Playlists are cool. But you know what? Back in the day before the Internet or digital music even existed — remember that? — a number of entrepreneurially-minded LP record labels had the wise idea to compile a bunch of music by their most popular (and some less popular but often equally good) artists onto single or double disc LP collections, as a way of reasonably priced introduction to their hit-making prowess.
In the case of Warner Brothers, some of these things started out as promotional-only releases designed for radio stations, and eventually gave way to their “Loss Leaders” series of two-dollar mail order double LP sets. Many of these sets are commonly available in bargain bins at record stores around the globe, and are worth your while to pick up, not only for the fun artwork, but also for the opportunity to get turned onto some music you may have otherwise overlooked.
Here are some cool compilations I picked up recently at used record stores, thrift shops, and flea markets:
The Greatest Hits (Vol. 1) is a great single-disc collection from Warner, circa 1970, and it’s promo-only, so it was probably sent to radio stations and retailers to help promote their catalog. Beyond having a bunch of great sides by some (arguably) one-hit wonders — such as Norman Greenbaum’s classic “Spirit in the Sky” and Mercy’s “Love Can Make You Happy” — it also has cool tunes by some acts I’ve overlooked or forgotten about, such as “Do Your Thing” by Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band and The Ides of March’s “Vehicle.”
Friends is a 1970 single-disc compilation — also a promotional disc — from A&M Records, which I picked up since it had an “abridged” version of “Hello Susie” by The Move (the band that later became Electric Light Orchestra). For my $1 price of admission courtesy of Amoeba Records’ bargain bin, I get to hear some early tunes by Cat Stevens, Free, Spooky Tooth, Lee Michaels, and Bloodwyn Pig. I also get to finally hear Ron Davies’ original version of “It Ain’t Easy,” a tune made even more famous than Three Dog Night’s version by David Bowie a couple years later on the Ziggy Stardust album (got that?).
The album has a really lovely cover of Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr. Bojangles” by a duo I’ve never heard of before called Lambert and Nuttycombe (you can’t make this stuff up, folks). There is a sweet, sassy ‘n soulful version of “Bridge of Troubled Waters” by none other than Quincy Jones. Nice stuff!
The Greatest Hits from England boasts “The Original Hits — By The Original Artists.” This set is extra sweet because it includes a whole bunch of singles I didn’t already have in my collection, such as Jonathan King’s “Everyone’s Gone To The Moon,” Los Bravos’ “Black Is Black,” and some hits by Tom Jones (“Its Not Unsual”) and Them (“Gloria”). The only problem with this set is that it boasts being “Electronically Re-processed” but not necessarily “Electronically Re-processed to Simulate Stereo.” I think it is a catch all since some tracks seem to be pretty true stereo and sound, well, pretty good fake stereo. Well, not all: The Moody Blues’ “Go Now” sounds pretty awful in heavily re-processed fake stereo. Still, its a handy collection, especially if you want the hits without having to buy the original albums. And where else might I have heard about a group called Hedgehoppers Anonymous?
Lest I be find myself entirely stuck in the distant past, I’ll wrap up this article in a (relatively) more recent vintage with a 1997 UK Import of late ’70s punk and new wave tunes in collection I picked up recently called…
Songs of The Naked City — This pink vinyl gem compiling early NY punk and new wave music (which appeared on the Red Star label apparently) is a treat not only because it has seminal early tracks by Blondie (“X Offender”), the Ramones (“I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend”), and New York Dolls (“Stranded in the Jungle”).
The reason I bought the album is that it contained a track I had somehow missed over the years. Me being a huge fan of Robert Fripp, finding this track was just kind of stunning: a version of “Hound Dog” done by someone named Walter Steading, backed by none other than Fripp! Yup. Here you get to hear His Frippness laying down mad guitar soloing over a crazed version of the Leiber & Stoller classic.
That was worth the price of admission to this great collection.
I’ll be doing other updates on cool collections soon.