90s, Blog, Music, Obsession of the Day — March 21, 2013 7:22 pm

Obsession of the Day: CD Catalog Memories

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Ordering CDs from catalogs was, believe it or not, a convenient way to obtain music in the 1990s.  You called to order a catalog that arrived a few weeks later, looked through the entire thing, filled out forms with a pen, mailed those forms in with a check, and waited 6-8 more weeks for your CDs to arrive.  By that point, you’d forgotten you’d ordered them in the first place, so it was always a pleasant surprise.  Can you imagine nowadays not listening to samples of songs first?  Having to buy an entire album, even though you only like one or two tracks?  Worse, yet, spending $18.00 per disc for the luxury?

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Hmm, what does all that fine print say?

Well, that’s the way it was and we didn’t know any better.  The most famous of these catalogs was from the Columbia Record Company.  My mom was a regular shopper back then.  I still remember the times I’d walk into the dining room to see her hunched over the table, reading glasses on, seriously studying each and every single entry in the book.  I guess twenty years from now, someone will feel that way about me scrolling through Netflix choices.

On rare occasions, my mom couldn’t find another CD she wanted from the famous bargain “buy 12 CDs, get one more for a penny” promotion.  So, she’d throw the offer to me (which I always thought defeated the point of her trying to get the penny price).  I wasn’t really at the age where I appreciated music, yet, so I picked whatever title sounded remotely familiar.  This is how I ended up with the Ace of Base smash-hit, The Sign.

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Only owning four other CDs at the time, The Sign ended up in the player way more than it ever deserved to be there.  Even to this day, I think the album is okay, but I just can’t take Ace of Base seriously.  Most times I pull up a song now is only a lark to entertain friends.

As my music collection grew, Ace of Base got lost in the shuffle and rarely made it in the CD tray.  Years went by without me evening thinking about it.

That all changed when I saw the trailer for the first Austin Powers movie in 1997.  The movie didn’t really look that interesting to me, but I was mesmerized by one part in which he tries to play a CD on a record player.  Such madness had never occurred to me!  I figured it wouldn’t do anything, but I was still curious to try it out and see the results for myself.


I wracked my brain, considering which of my CDs would be sacrificed to the five-minutes-of-amusement gods.  It didn’t take long for me to come to a conclusion.  After digging through piles of old Hot Wheels, X-Men figures, and other things I hadn’t touched since elementary school, I found The Sign.

On the spindle went the Ace of Base opus, needle soon following behind.  I took time to consider whether it should be played at 33 or 45 speed.  The fun only lasted about three seconds as the needle quickly glided off the CD and back to the side.

Feeling a bit ripped off, I hurried to come up with something else I had never tried with a CD.  Almost immediately, I pulled the CD off the record player, gripped it with two hands, and smashed it into a million pieces by twisting it in opposite directions.  Pieces of The Sign shattered across my room, in my hair, and on my clothes.

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A few weeks later, I revealed to my mom what I had done.  She asked with a surprising sense of sadness in her voice, “Why’d you do that?”

To this day, I still can’t hear “All That She Wants” without feeling like I should mourn the loss of my penny CD.  Thanks, mom.

Did you ever order from a CD catalog?   Share with us!

3 Comments

  • The best part about those mail order CD companies was that you didn’t need to pay up front. You literally just filled out the form with your numbered selections, dropped it in the mailbox, and waited for your fuckload of CDs to show up. They’d mail you a bill later, which I guess you were supposed to pay. They didn’t seem to do much cross-checking of unpaid invoices, either so you could just keep ordering CDs in different names of family members and they’d all be associated with different accounts. There was a summer when both Columbia House and BMG called my house probably three times a day and I’d claim ignorance to my parents, who weren’t hip to my shenanigans. They must have wised up eventually to the fact they were taken by a 12 year old and the calls stopped coming. Meanwhile with all the CDs I accumulated, I could have probably re-tiled our kitchen.

  • I totally joined the MTV version of these clubs to get tapes back in89. I remember it also came with a monthly magazine. I snagged my first Bullet Boys, Mötley Crüe, Areosmith, and Sonic Youth tapes through that club…

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