Atlantic Recording Corporation (simply known as Atlantic Records) is
an American major record label founded in October 1947 by Ahmet
Ertegün and Herb Abramson. Over its first 20 years of operation,
Atlantic Records earned a reputation as one of the most important
American recording labels, specializing in jazz, R&B and soul
African-American musicians including Aretha Franklin,
Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave,
Ruth Brown and Otis
Redding. Its position was greatly improved by its distribution deal
with Stax Records. In 1967,
Atlantic Records became a wholly owned
subsidiary of Warner Bros.-Seven Arts, now the Warner Music Group, and
expanded into rock and pop music with releases by bands such as Led
Zeppelin and Yes.
Atlantic Records and its sister label
Elektra Records merged
Atlantic Records Group.
Craig Kallman is currently the
chairman of Atlantic Records.
Ahmet Ertegün served as founding
chairman until his death on December 14, 2006, at age 83.
Artists currently signed to
Atlantic Records include Bhad Bhabie,
Bruno Mars, Cardi B, Charli XCX, Charlie Puth, Coldplay, David Guetta,
Death Cab for Cutie, Ed Sheeran, Flo Rida, Halestorm, In This Moment,
James Blunt, Janelle Monáe, Jason Mraz, Jess Glynne, Joyner Lucas, K.
Michelle, Kehlani, Kelly Clarkson, Kodak Black, Lil Uzi Vert, Marina
and the Diamonds, Melanie Martinez, Missy Elliott, Paramore, Portugal.
The Man, Rita Ora, Shinedown, Sia, Skillet, Skrillex, Stone Temple
Pilots, Weezer, Why Don't We, Wiz Khalifa, and YoungBoy Never Broke
1.1 Founding and early history
1.2 The hits begin
1.3 Tom Dowd
1.4 Jerry Wexler
1.5 Nesuhi Ertegun
Herb Abramson departs
1.8 Leiber, Stoller and Spector
1.10 The soul years, 1962–1967
1.11 Acquisition by Warner Bros.-Seven Arts
1.12 The rock era
1.13 "You're Pitiful" dispute
1.14 Recent developments
2 Notable sublabels
3 See also
6 External links
Founding and early history
In 1944, brothers Nesuhi and
Ahmet Ertegun decided to remain in the
United States when their mother and sister returned to
the death of their father Munir Ertegun, Turkey's first ambassador to
the United States. The brothers had become ardent fans of jazz and
rhythm & blues music, amassing a collection of over 15,000 78 RPM
records. Ahmet ostensibly stayed on in Washington to undertake
post-graduate music studies at
Georgetown University but immersed
himself in the Washington music scene and decided to enter the record
business, which was enjoying a resurgence after wartime restrictions
on the shellac used in manufacture. He convinced the family
dentist, Dr. Vahdi Sabit, to invest $10,000 and recruited Herb
Abramson, a dentistry student.
Abramson had worked as a part-time A&R manager/producer for the
jazz label National Records, signing
Big Joe Turner
Big Joe Turner and Billy
Eckstine. He founded
Jubilee Records in 1946, but had no interest in
its most successful artists. So, in September 1947, he sold his share
in Jubilee to his partner, Jerry Blaine, and invested $2,500 in the
new Atlantic label.
Atlantic Records was incorporated in October 1947 and was run by
Abramson (the company president) and Ertegun (vice-president in charge
of A&R, production and promotion). Abramson's wife Miriam ran the
label's publishing company, Progressive Music, and did most office
duties until 1949 when Atlantic hired its first employee, bookkeeper
Francine Wakschal, who remained with the label for the next 49
years. Miriam quickly gained a reputation for toughness: staff
Tom Dowd later recalled; "Tokyo Rose was the kindest name
some people had for her" and
Doc Pomus described her as "an
extraordinarily vitriolic woman". When interviewed in 2009, she
attributed her reputation to the company's chronic cash-flow shortage:
"... most of the problems we had with artists were that they wanted
advances, and that was very difficult for us ... we were
undercapitalized for a long time." The label's original office in
the Ritz Hotel in Manhattan proved too expensive so they moved to an
$85-per-month room in the Hotel Jefferson. In the early
fifties, Atlantic moved from the Hotel Jefferson to offices at 301
West 54th St and then to its best-known home at 356 West 56th St.
Atlantic Records's first batch of recordings were issued in late
January 1948, and included Tiny Grimes' "That Old Black Magic" and
"The Spider" by Joe Morris. In its early years, Atlantic focused
principally on modern jazz although it released some
country and western and spoken word recordings. Abramson also produced
"Magic Records": children's records with four grooves on each side,
each groove containing a different story, so the story played would be
determined by the groove in which the stylus chanced to land.
Soon after its formation, Atlantic faced a serious challenge. In late
1947, James Petrillo, head of the American Federation of Musicians,
announced an indefinite ban on all recording activities by union
musicians, and this came into force on January 1, 1948. The union
action forced Atlantic to use almost all its capital to cut and
stockpile enough recordings to last through the ban, which was
initially expected to continue for at least a year.
Ertegun and Abramson spent much of the late 1940s and early 1950s
scouring nightclubs in search of talent. Ertegun composed many songs
under the alias "A. Nugetre", including Big Joe Turner's hit "Chains
of Love", working them out in his head and then recording them in 25c
recording booths in
Times Square and giving the recording to an
arranger or straight to the session musicians. Early releases
featured Joe Morris, Frank Culley, Art Pepper, Shelly Manne, Pete
Rugolo, Tiny Grimes, The Delta Rhythm Boys, The Clovers, The
Cardinals, Big Joe Turner, Erroll Garner, Mal Waldron, Howard McGhee,
James Moody, Dizzy Gillespie, Jackie & Roy, Sarah Vaughan, Lead
Belly, Sonny Terry, Professor Longhair, Mabel Mercer, Sylvia Syms,
Billy Taylor, Mary Lou Williams, Sidney Bechet, Django Reinhardt, Earl
Hines, Barney Bigard, Pee Wee Russell, Al Hibbler, Meade Lux Lewis,
Jimmy Yancey, Johnny Hodges, and Bobby Short.
The hits begin
In early 1949, a New Orleans distributor phoned Ertegun trying to
obtain Stick McGhee's "Drinking Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee", which was
unavailable due to the closure of McGhee's previous label. Ertegun
knew Stick's younger brother Brownie McGhee, with whom Stick happened
to be staying, so he contacted the McGhee brothers and cut a
re-recording. When released in February 1949, it became Atlantic's
first hit, selling 400,000 copies, and ultimately reached #2 after
spending almost half a year in the Billboard R&B charts –
although McGhee himself earned just $10 for the session. From this
point Atlantic's fortunes rose rapidly: they recorded 187 songs in
1949 (more than three times the output of the previous two years) and
received overtures of a manufacturing and distribution deal with
Columbia Records, who would pay Atlantic a 3% royalty on every copy
sold. Ertegun asked about artists' royalties, which he paid, which
surprised Columbia executives, who did not, which scuttled the
On the recommendation of broadcaster Willis Conover, Ertegun and
Abramson went to see
Ruth Brown at the Crystal Caverns club in
Washington and invited her to audition for Atlantic. She was badly
injured in a car accident en route to New York but Atlantic supported
her for nine months and then signed her. Her first release for the
label "So Long", cut at her second Atlantic session on May 25, 1949
Eddie Condon band, was a major hit, reaching #6 on the
R&B chart. Brown went on to record more than eighty songs for the
label, becoming the most prolific and best-selling Atlantic artist of
the period. So significant was Brown's success to Atlantic's fortunes
that the label became known colloquially as "The House That Ruth
Joe Morris, one of the label's earliest signings, scored a major hit
with his October 1950 release "Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere", the first
Atlantic record issued in
45rpm format, which the company began
pressing in January 1951. The Clovers' "Don't You Know I Love You"
(composed by Ertegun) became the label's first R&B #1 in September
1951 and a few weeks later Ruth Brown's "Teardrops from my Eyes"
became its first million-selling record. She hit #1 again in
March–April 1952 with "5-10-15 Hours". "Daddy Daddy" reached
#3 in September 1952, and "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean" (which
featured the MJQ's
Connie Kay on drums) reached #1 in February–March
1953, becoming a solid seller for years afterwards, as did the
late 1954 "Oh What A Dream", her last hit with Atlantic. After she
left the label in 1961 Brown's fortunes declined rapidly – within a
few years was reduced to working as a cleaner and bus-driver to
support her children. In the 1980s she sued her former label for
unpaid royalties; although Atlantic, which had prided itself on
treating artists fairly, had stopped paying royalties to some artists,
Ahmet Ertegun denied this was intentional. Brown eventually received a
voluntary payment of $20,000 and founded a charity, the Rhythm and
Blues Foundation, in 1988, established with a donation of $1.5 million
In 1952 Atlantic signed Ray Charles, who scored a string of hugely
influential hits including "I Got A Woman", "What'd I Say" and
"Hallelujah I Love Her So". Later that year The Clovers' "One Mint
Julep" reached #2. In 1953, after learning that singer Clyde McPhatter
had been fired from
Billy Ward and His Dominoes and was forming his
own group (The Drifters),
Ahmet Ertegun tracked McPhatter down and
signed the new group immediately. Their single "Money Honey" became
the biggest R&B hit of the year. Their subsequent records
created some controversy: the suggestive "Such A Night" was banned by
radio station WXYZ in Detroit and the follow-up "Honey Love" was
banned in Memphis though both records reached #1 on the Billboard
Although not a major success in chart terms, female vocal trio The
Cookies became an important part of the Atlantic 'family'. The
original group, put together by Atlantic producer
Jesse Stone in 1954,
comprised Darlene (Ethel) McCrea, Dorothy Jones and Dorothy's cousin
Beulah Robertson, who was replaced in 1956 by Marjorie "Margie"
Hendricks. They recorded "In Paradise", a minor R&B hit in early
1956, but after another unsuccessful release the trio became the
regular backing singers for Atlantic recording sessions. They
performed on many hits in this period including Joe Turner's "Corinna,
Corinna" and "Lipstick, Powder and Paint", Chuck Willis' "It's Too
Late (She's Gone)", and Ray Charles' "Lonely Avenue", "Drown In My Own
Tears" and "Night Time is the Right Time" (which features Margie
Hendricks prominently), before being taken on by
Ray Charles and
renamed The Raelettes.
Recording engineer and producer
Tom Dowd played a crucial role in
Atlantic's success. He initially worked for Atlantic on a freelance
basis, but within a few years he had been hired as the label's
full-time staff engineer. His recordings for Atlantic and Stax exerted
a major influence on the history of popular music and he scored more
George Martin and
Phil Spector combined. As
Atlantic's studio engineer
Tom Dowd oversaw many advances in
Atlantic was one of the first independent labels to make recordings in
stereo: Dowd used a portable stereo recorder which ran simultaneously
with the studio's existing mono recorder. In 1953 (according to
Billboard) Atlantic was the first label to issue commercial LPs
recorded in the early, experimental stereo system called binaural
recording. In this system, recordings were made using two
microphones, spaced at approximately the distance between the human
ears, and the left and right channels were cut as two separate,
parallel grooves, although playing them back required a player with a
special tone-arm fitted with dual needles; it was not until around
1958 that the single stylus microgroove system (in which the two
stereo channels were cut into either side of a single groove) became
the industry standard. By the late 1950s stereo LPs and record
players were being introduced into the marketplace. Atlantic's early
stereo recordings included "Lover's Question" by Clyde McPhatter,
"What Am I Living For" by Chuck Willis, "I Cried a Tear" by LaVern
Baker, "Splish Splash" by Bobby Darin, "Yakety Yak" by the Coasters
and "What'd I Say" by Ray Charles. Although these were primarily 45rpm
mono singles for much of the 1950s Dowd stockpiled his "parallel"
stereo takes for future release. In 1968 the label issued History of
Rhythm and Blues, Volume 4 (Atlantic SD-8164) in stereo and the stereo
Ray Charles "What'd I Say" and "Night Time is the Right
Time" were also included on the Atlantic anthology The Birth Of Soul:
The Complete Atlantic Rhythm & Blues Recordings, 1952–1959.
Atlantic's New York studio was also the first in America to install
multitrack recording machines, developed by the
Ampex company. Bobby
Darin's "Splish, Splash" was the first song to be recorded on 8-track
recorder whereas it was not until the mid-1960s that multitrackers
became the norm in recording studios and EMI's
Abbey Road Studios
Abbey Road Studios did
not install 8-track facilities until 1968.
The label entered the new LP market very early: its first was a 10"
album of poetry by Walter Benton, This Is My Beloved (March 1949),
narrated by John Dall, with music by Vernon Duke In 1951, Atlantic
was one of the first independents to press records in the new 45rpm
single format, and by 1956 the "45" had overtaken the "78" as the main
sales format for singles. In April that year, Miriam (Abramson)
Bienstock reported to Billboard that Atlantic was now selling 75% of
its singles as 45s whereas only one year earlier 78s had been
outselling 45s by two to one.
Herb Abramson was drafted into the US Army in February 1953 and left
for Germany where he served in the US Army Dental Corps, although
he retained his post as President of Atlantic on full pay. Ertegun
recruited Billboard reporter
Jerry Wexler in June 1953: who is
credited with coining the term "rhythm & blues" to replace the
earlier "race music". He was appointed vice-president and
purchased 13% of the company's stock for $2,063.25. Wexler and
Ertegun soon formed a close partnership which, in collaboration with
Tom Dowd, produced thirty R&B hits.
Ertegun and Wexler realized many R&B recordings by black artists
were being covered by white performers, often with greater chart
LaVern Baker had a #4 R&B hit with
"Tweedlee Dee" but a rival version by
Georgia Gibbs went to #2 on the
pop charts, Big Joe Turner's April 1954 release "Shake, Rattle and
Roll" was a #1 R&B hit but only made #22 on the pop chart while
Bill Haley & His Comets's version reached #7, sold over 1 million
copies and was Decca Records' biggest-selling song of the year. In
July 1954, as rock'n'roll gathered momentum, Wexler and Ertegun wrote
a prescient article for Cash Box, headlined "The Latest Trend: R&B
Disks Are Going Pop", devoted to what they called "cat music"; the
same month, Atlantic scored its first major "crossover" hit on the
Billboard pop chart when the "Sh-Boom" by The Chords reached #5
(although The Crew-Cuts' version went to #1). Atlantic missed an
important signing in 1955 when Sun Records' owner
Sam Phillips sold
Elvis Presley's recording contract in a bidding war between labels.
Atlantic offered $25,000 which, Ertegun later noted, "was all the
money we had then." but they were outbid by RCA Records's offer of
$45,000. In 1990 Ertegun remarked: "The president of RCA at the time
had been extensively quoted in Variety damning R&B music as
immoral. He soon stopped when RCA signed Elvis Presley."
Atlantic Records discography
Ahmet's older brother Nesuhi was recruited to the label in January
1955. He had been living in
Los Angeles for several years and had
only irregular contact with his younger brother, but when Ahmet
learned that Nesuhi had been offered a partnership in Atlantic's rival
Imperial Records, he and Wexler convinced Nesuhi to join Atlantic
instead. Nesuhi headed the label's jazz division and built a
strong roster, signing West Coast jazzers Shorty Rogers, Jimmy
Herbie Mann and Les McCann, as well as Charles Mingus,
John Coltrane and the Modern
Jazz Quartet, who became a mainstay
of the label, releasing twenty albums; by 1958 Atlantic was America's
second-largest independent jazz label. Nesuhi was also in charge
of LP album production, a market that was beginning to take off, and
he was credited with greatly improving the packaging, production and
originality of Atlantic's LP line. He soon deleted the old '100'
and '400' series of 10" albums and the earlier 12" albums in
Atlantic's catalog, launching the new '1200' series, which sold for
$4.98, with Shorty Rogers' The Swingin' Mr Rogers (Atlantic 1212).
In 1956 he started the '8000' popular series (selling for $3.98) for
the label's few R&B albums, reserving the 1200 series for jazz.
Joel Dorn became Nesuhi's assistant following his successful
production of Hubert Laws' The Laws of Jazz.
Herb Abramson departs
Herb Abramson's return from military service in 1955 created problems:
Ertegun and Wexler had scored a run of hits, including Big Joe
Turner's "Flip Flop and Fly" and Ray Charles' "I Got A Woman", and
when Abramson returned, he realized that he had been effectively
replaced by Wexler as Ahmet's partner. There were also personal
conflicts: Abramson did not get along well with either Wexler or
Nesuhi Ertegun, and he had returned from his military service with a
German girlfriend, which precipitated his divorce from Miriam, a minor
stockholder and Atlantic's business and publishing manager.
By 1958 relations between Abramson and his partners had broken down
completely, so in December 1958 a $300,000 buy-out was arranged; his
stock was split between
Nesuhi Ertegun and Abramson's ex-wife Miriam,
who had in the meantime remarried to music publisher Freddy Bienstock
(later the owner of the
Carlin Music /
Chappell Music publishing
empire). Abramson's departure opened the way for
Ahmet Ertegun to take
over as president of the label. The roles of the other executives
with Abramson's departure were Wexler as executive vice-president and
Nesuhi Ertegun as executive vice-president in charge
of the LP department and
Miriam Bienstock as vice-president and also
president of Atlantic's music publishing arm Progressive Music with
Wexler as executive vice-president and the Ertegun brothers
vice-president of Progressive.
Atlantic played a major role in popularizing the new genre that Jerry
Wexler dubbed rhythm & blues and it profited handsomely from this.
The market for these records exploded during late 1953 and early 1954,
as more and more R&B hits crossed over to the mainstream (i.e.
white) audience. In its tenth anniversary feature on Atlantic,
Billboard noted that previously, "... a very big r&b record might
achieve 250,000 sales, but from this point on (1953–54), the
industry began to see million sellers, one after the other, in the
r&b field". It observed that the label's "fresh sound" and the
quality of its recordings, arrangements and musicians was a great
advance on what was the standard for R&B records at the time, and
that for the past five years Atlantic had "dominated the rhythm and
blues chart with its roster of powerhouse artists".
From 1954 onwards Atlantic created or acquired several important
subsidiary labels, the first being the short-lived but significant Cat
Records. By the mid-1950s Atlantic had an informal agreement with
Eddie Barclay's French label
Barclay Records and the two companies
regularly exchanged titles, usually jazz recordings. Atlantic also
began to get recordings distributed in the United Kingdom; initially
this was done through
EMI on a 'one-off' basis, but in September 1955
Miriam Abramson went to the UK and signed a formal distribution deal
with Decca Records, who were soon releasing every new Atlantic
title. Miriam later recalled:
"I was the one who came to England at the beginning to negotiate all
those deals (in the fall of 1955). I would deal with people there who
were not really comfortable with women in business, so ... we would do
business very quickly and get it over with. But they were charming.
Sir Edward Lewis was wonderful, we became great friends. We kept in
touch after I left Atlantic."
A new subsidiary label, Atco Records, was established in 1955 as an
effort to keep Abramson involved. East West was founded in September
1957; it initially concentrated on singles and featured an "across the
board" roster of pop, rock & roll, rhythm & blues and
rockabilly artists and its first releases were by Jay Holliday,
Johnny Houston and The Glowtones. After a slow start, Atco had
considerable success with
The Coasters and Bobby Darin. Darin's early
releases had not been successful and Abramson planned to drop him, but
Ertegun offered him another chance, and the session he produced
yielded "Splish Splash", which Darin had written in 12 minutes and
which sold 100,000 copies in the first month and became a
million-seller. During 1958–59 Darin's "Queen of the Hop" made the
Top 10 on both the US pop and R&B charts and also charted in the
UK, "Dream Lover", a multi-million seller, reached #2 in the US and
became a UK #1, and "Mack the Knife" (August 1959) went to #1 in both
the US and the UK, sold over 2 million copies and won the 1960 Grammy
Award for 'Record of the Year'. "Beyond the Sea", an English-language
version of the
Charles Trenet hit "La Mer", became his fourth
consecutive US/UK Top 10 hit. Darin later signed with Capitol Records
and left for Hollywood to begin a movie career although Atco continued
to score hits into 1962 with tracks already in the can, including "You
Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby" and "Things". Darin returned to
Atlantic in 1965.
By 1958, the label had expanded considerably – in 1956 Atlantic's
head office moved to 157 West 57th St, while retaining two floors in
the earlier premises at 234 West 56th St. New staff hired between 1956
and 1958 included Gary Kramer (director of publicity and advertising),
Lester Lees (national sales manager), Victor Selsman (DJ promotions),
Lester Sill (West Coast promotions) and
Bob Bushnell (recording
During the 1960s Atlantic distributed selected titles recorded by many
small regional independent labels including Dial (Joe Tex), Karen (The
Capitols' "Cool Jerk"), Rosemart (Don Covay's "Mercy, Mercy"), Nola
(Willie Tee's "Teasin' You"), Vault, Class, Shirley, Tomorrow,
Instant, Dade ("Mashed Potatoes" by Nat Kendrick & The Swans),
Moonglow, Correct-Tone Records, Lu-Pine, Keetch, Royo, T-Neck, Heidi,
Sims and others, using those labels' imprints and separate catalog
Leiber, Stoller and Spector
Classic Atlantic logo used on singles; made the official logo in 2004
In October 1955,
Jerry Leiber and
Mike Stoller scored a West Coast hit
with Los Angeles-based vocal group The Robins, who released "Smokey
Joe's Cafe" on the duo's own
Spark Records label. Seeking a national
outlet, they leased the master to Atco and in November Atlantic
purchased Spark and its catalog; Leiber and Stoller signed a landmark
deal with Atlantic that made them America's first independent record
producers. In 1956 two members of The Robins,
Carl Gardner and Bobby
The Coasters who finally provided Atlantic with the
crossover success it had been striving for. Their first (March 1956)
Atco release (recorded in Hollywood) was "Down in Mexico", a Top 10
R&B hit: the double-sided "Young Blood"/"Searchin'" (also recorded
in Hollywood) followed, with both sides entering the pop Top 10 after
radio exposure and both charting for over 20 weeks – "Searchin'"
reached #3 and "Young Blood" #8. Following Leiber and Stoller to New
York, The Coasters' then cut "Yakety Yak" (June 1958), featuring the
saxophone of King Curtis, and this became Atlantic's first pop #1;
"Charlie Brown" made #2 on both the pop and R&B charts in February
1959, "Along Came Jones" also reached the pop Top 10 as did "Poison
Ivy" (#7, Aug. 1959). "Little Egypt" (1961) was their last hit,
reaching #21 in the pop chart.
Leiber and Stoller also wrote the classic "Ruby Baby" for The
Drifters, a 1956 #13 R&B hit that featured Johnny Moore as lead
vocalist (replacing Clyde McPhatter, who had been drafted); it became
a pop standard and reached #2 in 1962 when re-recorded by Dion. By
The Drifters had undergone many lineup changes and their former
popularity was waning. That May, after one of the members got into a
fight with the manager of the Apollo Theater, group manager George
Treadwell sacked the entire lineup and recruited the members of The
Five Crowns to become the 'new' Drifters. Leiber and Stoller produced
"There Goes My Baby" with this second incarnation, featuring a lead
vocal by Ben E. King, who also co-wrote the song. It was the first
R&B song to feature a string arrangement, but Ertegun disliked it
Jerry Wexler was appalled, reportedly telling the producers; "Get
that out of here. I hate it. It's out of tune and it's phony and it's
shit and get it out of here". They refused to release it for
several months, but when they finally relented and released it as a
single in April 1959, the song shot to #1.
Phil Spector had learned the basics of record production working for
Lester Sill and Lee Hazlewood's Trey Records label (which was
distributed by Atlantic) in California in the late 1950s. At Sill's
recommendation, he returned to New York to work for Leiber and Stoller
in early 1960. Leiber and Stoller assigned him to produce Ray
Peterson's "Corrine, Corrina" and Curtis Lee's "Pretty Little Angel
Eyes" (released on Peterson's Dunes Records label), both of which
became hits. As a result, Atlantic signed him as a staff producer,
though his difficult personality was already evident, and Ahmet
Ertegun was reportedly the only Atlantic executive who liked him.
Leiber later remarked, "He wasn't likeable. He was funny, he was
amusing – but he wasn't nice." Wexler reportedly had no time for him
and Miriam Bienstock, in her typically blunt fashion, described
Spector's erratic behavior "insane" and considered him "a pain in the
neck". When Ertegun took Spector to meet Bobby Darin, he openly
criticized Darin's songwriting, with the result that Darin had him
thrown out of the house.
Despite these issues, Atlantic kept Spector on for a time, but with
diminishing returns. Spector produced The Top Notes' original version
of "Twist and Shout", but it flopped. Bert Berns, the song's writer,
was incensed by Spector's arrangement, which he believed had ruined
the song, so Berns re-recorded it the way he thought it should sound
with The Isley Brothers, and it became a huge hit. Spector also
produced Jean DuShon, Billy Storm,
LaVern Baker and
Ruth Brown during
his short stay at Atlantic, with only moderate success. He left
Atlantic in 1961 and returned to Los Angeles, where he founded Philles
Lester Sill and soon established himself as the
preeminent American pop producer of the mid-1960s.
In early 1960 the Drifters came out with "Dance With Me", which
reached #15 on the pop chart and #2 R&B. "This Magic Moment"
reached #16 on the pop chart, and their classic rendition of Doc
Pomus' poignant "Save The Last Dance For Me" became a major
international pop hit, reaching #1 in the US and #2 in the UK.
However, in May 1960, after only one year and just 10 recordings with
the Drifters, lead singer Benjamin Nelson left the group due to a
dispute with manager George Treadwell. Assuming the stage name Ben E.
King, he launched a successful solo career, although the Drifters went
on to score several more big hits.
King's first solo single, "Spanish Harlem" (co-written by Leiber and
Spector and produced by Leiber and Stoller), became a Top 10 pop hit
in early 1961. It was followed by "Stand By Me", a re-interpretation
of the gospel standard "Lord, Stand By Me", with new lyrics by King
and orchestration by Stan Applebaum. Reaching #4 on the pop chart, the
song quickly became a standard covered by many artists including John
Lennon. It has since been included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's
500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll listing and in 2001 it was voted
#25 in the 'Songs of the Century' poll conducted by the Recording
Industry Association of America. In late 1962,
The Drifters returned
to the charts, fronted by new lead vocalist Rudy Lewis, performing
hits recorded with
Ben E. King
Ben E. King on stage and TV. "Up On The Roof",
Gerry Goffin and Carole King, was another major
crossover hit making the Top 5 on both the pop and R&B charts, and
Mann, Weil, Leiber, and Stoller's "On Broadway" made the Top 10 on
both charts. It has since been covered by many artists. The Drifters'
last hit, "Under The Boardwalk" (1964), was produced by
Bert Berns and
orchestrated by British arranger-producer-composer Mike Leander. Lead
Rudy Lewis was found dead on the morning of the recording
session (May 21, 1964) and former lead singer Johnny Moore was brought
in to replace him. Despite this tragedy, the song became a big hit,
reaching #4 on the pop chart and #1 on the R&B chart, and went on
to be covered by many other acts, including The Rolling Stones.
The Leiber & Stoller/Atlantic partnership was enormously
successful, but by 1962 the relationship was deteriorating. The duo
reportedly resented the credit accorded to Spector, but their own
artistic and financial demands alienated the Atlantic executives. From
Miriam Bienstock "couldn't see why it was necessary to
use them" and they infuriated
Jerry Wexler by asking for producers'
credits on record labels and sleeves, although this was grudgingly
granted. The breaking point came when duo asked for a producer's
royalty, which was also granted informally, but their accountant
insisted on a written contract and also requested an audit of
Atlantic's accounts. When this was carried out (over Jerry Wexler's
strenuous objections) it was found that Leiber and Stoller had been
underpaid by $18,000. Although Leiber considered dropping the matter,
Stoller insisted on pressing Atlantic for payment, but when they
presented their request, Wexler exploded, telling them it would mean
the end of their relationship with Atlantic. Leiber and Stoller backed
down but the showdown ended the partnership anyway: Ertegun and Wexler
told them they would not be involved in The Drifters' next recording,
giving the assignment to Phil Spector. Atlantic quickly filled the
gap left by Leiber and Stoller's departure with the hiring of producer
and songwriter Bert Berns, who had recently scored a major hit with
his remake of "Twist and Shout" for The Isley Brothers.
The ramifications of the split continued after Leiber and Stoller left
Atlantic: after a period with United Artists Records (where they
scored a number of hits), in 1963 they set up
Red Bird Records
Red Bird Records with
George Goldner. Although they scored major hits (including The Dixie
Cups' "Chapel of Love" and
The Shangri-Las "Leader of the Pack"), the
label's business position was precarious, so in late 1964 they
approached Jerry Wexler, proposing a merger with Atlantic. When
interviewed in 1990 for Ertegun's biography, Wexler declined to
discuss the matter, but Ertegun himself claimed that these
negotiations soon developed into a plan to buy him out. At this time
(September 1964), the Ertegun brothers and Wexler were in the process
of buying out the company's other two shareholders, Dr. Sabit and
Miriam Bienstock and it was proposed (presumably by Wexler) that
Leiber and Stoller would buy Sabit's shares. Leiber, Stoller, Goldner,
and Wexler pitched their plan to Ertegun at a fateful lunch meeting at
Plaza Hotel in New York. Though Leiber and Stoller were adamant it
was not their intention to buy Ertegun out, Ahmet was aggravated by
Goldner's high-handed attitude and became convinced that Wexler was
conspiring with them. Wexler then told Ertegun that if he refused,
Wexler would do the deal without him, but this was impossible since
the Ertegun brothers still held the majority share, while Wexler only
controlled about 20%. Ertegun nursed a lifelong grudge against Leiber
and Stoller and the affair drove an irreparable wedge between Ertegun
Atlantic was doing so well in early 1959 that some scheduled releases
were held back and the company enjoyed two successive months of gross
sales of over $1 million that summer, thanks to hits by The Coasters,
The Drifters, LaVern Baker, Ray Charles,
Bobby Darin and Clyde
McPhatter However, only months later the company was reeling from
the successive loss of its two biggest artists,
Bobby Darin and Ray
Charles, who together accounted for one third of sales. Darin, who
moved to the
Los Angeles area, signed with Capitol Records. Charles
signed a deal with
ABC-Paramount Records in November 1959 that
reportedly included increased royalties, a production deal,
profit-sharing and eventual ownership of his master tapes. Wexler
later commented; "It was very grim. I thought we were going to die"
and Ertegun in 1990 disputed whether Charles had received the promised
benefits. It led to a permanent rift between Charles and his former
colleagues, although Ertegun remained good friends with Darin who
returned to Atlantic in 1966. Charles returned to Atlantic in
Through 1961–62 Leiber and Stoller's successes maintained the
label's fortunes, and these were further enhanced by a licensing deal
with a small Memphis-based independent label Stax Records, which would
soon prove to be of enormous value. In 1960, Atlantic's Memphis
distributor Buster Williams contacted Wexler and told him he was
pressing large quantities of "Cause I Love You", a duet between
Carla Thomas and her father Rufus Thomas, which
was released on a small local label called Satellite (which was soon
renamed Stax Records, from the names of the owners, Jim Stewart and
Estelle Axton, in 1961). Wexler contacted the co-owner of Satellite,
Jim Stewart, who agreed to lease the record to Atlantic for $1000 plus
a small royalty (the first money the label had ever made). The
deal included a $5000 payment against a five-year option on all other
records. When Carla Thomas' first solo single, "Gee Whiz (Look at his
Eyes)" began to attract national attention in 1961 New York producer
Hy Weiss, went to Memphis to try to acquire the rights, but after
examining the contract he told Wexler it gave Atlantic options on all
Satellite recordings for the next five years. Wexler subsequently
claimed he had been unaware of this: "The lawyers did it and I didn't
read every contract." Wexler and Stewart and discussed the deal
and according to Wexler's account, "... there was no acrimony.
Everything was fine and we picked up the record. Then we really rolled
The Atlantic deal marked the start of a hugely successful eight-year
association between the two labels, giving Stax access to Atlantic's
promotions and distribution, and it meant easy money for Atlantic, as
Wexler later conceded:
"...it was certainly biased on our favor. We didn't pay for the
masters ... Jim paid for the masters and then he would send us a
finished tape and we would put it out. Our costs began at the
production level – the pressing, and distribution, and promotion,
The deal to distribute Satellite's "Last Night" by
The Mar-Keys on the
Satellite label marked the first time Atlantic began marketing outside
tracks on a non-Atlantic label. When Stewart discovered there was
another label in California called Satellite Records, he changed the
name of his label to Stax.
Atlantic began pressing and distributing Stax records and Wexler soon
Tom Dowd to upgrade Stax's recording equipment and facilities.
Wexler was impressed by the easy-going, cooperative atmosphere at the
Stax studios and by the distinctive sound of the label's racially
integrated group of 'house' musicians (which he described as "an
unthinkably great band") and he was soon bringing Atlantic artists
to Memphis to record. Shortly afterwards Stewart and Wexler hired
Al Bell, then working as a DJ at a Washington DC radio station, to
take over national promotion of Stax releases, the first
African-American partner in the label.
In 1962 the Stax deal began to reap major rewards for both labels. An
after-hours jam by members of the Stax house band resulted in the
classic instrumental "Green Onions". In conversation with BBC Radio 2
DJ Johnnie Walker on September 7, 2008, guitarist Steve Cropper
revealed that the record became an instant success when DJ Reuben
Washington played it four times in succession on Memphis radio station
WLOK, before either the tune or the band had an agreed-upon name. The
single was issued nationally in August 1962, by which time the band
had been dubbed Booker T & the MGs; "Green Onions" became the
biggest instrumental hit of the year, reaching #1 on the R&B chart
and #3 on the pop chart, where it stayed for 16 weeks, and it sold
over one million copies, earning a gold record award.
1962 also saw the Stax debut of Otis Redding, who had been Johnny
Jenkins' driver and was allowed to record several songs at the end of
one of Jenkins' sessions, among them his own "These Arms of Mine",
which was released on Stax's Volt subsidiary and became a minor hit in
the south. Over the next five years Redding would become one of Stax's
most important artists. During 1965 Redding broke through into the
national charts; "Mr. Pitiful" reached #10 on the soul chart and just
missed out on the pop Top 40, followed by "I've Been Loving You Too
Long", which made #2 on the soul chart and peaked at #21. "Respect"
also performed strongly, reaching #4 on the soul chart and #35 on the
pop chart.[full citation needed]
Over the next five years Stax and its subsidiary Volt provided
Atlantic with a tremendous run of success, and many Atlantic artists
were taken to Memphis to record. Among the many hits recorded by (or
at) Stax between 1963 and 1967 were Rufus Thomas' "Walking The Dog",
Otis Redding's "Respect", his classic version of "Try A Little
Tenderness" and "Tramp", his hit duet with Carla Thomas, Eddie Floyd's
"Knock On Wood" and The Bar-Kays' "Soul Finger". Sam & Dave were
signed to Atlantic but recorded at Stax at Jerry Wexler's suggestion;
with the Stax band and the writing team of
Isaac Hayes and David
Porter, the duo scored eight consecutive R&B Top 20 hits including
"You Don't Know Like I Know", "Hold On, I'm Coming", "When Something
Is Wrong With My Baby", "Soul Man" and "I Thank You; Wilson Pickett
scored hits with "In The Midnight Hour", "634-5789", "Land of 1000
Dances", "Mustang Sally", "Funky Broadway" and "I'm In Love".
Some of Pickett's earlier hits were recorded at Stax, but in early
1966 Jim Stewart banned all non-Stax productions from the studio, so
Atlantic began using other southern studios, notably Rick Hall's FAME
Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and the American Group Productions
studio in Memphis, run by former Stax producer Chips Moman.
The soul years, 1962–1967
In late 1961 singer
Solomon Burke arrived at Jerry Wexler's office
unannounced. Wexler was a fan of Burke's and had long wanted to sign
him so when Burke told Wexler his contract with his former label had
expired Wexler replied: "You're home. I'm signing you today". The
first song Wexler produced with Burke was "Just Out of Reach", which
became a big hit in September 1961. Burke's the soul/country &
western crossover predated Ray Charles' similar venture by more than 6
months. Burke became a consistent big seller through the mid-1960s and
scored hits on Atlantic into 1968. In 1962 folk music was booming and
the label came very close to signing Peter, Paul & Mary; although
Wexler and Ertegun pursued them vigorously the deal fell through at
the last minute and they later discovered music publisher Artie Mogull
had introduced their manager
Albert Grossman to Warner Bros. Records
executive Herman Starr, who had made the trio an irresistible offer
that gave them complete creative control over the recording and
packaging of their music.
Doris Troy signed with Atlantic in early 1963 and in June scored a
major hit with "Just One Look", which she co-wrote and which reached
#3 on the R&B chart and #10 on the pop chart. She scored another
UK hit with "What'cha Gonna Do About It" and went on to a long and a
successful career as a backing vocalist on many
Dusty Springfield hits
and with other famous acts including Pink Floyd,
George Harrison and
Nick Drake. "Just One Look" has been covered by many other artists
including The Hollies, whose version became a major hit in the UK and
gave the group its first US chart placing in 1964.
1967–68 was a peak period for Atlantic, as the string of hits coming
from the Stax roster was augmented by the tremendous crossover success
of Aretha Franklin, who shot to fame virtually overnight, becoming the
preeminent female soul artist of the era, and earning the title "Queen
of Soul". Wexler signed Franklin in January 1967 after the expiry of
her contract with Columbia Records, who had unsuccessfully tried to
market her as a jazz singer. In late 1966 a Columbia executive asked
Jerry Wexler what he was going to do with Franklin, to which he
replied "we're gonna put her back in church". Wexler was
determined to return Franklin to her gospel roots and personally took
over her production at
FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, crucially
allowing her to establish the "feel" of the songs by singing while
accompanying herself on piano. Although the session was fraught with
tension (mainly due to the fractious presence of Aretha's then husband
and manager, Ted White), it yielded a double-sided hit which initiated
a run of seven consecutive singles that made both the US pop and soul
Top 10, and of which five were million-sellers; "I Never Loved A Man
(The Way I Love You)" (b/w "Do Right Woman") (soul #1, pop #9),
"Respect" (soul and pop #1), "Baby, I Love You" (soul #1, pop #4),
"(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" (soul #2, pop #8), "Chain of
Fools" (soul #1, pop #2), "Since You've Been Gone" (1968, soul #1, pop
#5) and "Think" (1968, soul #1, pop #7).
British Invasion led Atlantic to change its British
distributor, since Decca did not give Atlantic access to its British
recording artists, who mainly appeared in the US via their US
subsidiary London Records. In 1966 Atlantic signed a new reciprocal
licensing deal with Polydor Records. Thanks to Polydor's recent
distribution deal with Robert Stigwood's Reaction label, the deal
included newly formed British "supergroup" Cream, whose debut album
was released on Atco in late 1966. In May 1967 the group came to
Atlantic's New York studio to record their US breakthrough LP Disraeli
Gears with Tom Dowd; it became a Top 5 LP in both the US and the UK,
with the single "Sunshine of Your Love" reaching #5 on the Billboard
Hot 100. Although
Jerry Wexler was dismissive of the new developments
in popular music—derisively dubbing the new generation of
(predominantly white) musicians as "the rockoids"—Cream's
American success marked the beginning of Atlantic's hugely successful
diversification into the exploding rock music market, which would reap
enormous rewards in the 1970s with signings such as Led Zeppelin, Yes,
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Bad Company.
In late 1966 rising
Los Angeles group
Buffalo Springfield were signed
to the Atco label, and in early 1967 they scored a major US hit with
their second single, "For What It's Worth", which made the national
Top 10, sold over 1 million copies and earned a gold record award.
Despite this early breakthrough and Ahmet Ertegun's high hopes for the
band, internal tensions and the drug-related deportation of
Bruce Palmer led to the band splitting up in May
1968 without achieving any further hits. However former members
Stephen Stills and
Neil Young would go on to play a major role in
Atlantic's rock success as members of 1970s supergroup Crosby, Stills,
Nash & Young.
Jerry Wexler signed
Los Angeles duo Sonny & Cher to Atco
and their first single for the label became an international smash
hit; "I Got You Babe" spent three weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100
and sold more than million copies in the US, as well as reaching #1 in
the UK, where it sold 780,000 copies. Over the next three years the
duo scored a string of hits, with a total of five Top 20 US singles
including the #6 hit "The Beat Goes On" (1967), and their debut album
Look At Us reached #2 on the US album chart in 1965.
Acquisition by Warner Bros.-Seven Arts
Atlantic Records logo used from 1966 to 2005; revived in 2015.
Despite the huge success Atlantic was enjoying with its own artists
and through its deal with Stax, by 1967
Jerry Wexler was seriously
concerned about the disintegration of the old order of independent
record companies and, fearing for the label's future, he began
agitating for it to be sold to a larger company. Label president Ahmet
Ertegun still had no desire to sell, but the balance of power had
changed since the abortive takeover attempt of 1962; Atlantic's
original investor Dr Vahdi Sabit and minority stockholder Miriam
Bienstock had both been bought out in September 1964 and the other
remaining partner, Nesuhi Ertegun, was eventually convinced to side
with Wexler. Since they jointly held more stock, Ahmet was obliged to
agree to the sale.
In October 1967 Atlantic was sold to
Warner Bros.-Seven Arts
Warner Bros.-Seven Arts for
US$17.5 million, although all the partners later agreed that it was a
poor deal which greatly undervalued Atlantic's true worth. Initially,
Atlantic and Atco operated entirely separately from the group's other
Warner Bros. Records
Warner Bros. Records and Reprise Records, and management did
not interfere with the music division, since the ailing movie division
was losing money, while the Warner recording division was booming –
by mid-1968 Warner's recording and publishing interests were
generating 74% of the group's total profits.
The sale of
Atlantic Records activated a clause in the distribution
Stax Records calling for renegotiation of the
distribution deal and at this point the Stax partners discovered that
the deal gave Atlantic ownership of all the Stax recordings Atlantic
distributed. The new Warner owners refused to relinquish ownership of
the Stax masters, so the distribution deal ended on May 1968.
Atlantic continues to hold the rights to Stax recordings it
distributed in the 1960s.
In the wake of the takeover, Jerry Wexler's influence in the company
rapidly diminished; by his own admission, he and Ertegun had run
Atlantic as "utmost despots" but in the new corporate structure, he
found himself unwilling to accept the delegation of responsibility
that his executive role dictated. He was also alienated from the
"rockoid" white acts that were quickly becoming the label's most
profitable commodities, and dispirited by the rapidly waning fortunes
of the black acts he had championed, such as
Ben E. King
Ben E. King and Solomon
Burke. Wexler ultimately decided to leave New York and move to
Florida. Following his departure, Ertegun—who had previously taken
little interest in Atlantic's business affairs—took decisive control
of the label and quickly became a major force in the expanding
Warner music group.
During 1968 Atlantic established a new subsidiary label, Cotillion
Records. The label was originally formed as an outlet for blues and
deep Southern soul; its first single, Otis Clay's version of "She's
About A Mover", was an R&B hit. Cotillion's catalog quickly
expanded to include progressive rock, folk-rock, gospel, jazz and
comedy. In 1976, the label started focusing on disco and R&B.
Among its acts were the post-Curtis Mayfield Impressions, Slave, Brook
Benton, Jean Knight, Mass Production, Sister Sledge, The Velvet
Underground, Stacy Lattisaw, Lou Donaldson, Mylon LeFevre, Stevie
Woods, Johnny Gill, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Garland Green, The
Dynamics, The Fabulous Counts, and The Fatback Band. Cotillion was
also responsible for launching the career of Luther Vandross, who
recorded for the label as part of the trio Luther. Cotillion also
released the triple-albums soundtrack of the
Woodstock festival film
in 1970. From 1970 it also distributed Embryo Records, founded by jazz
Herbie Mann after his earlier Atlantic contract had expired.
In addition to establishing Cotillion, Atlantic began expanding its
own roster to include rock, soul/rock, progressive rock, British bands
and singer songwriters. Two female artists were personally signed by
Wexler, with album releases in 1969,
Dusty Springfield (Dusty in
Lotti Golden (Motor-Cycle), although Golden also
had a close working relationship with Ertegun, who was instrumental in
her signing with the label. By 1969, the Atlantic 8000 series
(1968–72) consisted of R&B, rock, soul/rock and psychedelic
acts. Other releases that year include albums by Aretha Franklin
Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin),
Don Covay (House of Blue
Boz Scaggs (Boz Scaggs),
Roberta Flack (First Take), Wilson
Pickett (Hey Jude),
Mott the Hoople
Mott the Hoople (Mott the Hoople), and Black Pearl
Warner Bros.-Seven Arts
Warner Bros.-Seven Arts was taken over by the Kinney National
Company, and in the early 1970s the group was rebadged as Warner
Communications. After buying
Elektra Records and its sister label
Nonesuch Records in 1970, Kinney combined the operations of all of its
record labels under a new holding company, WEA, and also known as
Warner Music Group. WEA was also used as a label for distributing the
company's artists outside North America. In January 1970, Ahmet
Ertegun was successful in his executive battle against Warner Bros.
Records president Mike Maitland to keep
Atlantic Records autonomous
and as a result Maitland was fired by Kinney president Steve Ross.
Mo Ostin to succeed Maitland as Warner Bros.
Records president.[page needed] With Ertegun's power at
Warners now secure, Atlantic was able to successfully maintain
autonomy through the parent company reorganizations and continue to do
their own marketing, while WEA handled distribution.
The rock era
This section is too long. Consider splitting it into new pages, adding
subheadings, or condensing it. (April 2017)
Over the course of the 1970s, Atlantic, until then regarded as the
pre-eminent American R&B/soul label, rapidly reinvented itself as
a major force on the burgeoning rock music scene and, thanks to a
string of lucrative signings, the Atlantic roster soon boasted some of
the most popular and successful rock acts in the world. Ahmet Ertegun
unquestionably led this change, but much credit should also be
accorded to label executive
Jerry L. Greenberg
Jerry L. Greenberg and A&R manager
John Kalodner, both of whom came to prominence at Atlantic in this
It is notable that many of the biggest rock acts on the Atlantic
roster in this period were British (including Led Zeppelin, Genesis,
Bad Company and Phil Collins) and this was largely due to the
influence of Ahmet Ertegun. According to Greenberg, Ertegun had long
seen the UK as a prime source of untapped musical talent and at his
urging, Greenberg was soon visiting the UK six or seven times each
year in search of new signings.
For much of its early history,
Jerry Wexler had effectively been the
"day-to-day" manager of the label, while Ertegun had concentrated
in A&R and had shown comparatively less interest in the business
side of the operation – but that changed rapidly after the sale to
Warner. Although Ertegun had been forced into accepting the sale, he
adroitly turned the situation to his advantage – he quickly gained
executive control of the label, and was also soon wielding
considerable influence in the larger Warner group. By contrast, Wexler
was disenchanted by Atlantic's move into "white rock"; during the
early 1970s he gradually drifted away from the label, and he
officially left the company in 1975. It was Wexler's protégé Jerry
L. Greenberg who filled the breach left by his departure, and
alongside Ertegun, Greenberg played a major role in Atlantic 's
success in the 1970s.
Greenberg's meteoric rise to prominence at Atlantic saw him go from
personal assistant to label president in just seven years. As a
teenager, he drummed for his own group, Jerry Green and The
Passengers, which recorded for several labels (including Atlantic) in
the late 1950s, and by eighteen he had founded his own independent
label. He began his professional career in the music industry in the
early 1960s as a "plugger", promoting newly released records to radio
stations. In 1967, on the strength of Greenberg's success in promoting
Percy Sledge's hit "When a Man Loves a Woman", Wexler hired Greenberg
as his personal assistant, and over the next few years he mentored
Greenberg in recording, producing, finding songs, and the day-to-day
tasks of running a major label. According to Greenberg,
"When I came to work for him (Wexler) one of the first assignments he
gave me was to find songs for
Dusty Springfield for the Dusty in
Memphis album. Jerry taught me the day-to-day aspects of the record
business, which was finding songs, how to call disc jockeys, how to
check sales, marketing ... all of that. When they sold the company (to
Warner) Jerry went to Florida and started making records down there
and that’s when I really became close with Ahmet. When Ahmet signed
The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones in 1971 he took me to France to meet Mick Jagger.
That’s when I really became Ahmet’s protégé. I learned from
Ahmet, first of all, about music and, secondly, how you treat artist
and the whole creative system that goes with treating an artist. The
Rolling Stones didn’t turn out a record every two years. They put
one out when creatively they were ready to write songs. I was a
musician and all of our artists recognized that and I think that is
why I got along with them so well. I was never intimidated by Robert
Plant or Belushi or the Bee Gees or the Eagles. I told them what I
thought about the record. I told them if I thought they had a hit
single or not. In case of a tie the artist won. It was that simple.
Ahmet really taught me how to be a diplomat when it came to certain
situations with artist and managers and it was an extremely wonderful
relationship. It was almost like a father son relationship."
In 1969 Greenberg was appointed as General Manager of the label. In
the early 1970s, with Wexler now spending most of his time in Miami,
Greenberg began working closely with Ertegun, who recognised his
ability and promoted him rapidly. By 1972 Greenberg held the dual
titles of Vice President of Radio Promotion, and Vice President of
Artists and Repertoire, and in 1974 Ertegun – by now Chairman of the
company – appointed him President of Atlantic Records, making
Greenberg, at just 32, the youngest-ever president of a major
Atlantic's success with rock acts had begun with Cream, and it was
another British hard rock group who became its next major discovery.
In late October 1968 music manager Peter Grant flew to New York with
tapes of the debut album by a new British rock band called Led
Zeppelin. Ertegun and Wexler already knew of the group's leader, Jimmy
Page, through his tenure in The Yardbirds, and their favourable
opinion was reinforced by Dusty Springfield, who strongly recommended
that Atlantic should sign the new band. When Grant met with Ertegun
and Wexler, a deal was quickly drawn up. On November 23 Atlantic
issued a press release announcing the signing of
Led Zeppelin to an
exclusive five-year contract, one of the "most substantial" in the
label's history; although not disclosed at the time, this included an
advance of $US200,000. Zeppelin recorded directly for Atlantic
Records from 1968 to 1973 and after that contract expired, they
founded their own "vanity" label,
Swan Song Records and signed a
distribution deal with Atlantic (after being turned down by other
labels). The arrival of
Led Zeppelin proved timely for Atlantic's
future as a rock label – one month after their signing, Atlantic's
flagship rock act Cream played their farewell concert at the Royal
Albert Hall in London (supported, coincidentally, by another
up-and-coming new band, Yes, who were themselves signed to Atlantic
early the next year).
Atlantic's next major breakthrough came with one of rock's first
"supergroups", although the label almost lost what proved to be one of
the most successful signings in its history. In 1969 Stephen Stills
was still signed to Atlantic under the contract dating from his tenure
in Buffalo Springfield. His agent
David Geffen came to
Jerry Wexler to
ask for Stills to be released from his Atlantic contract, because
Geffen wanted Stills' new group to sign with Columbia Records. Wexler
lost his temper and threw Geffen out of his office, but fortunately
Ahmet Ertegun the next day, and Ertegun persuaded Geffen
Clive Davis at
Columbia Records to let Atlantic sign the
new group, Crosby Stills & Nash.
The trio was formed following a chance meeting between members of
three leading 1960s pop groups – Stephen Stills,
David Crosby of The
Graham Nash of The Hollies). Stills and Crosby had been
friends since the early 1960s; Nash had first met Crosby in the
The Byrds toured the UK, and he renewed the friendship
The Hollies toured the US in mid-1968. By this time creative
The Hollies were coming to a head, and Nash had
already decided to leave the group. Fate intervened during the Hollies
US tour, when Nash reunited with Crosby and met Stephen Stills
(ex-Buffalo Springfield) at a party at the
Los Angeles home of Cass
Elliott in July 1968. After Crosby and Stills sang Stills' new
composition "You Don't Have To Cry" that evening, Nash asked them to
repeat it, and chimed in with an impromptu third harmony part. The
trio's unique vocal chemistry was instantly apparent, so when Nash
quit the Hollies in August 1968 and relocated to Los Angeles, the
three immediately formed a trio, Crosby, Stills & Nash. After
surprisingly failing their audition for Apple Records, thanks to
Ertegun's intervention and intense negotiations with David Geffen, who
represented Crosby and Nash, as well as Stills, they ultimately
signed with Atlantic, who gave them virtually complete freedom to
record their first album. The signing was complicated by the fact that
Nash was still under contract to
Epic Records (The Hollies' US
distributor), but Ertegun used his diplomatic prowess to overcome this
by arranging a 'swap' – he released former Buffalo Springfield
Richie Furay from his Atlantic contract, allowing Furay's new
Poco to sign to Epic, and in exchange
Columbia Records (the
parent company of Epic) allowed Nash to sign to Atlantic. In the
event, Ertegun and Atlantic were the clear winners.
moderate success for Epic, but Crosby, Stills & Nash's self-titled
debut album (released in May 1969) became a huge and enduring hit,
reaching #6 on the Billboard album chart, spawning two US Top 40
singles, becoming a multi-platinum seller and eventually earning a
place in the Rolling Stone list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All
With their commercial breakthrough, CSN needed to recruit extra
members to allow them to tour, since
Stephen Stills had played almost
all the instruments on their first album. They first added session
player Dallas Taylor as their drummer; Stills' former Buffalo
Bruce Palmer was initially hired as the bassist,
but he was subsequently removed and replaced by Motown bassist Greg
Reeves before the group recorded again. It was Ertegun who suggested
the final member of the quintet, another of Stills' former Buffalo
Neil Young (who was already signed to
Atlantic's sister label
Reprise Records as a solo artist). The new
lineup embarked on a short US tour, and their profile was immeasurably
enhanced by only their second live performance, which took place at
the epochal Woodstock Festival.
The recording of the CSNY album displayed a previously unheard-of
level of indulgence by their record company, with Stills estimating
that they spent some 800 hours in the studio, although this investment
was quickly recouped when Déjà Vu was released in March 1970 – it
became a huge hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard album chart (also
reaching #1 in Australia and #5 in the UK) and generating three hit
singles. It was soon followed by another Top 20 single, the non-album
track "Ohio". In contrast to the laboriously-recorded album tracks,
Young wrote the song immediately after seeing photos of the infamous
Kent State shootings
Kent State shootings in Life magazine; the group went to the studio
later that day and the track was cut, live, in just a few takes; it
was rush-released in June 1970, hitting the shops only weeks after the
event it protested.
Fuelled by their huge success as a group, all four main members of
CSNY released their own solo albums over the next few months: Stills,
Crosby and Nash released their debut solo albums on Atlantic during
1970–71, each featuring stellar supporting casts of backing
musicians alongside the other members of CSNY. (Young's After The
Goldrush came out on Atlantic's sister label Reprise Records, to which
Young had already signed as a solo artist). Stills' album was a major
hit, reaching #3 (with the single "Love The One You're With" making
#14 on the US singles chart); Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My
Name reached #14 (and has remained in print ever since) and Nash's
Songs for Beginners
Songs for Beginners reached #15, with the single "Chicago", reaching
#35. In the meantime, Atlantic had released CSNY's second album, the
2LP live set 4 Way Street, which also went to #1 and earned a gold
record award, but by the time it had reached the stores the group had
already split. Despite this, Atlantic enjoyed continued success with
the various members – Stills' next two LPs both made the US Top 10,
as did Crosby and Nash's 1972 duo album. The group briefly reformed in
1974 for a hugely successful stadium tour, and although plans for a
new album were scuppered by the band's legendary infighting, the
hastily compiled anthology So Far still managed to top the US album
Led Zeppelin were fast becoming one of the biggest acts
in the world, earning millions for Atlantic. Despite some early
negative critical reactions, their 1969 debut album took off rapidly,
going Top 10 in the US and the UK, where it remained on the charts for
73 weeks and 79 weeks respectively and also charting as a Top 10 album
in Spain and Australia. It has remained a consistently huge seller
ever since, earning 8 platinum awards (8 million copies) for sales in
the US alone. Zeppelin's second LP was even more successful, going to
#1 in the US, Canada, Britain, Australia and Spain and earning a
Grammy nomination for Best Album. It too became a massive and enduring
success, selling over 12 million copies in the US.
Hot on the heels of the huge success of CSNY and Led Zeppelin, British
band Yes rapidly established themselves as one of the leading groups
in the burgeoning progressive rock genre, and their success also
played a significant part in establishing the primacy of the
long-playing album as the major sales format for rock music in the
1970s. After several lineup changes during 1969–70, the band settled
into its "classic" incarnation, with guitarist Steve Howe and keyboard
player Rick Wakeman, who both joined during 1971. Although the
extended length of much of their material made it somewhat difficult
to promote the band with single releases, their live prowess gained
them an avid following and their albums were hugely successful –
their third LP
The Yes Album
The Yes Album (1971), which featured the debut of new
guitarist Steve Howe, became their first big hit, reaching #4 in the
UK and just scraping onto the chart in the US at #40. From this point,
and notwithstanding the impact of the punk/new wave movement in the
late 1970s, the band enjoyed an extraordinary run of
success—beginning with their fourth album Fragile, each of the
eleven albums they released between 1971 and 1991 (including the
lavishly packaged live triple-album Yessongs) made the Top 20 in the
US and the UK, and the double-LP
Tales of Topographic Oceans
Tales of Topographic Oceans (1973)
Going For The One
Going For The One (1977) both reached #1 in the UK.
In the mid 1970s, Atlantic scored with another British band Bad
Company, a new group including former Free vocalist
Paul Rodgers and
drummer Simon Kirke, ex-
Mott the Hoople
Mott the Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs, and
King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell. Managed by Led Zeppelin's Peter
Grant, and signed to Zeppelin's Swan Song label (which was distributed
by Atlantic), Bad Company's first three albums were hugely successful,
and the group also had five US Top 40 singles between 1974 and 1976.
Their 1974 self-titled debut album went to #1 on the Billboard album
chart, earning a Platinum award for sales of over 1 million copies,
and they also scored two Top 20 singles with "Can't Get Enough" (#5)
and "Movin' On" (#19). Their second album Straight Shooter (1975),
reached #3 on the Billboard album chart and spawned another two hits,
"Good Lovin' Gone Bad" (#No. 36) and "Feel Like Makin' Love"(#10).
Their next LP
Run With the Pack
Run With the Pack (1976) earned the group a third
Platinum-certified album, reaching #5 on the Billboard chart, and
their cover of the Atlantic classic "Young Blood" – the breakthrough
The Coasters back in 1957 – peaked at No. 20 on the US
charts. After this run of heady success, however, their fourth album
Burnin' Sky (1977) sold poorly compared to the previous three
(reaching only #15 on the album chart), and the title-track single
failed to reach the Top 40, only getting to #78. The band's fortunes
revived with their next album, Desolation Angels (1979), which reached
No. 3 on the Billboard charts and again had two charting singles:
"Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy" (#13) and "Gone Gone Gone" (#56).
Unfortunately, this renewed success was short-lived; manager Peter
Grant lost interest in the music scene after the untimely death of his
Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, in September 1980, and
as a result both
Led Zeppelin and
Bad Company subsequently split up.
Much of Atlantic's renewed success as a rock label in the late 1970s
can be attributed to the efforts of renowned A&R manager John
Kalodner. In 1974 the former photographer, record store manager and
music critic joined Atlantic's New York publicity department. In 1975
Kalodner moved to the A&R department, rose rapidly through the
ranks, and in 1976 he was promoted to become Atlantic's first West
Coast director of A&R. Over the next four years he was
instrumental in signing a string of major acts including Foreigner,
Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. Kalodner built his reputation
by signing acts that other labels had turned down, and perhaps the
most significant example of his achievements in this area was his
championing of Anglo-American band Foreigner.
The group was the brainchild of expatriate British musicians Mick
Jones (ex Spooky Tooth) and Ian McDonald, one of the founding members
of King Crimson. The demo tapes of the songs that eventually became
their debut album (including the song "Feels Like The First Time")
were famously rejected by almost every major label, including Atlantic
– although their tenacious manager Bud Prager later revealed that,
in retaliation for a previous bad deal, he deliberately didn't
approach CBS ("They had screwed me out of a lot of money, so I figured
I would screw them out of Foreigner. The band was never even offered
to them.") Prager persisted with Atlantic, even though their
A&R department and label president Jerry Greenberg repeatedly
rejected Foreigner; it was Kalodner's dogged belief in the group (and
a live audition) that finally convinced Greenberg to allow Kalodner to
sign them and take them on as his personal project. Even then,
Kalodner was turned down by twenty-six producers before he found
someone willing to take on the project. Despite all the resistance,
Kalodner's belief in Foreigner was totally vindicated by the group's
massive success – their 1976 debut single "Feels LIke The First
Time" reached #4 on the Billboard singles chart, their self-titled
debut album sold more than 4 million copies, and the subsequent
singles from the album kept the group in the US charts continuously
for more than a year. In the years that followed, Foreigner became one
of Atlantic's biggest successes, and one of the biggest-selling groups
in history, scoring a string of international hits and selling more
than 80 million albums worldwide, including 37.5 million albums in the
In 1978, Atlantic finally broke the leading UK progressive group
Genesis as a major act in the US.
Ahmet Ertegun had first seen them
perform in the Midwest on one of their early American tours, and it
was on this occasion that he also became an ardent fan of their
drummer/vocalist, Phil Collins. Jerry Greenberg signed the group to
Atlantic in the US in 1973 on Ertegun's advice, but although they were
very successful in Europe, Genesis remained at best a "cult" act in
America for most of the Seventies. In the meantime, original lead
Peter Gabriel had left the group in 1975, followed in 1977 by
lead guitarist Steve Hackett, reducing the group to a three-piece.
Ertegun was directly involved in the recording of the band's 1978
album ...And Then There Were Three..., personally remixing the album's
projected first single "Follow You, Follow Me". Although the group
didn't use this version, it guided them in their subsequent
production. Collins later commented, "We didn't use his version, but
we knew what he was getting at. He saw something more in there that
wasn't coming out before." The released version of "Follow You,
Follow Me" gave Genesis their first hit single in the US, the album
became their first American gold record, and the experience resulted
in Ertegun and Collins becoming close friends.
By 1979 Genesis drummer/singer
Phil Collins was considering branching
out into a solo career. Reacting to the acrimonious breakup of his
first marriage, he had begun writing and recording new songs at home,
which were considerably different from the material he had been
recording with Genesis. Although many in the industry reportedly
discouraged him from going solo, Collins was strongly supported by
Ertegun, who encouraged him to record an album after hearing the
R&B-flavoured demo tapes Collins had recorded in his garage.
Ertegun also insisted on changes to the song that became Collins'
debut single. After hearing the song's sparsely-arranged opening
section, Ertegun said: "Where's the backbeat, man? The kids won't know
where it is – you've got to put extra drums on it." Collins replied
"The drums come later," to which Ertegun retorted "By that time the
kids will have switched over to another radio station." Acceding to
Ertegun's demand, Collins took the unusual step of overdubbing extra
drums on the finished master tape, and he later commented, "He
(Ertegun) was quite right."
Although his close friendship with Ertegun helped Collins launch his
solo career, the fact that he eventually signed to Atlantic in the US
was apparently as much by luck as by design. By early 1980, when
Collins was recording his solo album, the record industry was
suffering greatly from the impact of the worldwide economic recession,
and many labels were beginning to cull their rosters and drop acts
that weren't providing major returns. At this same time, Genesis'
contract with Atlantic was up for renewal, and Collins was yet to sign
as a solo artist. As part of the negotiations, Collins and his
bandmates wanted their own 'vanity' label, Duke Records, but according
to Kalodner, and despite of Ertegun's personal interest, the group's
demands, and their relatively modest performance in the US made
Atlantic executives ambivalent about the deal. Kalodner was overseeing
the recording of Collins' solo album while Atlantic were vacillating
about signing the band and Collins, but it was at this point that
Kalodner was abruptly dismissed from Atlantic, although he was almost
immediately recruited to head the A&R division at the newly formed
Geffen Records. Angered by his unceremonious ejection from Atlantic,
he alerted Geffen to Collins' availability, but to his chagrin,
neither Geffen nor any other US label showed interest; He then alerted
Virgin Records boss Richard Branson, who immediately contacted
Tony Stratton Smith and signed Collins to Virgin in
the UK as a solo act.
Ultimately, Atlantic resigned Genesis and signed up Collins to a solo
contract, and when it was released later that year, Collins' debut
solo single became a huge hit, Aided by its music video, which was
given heavy exposure on the newly launched
MTV cable music TV channel,
"In The Air Tonight", topped the charts in many countries including
the US, and his album
Face Value sold more than five million copies.
Collins went on to enjoy colossal solo success in parallel with his
continuing career in Genesis, and he is now recognized as one of the
most successful recording artists in history, with solo sales of more
than 150 million albums. Although much maligned by rock critics and
the tabloid press, Collins has earned the remarkable distinction of
being one of only three performers (alongside
Paul McCartney and
Michael Jackson) who have sold over 100 million albums worldwide both
as solo artists and (separately) as principal members of a band.
Kalodner had also signed Collins' former bandmate Peter Gabriel, and
Atlantic released the first two of Gabriel's four self-titled solo
albums in America. The first album (also known as "Car") was
moderately successful, spawning the UK hit single "Solsbury Hill" but
his second album (a.k.a. "Scratch") did not fare as well, although it
did reach #10 on the UK album chart. Kalodner had heard some early
recordings Gabriel was making for his next album, and reportedly loved
the two very commercial tracks he was played, but when the final
master was delivered, the two 'commercial' tracks were missing, and
Kalodner was incensed by what he felt was a very 'eccentric' and
uncommercial album. In one of the rare missteps in his career,
Kalodner advised Ertegun and Greenberg that they should reject the
album and that they should consider dropping Gabriel from the label.
Surprisingly, his advice was accepted and on Ertegun's personal
approval, Gabriel's contract with Atlantic was terminated. Gabriel's
third solo album (a.k.a. "Melt") was eventually released on the
Mercury imprint and became a significant success, with the single
"Games Without Frontiers" reaching the Top 10 in the UK and #48 on the
Billboard Hot 100 in the US.
Although Ertegun subsequently disputed Kalodner's account of the
Genesis/Collins contract saga, he agreed that the loss of Gabriel was
a big mistake, and his regret about his handling of the matter was
only compounded by Gabriel's subsequent success with Geffen. Much of
this was due to Kalodner, who later admitted that, as soon as Gabriel
was dropped from Atlantic, he realised he had made a mistake. In order
to make amends to Gabriel, he alerted both CBS and Geffen to the fact
that Gabriel was available, and after a bidding war, Gabriel signed
with Geffen. They released his fourth solo album (a.k.a.
"Security") in 1984 to wide acclaim, and Gabriel scored a minor US hit
with the single "Shock The Monkey". Atlantic's regret was undoubtedly
heightened when Gabriel achieved huge international success with his
fifth album So (1986), which reached #1 in the UK and #2 in the US and
sold more than 5 million copies in the US. The irony was further
compounded by the fact that Gabriel scored a US #1 hit with the
R&B-influenced single "Sledgehammer", which featured the legendary
Memphis Horns, and which Gabriel later described as "my chance to sing
like Otis Redding."
Atlantic suffered a catastrophic loss in February 1978 when a fire
destroyed most of its tape archive, which had been stored in a
non-air-conditioned warehouse in Long Branch, New Jersey. Although
master tapes of the material in Atlantic's released back catalog
survived due to being stored in New York, the fire destroyed or
damaged an estimated 5,000–6,000 reels of tape, including virtually
all of the company's unreleased master tapes, alternate takes,
rehearsal tapes and session multi-tracks recorded between 1948 and
1969. Atlantic was one of the first labels to record in stereo; many
of the tapes that were lost were stereo 'alternates' recorded in the
late 1940s and 1950s (which Atlantic routinely taped simultaneously
with the mono versions until the 1960s) as well as almost all of the
8-track multitrack masters recorded by
Tom Dowd in the 1950s and
1960s. According to Billboard journalist Bill Holland, news of the
fire was kept quiet, and one Atlantic staffer who spoke to Holland
reported that he did not find out about it until a year later. Reissue
producers and archivists subsequently located some tapes that were at
first presumed 'lost', but which had survived because they had
evidently been removed from the New Jersey archive years earlier and
not returned. During the compilation of the Rhino-Atlantic John
Coltrane boxed set, producer
Joel Dorn located supposedly destroyed
outtakes from Coltrane's seminal 1959 album Giant Steps, plus other
tapes including Bobby Darin's original Atco demo of "Dream Lover"
Fred Neil playing guitar). Atlantic archivists have since
rediscovered other 'lost' material including unreleased masters,
alternate takes and rehearsal tapes by Ray Charles, Van "Piano Man"
Walls, Ornette Coleman,
Lennie Tristano and Lee Konitz.
In May 1988, the label held a 40th Anniversary concert, broadcast on
HBO. This concert, which was almost 13 hours in length, featured
performances by a large number of their artists and included reunions
of some rock legends like
Led Zeppelin and Crosby, Stills, and Nash
(being David Crosby's first full band performance since being released
"You're Pitiful" dispute
"Weird Al" Yankovic
"Weird Al" Yankovic edits the Atlantic Records' page to read
"YOU SUCK!" in the music video for the song "White & Nerdy"
In 2006, the label denied
"Weird Al" Yankovic
"Weird Al" Yankovic permission to release
"You're Pitiful", a parody of James Blunt's "You're Beautiful",
despite Blunt's own approval of the song. Atlantic said that it was
too early in Blunt's career, and that they did not want Blunt to
become a one-hit wonder. Although Yankovic could have legally gone
ahead with the parody anyway under the
Fair Use doctrine, his record
label, Volcano Entertainment, thought that it was best not to "go to
war" with Atlantic. The parody was released onto the
Internet as a
free download. Later he recorded two more parodies, "White &
Nerdy", and "Do I Creep You Out", to replace "You're Pitiful".
Yankovic, afterward, began wearing T-shirts reading "Atlantic Records
sucks" while performing live. In addition, the music video for "White
& Nerdy" depicts Yankovic defacing Atlantic's article on
Wikipedia, replacing the whole page with "YOU SUCK!" in excessively
large type (which spawned copycat vandalism).
Warner Communications merged with Time Inc. (owners of the
aforementioned HBO) in 1990, forming Time Warner. That same year,
Jimmy Iovine founded Interscope Records, in which Atlantic owned a 50%
stake. Interscope released notable gangsta rap titles — many in
conjunction with Death Row Records. Pressure from activist groups
opposed to gangsta rap, however, later led to parent company Time
Warner's decision to sell Atlantic's stake in the label to MCA in
A country music division, which was founded in the 1980s, was closed
in 2001. This branch included acts such as Neal McCoy, Tracy
Lawrence and John Michael Montgomery, all of whom were transferred to
Warner Bros. Records' Nashville division. The Atlantic Nashville
division was revived in 2008 with
Zac Brown Band
Zac Brown Band and Jesse Lee being
signed to it.
Time Warner sold
Warner Music Group
Warner Music Group to a group of investors for $2.6
billion in late 2003. The deal closed in early 2004, consolidating
Elektra Records and Atlantic into one label operated in the eastern
In 2007, the label celebrated its 60th anniversary with the May 2 PBS
broadcast of the
American Masters documentary Atlantic Records: The
House that Ahmet Built and the simultaneous
Starbucks CD release of
Atlantic 60th Anniversary: R&B Classics Chosen By Ahmet
That year also saw Atlantic reach a milestone for major record labels.
According to the International Herald Tribune, "More than half of its
music sales in the
United States are now from digital products, like
downloads on iTunes and ring tones for cellphones", doing so "without
seeing as steep of a decline in
Compact Disc sales as the rest of the
1017 Brick Squad Records
Big Beat Records
Big Tree Records
First Priority Music
Grand Hustle Records
Maybach Music Group
Stone Flower Records
Fueled by Ramen
List of current
Atlantic Records artists
List of former
Atlantic Records artists
Atlantic Records Group
Atlantic Records artists
List of record labels: 0-9
Atlantic Records discography
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Atlantic Records: The House that Ahmet Built television documentary in
American Masters series
Atlantic Records' channel on YouTube
Atlantic US/UK A&R team contact list
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