Sampler Daze: Warner Bros. holiday samplers
Guess this could be a holiday companion piece to our series on the WB-Reprise Loss Leader samplers that came out in the 1970s – these are two radio promo albums released by Warner Bros. in 1987 and 1988 to help radio stations and listeners celebrate the holiday season with the Warners’ stable of artists.
Yulesville came out in 1987, all decked out in red (or green) vinyl to look like a Christmas ornament and the track list was a mix of spoken-word promos and a handful of music tracks. Artists like Brian Wilson, George Harrison, Madonna and others cut the PSAs (public service announcements) while the Ramones, the Pretenders and the like have holiday-themed tracks.
The Ramones’ “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)” was exclusive to this LP at the time, while the Pretenders’ “2000 Miles” appeared on the 1983 album Learning To Crawl and Prince’s “Another Lonely Christmas” was originally the B-side to the 1984 single “I Would Die 4 U.” There are a few other music tracks, including “Yulesville” by Edd “Kookie” Byrnes (from 1959!), Erasure doing a short little holiday ditty and a couple of godawful tracks from long-forgotten bands like 54.40 and the so-called New Monkees (featuring no one named Jones, Dolenz, Tork or Nesmith).
The next year, in 1988, Warner Bros. pulled out all the stops and unleashed a double holiday promo album, Winter Warnerland. This one had more PSAs from their artists, more tracks from label losers (another one from 54.40!) but also had some cool stuff from the likes of R.E.M., Los Lobos and Daniel Lanois, as well as some contributions from Warner Nashville label mates Mark O’Connor and Randy Travis.
Lonesome George Harrison turns up again, this time doing a promo bit as Nelson Wilbury, his alter-ego from the Traveling Wilburys. Pee Wee Herman livens up the proceedings with his weirdness, and former Chicago lead singer Peter Cetera turns in a country-rock version of “Silent Night” that works for some strange reason.
One of my favorite tracks on this one is “Santa Claus Is Getting Down,” a blues tune from guitarist Jesse Ed Davis. Davis was an A-list session guitarist of the era who played with people like John Lennon, George Harrison, Leon Russell, Taj Mahal and many others. Davis popped up at the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus event in 1968 and was a featured player at the Concert for Bangla Desh in 1971. Davis is probably best known for contributing the guitar solo on Jackson Browne’s hit single “Doctor My Eyes.” During most of the 1970s and 1980s Davis was troubled by his drug abuse, and finally in 1988 he died in California of a suspected heroin overdose.
To be honest, I’m not sure what kind of circulation these albums had at the time. Aside from promotional distribution to radio stations and news media types, it seems that Winter Warnerland had some kind of commercial availability as a CD in 1988 or so. Both albums turn up frequently on eBay and other internet selling services, so maybe they’re more easily obtained today than they were when they were released – only now they’re more expensive.