Crazy Colors

Forty years ago this weekend, if you lived in or near Madison, Wisconsin, as I did (and I do), it was a very good time to be shopping for music or something to play it on. The Wisconsin State Journal dated July 20, 1972, contains a full-page ad for the Prange-Way discount stores at East Towne and West Towne Malls. Prange-Way was having a “sale of savings” (as opposed to a sale of what other kind, I wonder) at which you could snag stuff you might still have today—or wish you did.

The major record labels were offering some top current titles for $2.99, including Elton John’s Honky Chateau, the debut album by America, Teaser and the Firecat by Cat Stevens, Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick, and School’s Out by Alice Cooper. Back-catalog stuff was also on sale: “All top artists and labels, Bobby Sherman, Neil Diamond and more, hundreds to choose from, all stereo” for $1.67 each. Still too pricey? “Assorted mono and stereo LPs with hundreds of selections to choose from,” only 77 cents. One line of albums was priced two for a dollar, and singles were three for a dollar. If vinyl was not your tech of choice, eight-tracks and cassettes were also on sale for just $1.99 each.

Need something to play your music on? A complete Lloyd’s system, “AM/FM/FM-PX 8-track stereo component system with changer and headphones, big speakers, wood cabinet with mar resistant vinyl, perfect for anyone who wants everything!”, was on sale for $129.92. Give yourself some extra credit if you know what FM-PX meant without having to look it up. It referred to multiplexed FM signals, or, in other words, stereo.

Does $129.92 seem like a lot of money for 1972? It was—it’s over $700 in today’s dollars. So unless you had been saving up for a big purchase, you probably would have settled for something cheaper, like the Panasonic Toot-a-Loop Bracelet (“A radio you can wear like a bracelet! Big sound and comes in crazy colors!”) for $12.88, or the fabled Panasonic Ball and Chain for only $10.99.

On the list of the most 70s things ever, either of those would rank pretty high.

Some of the cats and kittens who may have been tempted by these music buys at Prange-Way (three syllables: PRANG-ee-way) were probably disappointed to find that they had already earmarked their disposable income for something else that week: the Dane County Junior Fair, which was going on then, just as it’s going on this week. Although it doesn’t anymore, the fair booked some pretty serious rock acts back in the day; in 1972, the rock show scheduled for Saturday night, July 22, starred the James Gang with special guest REO Speedwagon for $3.50 in advance, $4.50 day of the show. Seems cheap to us now, but not so much when put into modern dollars—think of ‘em as $18.50 in advance and $23.00 day of show.

The front page of the paper bannered headlines about peace talks in Paris between envoys from the United States and North Vietnam, and about a tornado that struck Lake Mills, Wisconsin, the day before. The Green Bay Packers had opened training camp, Muhammad Ali defeated somebody named Blue Lewis, and my beloved Chicago Cubs were in fourth place.

I suspect that on the afternoon or evening of July 20, 1972, the 12-year-old me read the very newspaper I looked back at today. This I know: I’d have had the radio on that day—neither a Toot-a-Loop nor a Ball and Chain, alas—listening to “Lean on Me” and “Too Late to Turn Back Now” and “Outa-Space” and “Brandy” and “Rocket Man” and “Take It Easy” and everything else on WLS, over and over and over again.

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6 responses

  1. Great post, JB. I want to buy all that stuff now. And, I want to listen to WLS right now and hear “Brandy,” “Hold Your Head Up,” “Outta Space,” “Conquistador,”(just LOVE the guitar solo along with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra on that song!) and “Rocket Man.”

  2. My brother used to have a Ball and Chain. As late as the late 1980s, the little blue ball was still tuning in “all the AM scene.”

    What is the significance of the name Prange-Way? Was it founded by Gustavus Prange and Josephus Way?

  3. My friend got a Toot-a-Loop and I was very jealous. Had to put up with my turquoise and white AM/FM plug in radio. sigh I so loved “Too Late to Turn Back Now”. Actually, I still do. : )

  4. my older friends regaled me with tales of Arlan’s, a local store with 44 cent cut-outs. In the early 70′s they picked up crazy rare records. A few that come to mind are the Fendermen Muleskinner Blues LP on Soma, the Jaynetts’ “Sally Go ‘Round the Roses” LP and the Bubble Puppy album with “Hot Smoke and Sassafras.”

  5. I’d forgotten about Arlan’s. I remember it as appropriate for people who thought K-Mart was too upscale, but I could be wrong about that.

  6. […] some radio, including the 1971 American Top 40 Christmas special and the WISM reunion, and we found some very cool vintage equipment to listen on. We watched a little TV: we saw the Rolling Stones appear on The Red Skelton Show and […]

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