Monday 5 November 2012

AAA Record Label Start-Ups (Top Nine News, Views and Music Issue 169)

You’re slogging your guts out trying to make your mark in the charts, your pr man insists on promoting you to the oldies and the under-fives and you’ve just been told if you don’t shift enough units you’re out on your ear. No wonder so many AAA bands have later in life, either jointly or individually, decided to set up their own record labels to prevent the kind of exploitation they used to experience in their youth. Some of the nine examples here (we couldn’t quite make this a top 10, sadly!) are simply for one band, for one band and solo spin-off albums or in some cases an honest attempt to promote new talent to the masses. Some are pretty successful (Apple made #1 with two of its first four singles – and only one of them a Beatles song), others less so (‘Ring’ O Records’ died in a year because its releases were so badly received, especially Ringos!) But they all had their hearts in the right places and many of them still exist in some form today, even if most are now linked to major record companies and have lost their independent spirit. Anyway, here is a rundown of them all, in alphabetical order:

The Beach Boys “Brother Records” (1967-date)

The Beach Boys set their label up just at the time when they were beginning to unravel (the famously unfinished ‘Smile’ was due to be its first release, replaced in the end by the lesser ‘Smiley Smile’). The band felt they had to do something though: their contract with capitol was exploitation personified and the label weren’t shifting their position despite the mega-millions the band had made for them over the years (their famous ‘Record tower’ building was known locally as the Beach Boys house as they contributed 90% of the label’s income at one point!) The label was, at first, run by Brian’s new friends: Van Dyke Parks (lyricist on ‘Smile’)’s manager David Anderle and the band’s long serving business manager Nick Grillo. Capitol continued to be the main ‘distributor’ of the Brother Records albums and the band kept the name for all their changes of company to date (Warner Brothers, Caribou and CBS). The only other band that ever released records on the label were The Flame, a South African group discovered by Carl Wilson who supported the band on their late 1960s tours and two of whom, post-split ended up in the band for a couple of albums (Blondie Chaplin, now a Rolling Stone back up man and Ricki Fataar, who played George/Stig O Hara in the Rutles). The company logo is similar in idea to the cover of the band’s ‘Surf’s Up’ cover and is based on a bust by sculptor Cyrus E Dallin, featuring an American Indian on a horse with his arms outs-stretched as if asking for peace.

The Beatles “Apple” (1968-date)

The granddaddy of them all, Apple was kick-started by Lennon and McCartney in 1968 after discussions throughout the past year (the idea of Apple was one of the last things Beatles manager Brian Epstein gave his blessing to before his death). Angered at EMI’s pay rate (which offered a half penny for every record sold) they wanted to set up their own business where ‘artists wouldn’t have to get down on their hands and knees in the office of some businessman’ to quote Lennon. The label started off well: new signings Mary Hopkin and Badfinger rivalled the Beatles’ last half a dozen singles in the chart, whilst other releases by band friends Billy Preston, James Taylor and Jackie Lomax brought in critical respect and support if not always sales. Ringo even roped in classical composer John Taverner to record for the label, although his work ‘The Whale’ was axed at the last minute. The idea might have worked with an Epstein type figure in charge, but the sad fact was the Beatles were too generous with their time and money and didn’t have the organisation to run a full-time business; and despite the role played by others the Beatles trusted (Derek Taylor, Neil Aspinall and Peter Asher among them) no one else had the power to decide issues without the band. The label lost lots of money and suffered under the strain of an advertising campaign for unsolicited tapes (thousands of which turned up every day and were either thrown out or collected in piles to rust away). The label pretty much disappeared when the band did in 1970, after two years of losing one artist after another as they escaped the mess (listen to Beatle worshippers Badfinger’s apologetic ‘farewell’ single ‘Apple Of My Eye’ for more insight into this). The apple logo – a big green apple chosen by McCartney after seeing a Miagret painting and given to several adaptations down the years of different varities and being cut in half etc – continued to appear on Beatles solo albums until as late as George Harrison’s ‘Extra Texture’ in 1974 (ending a seven year deal with EMI signed in 1967 that held the fab four to that label till then). However Apple is almost respectful again today, the logo having been resurrected for Beatle re-releases and archive compilations including ‘Beatles At The BBC’, ‘Anthology’, 2010’s mono and stereo CD re-releases and this month’s ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ DVD re-issue. Amazingly the whole fiasco was re-created by two of the Beatles in their solo career, as we’ll be seeing...

Grateful Dead “Grateful Dead Records” (1973-77)

Tired of exploitation at the hands of Warner Brothers, the band took a brave step when their contract ended in 1972 and decided to go the whole hog: recording, releasing, distributing and promoting their next few records all on their own. In the end the strain was so severe that the band only ever ended up releasing three records like this (‘Wake Of The Flood’ ‘From The Mars Hotel’ and ‘Blues For Allah’) before semi-retiring till 1977 and then signing for bigwigs Arista. But these three records are some of their best work, free of the need to be commercial or stick to their ‘old’ sound. The label might have worked had there not been extra complications too, such as a group of bootleggers counterfeiting American copies of ‘flood’ and selling them in replica sleeves – something that the anti-establishment Dead management sought to end by, err, teaming up with the FBI (surely one of the strangest cases they ever worked on!) The band only ever released albums by themselves – but that alone makes for ten records in three years including solo works by everyone in the band barring drummer Bill Kreutzmann (who still finds time to appear on all the others!) The logo is a lovely drawing of the traditional Dead ‘skeleton’ logo dressed as a medieval minstral and playing a mandolin!

George Harrison “Dark Horse Records” (1974-92, 2002-2004)

Despite the problems with Apple, George still longed to have a label of his own and came up with the clever moniker ‘Dark Horse’ (George has been described as the ‘dark horse’ of the Beatles after coming out of nowhere with the success of ‘All Things Must Pass’ and ‘My Sweet Lord’ in 1970). Ironically the song of that name ended up being George’s last single for EMI, although Dark Horse was a label more in name than actuality, the distribution of all of George’s remaining solo records going to Warner Brothers. George didn’t stick to his own work, however, and used the label to release records by lots of his friends including Ravi Shankar and Splinter, as well as the curious signing of ex-Wings guitarist Henry McCullough, who’d left the band after falling out with Paul McCartney! (Happy memories there!) The logo for the label featured a seven-headed horse named Uchchaisravas, God’s messenger of choice in Hindu mythology. The label was resurrected briefly at the end of George’s life for the re-issue of the ‘My Sweet Lord’ single in 2000 and its last release was Harrison’s posthumous album ‘Brainwashed’ in 2002.

Jefferson Airplane/Starship “Grunt Records” (1971-87)

The Airplane were more of a family than a band and by 1971 were playing in a ridiculously long list of variations as well as their more famous brand name. The ‘Grunt’ label started in 1971 two albums before the end of the Airplane’s flight to handle all the band, solo, joint and Hot Tuna albums (a new blues group featuring Jeffersons Jorma and Jack). The label did sign a few other acts, almost all from the ‘San Francisco Bay’ area the Airplane came from including band friends Jack Traylor and Steelwind and forgotten bands such as 1, Jack Bonus and Richmond Talbott. In all, the label released 37 albums until its last release in 1987, Starship’s ‘No Protection’ (their last record to feature any of the original band) when it was quietlky disbanded (the 1989 Airplane reunion LP was released on ‘Epic’. The curious name was first thought up when the band were discussing titles for the 1971 LP that was eventually named ‘Bark’ and was probably used because the label was seen as an updated way of communication, the equivalent of cavemen who used to ‘grunt’ at each other to express themselves. The label logo is very curious indeed, the ugly figure of a very rotund man with the names of the artists on the label tattooed over his body.

The Kinks “Konk Records” (1976)

In 1976 The Kinks were coming to the end of their time with label RCA Victor and were desperate to have more creative control during their next incarnation on Arista. As guitarist Dave Davies was getting more and more into engineering work the band set up their own recording studios, Konk, which are still going today – though they’ve been up for sale for the last 18 months or so (The Kooks even named the album they recorded there ‘Konk’ in 2010 in honour of the studios). Less successful was the ‘Konk’ record label, which barely ran for a year before Ray Davies reluctantly brought it to an end, upset that he’d ended up becoming ‘the middle man in a record company war’ rather than the nurturing visionary he wanted to be. The ‘Konk’ name never appeared on a Kinks record, although its been used on all the post-Pye (ie 1971 onwards) CD re-issues of the band’s catalogue. The Konk name did appear on two other records though – Claire Hammil’s under-rated ‘Stage Door Johnnies’ and the first album by Cafe Society. The logo for the label is the simplest on the list, with the name written in flowery, swirly handwriting, usually in white.

The Moody Blues “Threshold Records” (1969-99)

Probably the most successful label on this list outside of Apple, the Threshold label released the last four albums made by the original line-up before their split in 1973 and really came into its own thereafter, releasing solo records by all five Moodies. The label also signed sadly forgotten rock act Trapeze who released three records for the label and the little known Asgard in 1972. The label continued to release Moodies albums when the group got back together in 1978, although I’ve noticed the label has missing from the recent live CD and DVDs and Justin Hayward’s last couple of solo albums, which might mean that 1999’s ‘Strange Times’ is the last record to be released with the Threshold name. The logo is a clever design of the side of a train that also looks like a person’s ghostly face when viewed from a certain angle and is named after the band’s third record ‘On The Threshold Of A Dream’, implying that their records are on the ‘threshold’ of all that is possible in music.

Ringo “Ring O’ Records” (1975-78)

Ringo’s attempt to do an Apple didn’t last very long and was pilloried by a sarcastic music press who had great fun laughing at the drummer’s musical tastes. The label actually started life as ‘Reckongrade Records’ in 1974 and then ‘Pyramid Records’ in 1975. Still tied to EMI himself, Ringo never actually released any of his own records on his own label and only ever released 13 albums (plus many more singles), mostly by a forgotten singer-songwriter named Graham Bonnett. Interesting releases to note are a synthesiser adaptation of Ringo’s ‘Ringo’ album by David Hentschel (which might have inspired Paul McCartney’s big band version of ‘Ram’ shortly after), John Taverner’s classical ‘The Whale’ (delayed from its original pressing on ‘Apple’) and a ‘duet’ spin-off release by two of the Rutles!

Rolling Stones Records (1970-92)

Like so many others on this list, when the Stones’ contract with Decca expired in 1970, the band decided to have more control over their work and set up their own label. This enabled the band to manage the difficult problem of having their records released by two different record labels on two different sides of the Atlantic (EMI in the UK and, err, Atlantic across the Atlantic). The label was then discontinued in 1992 when the band signed to Virgin for all territories (Richard Branson filled the record sleeves up with so many logos there probably wasn’t space for one more!) The label only released records by the band (with the exception of Kracker, a short-lived rock band discovered by Stones producer Jimmy Miller and reggae star Pete Tosh) but there’s quite a few notable spin-off records that are surely unique for any label! These include Brian Jones’ ‘The Pan Pipes Of JouJouku’ which the guitarist had taped with an African tribe shortly before his death and finally saw the light of day in 1972 and the curious ‘Jamming With Edward’, basically an improvised set of rambling recordings made by the band in 1973 with session pianist Nicky Hopkins (known to his friends as ‘Edward’) while waiting for Keith Richards to show up. Mamas and Papa John Phillips also recorded a solo album destined for the label with Mick Jagger’s help, although the singer was so far gone in his drug dependency days that the record didn’t see the light of day until as late as 2001. Interestingly, the biggest success of any single released on ‘Rolling Stones Records’ belongs not to the band as a whole but to bassist Bill Wyman whose ‘Je Suis En Rock Star’ was a top ten hit in 1976!
And that’s all for another issue. See you next week!
A NOW COMPLETE List Of Top Five/Top Ten/TOP TWENTY  Entries 2008-2019
1) Chronic Fatigue songs

2) Songs For The Face Of Bo

3) Credit Crunch Songs

4) Songs For The Autumn

5) National Wombat Week

6) AAA Box Sets

7) Virus Songs

8) Worst AAA-Related DVDs

9) Self-Punctuating Superstar Classics

10) Ways To Know You Have Turned Into A Collector

11) Political Songs

12) Totally Bonkers Concept Albums

13) Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

14) Still Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

15) AAA Existential Questions

16) Releases Of The Year 2008

17) Top AAA Xmas Songs

18) Notable AAA Gigs

19) All things '20' related for our 20th issue

20) Romantic odes for Valentine's Day

21) Hollies B sides

22) 'Other' BBC Session Albums

23) Beach Boys Rarities Still Not Available On CD

24) Songs John, Paul and George wrote for Ringo's solo albums

25) 5 of the Best Rock 'n' Roll Tracks From The Pre-Beatles Era

26) AAA Autobiographies

27) Rolling Stones B-sides

28) Beatles B-Sides

29) The lllloooonnngggeesssttt AAA songs of all time

30) Kinks B-Sides

31) Abandoned CSNY projects 'wasted on the way'

32) Best AAA Rarities and Outtakes Sets

33) News We've Missed While We've Been Away

34) Birthday Songs for our 1st Anniversary

35) Brightest Album Covers

36) Biggest Recorded Arguments

37) Songs About Superheroes

38) AAA TV Networks That Should Exist

39) AAA Woodtsock Moments

40) Top Moments Of The Past Year As Voted For By Readers

41) Music Segues

42) AAA Foreign Language Songs

43) 'Other' Groups In Need Of Re-Mastering

44) The Kinks Preservation Rock Opera - Was It Really About The Forthcoming UK General Election?

45) Mono and Stereo Mixes - Biggest Differences

46) Weirdest Things To Do When A Band Member Leaves

47) Video Clips Exclusive To Youtube (#1)

48) Top AAA Releases Of 2009

49) Songs About Trains

50) Songs about Winter

51) Songs about astrology plus horoscopes for selected AAA members

52) The Worst Five Groups Ever!

53) The Most Over-Rated AAA Albums

54) Top AAA Rarities Exclusive To EPs

55) Random Recent Purchases (#1)

56) AAA Party Political Slogans

57) Songs To Celebrate 'Rock Sunday'

58) Strange But True (?) AAA Ghost Stories

59) AAA Artists In Song

60) Songs About Dogs

61) Sunshiney Songs

62) The AAA Staff Play Their Own Version Of Monoploy/Mornington Crescent!

63) What 'Other' British Invasion DVDs We'd Like To See

64) What We Want To Place In Our AAA Time Capsule

65) AAA Conspiracy Theroies

66) Weirdest Things To Do Before - And After - Becoming A Star

67) Songs To Tweet To

68) Greatest Ever AAA Solos

69) John Lennon Musical Tributes

70) Songs For Halloween

71) Earliest Examples Of Psychedelia

72) Purely Instrumental Albums

73) AAA Utopias

74) AAA Imaginary Bands

75) Unexpected AAA Cover Versions

76) Top Releases of 2010

77) Songs About Snow

78) Predictions For 2011

79) AAA Fugitives

80) AAA Home Towns

81) The Biggest Non-Musical Influences On The 1960s

82) AAA Groups Covering Other AAA Groups

83) Strange Censorship Decisions

84) AAA Albums Still Unreleased on CD

85) Random Recent Purchases (#2)

86) Top AAA Music Videos

87) 30 Day Facebook Music Challenge

88) AAA Documentaries

89) Unfinished and 'Lost' AAA Albums

90) Strangest AAA Album Covers

91) AAA Performers Live From Mars (!)

92) Songs Including The Number '100' for our 100th Issue

93) Most Songs Recorded In A Single Day

94) Most Revealing AAA Interviews

95) Top 10 Pre-Fame Recordings

96) The Shortest And Longest AAA Albums

97) The AAA Allstars Ultimate Band Line-Up

98) Top Songs About Sports

99) AAA Conversations With God

100) AAA Managers: The Good, The Bad and the Financially Ugly

101) Unexpected AAA Cameos

102) AAA Words You can Type Into A Caluclator

103) AAA Court Cases

104) Postmodern Songs About Songwriting

105) Biggest Stylistic Leaps Between Albums

106) 20 Reasons Why Cameron Should Go!

107) The AAA Pun-Filled Cookbook

108) Classic Debut Releases

109) Five Uses Of Bird Sound Effects

110) AAA Classic Youtube Clips Part #1

111) Part #2

112) Part #3

113) AAA Facts You Might Not Know

114) The 20 Rarest AAA Records

115) AAA Instrumental Songs

116) Musical Tarot

117) Christmas Carols

118) Top AAA Releases Of 2011

119) AAA Bands In The Beano/The Dandy

120) Top 20 Guitarists #1

121) #2

122) 'Shorty' Nomination Award Questionairre

123) Top Best-Selling AAA Albums

124) AAA Songs Featuring Bagpipes

125) A (Hopefully) Complete List Of AAA Musicians On Twitter

126) Beatles Albums That Might Have Been 1970-74 and 1980

127) DVD/Computer Games We've Just Invented

128) The AAA Albums With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

129) The AAA Singles With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

130) Lyric Competition (Questions)

131) Top Crooning Classics

132) Funeral Songs

133) AAA Songs For When Your Phone Is On Hold

134) Random Recent Purchases (#3)

135) Lyric Competition (Answers)

136) Bee Gees Songs/AAA Goes Disco!

137) The Best AAA Sleevenotes (And Worst)

138) A Short Precise Of The Years 1962-70

139) More Wacky AAA-Related Films And Their Soundtracks

140) AAA Appearances On Desert Island Discs

141) Songs Exclusive To Live Albums

142) More AAA Songs About Armageddon

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159) A (Not That) Short Guide To The 15 Best Non-AAA Bands

160) The Greatest AAA Drum Solos (Or Near Solos!)

161) AAA Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame Acceptance Speeches

162) AAA Re-Recordings Of Past Songs

163) A Coalition Christmas (A Fairy Tale)

164) AAA Songs About Islands

165) The AAA Review Of The Year 2012

166) The Best AAA Concerts I Attended

167) Tributes To The 10 AAA Stars Who Died The Youngest

168) The First 10 AAA Songs Listed Alphabetically

171) The 10 Best Songs From The Psychedelia Box-Sets ‘Nuggets’ and ‘Nuggets Two’

172) The 20 Most Common Girl’s Names In AAA Song Titles (With Definitions) 

180) First Recordings By Future AAA Stars

185) A Tribute To Storm Thorgerson Via The Five AAA Bands He Worked With

188) Surprise! Celebrating 300 Album Reviews With The Biggest 'Surprises' Of The Past Five Years Of Alan's Album Archives!

190) Comparatively Obscure First Compositions By AAA Stars

193) Evolution Of A Band: Comparing First Lyric With Last Lyric:

200) The Monkees In Relation To Postmodernism (University Dissertation)

202) Carly Simon's 'You're So Vain': Was It About One Of The AAA Crew?

217) AAA 'Christmas Presents' we'd most like to have next year

221) Dr Who and the AAA (Five Musical Links)

222) Five Random Recent Purchases

223) AAA Grammy Nominees

224) Ten AAA songs that are better heard unedited and in full

225) The shortest gaps between AAA albums

226) The longest gaps between AAA albums

227) Top ten AAA drummers

228) Top Ten AAA Singles (In Terms of 'A' and 'B' Sides)

229) The Stories Behind Six AAA Logos

230) AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!! The Best Ten AAA Screams

231) An AAA Pack Of Horses

232) AAA Granamas - Sorry, Anagrams!

233) AAA Surnames and Their Meanings

234) 20 Erroneous AAA Album Titles

235) The Best AAA Orchestral Arrangements

236) Top 30 Hilariously Misheard Album Titles/Lyrics

237) Ten controversial AAA sackings - and whether they were right

238) A Critique On Critiquing - In Response To Brian Wilson

239) The Ten MusicianS Who've Played On The Most AAA Albums

240) Thoughts on #CameronMustGo

241) Random Recent Purchases (Kinks/Grateful Dead/Nils Lofgren/Rolling Stones/Hollies) 

242) AAA Christmas Number Ones 

243) AAA Review Of The Year 2014 (Top Releases/Re-issues/Documentaries/DVDs/Books/Songs/ Articles  plus worst releases of the year)

244) Me/CFS Awareness Week 2015

245) Why The Tory 2015 Victory Seems A Little...Suspicious

246) A Plea For Peace and Tolerance After The Attacks on Paris - and Syria

247) AAA Review Of The Year 2015

248) The Fifty Most Read AAA Articles (as of December 31st 2015)

249) The Revised AAA Crossword!

251) Half-A-Dozen Berries Plus One (An AAA Tribute To Chuck Berry)

252) Guest Post: ‘The Skids – Joy’ (1981) by Kenny Brown

254) Guest Post: ‘Supertramp – Some Things Never Change’ by Kenny Brown

255) AAA Review Of The Year 2018

256) AAA Review Of The Year 2019 plus Review Of The Decade 2010-2019

257) Tiermaker

258) #Coronastock

259) #Coronadocstock

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