It may be hard to see in the photo, but this advertisement (see page A2), from the Christmas Eve, 1976, edition of the Journal Gazette, Page 13, is courtesy of 3-D Discount, a business of which I must make a statement: 3-D….you done fell off, son. I mean wow…it’s amazing how time can just erase a business from existence after a few years. I know I’ve thrown out some doozies over previous columns like K’s Merchandise, Venture and Silo Electronics, but 3-D Discount? When’s the last time you’ve ever heard anyone mention them? Reason? Well, from the limited amount of research I was willing to put into this particular detour, I was able to discover that the 3-D Discount chain was limited to Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, which would explain the rest of the nation’s lack of knowledge of such things.
My own personal memories of 3-D Discount are blunted somewhat by the fact that I can’t entirely guarantee that I’m not actually remembering Big Lots when I think I’m remembering 3-D Discount. What I can recall is that they were the only place that carried out the contemptible practice of actually sticking price tag stickers on newsstand comic books -- forget the fact that all comics books already had prices printed on them; and they were also the place where I’m pretty sure I bought my first cassette tape with my own grubby allowance money, straight from, what is called in this ad, the “3-D Sound Center.”
Sure looks like the top half of that ad says that LPs are available for $2.99. Really? Even given inflation that just doesn’t seem right. I don’t quite remember the average asking price of a full album on vinyl or cassette back then but I do remember that when CDs first came out they were an ungodly 19 dollars, as if the folks at Pioneer were trying to convince us all that buying a digital copy of the newest Steve Winwood or Billy Ocean record was an investment on the same level as buying “2001: A Space Odyssey” on laserdisc.
For most of my record-buying life, the cost of a full length LP stabilized around a rough average of, let’s say, 11 dollars, sometimes more, sometimes less, a number that’s true even in this digital era. But $2.99? That’s 45 and cassette-single price. Actually, these days the price of a single song on iTunes or Amazon is just over a dollar. And that's for you folks who even still bother downloading songs. Surely 3-D Discount’s “Sound Center” must have been some glorious heaven on earth with those prices, right?
Well, let’s just slow down a bit and see what we’re working with here according to the ad. First of all, this particular “sound explosion” appears to be exclusively a chance for 3-D to get rid of everything they had in stock from CBS Records, otherwise known to most as “Columbia Records.” And if you grew up in the '80s, you knew how to identify cassettes from Columbia; they were the ones that the artists' name in bold, sharp-edged red block letters against a white background on the spines. And because I just needed to know once and for all, this I did the footwork on: It was called “ITC Machine Standard” for fellow font obsessives who want to Google search it and relive their own music-loving youth by using those letters to design your very own cassette logos for your favorite bands of the era.
And speaking of the “era” this ad came from, seriously think about this for a second: 1976 was right smack in the meaty heart of what we now know as “classic rock.” We’re talking The Who, Zeppelin, The Stones, Cheap Trick, Alice Cooper, Zappa, Seger, Springsteen, Queen, and um…Grand Funk, even. And what is 3-D Discount selling here? Look closely; assorted greatest hits records from Bobby Vinton? Tammy Wynette? Boz Scaggs? Gary Puckett and the freaking Union Gap?
You want research? You got it; the last Top 10 hit that Gary Puckett and the Union Gap had was “This Girl is A Woman Now” from 1969, a full seven years before this totally awesome “sound explosion” sale. How relevant. And also, how creepy a song title? Usually you have to turn to the collected works of Conway Twitty to find song titles so predatory you need to make sure they’re not parked outside of a high school in a van.
Although I realize that seven years in the '70s isn’t any longer of a timespan than seven years back starting from now, which means it’s no different than me sitting here talking smack about a song that was a hit a few years back from this very moment, so I guess Leona Lewis and Sara Bareilles are off the hook.
And for those big spenders of 1975, a couple of extra bucks thrown around 3-D Discount would have also gotten you some really sweet K-Tel compilation 8-Track tapes. Picking on 8-Tracks seems a little cheap, doesn’t it? I mean we all know they were lousy. Why listen to a normal cassette when you could jam out to a flimsy plastic brick that forced you to listen to your music in a certain order, and had a central tape wheel inside that was designed to break after only a few months? In a time where eBay and other Internet re-sellers will let anyone reach out and reclaim just about any lost piece of their youth, it’s telling that there’s virtually no one clamoring for the return of 8-Tracks. And if by chance you are, don’t you have better things to spend your money on?
In closing, in the interest of full disclosure, the number of Gary Puckett and the Union Gap songs on my iPod is one: that would be “Lady Willpower.” And no one ever looked cooler in a cranberry colored jacket and black T-shirt combo with his sleeves pushed up than Boz Scaggs on the cover of his own “Hits!” album. How would I know? I just bought that record out of "please help us get rid of these" milk crate on Thursday...for a buck-ninety-eight. KA-BOOM!
"The Throwback Machine" is a weekly feature taking a look back at items of interest found in the JG-TC online archives. For questions, suggestions, or his "Song of the Day" recommendation, contact him at email@example.com.