This is an excerpt from an article by GREG BEETS that appeared in The Austin Chronicle on May 4, 2001, entitled "Explosive Dynamic Super Smash Hits! R.I.P., K-tel...
Until its stateside demise, K-tel was best known for jam-packed compilations of both past and present hits direct-marketed to consumers via garish, cheaply produced TV ads. Although K-tel's buffet-style MO seems quintessentially American, the company was actually founded in Winnipeg, Ontario, by Phillip Kives in 1962 before moving to Minneapolis in the early Seventies. Having cut its teeth selling items like non-stick pans on TV, K-tel released its first album, 25 Polka Greats, in 1971.
K-tel wasn't the first label to specialize in compilations. California disc jockey Art Laboe pioneered the practice of licensing material from several labels with his Oldies but Goodies series in the Sixties. Ron Popeil's Ronco (immortalized in "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Mr. Popeil") sold plenty of compilations alongside useful products like Mr. Microphone and the Record Vacuum. However, it was K-tel that truly cultivated the form into a pop culture institution ripe for parody.
Anybody remember the infamously snide take on the Velvet Underground? You know, everyone who bought their records must have started or joined a band, considering every other hipster band named them as a chief influence, yet no one really bought their records. (I guess the same thing could apply to the Replacements or the Pixies, except they weren’t quite so influential, and certainly not as consistently great.)
Of course a true rock snob like myself bought and devoured their five releases, ‘cept I started with 1970’s Loaded after hearing “Rock and Roll” on local college free form FM radio (Brown University’s WBRU to be exact) sometime during my teen daze, and once I spotted the first album (with the, gulp, banana cover) at the catalog-deep record shop I dug down enough into my coin and dust filled pockets to buy that, with the others soon following. (Yeah, yeah, yeah I bought backwards, but I still BOUGHT.)