“I never knew a guy could get into this much trouble just liking music”
The full six season run of Leave It To Beaver was recently added to Netflix Instant, affording me the opportunity to watch “Beaver Joins A Record Club,” an episode I heard a lot about growing up but until now had never actually seen.
In the episode, from the sixth and final season of the late ’50s, early ’60s family sitcom, Beaver (Jerry Mathers) convinces his parents to let him have an allowance and ends up joining a record club. The club, which his friend tells him about, only costs 87 cents a week but the Beav is too busy rocking out to his new music that he forgets to send in the response cards and ends up with a $17.60 bill.
Like Beaver, I joined a record club when I was in eighth grade too, enticed by magazine ads advertising huge bargains for CDs by joining. It was a great way to build my music collection, which at the time consisted of Phil Collins, UB40, Ray Boltz and little else. I don’t recall all the albums I picked my first go around with those tiny stamps you tore out and then posted on the reply card but I’m sure it included some combination of R.E.M., U2, Morrissey (I had a friend with a British father), Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Counting Crows, They Might Be Giants and whatever other bands that were on regular rotation on WDRE, the Philadelphia alternative rock station at the time.
Whenever a CD would show up in a cardboard box from Columbia House and my dad spotted it I got to hear a mini lecture from him about how I had to be careful not to let what happen to Beaver happen to me. The way my dad talked about Beaver you’d think he was a real kid who grew up on his block, not a corny TV character from a campy sitcom.
Sure enough I did end up hitting a snag with my record club experience after adding BMG – the offers were just too good to resist – thanks to my greedy and insatiable desire for music that was too much even on a paper boy’s salary. My brother and I both were heavy into listening to the CDs, but not always so observant of the paperwork required for preventing letters not all that unlike the one Beaver received from the record club about the $17.60 he owed. We didn’t have a den we talked to my dad in but at some point I’m sure we had a conversation where he reminded me once more of what happened to Beaver and figured out a way to settle the debt.
Beaver’s haul included the fictional Billy Baxter with songs like “Crying Sighing and Dying For You,” “My Wild Irish Geisha,” “You’re Driving Me Ape, You Big Gorilla” and Chubby Chadwick’s “The Surfboard Twist.” My haul included CDs with tracks like “Someday I Suppose,” “Mr. Jones” and “Stand,” songs that bring me back to specific memories from that year. I can picture myself listening to “Someday I Suppose” on the bus for my eighth grade trip, “Mr. Jones” on the way home from the eighth grade dance and pogoing in front of the TV to “Stand” as the opening theme song to reruns of Get A Life.
Record clubs, it appears, have gone the way of the physical mixtape. Columbia House still exists, but as a DVD distributor and actual clubs that mail records are rare and expensive (Insound offers one for $275 a year). My No. 1 source for music these days is eMusic, which is a kind of record club for the digital age where I pay a monthly fee and get digital downloads of albums for less than they sell for on iTunes and Amazon. But payment comes off my credit card and I never see a bill so there’s no way to run up a bill, which in some ways makes me a little bit sad.
In the end of the episode, Beaver gets a nice letter from Marathon Record Club thanking him for his payment and offering him another deal. “Dad! Hey Dad! They’re trying to do it to me again,” he yells down the stairs from his room right before the credits roll.