Sampler Daze: The WB/Reprise Loss Leaders, Part 14
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.
Coming this weekend: A final look back at the Loss Leaders