Chuck’s Record Collection: “Shining Stars”

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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:

It helps if you think of it as a SAT Prep Class.

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.

I Wanna Rock And Roll, All Night.
And Sell Stuff Every Day.

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).

Released in 1978, “Shining Stars” was three years too late to capitalize on the success of Earth, Wind & Fire’s funky No. 1, and two years too early for the Manhattans’ same-named soft-soul ballad.

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.       

Top-shelf:

• 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

Decent:

• 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.)

Yuck:

• 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.

Question Marks:

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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Chuck Small

Journalist-turned-high school counselor. Happily ensconced in Raleigh, N.C., with hubby of 30 years (8 legal).

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LinkCrawford
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LinkCrawford
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September 27, 2022 7:31 am

NOW That’s what I call a good write-up!

Phylum of Alexandria
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September 27, 2022 2:03 pm

Who will archive the archivers? It’s no small task…but a Small one!

Me, I’m quite sensitive and particular about sequencing in an album or playlist, and I’m trying to think of how I came to be that way.

Part of it may have to do with my initial difficulty appreciating the genius of David Bowie from the haphazard “just the hits” approach to the ChangesBowie compilation. And then being swept away by the majesty of carefully assembled albums like Ziggy Stardust and Station to Station.

Part of it of course has to do with my embrace of curation via mixtapes, CD burning, and then computer/online playlist creation.

But that hits on something deeper…I long wanted to be a DJ of some sort–one dream that never came close to materializing! Yet perhaps that’s where this particularity comes from. I start to think what I would have done instead in terms of inclusion or sequencing. I can’t help my tics!

But still… sometimes haphazard and random is just right. Sequencing is neither art nor science, but it leans closer to the former than the latter.  😀 

mt58
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mt58
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September 27, 2022 2:49 pm

Sort of analogous to album track sequencing:

Whenever I’m working as a side-person or last minute fill-in pickup player in a band, I love the feeling of not caring one bit about the set list order, and just getting mentally ready to play the next tune on the sheet.

But if I’m the one who organized the gig, it’s the polar opposite. I work for days to imagine the perfect order and sequence of the music. It feels important enough to take seriously, and not just bang out a bunch of songs in order to be able to claim, “Hey, cool, we did 40 tunes last night.”

And while there is often a bit of a variance, providing some fun and spontaneity, generally speaking: the list stands firm. The plan is the plan.

cappiethedog
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September 27, 2022 10:23 pm

I regret not being a DJ in college. Nobody really had a deep knowledge of indie music. But then again, it’s possible that there was no audience for it.

Pauly Steyreen
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September 28, 2022 9:48 am
Reply to  cappiethedog

That’s the beautiful thing about being a DJ for a college radio station… Don’t need an audience. Let your freak flag fly (just pay attention to the indecency rules). I loved the sense of total “anything-goes” when I had the 5 to 7 am shift in college. (Actually anything goes from 5 to 6, anything goes with asterisks from 6 to 7.)

reggie
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reggie
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September 29, 2022 1:08 am

Sequencing is EVERYTHING. I used to record my own 8-track tapes almost exclusively for my cruising library. Who was in the car, and the occasion for the cruise, were extremely important. Rowdy friends, mellow friends, new friends, old friends, new girlfriend, steady girlfriend – knowing the audience was crucial because music was always one of the topics of conversation. Mixing of genre’s was not uncommon, but it had to be thought out. If a rocker tape needed a slow song I was not going to put “Sometimes When We Touch” on the same tape as Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”. No, no, no. A much better choice would be Meatloaf’s “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad”. If it’s a rowdy cruise SWWT is going to ruin your reputation whereas TOOTAB will get a nod of approval because everyone knows Meatloaf rocks.

Aaron3000
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September 27, 2022 9:43 pm

Gotta love the animation in that commercial.

We had a couple of Ronco compilations in our family’s record collection. The one thing I remember is how there was virtually no dead space between tracks. There would be a quick fade, and then the next song would start. To this day, whenever I hear France Joli’s “Come To Me” nearing its end, my brain expects it to immediately segue into Giorgio Moroder’s “Chase”.

cappiethedog
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cappiethedog
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September 27, 2022 10:25 pm
Reply to  Aaron3000

Giorgio Moroder’s soundtrack for Metropolis was my introduction to silent film. I’m a bad cineaste. I don’t love silent films. It feels like homework. I do, however, love The Passion of Joan of Arc.

Ozmoe
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September 30, 2022 5:36 pm

Love this writeup. I’d just add that those of us “of a certain age” will recall how the Ronco commercials during Christmastime would end with a horrible tinkly instrumental version of Deck the Halls that reflected the cheesiness of most of their products.

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