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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Warner/Reprise Loss Leaders

The Now Wave Sampler post I made earlier this month reminded me of the Warner/Reprise Loss Leaders.

But I knew to dive into this would be pretty exhausting. Because, next to the NOW CD series and K-Tel/Ronco albums, they were the most successful compilation series ever. Especially in vinyl's golden age.

And Warner/Reprise did it all with mostly new and unknown acts then. Many whom went on to become superstars. Others languished in obscurity, and some became cult favorites.

During most of the '60s, Warner Bros. and newly acquired subsidiary Reprise (which was purchased from Frank Sinatra in 1963) were, next to Decca, one of the most staid and conservative record labels in America. However, by the mid-'60s, Mo Ostin Reprise label president promptly began to shake things up. He signed The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, Arlo Guthrie, Frank Zappa, The Pentangle, Joni Mitchell - just about every demo tape that came across his desk to a deal with Warner/Reprise.

Most of these new rock acts appeared on Reprise Records while Warner Bros. itself remained mostly a Middle of The Road label. But soon, even rock was invading the schmaltzy Warner Bros. roster.

By 1969, Warner/Reprise had become one of the most (if not THE most) creative and unique commercial record labels of the era. With so many new and creative bands signed, they released their first "Loss Leader" compilation, The 1969 Warner/Reprise Songbook. The albums were compiled by Barry Hansen. You may know him better as radio's Dr. Demento.

There was no radio or TV advertising for the Loss Leader albums. They were promoted in magazines like Rolling Stone and on the stock inner sleeves of other Warner/Reprise albums of that time with sarcastic copy.

"These Warner/Reprise specials are full stereo, double albums in deluxe packaging. The double albums ($2 for two records) average about 28 selections, each of them is filled with the best of the artists' work, plus some extra collectors' items (like unreleased singles, even an Ice Capades commercial by our Van Dyke Parks).

You can't buy these albums in a store; they are available only by mail, for the ridiculously low price of $2 for the doubles, $1 for
Zapp├ęd, and $3 for the deluxe three-record set, Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies.

We can get away with that low price because these celebrated artists and this benevolent record company have agreed not to make a profit on this venture. We (and they) feel it's more important that these samples of musical joy be heard.

If you're as suspicious of big record companies as we feel you have every right to be, we avert your qualms with the following High Truths:

This is new stuff, NOT old tracks dredged out of our Dead Dogs files. If our Accounting Department were running the company, they'd charge you $9.96 for each double album. But they're not. Yet.

We are not 100 per cent benevolent. It's our fervent hope that you, Dear Consumer, will be encouraged to pick up more of what you hear on these special albums at regular retail prices.

That you haven't heard much of this material we hold obvious. Over 8000 new albums glut the market (and airwaves) each year. Some of our Best Stuff has to get overlooked. Or underheard. Underbought. Thus, we're trying to get right to you Phonograph Lovers, bypassing the middle man.

Each album is divinely packaged, having been designed at no little expense by our latently talented Art Department...." 

From 1969 to 1980, over 30 Warner/Reprise Loss Leader compilation albums were released, covering the hippie rock of the '60s through the singer/songwriter phase to New Wave.

Here's a listing of all the Warner/Reprise Loss Leaders. Plus info on their rare CDs from the late '90s.



  1. Just came across this in my own nostalgically motivated search for the "Loss Leaders." I did order a couple of these in the day. "The Whole Burbank Catalog" being the first. A well produced collection of music. And I did dig the sarcastic ad promo copy. It prompted me to look up the meaning of "latent" [our latently talented Art Department...."]. To this day, when I use the word, I think fondly of the WB Loss Leaders.

  2. The man who wrote Warners' sarcastic ads passed on a few weeks ago. His name was Stan Cornyn, and he also wrote an excellent book on his 30-plus years at Warner. It's called "Exploding," and I'd like to recommend it.


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