Live

Chuck’s Record Collection – Less Is More: Sound Express and Images

147 views

When I listen to the various compilation albums I have, I’m always struck by how there’s usually one or two songs that ruin the mood and leave me to wonder:

“Why did they include that?”

Such is the case with Ronco’s Sound Express and K-tel’s Images, two collections of adult-leaning pop from late 1979 through mid-1980.

I’ve mentioned before that Ronco could be considered the Avis to K-tel’s Hertz.

Comparing these two releases makes it clear why K-tel was the leader… and Ronco always the runner-up.

K-tel figured out: that less is more.

By 1980, the average length of a Top 40 hit was well over three minutes – and sometimes exceeding four.

For a label whose commercials had touted “20 (then 18) original hits, original stars,” K-tel had to figure out how it was going to evolve.

The result? More tightly focused collections with fewer songs.

Images, touted as “the soft magic of today’s rock,” sticks to the formula: 14 songs, all AC: adult contemporary.

By contrast, Ronco’s “Sound Express” is a hodgepodge.

Songs like The Kinks’ “I Wish I Could Fly Like Superman” and Cheap Trick’s “Voices” were not on AC radio in 1980 –  although they could be today.

To get 18 songs on an LP, each track had to fade out significantly. cIt’s instructive to listen to the one song that appears on both collections, Eddie Rabbitt’s marvelous slice of country soul, “Suspicions.”

While “Images” plays the full 45, “Sound Express” fades out at least 30 seconds early. (It would have been more egregious had the next track not been Nicolette Larson’s wonderful “Lotta Love.”)

“Sound Express” has both fabulous tracks and real head-scratchers.

For the former, check out the first three songs of side two:

  • On either side of Cheap Trick’s Beatle-esque masterpiece are Steve Forbert’s delightful “Romeo’s Tune” and the Alan Parsons Project’s sublime “Damned If I Do.”

Side one is where we get the latter.

And this sequence is a hot mess.

  • There’s the bewildering Southern-boogie-meets-disco “Savannah Nights,” the only solo Top 40 hit by original Doobie Brothers lead Tom Johnston.
  • Then, there’s the faceless disco number “Get Down” by Gene Chandler, a song that missed the Top 40, and deserved to.
  • Lastly, Robert Palmer’s pointless cover of Todd Rundgren’s “Can We Still Be Friends?” Palmer’s usually gritty voice is lost in the mix, and the note-by-note fidelity to Rundgren’s version makes any listener wonder why Palmer bothered.

Had Ronco used the same “less is more” approach for “Sound Express” that K-tel did for “Images,” listeners might have been spared such filler and gotten complete versions of what remained.

“Images” isn’t perfect.

It begins with the cringe-worthy “Should’ve Never Let You Go” by father and daughter Neil and Dara Sedaka. I liked the song in 1980 when I was 16 and clueless but struggle listening to it today.

I know Frank and Nancy Sinatra pioneered the daddy-daughter romantic duet with “Somethin’ Stupid,” but the Sedakas ought to have known better more than a decade later.

Also on side one, “Images” has its own pointless remakes, Rita Coolidge’s “One Fine Day” (whose sax line is the most memorable thing on it) and Bernadette Peters’ “Gee Whiz,” which sounds like an attempt to move in on Linda Ronstadt’s remake territory.

And the last song, the Captain and Tennille’s “Do That to Me One More Time,” is a divisive one among our group. I happen to like it, but I do understand what makes it unappealing for other listeners.

But, oh, side two:

Not a dud in sight. Great sequencing. No early fades. And even a little bounce.

I could listen to it any given evening and have a smile on my face:

  • Ali Thomson’s “Take a Little Rhythm”
  • Pure Prairie League’s “Let Me Love You Tonight”
  • Tommy James’ “Three Times in Love”
  • “Suspicions”
  • Kool and the Gang’s “Too Hot”
  • Photoglo’s “We Were Meant to Be Lovers”
  • Lauren Wood’s “Please Don’t Leave”

AC in 1980 didn’t get better than that.

If “Images” had borrowed any of the “Top Shelf” tracks from “Sound Express” and subbed them for the Sedakas, Coolidge and Peter, it would have had an immaculate collection.

As it is, it has one fantastic side and one that’s so-so.

“Sound Express,” meantime, has to settle for runner-up.

Top-shelf: From “Sound Express:”

  • Daryl Hall and John Oates’ “Wait for Me”
  • Dionne Warwick’s “Déjà vu”
  • “Romeo’s Tune,”
  • “Voices,”
  • “Damned If I Do,”
  • Toto’s “99,”
  • “Suspicions,”
  • “Lotta Love.”

From “Images:”

  • The Manhattans’ “Shining Star,”
  • Felix Cavaliere’s “Only a Lonely Heart Sees”

…and the entire side two.

Decent: From “Sound Express:”

  • Rupert Holmes’ “Him”
  • Cliff Richard’s “We Don’t Talk Anymore”
  • Chris Thompson’s “If You Remember Me”
  • Santana’s “You Know That I Love You”
  • Kool and the Gang’s “Ladies’ Night”

From “Images:”

  • “Do That to Me One More Time.”

Yuck: From “Sound Express”

  • “Savannah Nights”
  • “Get Down”
  • “Can We Still Be Friends?”
  • and Eric Carmen’s toothless remake of “Baby I Need Your Lovin’”

From “Images”

  • “Should’ve Never Let You Go”
  • “One Fine Day”
  • and “Gee Whiz”

Question marks: I can’t tell whether I appreciate “I Wish I Could Fly Like Superman.” I think I’d enjoy it more on its own than on “Sound Express…”

… where it stands out like a sore thumb.

Let the author know that you liked their article with a “Green Thumb” Upvote! 

11

Thank You For Your Vote!

Sorry You have Already Voted!

Chuck Small

Journalist-turned-high school counselor. Happily ensconced in Raleigh, N.C., with hubby of 31 years (9 legal).

Subscribe
Notify of
13 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Phylum of Alexandria
Member
Famed Member
November 28, 2023 9:07 am

Philosophically, I hate the idea of conveniently clipped versions of songs. But practically, sometimes they’re actually better than the official release.

I much prefer the short version of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” And does anyone actually listen to the 8-minute version of “I Will Do Anything for Love?” I know I won’t do that.

I do love, cherish, and miss the 40-minute limit for albums. Less really is more in that respect. Compilations are a different type of beast, of course, and slightly different rules apply. But generally, it’s nice to feel that a collection was thoughtfully and lovingly curated, rather than be something randomly crammed into a set for the sake of crass product pushing. Even if the latter is always there so some extent, it’s possible to get the former, and we customers should always demand it!

Tangentially related: your notion of “Great Albums That Would Have Been Perfect If Not For One or Two Choices” would make for a great list article in the vein of what RB posted yesterday.

mt58
Admin
Famed Member
mt58
Online Now
November 28, 2023 9:53 am

Re: ‘The One Or Two Choices:”

I’m late to the party for Daisy Jones And The Six. I just started watching it on Saturday.

There’s a scene where the protagonist announces that she has finished writing a ‘great song.’ Her producer says, “That’s good. Now you just need eleven more.”

I cringed with empathy. It reminded me how elusive is the idea of “the perfect album.” No weak spots to be found is a tall order.

PS.: Phylum is right; this would make a for a fun article or collaborative series.

LinkCrawford
Member
Famed Member
LinkCrawford
Offline
November 28, 2023 11:55 am

It’s funny…when I’m listening to these old k-tel and ronco albums, I kinda don’t mind the shortened versions. I wouldn’t usually tolerate such nonsense outside those albums, though there are exceptions (Chuck Mangione’s “Feel’s So Good” is best in it’s edited form).

cappiethedog
Member
Famed Member
cappiethedog
Offline
December 1, 2023 7:06 pm
Reply to  LinkCrawford

For over three decades, I thought Chuck Mangione recorded “Rise”. And when I learned he didn’t, I wondered what the heck he was famous for.

Virgindog
Member
Famed Member
Virgindog
Online Now
November 28, 2023 9:30 am

I like both Todd Rundgren and Robert Palmer, so how did I not know Palmer covered Rundgren? Listening to it now, I see. It’s just not very good. Sorry, Robert.

Gene Chandler, as in “Duke Of Earl” Gene Chandler? He had a disco hit? Well, if it’s good enough for Ethyl Merman….

Ironically, I don’t remember “If You Remember Me” but I’m sure I’ve heard “Deja Vu” before.

The first album I ever bought with my own money was “Super Rock Hits,” a compilation on Swan Records. It has a great track list and side one ends with “Get It On” by Chase, a song I loved. However, they faded it out and lost the “Sunshine Of Your Love” quote at the end. 14-year-old me was angry!

But I paid only a dollar for it so I really couldn’t complain.

Nice work, Chuck! Keep ’em coming!

Phylum of Alexandria
Member
Famed Member
November 28, 2023 9:35 am
Reply to  Virgindog

Deja entendu. 😀

LinkCrawford
Member
Famed Member
LinkCrawford
Offline
November 28, 2023 11:53 am

I remember seeing Sound Express in the store, but I actually ended up buying Images years later, used. I wanted a copy of “Take a Little Rhythm” by Ali Thompson, a forgotten pop gem.

Surprising no one, I actually like Neil and Dara Sedaka’s ballad fine. The extremely conspicuous d-word bothered me more than the father-daughter angle. Like Donnie and Marie duets, I’m just able to hear them singing as actors in a play.

And I always love Rupert Holmes’ “Him”.

Ozmoe
Member
Famed Member
Ozmoe
Offline
November 28, 2023 1:57 pm

I’d bump up Ladies Night to top shelf here, but everything else I pretty much agree with (well, I probably would downgrade Do That To Me One More Time too). Do you remember how long the K-Tel showdown against Ronco lasted into the 1980s, Chuck?

Aaron3000
Member
Famed Member
Aaron3000
Offline
November 28, 2023 7:50 pm

Whoa, nostalgia alert… We had Sound Express in our house when I was a kid.

A few years later when Hall & Oates released their first hits compilation (Rock ‘n’ Soul Part 1), I bought it on cassette and was disappointed that a live version of “Wait For Me” was included. So, I promptly recorded over that one song using the studio version from Sound Express.

cappiethedog
Member
Famed Member
cappiethedog
Offline
December 1, 2023 2:34 pm

Nobody covers Elvis Costello voluntarily. But Todd Rundgren did. He does a decent job with “Two Little Hitlers” from Armed Forces on Nearly Human.

I just listened to “Can’t We Still Be Friends”. I mostly agree. But at least Robert Palmer didn’t cover “Hello, It’s Me”.

Who doesn’t like “Lotta Love”? Juliana Hatfield likes “Lotta Love”. But her cover is pointless.

cappiethedog
Member
Famed Member
cappiethedog
Offline
December 1, 2023 7:03 pm
Reply to  cstolliver

Ack! I’m an Elvis Costello fan. I should know this.

13
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x