Sampler Daze: The WB/Reprise Loss Leaders All-Star Team
We take a short break from our exhaustive, year-by-year look at the Warner/Reprise Loss Leaders to cite a few of the artists who appeared throughout this series with great music. We could call it our Loss Leaders All-Star Team. Between 1969 and 1980, the label issued 35 samplers that were available to the public, and these artists were perennials.
Arlo Guthrie – Woody’s son made 13 appearances in the Loss Leaders series, appearing on the very first sampler in 1969 with “The Pause Of Mr. Claus,” a performance that features one of his trademark comedic rap/song combinations. The best known of these is of course “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” the nearly-19-minute-long song that made Guthrie famous in 1967 and is played on hip radio stations every Thanksgiving. Arlo hit the top 40 in 1972 with his version of Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans,” and he cut 14 albums for Warner Bros. before the label dropped him in 1983.
Randy Newman – Like Guthrie, Newman was one of those hard-to-market artists but he nevertheless earned a critical following when he first appeared in 1968. Known for writing satiric songs (often from the point of view of a reprehensible character) with beautiful melodies, Newman actually penned hit songs for other artists (“Mama Told Me Not To Come” was a hit for Three Dog Night) and had a few hits of his own, including “Short People” (1977) and “I Love L.A.” (1983). Newman is a runner-up to Arlo, with 12 appearances in the Loss Leaders series.
Frank Zappa/The Mothers of Invention – Zappa and/or his band made 11 total appearances in the Loss Leaders, they even gave him his own one-disc sampler in 1970 (Zapped) to showcase all the artists on his Bizarre/Straight labels.
Van Morrison – George Ivan Morrison had a recording career in place when he came to Warner Bros. in the late 1960s. The writer and singer of ” Brown Eyed Girl” and “Gloria” had the label bigwigs scratching their heads in 1968 when his first Warners effort turned out to be Astral Weeks; now everyone recognizes that album as a classic. Van appeared 10 times in the Loss Leaders series; he cut 14 albums for Warner Bros. Morrison and Randy Newman both appeared on the first Loss Leaders sampler in 1969, they both also appeared on the last non-punk sampler in 1980.
Fleetwood Mac – Originally a blues band, this British group had the fortune of being led by Peter Green until he melted down; they went through a Bob Welch period before they hired the California duo of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. You know the rest. The Mac made 10 appearances in the Loss Leaders series.
Maria Muldaur – The first few appearances of Maria’s nine slots in Loss Leaders was with her husband Geoff, whom she met while performing in the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. Maria hit the Top 10 in 1973 with “Midnight On The Oasis,” and from that moment on she was a solo act.
Alice Cooper – Also showing up nine times, Alice enjoyed his greatest success while with Warner Bros. See “I’m Eighteen,” “School’s Out” and the album Billion Dollar Babies.
Bonnie Raitt – Bonnie’s career trajectory was similar to Arlo Guthrie and Randy Newman. She made eight Loss Leaders appearances, working for years and putting out great music with only minor success, then boom – a big hit. But she didn’t get that one while on the Burbank label. Although she made slight ripples in 1977 with Sweet Forgiveness and the cover of Del Shannon’s “Runaway,” Raitt didn’t reach the top (and the top 40) until 1989’s Nick Of Time on Capitol Records. That album spawned hits with the title song and John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love” and earned Raitt an armload of Grammy Awards.
Ry Cooder – Ry was always one of the best reasons to pick up a Loss Leaders sampler. With seven appearances over the years, he managed to keep his music on the minds of discerning listeners. In addition to his own worthy work, Cooder’s nifty slide guitar work shows up on records by the Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Little Feat and many others. He scored a number of films and produced the awesome Buena Vista Social Club album (1997).
Wild Card: Van Dyke Parks – Best known as a collaborator with the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, this ultimately California dude made only six appearances on Loss Leaders albums, but many of the tracks he contributed have appeared nowhere else. Maybe that’s a good thing – Parks is certainly an acquired taste. Check out his lyrics for the Beach Boys’ “Surf’s Up” and Brian Wilson’s masterpiece Smile (2004). “Come To The Sunshine,” included here, was a minor hit for Harper’s Bizarre in the late 1960s.
Second Team: Doobie Brothers (10 Loss Leader appearances); Little Feat (8 appearances); Beach Boys (8 appearances); Seals & Crofts (7 appearances), James Taylor (7 appearances).