Day 84: The first song you ever bought.

“Private Eyes” – Daryl Hall & John Oates

Private EyesThere may be some controversy about this post. First off, I’ve been trying to remember the first 7″ single I ever bought, and whether or not that predates this purchase. But I honestly don’t remember. And it’s bugging me, because I usually remember that stuff.

But, I know the first “real” album I bought was Private Eyes by Hall & Oates. (I’ve never been able to determine if their official name was “Hall & Oates” or “Daryl Hall & John Oates.” I’m pretty sure it wasn’t “Daryl, Get Out Of The John and Sow Your Wild Oates In The Hall.” But I could be wrong. Like I said, I’ve never been sure.)

This was back in the day of “Record Clubs.” At that time, there were two major ones in the US: RCA and Columbia.

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They both pretty much worked the same way: You got 11 records or tapes (cassette or 8-Track!) for 1 cent. (You could even tape your penny right there on the return card!). And then you only had to buy <some_number> more at regular club prices to fulfill your commitment. (Plus shipping and handling, of course.) Oh, and to make it a much better deal you could buy your first album at a low introductory rate (something like $5.99) and then get another album for free. (Plus shipping and handling, of course.) It was like getting 62 albums for free!

What they didn’t tell you was that “regular club prices” were something like $12.99 each (a hefty sum for an album or tape at the time) and shipping & handling was roughly the GDP of Liechtenstein.

The Columbia Music Club was the better of the two from the standpoint of selection. They had the exclusive lock on albums released on the Columbia label (or affiliated labels, of which there were many) while also offering just about everything else. But, they made you buy way more albums to fulfill your commitment. RCA, on the other hand, with no Columbia albums, took what they could get, but let you out of the “contract” with fewer purchases.

Anyway, at the time (early-80s), my mother belonged to the RCA club. It was her source of the various and sundry Country & Western 8-Track tapes she liked. And, at some point, she was trying to get out of the deal and “fulfill her commitment.” And thus, after making her selections, she needed another. So she asked me if I wanted anything. I picked Private Eyes, more on the strength of that song alone that any knowledge of the rest of the songs on the album. Which is why I believe this qualifies as the first song I bought (and if it doesn’t, tough, because I’m using it anyway).

I distinctly remember that the order forms had blocks where you entered the numbers and digits of the “catalog number” of the album you wanted. And then there were tiny little check boxes next to those big blocks where you identified whether you wanted to receive an LP, Cassette, or 8-Track (this was at the time when 8-Tracks were in their final death throes but stubborn people like my mother just refused to give up on what was essentially a dead medium).

Now, sometimes my mother had very binary ways of thinking about things. I remember her saying to me, as I checked off the box for cassette (or “CS” as the code was), “I belong to the 8-Track club. I always get 8-Tracks. They won’t let you get something else.” I assured her that they wouldn’t provide you with the check boxes if you didn’t have a choice, to which she replied, in her very best, motherly, you’re-too-young-to-know-what-you’re-talking-about-and-I’m-right-about-this voice, “Okay, we’ll see.”

They sent her 8-Tracks.

I got a cassette.

She was shocked.

Long story longer, Private Eyes was really the first full album (as opposed to some form of mix tape) that I listened to over and over. And, despite not knowing anything but the title track when I ordered it, I quickly discovered that I really liked “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do),” “Did It In A Minute” and “Head Above Water” as well.

Incidentally, over time, the RCA club became the BMG Record Club. And I must say, I owe a good chunk of my CD collection to them. You see, when in college, we did the math (being engineering types, this was something we did for fun). Even at the extortionate prices of the regular purchase and shipping & handling, it still worked out to a pretty reasonable price per album, provided you quit as soon as you fulfilled your commitment. At which time, you could promptly join again, getting another 12 free, and so on. (We also learned that even if you didn’t quit, they would give pretty decent “special offers” to get you to buy more.)

Over my time in college, I must have joined and quit the BMG club 20 times. And, since they also did the thing where you had to return your card or they would automatically send you the selection of the month, I probably wrote “Return to Sender” on about 20 CD boxes (since I never remembered to return the card) to send back. I was never quite sure if they loved me or hated me.

Either way, I ended up with a boatload of cheap CDs, so I don’t much care. I may very well be the reason those clubs are no longer around. (It certainly couldn’t have anything to do with the advent of digital music.)

Ironically, Private Eyes was not included in the boatload. I didn’t actually get it on CD until a couple of years ago. (Because I refuse to give up on what is essentially a dead medium.)

Love you, ma.