Atlantic Records - The Basics:
- What - WMG owned subsidiary Atlantic Records
- Founded by - Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson
- Founded - 1947
A Dental Investment:
Atlantic wasn't Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson's first run at starting a label. In 1946, with the backing of a family friend, the pair started two labels - Quality Records, a jazz/R&B label, and Jubilee, for Gospel music.
The first releases for Quality and Jubilee were flops. Ertegun and Abramson wanted to start a new label, but didn't have the cash - and family friends weren't so forthcoming this time. In stepped Ertegun's family dentist, Dr. Vahdi Sabit. Dr. Sabit remortgaged his home to come up with the $1,000 investment Ertegun needed. After toying with names, Ertegun and Abramson settled on Atlantic - inspired in part by the label Pacific Jazz.
Slick Sounds Go Country:
Atlantic hosted its first recording session in fall, 1947 - The Harlemites performing The Rose of Rio Grande - but the label looked like it was doomed to the same fate as Quality and Jubilee. Ertegun and Abramson couldn't understand why their records weren't selling - they were well recorded and well performed - but they just weren't clicking.
The pair discovered an answer during a trip from their NYC base down south. In the southern nightclubs, they heard a new kind of music - a blending of country, blues, jazz and R&B - that made their recordings sound slick and uptight. No one in the clubs wanted to dance to their records.
The pair saw their mistake. With a little inspiration from Sorghum Switch, Atlantic released it's first hit record - Stick McGhee's Drinkin Wine Sop-Dee-O-Dee.
During the 1950s, not only did Atlantic become a dominant force in the music business, but a two important faces joined the label family: Jerry Wexler and Nesuhi Ertegun. Between the two of them, this pair produced some of Atlantic biggest hits and had a tremendous impact on American music. Ertegun built up Atlantic's jazz department, producing for the likes of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, among others. Wexler became instrumental in fostering the Southern soul sound that would characterize the label in the latter 1950s and beyond.
Atlantic during the 1960s is intrinsically associated with soul, especially Southern soul and R&B, thanks in a large part to Jerry Wexler. However, as the times and musical tastes changed, the label changed with them, and by the 1970s, Atlantic was at the forefront of rock music. Led Zeppelin, Dire Straits and Dr. John, among many others, joined the Atlantic stable.
Atlantic had built its name as an independent label, but in 1967, Warner Brothers purchased the label. The intention was for Atlantic (and Atco, which Warner Brothers also acquired) to be run separately from other Warner Brother labels. However, in 1969, Kinney Communications purchased Warner Brothers. Kinney changed its name to Warner Communications. After picking up Elektra, Warner Communications created WEA - Warner-Elektra-Atlantic. Atlantic remains part of the WEA holding company.
In the late 80s, Time Inc. merged with Warner, creating Time Warner. Around the same time, Jimmy Iovine founded Interscope Records and released a series of controversial records in the burgeoning gangsta rap genre. Atlantic owned a 50% stake in Interscope, and Time Warner came under public scrutiny for its relationship with Interscope. In 1995, Time Warner sold Atlantic's Interscope stake, caving to public pressure.
In 2008, Atlantic became the first major record label to mark over 50% of its sales in digital downloads. Bucking the trend, however, sales of physical Atlantic product did not decline by as a large a margin as most labels.
Atlantic Time Capsule:
It is difficult to overstate Atlantic's impact on American music - and the fact that the label was independent so long also influenced the industry. Atlantic had a reputation for paying its artists a fair share, and they set a benchmark for other labels. To mark its history, the label released the Atlantic Time Capsule, a lovingly curated collection of Atlantic music gems as well as memorabilia, never before seen images of some of music's biggest names and a detailed story of how the label built its empire. Learn more about the Time Capsule and listen to some Atlantic tracks.