Music success is all about promotion. Every artist and record company has to find ways to get their songs out to a potential audience. Companies try various ways, but, for a short time, one method was the sampler album.
A sampler was different from a compilation (say, That's What I Call Music). The record company would put out a record* with songs from new upcoming artists and then sell them very cheaply, usually only through mail order. Warner Brothers records did this a lot in the late 60s and early 70s with their Loss Leaders series; whenever you bought an album they'd have a list of samplers that you could pick up for $2 for a double disk (very cheap even then).
At this time, the great Frank Zappa ran not one but two record labels: Bizarre Records and Straight Records. Since both labels were distributed by Warner Brothers, a sampler was released. Zapped was only one disk, and sold for $1 (plus postage, I believe)
The album was a masterpiece of the avant garde of the time. The 13 songs included**:
- Alice Cooper -- Titanic Overture
- Alice Cooper -- Refrigerator Heaven. Cooper was known at the time as a group whose members wore dresses (it was still the group name, not the lead singer). I remember listening to this and being unable to decide if it was a bad song by a good group or a good song by a bad group.
- Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band -- The Blimp (Mousetrapreplica). Of course, no one ever topped the Captain for avant garde credentials. This is one of his most famous songs, a gonzo talking blues shout out about the blimp arriving.
- Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band -- The Old Fart at Play.
- Judy Hensky and Jerry Yester -- St. Nicholas Hall. Yester replaced Zal Yanovsky in the Lovin' Spoonful and later teamed up with his wife Hensky.
- Tim Buckley -- I Must Have Been Blind. He's gained a cult following since; at the time, his music was described as "acid folk."
- Wild Man Fischer -- Merry-Go-Round. Fischer was a street musician in Los Angeles who'd make up songs for passers by when Zappa found him and recorded him. "Merry-Go-Round" is a strangely infection off-key chant, and his signature song.
- Tim Dawe -- Little Boy Blue. I don't know much about him, nor do I remember the song all that well.
- Lord Buckley -- Governor Slugwell. Buckley (no relation to Tim) was a groundbreaking comedian and poet, who made his name with some unusual monologues. This is evidently not a good indication of his work, but the name is well known among professional comics.
- Jeff Simmons -- Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up. Simmons had played with the Mothers, and this song features some great guitar work by Zappa.
- The Mothers of Invention -- Holiday in Berlin. Of course.
- The GTOs -- Do Me In Once and I'll Be Sad, Do Me In Twice and I'll Know Better (Circular Circulation). Another Zappa project. The name stands for "Girls Together Outrageously," three music groupies based in LA. The song is actually pretty good, with some top musicians there, willing to help out.
- Frank Zappa -- Willie the Pimp. From Zappa's Hot Rats LP, with Beefheart on vocals.
It hard to say how well the album sold: it was cheap, but not sold in stores, and clearly these were not acts that were going to make gold records. Alice Cooper was the only one to who did.*** Zappa/the Mothers and Captain Beefheart continued on long careers until Zappa's death and Beefheart's decision to give up music for painting. Jeff Buckley died young; Lord Buckley had died a decade before the album was released.
The LP is now very hard to find (except, of course on eBay, where it's pretty inexpensive). There was no effort to convert it to CD. Indeed, I'll bet many of the artists here are just not available any more. But it's a great look at how record companies back in the day were willing to sign acts on talent as much as their commercial potential.
*These predated CDs by a decade.
**There were actually two slightly different versions of the record, with some different songs. The second version replaces "Refrigerator Heaven" with "Reflected'; "St. Nicholas Hall" with "Horses on a Stick"; "Governor Slugwell" with "The Train"; and "Holiday in Berlin" with "Valerie."
*** I remember being astonished hearing "I'm Eighteen" making the charts; I never expected them to be that popular.