Sound Advice: Are hard-to-find sampler albums worth the effort?

By  Tim Neely

Question: I have a promo LP, Have A  Soul Christmas, that is labeled “For Record Department In-Store Play.” The A-side plays half of Booker T & The MGs’ In The Christmas Spirit. The B-side plays half of the Atco Soul Christmas album. Each track is introduced by an announcer.

I’ve never read anything about promo LPs of this type. How common are they? Were they pressed in large or small quantities? Would my LP have any value?

— Andy Johnson

Answer: You have one of a series of LPs that was issued by the Atlantic family of labels in 1968 and 1969. As a way of promoting sales of new albums, Atlantic and Atco decided to create a pseudo-radio show format with an announcer talking about two new albums from the label, playing about half the songs from the record, and then encouraging the presumably enraptured listener to buy the LP at the store. It’s not a bad idea, and a version of it is still used today; wander into any Best Buy and you can hear an announcer telling you what song you just heard over the too-loud, treble-heavy speakers and what CD the song is on, hoping for the same result as these Atlantic/Atco albums intended.

These albums were issued in white covers with black print on the front, no print on the back, and with white labels. Both albums featured on the sampler are pictured in a black-and-white reduction of their covers. The album you have was made to be played during the Christmas season of 1968. That is the year Soul Christmas came out. And even though the Booker T & The MGs album was a couple years old by then, it still was worthy of promotion. Also worth noting: The cover of In The Christmas Spirit pictured on this promo album is the second, “red Santas” cover, and not the first “hands and piano keys” cover that the album had in 1966 when first issued.

It’s my experience that these albums are extremely rare. Depending on which retailers were targeted with the LPs, it’s unlikely that more than 1,000 of each were made. Based on the artists who were featured, these probably went to stores that emphasized current rock and soul music.

Indeed, there’s not even a reliable count as to how many different titles of these exist. The earliest I know of includes The New York Rock And Roll Ensemble’s self-titled LP on one side (catalog number LS-ST-119) and Cream’s Wheels Of Fire on the other (LS-ST-120).

Later ones used a TL prefix and had the same catalog number on both sides. The last one I’ve encountered is TL-ST-140, Iron Butterfly’s Ball on one side and Retrospective: The Best Of Buffalo Springfield on the flip. The former album made its Billboard chart debut in the Feb. 15, 1969, issue, and the latter first appeared on March 1, 1969, which give a good idea when the sampler was issued.

There’s no question which in-store sampler is the most sought-after: TL-ST-135. One side features Dusty Springfield’s classic Dusty In Memphis album, but the B-side is why it’s so collectible, because it highlights the debut album by Led Zeppelin. In those rare times it comes up for sale, it goes for hundreds of dollars.

But as proof that just because something is rare doesn’t mean it’s valuable, most of the others in the series sell in the $20-$40 range. I’ve never seen a copy of your album for sale, and any 1960s pressing of either cover of the Booker T. Christmas album goes for $150-$250 in near-mint condition.

Question: On the Fleetwood Mac album Then Play On, can you tell me why the song “Oh Well” is listed on the actual record but not on the album song list?

— Via e-mail

Answer: Because you have a transitional copy of the album. When Then Play On was released in the U.S. around December 1969, the lineup was:  Side 1: “Coming Your Way”/“Closing My Eyes”/“Fighting For Madge”/“When You Say”/“Showbiz Blues”/“Underway” Side 2: “Although The Sun Is Shining”/“Rattlesnake Shake”/“Searching For Madge”/“My Dream”/“Like Crying”/“Before The Beginning.”

This, in keeping with a long American tradition, was edited from the British version of the album, which contained 14 songs. The two missing songs already had been issued in the U.S. on the preceding LP, English Rose. Shortly after Then Play On was released in America, Reprise released the non-LP single “Oh Well — Part I”/“Oh Well — Part II.”

For the first time, Fleetwood Mac had a Billboard Hot 100 hit in the States; it eventually peaked at #55. It would be the only hit the Mac had in America before Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the group in 1975.

In keeping with the Stateside tradition that a single had to be on an album, Reprise reconfigured Then Play On, and the revised edition, which remained in print until the CD era, looked like this: Side 1: “Coming Your Way”/“Closing My Eyes”/ “Showbiz Blues”/ “Underway”/ “Oh Well” Side 2: “Although The Sun Is Shining”/ “Rattlesnake Shake”/ “Searching For Madge”/ “Fighting For Madge”/ “Like Crying”/ “Before The Beginning.”

“When You Say” and “My Dream” had been assigned to oblivion, not to reappear in America until the CD era.

“Oh Well” on the album combined the two parts of the 45 into one long track, without taking into account that the last minute or so of Part I is also the first minute or so of Part II. So, about a minute of the song repeats, and the error has never been corrected, even on CD versions of Then Play On. It’s never been mixed into stereo, as the original 45 was in mono, and it was added to the album hastily.
The record was changed before new album slicks could be printed, so some copies of the LP, such as yours, contain the second version of the record and the first version of the cover. The rarest copies contain the original tracks on both the cover and the record; by far the most common variety contains “Oh Well” on both the cover and the record.

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