I don’t remember reading the book before. Maybe it came from my parents’ house when they moved into a retirement residence, or maybe I picked it up at a garage sale. Not that I frequent garage sales.
It was a Perry Mason mystery, Erle Stanley Gardner’s The Case of the Cautious Coquette. (Does anyone these days know what a coquette is without having to look it up?) The book was published in 1949, and the paperback copy I found in my basement, falling apart, was from 1959. What interested me far more than the story was a real blast from the past, an advertising insert for the RCA Victor Record Club.
I remember the Columbia House Record Club from my teen years. Each month a new record showed up in the mail. You could choose the one you wanted to have shipped to you, or do nothing and the album of the month would arrive. Prices were higher than in the local record store, but offset by the free records you got for joining for a fixed term. (Albums in the 1959 RCA insert were $3.98 or $4.98. In 1969, when I began purchasing albums regularly I would pay $3.77, less if they were on sale.) As the years went by the club branched out into offering CDS and videos, VHS at first then DVDs. But I hadn’t realized competing label RCA had had its own club.
I’m sure it made economic sense for the label. They could sell the records at list price and make a tidy profit since there was no middleman. That increased profit more than made up for the relatively minor costs of administering the “club.”
What fascinated me about the RCA club insert in the Perry Mason novel was what was on offer. I will admit I wasn’t paying much attention to pop music in 1959, but it seems to me there were glaring omissions. You can see the albums you could get as part of the membership deal. There are a lot of Broadway shows, pop classical pieces, light jazz crooners – all in all a nice mix – except there’s no rock and roll.
Admittedly in 1959 there were probably a lot of people who were still hoping that rock and roll was not here to stay, but the stuff was pretty popular, especially with a younger demographic. Companies want to hook you when you are young, snag a customer for life. This list wouldn’t appeal to many teenagers.
So why wasn’t RCA offering at least one record by a rocker as part of this promotion? Admittedly the label didn’t have a stellar rock lineup at the time (most major labels didn’t) but there was one singer on their roster they could have promoted that wasn’t too shabby, a guy names Elvis Presley.
I can only speculate that some corporate honcho decided that Elvis had been a passing fad. In 1959 he was in the army, serving a two year term. That was before musicians dodged the draft by coming to Canada. Maybe the thought was that when Elvis completed his military service his appeal would have faded, that rock and roll would have vanished and RCA could go back to promoting Broadway musicals.
It didn’t work out that way. Rock and roll is still with us, almost 60 years after the publication of this book. You probably haven’t heard of many of the RCA stars mentioned in this ad, people like Hugo Winterhalter or The Melachrino Orchestra. But I’m sure you’ve heard Elvis Presley’s name before and are familiar with his music.
What were the people who designed this ad thinking of?