Ronco’s Time On the B-List
Listening to “Shining Stars,” a 1978 Ronco album, requires context.
If you didn’t grow up in the 1970s but know K-Tel’s record collections, consider:
The former may not be as popular, but it’s still a worthy brand with gems of its own.
Ronco, named for founder Ron Popeil, was better known as a marketer of an array of TV-pitched products…
from the Veg-O-Matic…
to the Pocket Fisherman…
to Mr. Microphone, a product touted on the back of this record collection.
Interestingly, Popeil’s father, creator of the Veg-O-Matic, worked with K-tel founder Philip Kives, resulting in that product being sold through both companies. Popeil and Kives then went their separate ways to create and market similar products.
The company was sold for $55 million in the mid-2000s.
But went bankrupt a decade and a half later.
When it came to pop collections, K-tel’s tend to be best recalled. This is probably due to the formula of its boisterous commercials touting the name of the collection, “20 (later 18) original hits, original stars,” and snippets of the half-dozen biggest by name, as a voice-over listed other artists in between.
Commercials for Ronco collections mimicked those for K-tel, but seemed less focused (the one for this album: didn’t seem well synced).
So, the title is more a metaphor for 18 songs from all over the pop spectrum.
“Shining Stars” touts “18 original hits, 18 original stars.” But that’s not true: Barry Manilow’s Can’t Smile Without You closes out Side 1. Its follow-up, Even Now, is the midpoint of side two.
Of the 18 songs in the collection, 16 were Billboard Top 40 hits. The other two were compositions from Arista Records artists, and the public could reasonably be familiar with each:
Eric Carmen’s That’s Rock & Roll had been successfully remade by teen idol Shaun Cassidy the year before, and hit the Top 10.
And Melissa Manchester’s Come in From the Rain was remade, less successfully, by The Captain & Tennille, hitting the Hot 100 in 1977 but missing the Top 40.
For the most part, Ronco’s collection avoids the clumsy edits that K-tel sometimes would make to pack songs on its albums.
Ronco preferred to trim seconds from a song’s beginning (e.g., Jay Ferguson’s Thunder Island) or end (e.g., Lynyrd Skynyrd’s What’s Your Name?) rather than slice entire verses. In the worst trim, Raydio’s Jack & Jill loses a minute from the end of the 45 version.
I’m also not fond of the version of Dan Hill’s Sometimes When We Touch that we hear here – losing half of the bridge – but I do remember that the 45 butchered the album version.
So the blame here is on 20th Century Records, not Ronco.
Listening to “Shining Stars” today, I’m jarred by the juxtaposition of James Taylor’s Handy Man and Kiss’ Calling Dr. Love, or Even Now and What’s Your Name?
But I’m sure 15-year-old me wouldn’t have given it a thought in 1978: I’d have heard those same sorts of shifts every week on AT40.
• Barry Manilow’s Even Now
• Paul Davis’ I Go Crazy
• Hall & Oates’ Rich Girl
• Stargard’s Which Way Is Up?
• Patti Smiths’ Because the Night
• ABBA’s Take a Chance on Me
• James Taylor’s Handy Man
• Bonnie Tyler’s It’s a Heartache
• LeBlanc & Carr’s Falling
• England Dan and John Ford Coley’s We’ll Never Have to Say Goodbye Again
(I like both of the latter songs a lot, but they’re a little too similar – it would have been better to pick one.)
• Surprisingly, I found Carmen’s original of That’s Rock & Roll not nearly as good as Cassidy’s remake.
• And Can’t Smile Without You is one of the few Manilow songs that grates on me. He sounds like an eager-to-please lounge lizard, and the ending takes his patented “belt the last note” approach and turns it into parody.
• Jack & Jill, Sometimes When We Touch and Thunder Island are songs I like, hurt in this collection by their trims.
• The sleaze of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s and Kiss’ hits makes them more guilty pleasures than songs I choose to hear.
• And Come in From the Rain is pretty (as about every song in Manchester’s repertoire is), but also kind of sleepy.
Listening to “Shining Stars” offers some insight into why Ronco could be considered the Avis to K-tel’s Hertz.
It’s a quality collection that – with just a little more attention to detail – could have been a standout.
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