Back in the day — and by “the day” I mean the days before the Internet even existed, and before “playlist” had anything to do with Apple devices — a number of entrepreneurial record labels large and small had the wise idea to assemble a bunch of music by their most popular artists onto single- or double-disc compilations. In the case of Warner Brothers, some of these things started out as radio promotional-only releases and eventually gave way to the 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 to get turned onto some music you may have otherwise overlooked.
Here some curious compilations I picked up recently at used record stores, thrift shops, and flea markets that you might not have seen before:
One Little Indian’s Take on the Cowboys with Greatest Hits Volume One is a handy compilation from the UK label. I’d overlooked many of these bands back in the day, so it’s a nice introduction for me to hear tracks from A.R. Kane, The Sugarcubes, and Flux. Spiffy cover art too.
Radio’s Million Performance Songs is a neat, if disjointed, compilation that is exactly what its title implies. What’s interesting to realize, though, is that songs like Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That A Shame,” and Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” had as many plays as Gale Storm’s heinous 1955 hit cover of the Smiley Lewis nugget “I Hear You Knocking.”
Or that Carly Simon’s overblown but wonderful James Bond theme (written by Carole Bayer Sager and Marvin Hamlisch), “Nobody Does It Better,” had at least as big a run as Bobby Goldsboro’s “With Pen In Hand.” Yeah, I had never heard the Goldsboro tune before, either.
This compilation is pretty intriguing and should be more valuable than it is due to the presence of The Beatles’ “A Hard Days Night,” technically appearing on a CBS Records label.
You see, the album is a promotional-only collection put together by CBS Songs, a publishing entity that obviously owns (or since it dates from 1984, owned) concerns in all of these songs.
So now when someone asks you what do Barry Manilow (“Weekend in LA”) and The Fleetwoods (“Come Softly To Me”) have in common, you’ll know the answer.
The Warner Reprise Radio Show is a neat compilation of very FM radio-oriented tracks by groups that probably had no chance at AM radio play at that stage of their careers (yes, as hard as it may be for some of you younger readers to believe, before the 1980s AM radio used to be where it was at in terms of popular music). So in one place you get cool oddness from Pearls Before Swine, early T-Rex, Mother Earth, Faces, Crazy Horse, and others presented in a pre-recorded radio show complete with trippy weird intro and outdo sections (inspired audio vérité madness à la Frank Zappa). It’s all ridiculously dated and dumb listening to it 40 years hence without the benefit of copious amounts of pot. Yet, its also kinda fun, so this compilation is a keeper for me.
The album includes super cool art from Neon Park, the guy who did many early Little Feat covers, as well as Frank Zappa’s classic Weasels Rip My Flesh (see close up at the top of the page).
The record also offers some very telling insights into the machinations behind the music business of the time in the form of a mock interview with someone regarding the challenge of getting radio to play a new-sounding song or artist. Stations were apparently afraid to play some things for fear that people would tune them out and not listen to anymore. Some things never change, I guess.
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio, and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T, and many others. Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine, and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees, as well as films and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he’s written: dialthemusical.com.