KEN LIVES!

As long as there’s been a World Wide Web, there have been websites publishing lists: “The 20 Greatest Clutch Hitters”, “The 50 Worst Novels Published Since 1980”, “The 10 Worst Kevin Costner Movies”… you name it.

One of the most popular lists is “worst album covers”; it seems like every website on the planet has put out such a list, and almost every single one features this album cover by a guy known only as “Ken”:

Ken - By Request Only

It’s a funny album cover, to be sure. But someone at urban legend debunking site Snopes.com wanted to know if the album cover was real. In this thread at the Snopes forum, many of the objections are laid out: the album doesn’t appear in any copyright, publishing or CD info databases. No other website seems to mention anything about the album, except to put it on their own list of silly album covers. No person or site has ever published a list of tracks on the album, nor has anyone ever seen the back cover of the album. What’s more, the picture of the album cover seems suspect: the album itself seems to be in pristine condition, with no cover wear of any kind on it. Could By Request Only be an elaborate fake?

I’m here to tell you folks that it’s not a fake, and that KEN LIVES!

The truth came out recently when a copy of the album was listed (here) on eBay. One of the “Snopesters” emailed the seller and asked for some additional photos. Here’s what the back cover looks like, along with pictures of the actual record itself:

Ken - By Request Only (Back)

Ken - By Request Only (disc 1)

Ken - By Request Only (disc 2)

Using the information listed on the back cover of the album, the Snopesters were able to track Ken down to Sheldon, Iowa. Apparently his name is Ken Snyder, and he still has the same phone number listed on the back cover of the album. He is currently the pastor of the Parkview Assembly of God, also in Sheldon, Iowa.

So there you have it folks – one more Internet legend debunked!

One thing I found interesting (and amusing!) about the Snopes thread is how some younger posters didn’t believe that people actually pressed their own records back in the day. Of course, people didn’t literally press their own records in the same way that people these days burn their own CDs. Folks in the 60s and 70s didn’t have vinyl presses in their garages or anything. But there were tons of companies back then that would gladly make records from tapes of local high school band recitals, church functions… you name it. It wasn’t an everyday thing, mind you – it’s far easier today to burn a CD of a church choir than it was to make a record of them in the 70s – but it was far more common than you might think.

My grandmother used to drag me to a store called “Peachtree Quality Salvage” when I was a kid, and that store’s “music section” would be jam-packed with “small-scale records” like The First Baptist Church Choir of Grayson, Georgia sings Elton JohnJoe, The Local Bartender, Sings His Favorite Sea ShantiesThe CEO Of US Asbestos Talks About On-The-Job Safety… yes, those kinds of albums actually existed back in the day!

In fact, there were even such things as “instant records”!

When I was a wee child, Six Flags Over Georgia had a “Make Your Own Record” store. You’d walk in the store and look at a big book of song listings, much like you’d do in a karaoke bar today. Once you chose a song, you’d give the attendant the number of the song, and he or she would give you a lyrics sheet and point you to a particular booth that lined the wall. The booths were about the size of a phone booth and contained a microphone and a set of headphones. You’d walk in, put the headphones on and sing along with a karaoke-style version of the song. Once you were done, you’d leave the booth, and within a few minutes the attendant would hand you an acetate of the recording. Acetates were records made from plastic – if you remember overhead projectors, acetate is the same material that the “slides” that the overheads used were made of. They didn’t sound that good, but they were cheap to make. Acetates sometimes came free with music magazines or as prizes in cereal boxes.

What’s more, there were even record booths – fully automated machines much like old-fashioned photo booths. You’d go inside the booth, choose a song from the list (the booths only had around 10 songs to choose from), put your quarters in, and sing away. Just like photo booths, once you were done you left the booth and waited a couple of minutes… and out would pop your record! These machines were pretty rare, though; I only remember them at county fairs, Sgt. Singer’s Pizza Circus (a Showbiz\Check E. Cheese knockoff) and “upscale” arcades.

OK, so… my car’s getting low on gas, so lemme turn off Memory Lane now…

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