Fill Your Head With Smoke

Heard this on the radio the other day:

We will light a giant burning fire tonight
We will build it and dance in the smoke
Every branch we tie somebody’s worry to it
We will burn it and dance in the smoke

That’s precisely the sort of thing we should learn to do: let our worries go and be happy as they depart. (Easy to say. Harder to do.)

“Dance in the Smoke” is a track from Argent’s first album, released in 1969 not long after the breakup of the Zombies. Rod Argent and Jim Rodford brought Russ Ballard and Bob Henrit aboard, and the results were very Zombie-like, with the heavy, liquid keyboards and prog-rock tendencies Argent contributed to that band. Argent also includes Ballard’s song “Liar,” later to become a hit for Three Dog Night.

One Internet source mentions that “Dance in the Smoke” became popular thanks to its inclusion on a compilation called Fill Your Head With Rock. This album, it turns out, is part of the first series of budget-priced rock samplers. In 1968, with the intent of promoting its growing roster of rock acts, Columbia released The Rock Machine Turns You On in the UK. The album included big stars and hits (Bob Dylan on “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” Simon and Garfunkel doing “Scarborough Fair,” and the Zombies performing “Time of the Season”) as well as more obscure acts the label hoped to boost (the Electric Flag, the Peanut Butter Conspiracy, and Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera).

The two-disc Fill Your Head With Rock came out in 1970. It was not heavy on hits (“Try” by Janis Joplin is the closest), but it’s rich with Columbia’s top acts at the time, including Blood Sweat and Tears, Spirit, and the Byrds. At the same time, it includes a number of acts who would remain obscure (Steamhammer, Skin Alley, and Moondog), but it also features early work by some performers who would be highly significant for a long time to come, including Chicago and Santana. And it helped expose a wider audience to Laura Nyro and Leonard Cohen. It looks as though the album was sequenced so that each side would cohere stylistically: jazz rock on Side 1, a sort of earthy/hippie vibe on Side 2, eclectic singer/songwriters on Side 3, and blues rock on side 4. Another two-disc compilation came out later in 1970, Rockbuster, featuring a lot of the same acts as Fill Your Head With Rock but bringing back Dylan and adding Miles Davis, Poco, Redbone, and the New York Rock Ensemble—plus a cover photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It’s unclear to me whether these discs were ever released in the States, or only in the UK and Europe. I seem to recall seeing Fill Your Head With Rock in the used bins back in the day, but my usual slipshod research has been unable to verify whether the series got an official American release.

One thing’s clear, however: such samplers were intended to be disposable. If you bought it to get one or two songs you liked and didn’t care about the rest, maybe you’d go out and buy the Flock album, or the one by Tom Rush (or Chicago or Dylan or the Byrds), and sell the sampler at your mom’s next garage sale. So if you’re able to find a copy of one of them today, it’s likely to be either in questionable condition or savagely expensive.

7 responses

  1. I’ve got five samplers on the shelves, I think. The best of them is the second sampler Warner put together. It’s called “The 1969 Warner-Reprise Record Show,” and it’s a fun artifact of its time. And – though I cannot put my hands on it at the moment – Columbia put out a three-LP set called “The Music People” in 1972 that was pretty good. And I’m glad I have the samplers. Otherwise I would have had to track down the single or LP of “In The Mood” by the Henhouse Five Plus Two.

  2. I have a large pile of the Warner/Reprise samplers, which they called the “Loss Leaders” series. They were two dollars apiece, so if you got two or three songs you wanted, the investment was worth it. And sometimes you’d get the Henhouse Five Plus Two.

  3. Columbia Records also took a more direct approach to getting some of their newer artists heard by handing out a series of freebie 7-inch promo EP samplers on college campuses. The two I picked up in early 1970 included ‘Dig This’ on Columbia (# AS 3, successor to a similarly-titled ’69 sampler) and ‘Heads Up’ (Epic AS 4.) The former included Carl Perkins + NRBQ’s “Boppin’ The Blues” and Tom Rush’s “Drop Down Mama.” The latter featured “Be Free” from Argent’s self-titled LP, “Shuggie’s Boogie” by Mr. Otis and Redbone’s “Rebecca” along with Jam Factory, Susan Carter and Catfish tracks long since lost to time.

    Problem was, unlike Warner’s “loss leaders” or Columbia’s similar LPs, you got what you paid for. The tracks themselves were “excerpted” from their parent albums and the cheap styrene plastic used in manufacturing the EPs didn’t often last beyond a couple of plays on Joe College’s typical 1970 turntable setup. Columbia may have had their hopes up, but expecting significant numbers of college students to run out and spend their hard-earned cash based on what ultimately sounded like two-minute Kenner Close ‘N Play excerpts by unknowns was wishful waxing. Now *that’s* disposable.

    I won a Flock album from a local station at the time. Hopefully, whoever ended up buying it from the used bins shortly thereafter enjoyed it more than I did.

  4. “Classical Cluck” – the “In The Mood” 45’s separated-at-hatch B-side – is yet another golden egg laid by the Foghorn Leghorn Chorale.

  5. There was also CBS’s “Rock Machine I Love You”. I still try and acquire those LPs that were trailered on the first two “Rock Machine”s – too darn expensive nowadays. They influenced the Island Record label, who produced a long series of samplers: “You Can All Join In”, “Nice Enough To Eat”, “Bumpers”, and “El Pea”. As early teenagers, the first two certainly provided us Brits witha taste of what was going on “underground”. At the same time the Trojan record label was releasing LPs of the best and the rest of sixties reggae music for ten shillings and sixpence ; that was around a buck thirtyfive in US terms. Look out for the “Tighten Up” and “Tighten Up Volume 2” twofer CD to check out why we were skanking out teenage socks off at every “parents are out for the night” party in 1969 – or, if we had more cash to flash, there was “Motown Chartbusters Volume 3″ the single most densely packed 12” of danceability you could hope to afford.

    But oh! how I yearned (as a Zappa fan) for those Warner “Loss Leaders” as advertised in US comic books at the time. They never saw the light of day over here – do they go for big bucks in the collectors market Stateside I wonder?

  6. budding guitarist that I was in 1973 I picked up two bargain bin comps both on Columbia with emphasis on guitar players: “The Guitars That Destroyed the World” and “Heavy Hands.” It was my first exposure to Blue Oyster Cult (an awesome live “Buck’s Boogie”), Shuggie Otis, Yardbirds (Jeff’s Boogie), Carl Perkins and NRBQ, Johnny Winter etc.

    I wore those records out trying to learn their guitar licks and was rewarded many years later when I got to play “Jeff’s Boogie” with Yardbirds drummer Jim McCarty, probably the highlight of my “career.”

  7. I have posted mp3s of a couple of the Warner Bros Loss Leaders on my blog @ audioarchives.blogspot.com

    Using the search box and “Loss Leaders” should pull them up. More are coming, as well.

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