The greatest record company in the world in terms of its artist history.
One of my proudest career moments was working for one of my favorite labels - the mighty Atlantic Records from New York. I made my mark in spectacular fashion by breaking one of the US company's brand new major acts in the UK before they had their debut record released in the USA. That act was En Vogue and the song was "Hold On". More info under the photos of En Vogue etc..
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 acapella 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 backstage as the girls lined up in chic air-hostess uniforms then launched into their famous intro acapella. 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 real '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 in attendance. Except the BBC Radio 1 daytime playlist 'experts' who even when it entered the National Chart at #5 still never added it to any of the station's playlist. 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 that 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 singer 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.
I can honestly say that I delivered on this song for those four wonderful girls and Sylvia. Almost 20 million views on Youtube reveal its lasting popularity.
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 heard as a hit for the UK, it was too negative in its song and I felt that the girls were primed for a potential No. 1 with the right song and remixes. But..
BBC Radio 1 immediately put "Lies" on their A-list rotation (7 plays a day). The BBC 1's Top Of The Pops chart music show gave the girls an exclusive live performance 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. The UK Atlantic bosses completely blew it. Not for the first or last time would I see University educated record company bosses have no sense of a song's true potential. In the real business world heads would have rolled for that loss.
The aforementioned kind of promotion on "You Don't Need To Worry" with Soul II Soul remixes I truly believe would have given the girls a No. 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. A monster music moment was lost.
The ace I had up my sleeve was that Jazzy had pledged me a big return favour because a year earlier I took the legendary Diana Ross to one of their Soul II Soul gigs at the Brixton Academy for a secret 3 song performance for free. 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, extra, extra sizzle...
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 companies bosses don't have a clue. A big lesson learnt that I never forgot. Trust your own instincts. I should have pressed much much harder for a double A-Sided release but I stepped back after seeing the bosses confidence in their decision. I had never ever seen the BBC put a record straight on their Radio 1 A-List then couple that with the live Top Of The Pops exclusive. It was unusual to say the very least.
People don't really attach themselves 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-boss 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, because it was a typical "I Just Called To Say I Love You" type of Stevie song. Hey ho, some folks just don't know their songs from their thongs.
As a direct result of the En Vogue success, the UK girl group Eternal was started (an EG idea) with the same recipe of vocals and panache. Eternal sold over 5 millions albums and their first 6 single releases were all #1 in the UK Club Charts, promoted exclusively by my company Song & Dance (their Greatest Hits album features 3 of my remixes) and they pathed the way for all the UK girl groups that followed from the Spice Girls to All Saints and Girls Aloud. The En Vogue journey was the litmus test for what was to follow. A mini music revolution with a lot of hit songs and girl-band singers marrying Premiership footballers :-)
Back to Atlantic - I continued breaking records that year for the US Atlantic company with Family Stand's "Ghetto Heaven" remixed by (guess who?) Jazzie B & Nellie Hooper, plus Ten City "Whatever Makes You Happy", The Jungle Brothers "What You Waitin For", Ultra Nate "It's Over Now", remixing The DOC "Portrait Of A Masterpiece" with CJ Macintosh (video below) and A Way Of LIfe "Tripping On Your Love" ( a Slammer favourite) 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.. This had never been achieved by one record company until that week, pretty cool but soon it was sayōnara Atlantic Records.
By the spring of 1992, after making a real impact at Atlantic Records, I was given a 'we'll triple your wages' offer to join another company. I was quite disillusioned with the attitude to dance and black music from the UK Atlantic bosses, especially as the Atlantic label's origins in the USA were founded on black music (see below), so I handed my notice in to the UK Atlantic job and headed to West London to join Universal/Polygram where, over two spells, Polydor then Mercury Records, I enjoyed years of amazing hits and life experiences.
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 groundbreakingly 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.