The greatest record company in the world in terms of its artist history.
After returning from a visit to New York to prove my R&B, Disco and Soul music knowledge to Sylvia Rhone, the USA Vice President of Atlantic Records, she telephoned a couple of weeks later and said that she was sending over a tape of a new release that needed my special attention. The act was En Vogue with their debut song called "Hold On" and it needed to be a hit in the UK before they could release it in the US as their radio stations were not inclined to play girl group songs..
A few days later the tape arrived in the mail. I recognised their acappella intro from an early 70's Michael Jackson song 'I Wonder Who's Loving You', then called to tell Sylvia that I felt confident that I could break the song in the UK if the girls came over to London and did some appearances with me. The UK Atlantic bosses gave me £5'000 to spend on flights and hotels with a warning that I must deliver!!
The four girls came over and for the next two weeks I drove them in my company car to various club dates and radio interviews around the UK. It was their performance at the Prestatyn
Soul Weekender that really blew things open for them because all the Club and Radio DJ's who saw them perform that afternoon returned home and hammered the track on their radio shows.
I remember standing back stage as the girls lined up in chic air-hostess uniforms then launched into their famous intro accapella - the entire room of people stopped whatever they were doing, turned to the stage and watched gobsmacked as those vocals filled every corner of the room, wall to wall, ceiling to ceiling. It was a hairs-standing up on the back of your neck moment and the only song that they sang at Prestatyn - but it blew the minds of the people watching.
Honestly, that single performance launched the record in the UK thanks to the Soul Mafia DJ's and all the radio dj's around the country. Except the BBC Radio 1 daytime playlist 'experts' who even when it entered their chart at #5 still never added it. It was one of those times when dance radio and club DJs propelled a song they loved to the top regardless. BBC Radio 1 would properly embrace Soul, Dance and Rap eventually, we made it our mission.
Later Sylvia Rhone flew myself and Sue Jeoffroy, my very able partner, out to LA for The 1990 Soul Train Awards as a massive thank you because the British #5 national hit had ignited the US Radio Stations for the US release of "Hold On". The En Vogue girls were in orbit..
A quote from En Vogue's Cindy Herron. "It was so big so quick, and not just in the US. We were so well received in England too. When 'Hold On' first came out, we went to a radio convention in Prestatyn? Yeah, Prestatyn in Wales, that was one of our very first performances. To see people there enjoy our music was mind-blowing." goo.gl/YcSGe8 - EG organised and the girls amazed.
When it was time for the second single I wanted to go with a song off their 'Born To Sing' album called "You Don't Have To Worry" with Jazzy B and Nellie Hooper already agreed to remix it, but the UK bosses said "no we'll take over now son and do the big record company job" on a song called "Lies", which I never saw as a hit for the UK.
BBC Radio 1 immediately put "Lies" on their A-list rotation (7 plays a day). The BBC 1's Top Of The Pops show gave the girls an exclusive performance live from Los Angeles and the UK Atlantic Records company gave them the full priority push from the press, marketing and sales departments. "Lies" hit the UK singles chart at # 41 and faded away.
That kind of promotion on "You Don't Need To Worry" I truly believe, with the Soul-II-Soul remixes, would have given the girls a UK #1 hit single after the success of "Hold On" especially as Jazzy B & Nellie Hooper were the hottest R&B dance music producers in the world in 1991.
What also I knew was that Jazzy owed me a nice personal favour because a year earlier I took the legendary Diana Ross to one of the Soul II Soul gigs at the Brixton Academy for a secret 3 song performance. Jazzy knew we were coming as I had arranged it with him as a surprise and a cool thing for Diana Ross to do at the request of Jheryl Busby (RIP) the CEO of Motown US. So their En Vogue mix would have got that extra sizzle from the guys.
Personally I just wish I could have heard what they would have created as a fan of the girls and Soul II Soul. Even to have a copy of the 12" but we'll never know, sadly for us real music heads, the girls and the DJ's.
Sometimes the major record companys bosses don't have a clue. A big lesson learnt that I never forgot. Trust your own instincts. I should have pressed much harder for a double A-Sided release but I stepped back after seeing the bosses confidence in their decision. I had never seen the BBC put a record straight on their Radio 1 A-List and couple that with the Top Of The Pops exclusive. It was unusual to say the least.
People don't really attach to songs with negative stories. Sad songs yes but not the kind of lyrics that don't have an emotional story to them.. Something I had experienced before at Motown when Stevie Wonder came to London to celebrate his 41st birthday and the label released an anti-apartheid song which stiffed badly despite full UK TV & Radio support, instead of releasing a Stevie classic love song called "With Every Beat Of My Heart" which again I suggested when asked. Hey ho.
I continued breaking records that year for the US Atlantic company with Family Stand's "Ghetto Heaven" remixed by Jazzie B & Nellie Hooper plus Ten City "Whatever Makes You Happy", The Jungle Brothers "What You Waitin For", Ultra Nate "Its Over Now", The DOC "Portrait Of A Masterpiece" and A Way Of LIfe "Tripping On Your Love" but I was seeing very clearly that the UK company didn't care much for Soul or Dance music even though one week my office enjoyed a UK music industry first by holding the Top 3 positions in the UK dance chart in Record Mirror and in DJ Mag..
In the spring of 1992 I was given a 'we'll triple your wages' offer to join another company so I quit the UK Atlantic job and headed to West London to join Universal/Polygram where I enjoyed years of amazing hits and experiences.
In addition, the idea of the UK groundbreaking girl group Eternal came directly out of the En Vogue success. Myself and Denis Ingoldsby created a UK version copying the line-up and performances, two who could sing lead vocals and two to harmonize the back-vocals. Eternal went on to sell 5 million albums and were the example set for the girl groups that followed, The Spice Girls, All Saints, Girls Aloud etc
I remained friends with Byron Stingily from Ten City out of Chicago and signed him to the Manifesto label with more big success for us both. I loved what Atlantic Records represented to the music business on the whole. Its quite possibly the greatest record label ever for its diversity. Motown is obviously up there but in terms of sheer across the board success with Jazz, R and B, Disco, Rock and Pop I don't know of any label that has been more ground breakingly successful than the USA Atlantic Records company.
The label was founded in 1947 by
Ahmet Ertegün and Herb Abramson. Upon its creation, Atlantic was
principally a jazz and R&B label, signing Ray Charles from
1952-1959, though it also released some country western recordings as
well. In the early fifties Ahmet was joined by Jerry Wexler and then
Nesuhi Ertegün. From February 7, 1955 Nesuhi headed the label's jazz
division and was responsible for major signings such as Charles Mingus
and John Coltrane; later Joel Dorn became Neshui's full-time assistant
from the success of his produced album The Laws of Jazz by flutist
Hubert Laws. Although it began as an independent record company, it
became a major player in the music business in the 1960s, with
mainstream pop signings like Sonny and Cher. Competing record labels
included Columbia Records and RCA Records.
The engineer, and later producer, Tom Dowd headed Atlantic's engineering department. Several sub-labels have been created or acquired since then. Atco Records was started in 1955 by Herb Abramson. Spark Records (the record label of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller) was purchased in November 1955. Others including Lava Records and 143 Records became part of the Atlantic group. In 1960, Wexler began a distribution relationship between Atlantic and Memphis-based Stax Records. The association with Stax ended in 1968. Atlantic was acquired by Warner Bros.-Seven Arts in 1967. Initially, it and Atco were to be run entirely separate from WB-SA's other labels, Warner Bros. and Reprise Records. One of Atlantic's major signings around this time was British rock band Led Zeppelin. The band had a deal with Atlantic Records directly from 1968-1973. After this contract ran out, they started their own vanity label, Swan Song Records. It signed a distribution deal with Atlantic after being turned down by other labels.
In 1969, WB-SA was sold to the Kinney National Company, which later became Warner Communications. After buying Elektra Records and its sister label Nonesuch Records the following year, Kinney combined the operations of all of its record labels under a new holding company, Warner-Elektra-Atlantic, or WEA for short, and also known as Warner Music Group. WEA was also used as a label for distributing the company's artists outside North America.
In May of 1988, the label held a 40th Anniversary concert, broadcast on HBO. This 11-hour concert 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 from prison).
In 1990, Warner Communications merged with Time Inc. (owners of the aforementioned HBO), forming Time Warner. That same year, Jimmy Iovine founded Interscope Records, which Atlantic owned a 50% stake in. 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 1995.
In late 2003, Time Warner sold Warner Music Group to a group of investors for $2.6 billion. The deal closed in early 2004, consolidating Elektra Records and Atlantic into one label operated in the eastern United States.
In 2006, the label denied "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 claimed that it was "too early" in Blunt's career, and that they didn't want Blunt to become a one-hit wonder. Although Yankovic could have legally gone ahead with the parody anyway, his record label, Volcano Records, thought that it was best not to "go to war" with Atlantic. The parody was released onto the Internet as a free download, and can be legally accessed and downloaded from Yankovic's official website. Later he recorded two more parodies, White & Nerdy, and Do I Creep You Out, to replace You're Pitiful.
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 Entertainment CD release of Atlantic 60th Anniversary: R&B Classics Chosen By Ahmet Ertegun.