Sampler Daze: The WB/Reprise Loss Leaders, Part 12
There was just no denying it, by 1978 two things were obvious: one, the Loss Leaders had definitely gone uptown. And two, our buddies in Burbank were definitely in denial over the Disco Monster, at that time raging on radio stations across the country.
Check out this copy from Collectus Interruptus, the only sampler from ‘78: “This is unequivocable party music. Danceable R&B by some of its premier practitioners – none of them, curiously, traversing the well-traveled terrain of disco.” This was to introduce artists like Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, the husband-wife team who wrote monster hits for Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross before jumping to Warner Bros. in the early ’70s. Despite the denial, “Don’t Cost You Nothing” from Ashford & Simpson sounds suspiciously like disco. And you can’t blame ‘em; pretty much everyone from the Bee Gees to the Rolling Stones to Kiss at least dipped their toes into the disco waters in 1978.
Collectus Interruptus also featured funk from Bootsy’s Rubber Band and the definitive “Bootzilla”, a tasty “Night People” from the great New Orleans master Allen Toussaint and selections from franchise players Gordon Lightfoot, Gary Wright, George Benson and Seals & Crofts. But it’s an interesting sampler in that you can hear the first stirrings of a few contenders that would soon rise to tame the disco monster: there’s “Soft and Wet,” from the debut LP of an 18-year-old named Prince, the brothers Van Halen introduce themselves with “Runnin’ With The Devil” and this little band outta New Yawk, the Ramones, going to “Rockaway Beach.”
In fact, the most exciting (for 1978) cut on Collectus may well have been “God Save The Queen” by the Sex Pistols, who detonated in England the year before. By the time Warner Bros. signed the boys, put out their album Never Mind The Bollocks, sent them on a short, fiery tour of the United States and included them on this sampler, the Sex Pistols had already broken up. Welcome to punk rock.
Before we move away from Collectus Interruptus, we should perhaps mention the final acts on the sampler: Randy Newman, Ry Cooder and the Band with Emmylou Harris. Newman and Cooder offer typically idiosyncratic works that reflect a sort-of Salvation Army band influence at the time. And Woodstock veterans and residents the Band had signed with Warner Bros. to distribute the soundtrack for The Last Waltz, a documentary record of their landmark 1976 farewell concert; Emmylou Harris sings with them on “Evangeline.” This would be another signpost: for the Americana-roots movement much later on.
Next up was Pumping Vinyl, the first of three Loss Leaders samplers from 1979. At this point it had been 10 years for the Loss Leaders and here they’re definitely uptown: Van Morrison sets toes a-tappin’ with “Natalia”, as does Leon Russell with “Elvis and Marilyn,” Rose Royce saying “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” and the Staples (yes, Pops and Mavis and the girls) doing “Showdown” which is disco no matter what anyone says. There’s also that new breed of singer/songwriter: Rodney Crowell, doing his “Voila, An American Dream,” soon to be a hit for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, soul singer/songwriter Willie Hutch with “Paradise” and Canadian Bruce Cockburn with “Laughter.”
But we also get to rock out: Thin Lizzy, passin’ thru with a live album and “Jailbreak”; Funkadelic asking “Who Says A Funk Band Can’t Play Rock?!” and Devo pointing the way toward New Wave with “Mongoloid.” Warner Bros. had signed up to distribute Island Records and that label is represented by the reggae-cum-disco stylings of Third World, with “Now That We Found Love.” Donna Fargo’s “Sweet Sexy Guy” represents Nashville and Arlo Guthrie closes out the proceedings with the optimistic “(Last Night I Had The) Strangest Dream.” Like I said at the outset, real uptown. Which is where the Loss Leaders would stay, until the very end – almost.