Sampler Daze: The WB/Reprise Loss Leaders, Part 14

eclipse troublemakers

And so we reach a new decade, the third decade in which Loss Leaders samplers appeared, and a radically changed landscape from the old hippie daze.  To get your hands on Eclipse, the first two-LP sampler from 1980, you had to pay three dollars now, only a buck more but a 50 percent increase from 1979 prices.  The liner notes had the air of a valedictory: “Eclipse is the first Warner Bros. sampler of a new decade and commemorates the occasion by presenting vital works by several artists whose careers span the lifetime of the entire ‘loss leader’ project … as well as material by artists as new as the decade itself.”

Sure enough, there’s Van Morrison with “Troubadours” and Randy Newman with “It’s Money That I Love,” a long way from their appearances on the first Loss Leaders album in 1969.  Perennials include Bonnie Raitt, with a cover of Robert Palmer’s “You’re Gonna Get What’s Coming”; Ry Cooder, with “Little Sister”; Leo Sayer with “When The Money Runs Out” and good ol’ Little Feat going “Down On The Farm.”  Then there was Carlene Carter, who had some of the best bloodlines in music: the daughter of country music greats June Carter and Carl Smith, her stepfather was Johnny Cash and her husband at the time was Nick Lowe.  The husband had perhaps the greatest influence on her music, as she turns in a version of Elvis Costello’s “Radio Sweetheart.”

And there’s good old rock and roll: former Doobie Brothers frontman Tom Johnston crunches through “Outlaw” while the Dukes ask “Who’s Gonna Tell You.”  The Dukes comprised former members of Brit rockers Stone the Crow, Savoy Brown and Be Bop Deluxe.  One member, former Wings guitarist Jimmy McCullough, died just as the band’s first album was released.  Funkadelic offers “Field Maneuvers,” while Woodstock veterans Sly and the Family Stone check in with “Remember Who You Are” and Bob Marley and the Wailers give up “Wake Up and Live.”  Talking Heads, with “Drugs” and the Ramones, with ” I Want You Around,” point the way for the future of American music – and for the Loss Leaders.  Eclipse would be the final sampler that showcased artists with mainstream styles.

Troublemakers, which appeared late in 1980, was the end.  As our friend Dustbury.com said, “This is as punk as Burbank would get.”  Certainly the two-LP sampler exhibited the D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself) quality of punk and new wave, as it combined a sprinkling of new stuff with other junk from the Warner vaults.  Most artists were given two spots on the album and of course it kicks off with the Sex Pistols, live at their final concert, doing “Anarchy In the U.K.” (retitled “Anarchy in the U.S.A.”).

John Cale, now with Island, turns up with the piano piece “Temper,” which was recorded in the early 1970s, and Marianne Faithfull, also on Island, offers “Broken English” and a cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero.”  Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers appear on “I’m Straight” and “Government Center,” two songs originally recorded for a Warner Bros.  album but which actually wound up on the classic The Modern Lovers album from 1976.  True to form, the Modern Lovers had broken up long before.

Devo is represented by “Social Fools,” recorded for their Q: Are We Not Men? album and the mysterious Brian Briggs turns Eddie Cochran into techno-rockabilly on “Nervous Breakdown.”  There are a handful of other, nominally New Wave or punk acts including Urban Verbs, Pearl Harbor & the Explosions,  Wire and Gang of Four.  John Lydon, the former Johnny Rotten, leads Public Image Ltd. on “Public Image” and “Swan Lake,” which in Britain was titled “Death Disco.”

This was the end of the line for the Loss Leaders; Troublemakers was the final sampler that would be made available to the public.  No one has ever said definitively what killed the 12-year run of the Loss Leaders, but it’s entirely possible the successful promotion lost its focus and its audience.   After all, slipping two (or three) bucks in an envelope, mailing it off, and waiting four to six weeks for your records to arrive might have been a good idea in the late 1960s but it seemed kind of retro in 1980.

No, I believe there was another reason the Loss Leaders died, and the clue is right here on Troublemakers.  The rumbling began in the late 1970s when a cable TV company (Warner Cable, ironically part of the Warner communication empire) launched a system that would support a number of specialized channels, including programming for children and shows about music.  That experiment led to August 1, 1981, when the words  “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll”  introduced Music Television (MTV).  And the first video on the new channel?  “Video Killed The Radio Star” by the Buggles, which appeared on Troublemakers.  Video became the way music was marketed in the new decade.  New stars would be made by appearing on video, some of the Loss Leaders artists would make the jump and become even bigger stars (Prince, Talking Heads, Bonnie Raitt).  Music was big business, there was big money to be made, and the Loss Leaders were history.

MP3: “Outlaw” by Tom Johnston (from Eclipse)

MP3: “Radio Sweetheart” by Carlene Carter (from Eclipse)

MP3: “Who’s Gonna Tell You” by the Dukes (from Eclipse)

MP3: “Drugs” by Talking Heads (from Eclipse)

MP3: “Anarchy In the U.S.A.” (live) by the Sex Pistols (from Troublemakers)

MP3: “I’m Straight” by Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers (from Troublemakers)

MP3: “Social Fools” by Devo (from Troublemakers)

MP3: “Nervous Breakdown” by Brian Briggs (from Troublemakers)

MP3: “Temper” by John Cale (from Troublemakers)

MP3: “Working Class Hero” by Marianne Faithfull (from Troublemakers)

MP3: “Swan Lake” by Public Image Ltd. (from Troublemakers)

MP3: “Video Killed The Radio Star” by the Buggles (from Troublemakers)

Inside the WB/Reprise Loss Leaders at Dustbury.com

30 Days Out’s series on the WB/Reprise Loss Leaders

Coming this weekend: A final look back at the Loss Leaders

7 Responses to “Sampler Daze: The WB/Reprise Loss Leaders, Part 14”

  1. I always loved the Troublemakers sampler. It was the first and (obviously) last one I ever got. Some great songs, rarities, unreleased stuff. I played it quite a bit and still have it. Too bad they didn’t continue, there was quite a large audience for new wave/alternative stuff (as evidenced by how popular it became on MTV). More samplers would have gone quite well with what was on MTV at the same time.

  2. Ronn Spencer Says:

    Todd

    Glad you enjoyed Troublemakers. I designed it and shot the cover photo. I remember buying WB’s first loss leader in ’69 just as I left art school. Little did I know that I’d be involved with the last one 11 years later.

    Ronn Spencer

  3. 30daysout Says:

    The Loss Leaders were groundbreaking not only for the music, but for the artwork and design as well. Thanks Ronn, “Troublemakers” was one of my favorites, and the design was perfect!

  4. Ronn Spencer Says:

    30daysout

    A belated thank you for the kudos. I’m surprised the design made it through unrevised by the WB brass.. But, as I did all the graphics for the Pistols in the USA, I suppose WB felt it best to give me a free hand.

    The cover models were L.A. punk luminary Rover (Rose Etta Ruther), Ian Espinoza of the Differentials, designer Eric Monson and my galpal at the time, Susan Barker (Rilliet). Gary Panter did the album’s logo. Rock scribe, Jim Bickhart put the tunes together and found John Cale’s “Temper,” long-lost and forgotten in WB’s vaults. The late, great, Peter Whorf intelligently art directed by giving us the freedom to do anything we wished.

    By the way,”Troublemaker’s”‘ working title was the tasteless,”The Vinyl Solution,” which for obvious reasons, was flushed early in the project. If we’d known it’d be the last loss leader, maybe that would have been appropriate after all.

    Ronn Spencer

  5. mccleary Says:

    I think that Troublemakers is simultaneously one of the most influential and unheralded albums of the punk era. I was 15 and already a punk fan when it was released, and it fed perfectly into my thirst for new music as well as my lack of funds. The combination of new bands and rarities quickly made it an essential source for my mix tapes. When I moved to NY several later, I learned that many of my similarly aged friend had the same experience. I still treasure my copy.

    Ronn Spencer — you did a great job. Although I was a kid in the suburbs at the time, the graphics perfectly conveyed freshness and excitement. It really meant a lot to me.

  6. Ronn Spencer Says:

    mccleary,

    Thanks a lot mccleary. We could take a lot of liberties with the graphics on “Troublemakers” as it was a by-mail-only album. It didn’t have to be as specific and highly polished as store product . And Bickhart was free to choose a few tunes that weren’t “commercial”–like John Cale’s “Temper.” Hold on to your copy–there aren’t a hell of a lot of them out there. I only have 6 or 7 myself!

  7. Jim Bickhart Says:

    “Troublemakers” was intended to push the corporate envelope as far as we could under the circumstances and Mr. Spencer is correct that WBR gave us a delightful amount of freedom. Loss Leader coordinator Ms. Nina Franklin (Berson) was instrumental in making that possible and we remain grateful to her too after all these years. Another cool thing was that “T-makers” was the only Loss Leader to get a feature review in the LA Times. Too bad we didn’t get to do another. But Spencer and I went on to do a similar collaboration for WBR on “T-Rextasy: The Best of T.Rex.” We really knew how to pick ’em…

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