any kind of contract and couldn’t be held responsible if they were, and joining Columbia House once or twice. The first time I got 8 tracks for my way cool Dynamite 8.

    Steely Dan – The Royal Scam
    Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Symphonium Dream
    Neil Young Decade (counted as 2!)
    Bruce Springsteen Born to Run
    Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak
    I think you could get 12 records or six eight tracks, and that’s what I remember getting still have three of those titles, but on vinyl or cd. Way to go 14 year old me!

    When I got older I joined again but I don’t remember what I got. Then I joined a third time as an adult, and I got 12 albums that my friends would like, so I wouldn’t be shoving the crap I like down their throats all the time. Know what? They hardly ever came over and listened to music anymore! I stiffed out Frampton Comes Alive and a mess of equally shitty classic rock.

    That’s a myth about Columbia House records being inferior. Often, Columbia would just get crates of them from the original labels and their pressing plants, and they just did them the same time as they were doing the regular runs. A lot of smaller label things were done at Columbia, at their pressing plant in Terre Haute, which was considered one of the better pressing plants back then. I’ve read interviews with guys that worked for Columbia and they said the only differences were the CRC on the cover, and sometimes the mention on the label.

    Some of the other record clubs didn’t have a great plant like Columbia and farmed out copies of tapes to smaller plants, and those could be hit or miss, but I’ve found that the aversion many buyers have to Columbia House and the CRC indication makes from some sweet used record purchases. Often, the record was a pick of the month that slipped by and stiffed out without ever being played. My copy of Steely Dan’s Gaucho and Aja are both CRC, and they both sound terrific! But that’s all Columbia House did, was add that CRC. Some of those clubs added big white boxes that covered up artwork. I won’t buy those.

  17. I think the Tommy soundtrack may have been in my initial haul too! I forgot about that. I saw it in the theater and thought it was the bee’s knees.

  18. You were a rocker from the start, 2K.

  19. Me, too. I think that was probably my first exposure to any songs from “Tommy”, apart from “Pinball Wizard”, but even with that one, Elton’s version was getting more play at that time than the original. I still own all those LPs I listed, apart from the Boston & Manilow…..dunno what happened to the Aerosmith 8-Track.

  20. ladymisskirroyale

    My younger brother joined CRC. I’m pretty sure that’s where all our Billy Joel (Glass Houses!) and Human League came from. Maybe an Abba or two.

  21. I remember when my brother and sister joining CH in the ’70s, they also wound up receiving a shitty little free red transistor radio. My brother gave me his.

    I belonged to both throughout the years…even the CH CD-ROM club. Ick. I got a lot of artist specific shit through BMG. I would joint…get my seven free…buy the one at rip off price…get my remaining four free…quit…then rejoin. Got a lot of music cheap that way. The CDs I didn’t mind at all as I couldn’t tell any inferiority on those, but the cassettes were crap as they were always missing any extra pictures or packaging retail copies would have.

    I specifically remember getting Huey Lewis’ Sports on LP through CH as well as Glenn Frey’s The Allnighter. Wow.

    CH had a spinoff club a few years back called CDHQ that had more alternative rock selections that the main CH club didn’t have. Weird. Now all CH is is a DVD club that still charges ridiculous amounts for movies you can get cheaper anywhere on the planet. I dunno how they’re still in business.

  22. BigSteve

    I like the idea that it’s Columbia House. Like there’s a house somewhere owned by Columbia where all of these cheaply manufactured recordings originate. I don’t think Columbia even exists anymore, does it? Should they rename it Sony House?

  23. What a great question. I will not remember them all. I think when I joined, there was a “take 3 more for a penny” deal. Somehow I had more selections than I had quality choices. I had a couple dupes with Bitman

    Aerosmith – Toys
    Beach Boys – Endless Summer
    Monkees Greatest Hits
    Frampton Comes Alive
    Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life
    Steve Miller – Fly like and Eagle
    Linda Rondstadt _ Heart Like a Wheel
    Monty Python comedy record?

  24. Rock town confessional! I just remembered another one from Columbia House.

    Walter Murphy Band – A Fifth of Beethoven

    I have sinned!

  25. My dad signed up for the Columbia House club. He “experimented” with popular country music of the time (late 70’s), getting some Waylon, some Willie, and I think some Dickie Betts.

    At some point my sister and I begged to let him let us order a few tapes. I distinctly remember picking out Cheap Trick’s “All Shook Up”, Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell”, and possibly ACDC “Back in Black”. I also remember the tapes were white label with pink lines on it. They did not look like what you would get in the record store.

    Safe to say Dad did not like my choices. I don’t remember what my sister chose, but I seem to recollect The Tubes or Foreigner….

  26. 2000 Man

    Hey, thanks for bringing this back! I really need to rent a dumpster in Escondido!

  27. That AV Club piece was great. I was just talking about the late ’90s era as far as getting CDs goes with someone this morning. I was living in the Chicago area and there were some great record shops with terrific used CD inventories. And there was Columbia House and BMG. And CDNow and other new websites when they were giving you $15 off a $20 purchase and you could get some import CD for $6.

    It was totally ridiculous and silly. There were a couple years there where I was getting 300+ CDs a year. Still haven’t listened to some of them…

Lost Password?

twitter facebook youtube