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January 18-24, 2006

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Not Sold in Stores

The sorry ballad of Time-Life's '70s Music Explosion'


By Sara Bir

It was in November that I first saw the commercial for Time-Life's '70s Music Explosion. I was flipping through channels as I always do when I visit my parents, who still live in the house where I grew up. I wasted many an empty hour flipping through channels late at night during my adolescence, and a few times a year I like to take the well-worn remote for a spin, just for old time's sake.

But it was late and Saturday Night Live was over. I was about ready to give up and go to bed when, in a desperate last-minute spate of channel-surfing, I saw a grown-up Greg Brady standing in front of giant candy-colored daisies and smiley faces. "You know, the '70s had all kinds of great music," he said, "music that just made you feel good."

Then came the vintage performance clips. You know how these commercials go. The same few dozen five-second clips repeat for an hour; with each repetition, the more hooked you get. Cher dances to "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves," Jean Knight shakes it to "Mr. Big Stuff," the Starlight Vocal Band lip-sync "Afternoon Delight," and so on.

I should have turned the TV off, but I was immobilized. Those marathon Time-Life infomercials will turn even the most cynical hater of cheesy music into a lotus-eater in seconds flat--and I am no hater of cheesy music. I love '70s music--and we're not talking about Yes or Led Zeppelin. I'm talking about Olivia Newton-John's early flirtation with country music and the Bee Gees' heavy influence on Robert John's "Sad Eyes."

It's my mother's fault. When I was a little girl, she ordered a number of record compilations from TV advertisements that she played nonstop for five years straight. Songs like America's "Horse with No Name" and Maria Muldaur's "Midnight at the Oasis" are songs that my brother and I collectively refer to as "mom music." Al Stewart's "Year of the Cat" comes on the radio, and we say, "Turn it up--it's a mom song!"

"Please give me Time-Life's '70s Music Explosion for Christmas," I said to my loving husband when he picked me up at the airport. "It's not available in stores. You have to order it directly from Time-Life. It's the only thing I want."

"What, no hug?" he said. "I haven't seen you in a week!"

A week or so later, Mr. Bir Toujour instructed me not to open any packages that might arrive. "One of them could be your Christmas present," he said. It was not visions of sugar plums that danced in my head at night, but refrains from "Indiana Wants Me."

Days flew, no packages came and Mr. Bir Toujour grew tense. "I'm afraid you won't have anything to open on Christmas Day."

This did not upset me, but Time-Life's shoddy treatment of Mr. Bir Toujour did. Nearly four weeks had passed, and no parcels resembling '70s Music Explosion landed on our doorstep. What was taking so long--did Time-Life employ a fleet of delivery sloths? Three days before Christmas, Mr. Bir Toujour placed a final call to Time-Life and demanded they ship the CDs two-day air for free.

By the time '70s Music Explosion arrived--several days after Christmas--the debacle with the Time-Life company had tarnished my anticipation somewhat. I listened to all 10 of the CDs, but they didn't give me the immediate injection of bliss I'd been hoping for. And there were some real duds on the discs--like that vile cover of "I Can't Stop This Feeling" that has the supremely annoying "hooka-chakka, hooka-chakka" chant. While I do love my '70s mom songs, I can easily understand how the musical offerings of the entire decade got such a bad rap.

But the great songs on '70s Music Explosion outnumber the crummy ones, and I'm very happy to have the collection at last. If you see a heavily made-up adult Greg Brady shilling for Time-Life on TV in the wee hours of the morning, keep on watching--but don't call. Contact me, and I'll be happy to, ahem, make an arrangement with you. I'll even edit out "(You're) Having My Baby," and you sure as hell won't have to cough up 13 bucks for 19th-century shipping methods.


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