WSAI in Cincinnati spent a few weeks late in the summer of our nation’s Bicentennial trying to break Paul Davis’s lead single from his album Southern Tracks and Fantasies. I confess that all I picked up at the time was the beginning of the chorus, “Superstar, I want to thank you for what you are,” somehow not realizing it was all about showing appreciation to four rock luminaries of the day (I like it now plenty, but seriously, what’s up with telling Linda Ronstadt that she’s “lookin’ thinner than (she) used to be”?). My recollection is that WSAI had already dropped “Superstar” by the time it made AT40 in September. This was its third and final week on the show, at its peak position of #35.
So I’d also missed Davis’s line, “On your six ninety-eight, Lord, you sound so great,” not that I would necessarily have recognized the number as the then-suggested list price for a vinyl LP. But hearing the song again this week got me wondering just how long this lyric reflected reality. I couldn’t think of any phrase to enter in Google that gave me any dope on the history of LP prices; then I remembered that album prices were included on Billboard‘s Top LPs chart for a good while. After a little digging around the archives at worldradiohistory.com, I have a few things to report, in case anyone cares.
Billboard began showing suggested list prices in the 2/17/73 issue. I chose to look at the LP charts from the first week of July, about the time of year that “Superstar” was released, between 1973 and 1988. That’s essentially up to the end of the Classic Casey era (though there’s another reason to consider that as a cutoff date, as we’ll see). To keep things simple, I’m focusing only on the albums in the Top 10.
|Year||$5.98||$6.98||$7.98||$8.98||$9.98||No List||2 LPs|
Some notes and thoughts:
–The “no list price” in 1974 was Rick Wakeman’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
–In 1976, cassettes and 8-tracks are listed at $7.98. Thereafter, prices match for the three formats.
–Sitting at #6 in 1981 was Hard Promises. Just a week earlier, on the 6/27/81 show, Casey told one of my favorite stories, about Petty’s resistance to listing his new album at $9.98, going so far as to threaten to re-title it as The Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ $8.98 Album if MCA gave it the higher price. (Hat tip to the Soft Rock Kid for reminding me of the exact ‘alternative’ title). Hard Promises is indeed listed at $8.98 (so were subsequent TP albums), but I’m guessing that the growth in the “no list” column through the first half of the 80s was not-so-secretly about pushing $9.98 titles.
–The Human League’s Dare is the $6.98 LP in 1982.
—Genesis and 90125 are the first legit $9.98 titles I see, on the 1984 chart, already well off their peaks from earlier in the year.
–All of the Top 5 in 1987 were listed at $9.98 (Whitney, U2, the Crüe, Whitesnake, and Heart).
But major change was creeping in as the 80s progressed. Check out part of this article on the front page of the 7/7/84 issue of Billboard:
Soon after, most top titles are also being released on CD: 7 out of the Top 10 in 1985, 8 in 1986, and all 10 in 1987 and 1988.
But back to where this started: we can see that line in “Superstar” was obsolete within months. Maybe it’s just as well it didn’t make an impression in real time?