Atlantic Records' logo as of 2015
|Parent company||Warner Music Group|
|Country of origin||United States|
Atlantic Recording Corporation (simply known as Atlantic Records) is an American record label founded in October 1947 by Ahmet Ertegün and Herb Abramson. Over its first 20 years of operation, Atlantic earned a reputation as one of the most important American labels, specializing in jazz, R&B, and soul by 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. In 1967, Atlantic 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 Led Zeppelin and Yes.
In 2004, Atlantic and its sister label Elektra were merged into Atlantic Records Group.Craig Kallman is the chairman of Atlantic. Ahmet Ertegün served as founding chairman until his death on December 14, 2006, at age 83.
In 1944, brothers Nesuhi and Ahmet Ertegun remained in the United States when their mother and sister returned to Turkey after the death of their father Munir Ertegun, Turkey's first ambassador to the U.S. The brothers had become ardent fans of jazz and rhythm & blues, amassing a collection of over 15,000 78 RPM records. Ahmet ostensibly stayed in Washington to undertake post-graduate music studies at Georgetown University but immersed himself in the Washington music scene and entered 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 hired 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 and Billy Eckstine. He founded Jubilee in 1946 but had no interest in its most successful musicians. In September 1947, he sold his share in Jubilee to his partner, Jerry Blaine, and invested $2,500 in Atlantic.
Atlantic was incorporated in October 1947 and was run by Abramson (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 engineer Tom Dowd 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 office in the Ritz Hotel in Manhattan proved too expensive, so they moved to a 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's first recordings were issued in late January 1948 and included "That Old Black Magic" by Tiny Grimes and "The Spider" by Joe Morris. In its early years, Atlantic concentrated 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 happened to land.
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 effect 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 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 songs under the alias "A. Nugetre", including Big Joe Turner's hit "Chains of Love", recording them in booths in Times Square, then giving them to an arranger or session musician. Early releases included music by Sidney Bechet, Barney Bigard, The Cardinals, The Clovers, Frank Culley, The Delta Rhythm Boys, Erroll Garner, Dizzy Gillespie, Tiny Grimes, Al Hibbler, Earl Hines, Johnny Hodges, Jackie & Roy, Lead Belly, Meade Lux Lewis, Professor Longhair, Shelly Manne, Howard McGhee, Mabel Mercer, James Moody, Joe Morris, Art Pepper, Django Reinhardt, Pete Rugolo, Pee Wee Russell, Bobby Short, Sylvia Syms, Billy Taylor, Sonny Terry, Big Joe Turner, Jimmy Yancey, Sarah Vaughan, Mal Waldron, and Mary Lou Williams.
In early 1949, a New Orleans distributor phoned Ertegun to obtain Stick McGhee's "Drinking Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee", which was unavailable due to the closing 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 re-recorded the song. When released in February 1949, it became Atlantic's first hit, selling 400,000 copies, and reached No. 2 after spending almost six months on the Billboard R&B chart - although McGhee himself earned just $10 for the session. Atlantic's fortunes rose rapidly: recorded 187 songs were recorded in 1949, more than three times the amount from the previous two years, and received overtures for a manufacturing and distribution deal with Columbia, which would pay Atlantic a 3% royalty on every copy sold. Ertegun asked about artists' royalties, which he paid, and this surprised Columbia executives, who did not, and the deal was scuttled.
On the recommendation of broadcaster Willis Conover, Ertegun and Abramson visited Ruth Brown at the Crystal Caverns club in Washington and invited her to audition for Atlantic. She was injured in a car accident en route to New York City, but Atlantic supported her for nine months and then signed her. "So Long", her first record for the label, was recorded with Eddie Condon's band on May 25, 1949. The song reached No. 6 on the R&B chart. Brown recorded more than eighty songs for Atlantic, becoming its bestselling, most prolific musician of the period. So significant was Brown's success to Atlantic that the label became known colloquially as "The House That Ruth Built".
Joe Morris, one of the label's earliest signings, scored a hit with his October 1950 song "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 No. 1 in September 1951. A few weeks later 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 No. 3 in September 1952, and "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean" with Connie Kay on drums reached No. 1 in February and March 1953. After Brown left the label in 1961, her career declined, and within she worked as a cleaner and bus driver to support her children. In the 1980s she sued Atlantic for unpaid royalties; although Atlantic, which prided itself on treating artists fairly, had stopped paying royalties to some musicians. Ertegun denied this was intentional. Brown received a voluntary payment of $20,000 and founded the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1988 with a donation of $1.5 million from Ertegun.
In 1952 Atlantic signed Ray Charles, whose hits included "I Got a Woman", "What'd I Say", and "Hallelujah I Love Her So". Later that year The Clovers' "One Mint Julep" reached No. 2. In 1953, after learning that singer Clyde McPhatter had been fired from Billy Ward and His Dominoes and was forming The Drifters, Ertegun signed the group. Their single "Money Honey" became the biggest R&B hit of the year. Their records created some controversy: the suggestive "Such A Night" was banned by radio station WXYZ in Detroit and "Honey Love" was banned in Memphis but both reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart.
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 influenced pop music. He had more hits than George Martin and Phil Spector combined.
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 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 recorded as two separate, parallel grooves. Playing them back required a turntable 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 turntables being introduced. 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 in stereo. Stereo versions of Ray Charles "What'd I Say" and "Night Time is the Right Time" were included on the Atlantic anthology The Birth of Soul: The Complete Atlantic Rhythm & Blues Recordings, 1952-1959.
Atlantic's New York studio was 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. It was not until the mid-1960s that multitrack recorders became the norm in English studios and EMI's Abbey Road Studios did not install 8-track facilities until 1968.
Atlantic entered the LP market early: its first was This Is My Beloved (March 1949), a 10" album of poetry by Walter Benton that was narrated by John Dall with music by Vernon Duke. In 1951, Atlantic was one of the first independent labels to press records in the 45rpm single format. By 1956 the 45 had surpassed the 78 in sales for singles. In April of that year, Miriam (Abramson) Bienstock reported to Billboard that Atlantic was selling 75% of its singles as 45s. During the previous year, 78s had outsold 45s by a ratio of two to one.
In February 1953, Herb Abramson was drafted into the U.S. Army. He moved to Germany, where he served in the Army Dental Corps, although he retained his post as president of Atlantic on full pay. Ertegun hired Billboard reporter Jerry Wexler in June 1953. Wexler is credited with coining the term "rhythm & blues" to replace "race music". He was appointed vice-president and purchased 13% of the company's stock. Wexler and Ertegun 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 musicians were being covered by white performers, often with greater chart success.LaVern Baker had a No. 4 R&B hit with "Tweedlee Dee", but a rival version by Georgia Gibbs went to No. 2 on the pop chart. Big Joe Turner's April 1954 release "Shake, Rattle and Roll" was a No. 1 R&B hit, but it only reached No. 22 on the pop chart while Bill Haley & His Comets's version reached No. 7, selling over one million copies, become the bestselling song of the year for Decca. In July 1954, Wexler and Ertegun wrote a prescient article for Cash Box devoted to what they called "cat music"; the same month, Atlantic had its first major "crossover" hit on the Billboard pop chart when the "Sh-Boom" by The Chords reached No.5 (although The Crew-Cuts' version went to No. 1). Atlantic missed an important signing in 1955 when Sun 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'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."
Ahmet's older brother Nesuhi was hired in January 1955. He had been living in Los Angeles for several years and had intermittent 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 Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre, Herbie Mann, and Les McCann, as well asCharles Mingus and John Coltrane. By 1958 Atlantic was America's second-largest independent jazz label.
Nesuhi was also in charge of LP production. He was credited with improving the production, packaging, and originality of Atlantic's LPs. He deleted the old '100' and '400' series of 10" albums and the earlier 12" albums in Atlantic's catalog, starting the '1200' series, which sold for $4.98, with Shorty Rogers' The Swingin' Mr Rogers. 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.
When Abramson returned from military service in 1955, he realized that he had been replaced by Wexler as Ahmet's partner. Abramson did not get along with either Wexler or Nesuhi Ertegun, and he had returned from 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; 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 general manager, 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 engineer).
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 numbers.
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 Nunn, formed 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 1958, 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 and 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 Records with 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 on stage and TV. "Up On The Roof", co-written by 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 singer 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 the beginning, 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 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 the 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 and Wexler.
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 1977.
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 Memphis-based singers 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 with Stax."
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, and advertising."
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 sent 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. 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.
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. 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". Franklin signed with Atlantic Records in November 1966 after the expiry of her contract with Columbia Records, who had unsuccessfully tried to market her as a jazz singer. After she signed with Atlantic, 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).
The mid-1960s 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 Canadian-born bassist 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.
In 1965 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.
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 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 labels, 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 agreement with 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 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 flautist 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 Memphis) and 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 (Soul '69), Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin), Don Covay (House of Blue Lights), Boz Scaggs (Boz Scaggs), Roberta Flack (First Take), Wilson Pickett (Hey Jude), Mott the Hoople (Mott the Hoople), and Black Pearl (Black Pearl).
In 1969 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. Ertegun recommended 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.
Some acts on the Atlantic roster in this period were British (including Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Yes, Bad Company and Phil Collins) and this was largely due to Ertegun. According to Greenberg, Ertegun had long seen the UK as a source of untapped talent. At his urging, Greenberg visited the UK six or seven times every year in search of acts to sign to the label.
For much of its early history, Jerry Wexler had been managers of the label, while Ertegun had concentrated on A&R and had less interest in the business side. But that changed after the sale to Warner. Although Ertegun had been forced into accepting the sale, he turned the situation to his advantage. He gained executive control of the label and influenced the Warner group. By contrast, Wexler was disenchanted by Atlantic's move into rock; he left in 1975. Wexler's protégé Jerry L. Greenberg replaced him and played a role in Atlantic's success during the 1970s.
In seven years, Greenberg went from personal assistant to president of the label. Wexler had hired Greenberg and acted as his mentor, teaching him the daily operations of the record business. From Ertegun he learned how to treat musicians.
In 1968 Peter Grant flew to New York with tapes of the debut album by British rock band Led Zeppelin. Ertegun and Wexler knew of the group's leader, Jimmy Page, through The Yardbirds, and their favorable opinion was reinforced by Dusty Springfield, who recommended Atlantic sign the band. Atlantic signed the band to an exclusive five-year contract, one of the "most substantial" in the label's history Zeppelin recorded for Atlantic from 1968 to 1973. After the contract expired, they founded their label Swan Song and signed a distribution deal with Atlantic after being turned down by other labels.
In 1969 Stephen Stills was still signed to Atlantic under the contract dating from time with in Buffalo Springfield. His agent David Geffen went to Wexler to ask for Stills to be released from his Atlantic contract, because Geffen wanted Stills' new group to sign with Columbia. Wexler lost his temper and threw Geffen out of his office, but Geffen called Ahmet Ertegun the next day, and Ertegun persuaded Geffen to convince Clive Davis at Columbia to let Atlantic sign 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 Byrds and Graham Nash of The Hollies. Stills and Crosby had been friends since the early 1960s; Nash had first met Crosby in the mid-1960s when The Byrds toured the UK, and he renewed the friendship when The Hollies toured the US in mid-1968. By this time creative tensions within 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,
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 (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 (1973) and Going For The One (1977) both reached #1 in the UK.
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, AC/DC, 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 US alone.
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 singer 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 Collins' manager Tony Stratton Smith and signed Collins to Virgin in the UK as a solo act.
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, alternative 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" (with Fred Neil playing guitar). Atlantic archivists have since rediscovered other 'lost' material including unreleased masters, alternative 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 from prison).
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 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 1995.
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 and Jesse Lee being signed to it.
Time Warner sold 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 United States.
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 Ertegun.
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 industry."
Artists signed to Atlantic Records as of June 2018Bhad 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, Mason Ramsey, Melanie Martinez, Missy Elliott, Paramore, Portugal. The Man, Rita Ora, Shinedown, Sia, Skillet, Skrillex, Weezer, Why Don't We, Wiz Khalifa, and YoungBoy Never Broke Again.include