As an avid CD accumulator, I have often sought out promo only radio and in store samplers, discs specifically made to be played to promote upcoming titles or entire series. I acquired more than a few dozen such discs from New England CD, who used to advertise in Goldmine magazine in the late Nineties and early 2000s. Rhino, like everything else they do, has always made interesting and collectible promo sampler CDs and I have written about a few of them in this space previously. Today however, we're focusing on three samplers from Rhino's Smooth Grooves series as well as a greatest hits disc from the same series.
In 1994, in anticipation of Volumes 1-4 of Smooth Grooves; A Sensual Collection to be released on Valentine's Day 1995, Rhino issued this sampler in late 1994. The disc contains a dozen songs representing "the sexiest R&B songs ever to flow from your speakers." Furthermore, Rhino vows "To make the feeling last" by including full-length versions "because we know you wouldn't want it any other way."
As far as the song selection, there are some obvious picks and some head scratchers. Speaking of the obvious, my favorites from this disc are "Outstanding", "Special Lady", "How 'Bout Us" and "You Are My Starship." Compared to some other Rhino samplers, this one is rather plain in the packaging department. They were going for a wedding invitation look and theme with linen print cardboard and an over-sized envelope housing the disc (above, left).
As Rhino prepared to release the next three volumes (5-7) of Smooth Grooves: A Sensual Collection in 1996, they issued another promo disc sampler in late 1995. This one was also titled A Sensual Sampler (same as the disc above) and it covered Vols. 1-7 not just the upcoming Vols. 5-7. Instead of a dozen tracks, this disc features only ten tracks and has the same cover artwork as Volume 6. Surprisingly, it also shares one song with the previous disc: "If You Play Your Cards Right" from Alicia Myers. My favorites are the tracks from Ready For The World, Aretha Franklin and Champaign.
In 1996, on the eve of the release of their three volume Smooth Grooves: The '60s series in January 1997, Rhino sent out a twelve song promo only disc featuring four songs from each of the three discs. Six of those twelve are among my favorite songs of all time, slow jams or otherwise, especially track 10. The artwork for the sampler is the same as Volume 1 (above, left) with the little Volume 1 Early '60s subtitle replaced by the word Sampler.
Which brings us to the fourth and final disc in today's round-up, Smooth Grooves: The Essential Collection. Not counting the promo discs above, this was the 24th disc in the Smooth Grooves series and would be followed by an additional seven discs after its release in 2000. There are 20(!) tracks packed on this disc providing nearly 77 minutes worth of the smoothest and grooviest. Wanna know the dark little secret behind this disc: Remember when Rhino pledged to use full-length versions above? For the most part, they did just that UNTIL this disc, which features single and radio edits of songs already featured elsewhere in the series in their full-lengthedness. So buyer be aware - if your love comes in three and four minute spurts, this is the disc for you. Though Heather Phares at allmusic.com only gave it 3.5 stars, Robert Christgau gave Smooth Grooves: The Essential Collection an A with this review:
Finally, after truckloads of fluff and baloney, a quiet-storm comp worthy of a 70-minute man. Access definitive Delfonics, Stylistics, Spinners, Blue Magic! Enjoy essential Green and Gaye! Hear Lou Rawls succumb to Gamble & Huff! Find out why Kool & the Gang did slow ones! Climax simultaneously with Barry White! Wake up next to Heatwave in the morning!