A Eulogy for Columbia House

This week Columbia House announced it was declaring bankruptcy, causing many to exclaim “Wait, Columbia House was still around?”

My second thought (that being my first as well), was “good riddance, those bastards.”

But as the annoyance faded of how our tumultuous relationship ended, I became nostalgic.

Because quite honestly, Columbia House introduced me to music.

Though there was always music my house growing up, my parents weren't big on popular music. My dad started listening to Janis Joplin… in 2005.

With no brothers or sisters to show me what was out there, I entered my teen years only familiar with songs I’d hear on TV, or over at friend's houses. Berners-Lee had only recently thought up The Web, and it would be years before finding music online would be commonplace.

I can still remember the first Columbia House ad I paid attention to. I’m not sure what magazine, and I seem to recall... stickers? Like each album (sorry, cassette) had it’s own sticker? The Daily Transcript), but I didn’t fully understand the idea that they’d keep sending me crap unless I said “no.”

But forget that. Imagine the wonder of being a teen with no idea of the world of music out there. I ordered everything I’d ever even remotely heard of. ZZ Top and Poison, George Thorogood, REM, Van Halen, probably a dozen more.

Around this same time, having heard I was looking to get into music, my older cousin gave me three tapes he didn’t listen to anymore. In reality, it was these that got my love affair with music started, mere weeks before my first shipment of Columbia House cassettes.

Those tapes? Two are still among my favorites of all time: “Wish You Were Here,” “Who’s Next,” and “Invisible Touch.” Can you imagine (well, if you’re 10+ years older than me maybe you can) hearing "Shine On You Crazy Diamond” for the first time as a pseudo-adult? “Baba O’Riley”?

I’d order dozens of tapes from Columbia House over the next few years, but as I left for college, CDs and MP3s (recorded onto Minidisc, natch), became my media of choice for music. With my trusty VW Golf I could go to record stores, or buy CDs at work (Circuit City). There was no need to get things by mail.

Ironic, since I get all my CDs from Amazon now.

Eventually, CH forgotten in the rush going off to college, my dad had to send them an angry letter to stop sending me crap at home.

In reality, the Columbia House I knew in the 80s and 90s was gone long before this announcement. Still, I can’t help but look back now on the discovery aspect of CH fondly. They helped introduce me to a world of music.

But the “send stuff unless you tell us not to” scam is, and always was, a load of crap.

Ashes to ashes, funk to funky. Rest in peace, Columbia House.

dnoonie's picture

I used CH for a little while in the 80s for CDs. I soon canceled since the selection was poor, I planed the required purchases from the selection and ended soon after. I purchased CDs from Silver Platters, and a couple other local "record" stores, CD now, and a couple other online CD sales place and traded in at Rubato Records, usually for store credit that was used on the spot. The last few years have been pretty much Amazon and a very few from Fry's. I still have most of the CDs I've ever purchased and still purchase on CD or SACD. I've looked into uncompressed downloads but haven't taken advantage of the new tech yet, it's should be easier now with my new computer and Steinberg sound card, or the OPPO with a large thumb drive or hard drive but...I don't know, I should consider the high quality downloads before I make my next CD/SACD purchase.


brenro's picture

Living in a small town in the seventies, I had little access to record stores. Columbia House afforded me the ability to build a record collection pretty quickly. Yes, staying on top of them to avoid the automatic shipments was a drag, but getting that initial twelve or so LP's in the mail was a joyous occasion that lasted for weeks. And once you'd satisfied the agreement you could start all over again.

hk2000's picture

That automatic shipment thing was indeed a drag, but a small price to pay for the convenience.

Mister Leadfoot's picture
Geoffrey Morrison's picture
Sort of? Definitely the right era!
mikem's picture

What's not to like here?? NOB in which a customer agrees to have goods or services to be provided automatically, and the customer must either pay for the service or specifically decline it in advance of billing. Aside from CH, Enron was also doing this a version of NOB but on a much grander scale, God bless 'em.

Geoffrey Morrison's picture
Yep, nothing wrong with Enron at all.
mikem's picture

Why the CH jingles never won an Emmy, or Grammy, is beyond me. Way beyond me.