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Capitol Records - Part 3

By Len “Muddy” Mardeusz

As noted earlier, Capitol Records was founded in the early ‘40’s. The odds of success were against the three  founders. The fledgling label managed to slowly creep to being a successful record company.In a short decade the lable burst on the musical scene to shakeup the eastern recording giants.

 

Capitol’s established merchandising aspects, distribution policies and followed these progressive ideas.  A primary reason for Capitol’s success was their ability to attract world-class talent. They also let artists, e.g. Peggy Lee to chose and record songs, like “Man’ana”, which sold 1,500,000l records. In the ‘50’s, it all came together. In August of 1954 plans were approved for the landmark Capitol round tower completely air-conditioned building in Hollywood. In January of 1955, EMI — Electric and Music Industries, Ltd. from England, purchased-controlling interest in Capitol for 8.5 million dollars. That same year Capitol grossed $20 million for-the first time. It was now a full fledged label with a wide variety of recording artists.

 

Frank Sinatra lead the field becoming the labels signature artist. However, signing Sinatra was a gamble. He was released by Columbia Records. He did not have a hit record in years. MGM dropped him from their studio roster. Glenn Wallichs was retained as president of Capitol. He decided with a change in producers Sinatra could do well once more. He was right.  During the decade Sinatra amassed four gold albums. In April of 1956, the Capitol tower and its state-of-the-art recording studio were completed.  The label saw a new bomb-shell the birth of rock ‘n’ roll that would challenge their existing pop-music that they epitomized. Now with EMI resources Capitol signed Gene Vincent, who had the rock hit“Be-Bop-A-Lula”, they also hit big with Johnny Otis, who recorded “Willie And The Hand Jive.”   But Capitol was still better known for the timeless, high-tone pop of Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. Insiders blamed lack of the labels interest in rock was caused by apathy to that style of music that brought success to the label.

 

Capitol’s dominance in the pop realm was reflected in May of 1959 first annual Grammy Award

when the label won 28 awards. Capitol artists saluted were: Billy May, Louis Prima and Keely Smith,

Stan Kenton, Kingston Trio, and Sinatra, who was cited for Best designed album cover, “Only The

Lonely.” Six months later at the 2nd Grammy’s Awards Sinatra won Best Male singer and Album

of the Year “Come Dance with Me.”  Nat King Cole won “Best Performance by Top 40 Artist.”

Capitol signed comedian Jackie Gleason, who conducted romantic mood music. They include

“Music For Lovers Only”, “Music To Make You Misty”, plus others. Music for Lovers Only charted at #1 for 17 weeks and on the Billboard Charts for two years. Artist’s like Tennessee Ernie Ford, Dean Martin, Les Paul/Mary Ford, Kay Starr, Sonny James, Faron Young, Kingston Trio, Buck Owens and others, as well as, top charted Sound Tracks, King and I, Oklahoma, The Music Man and High Society kept the lable profitable. The problem, Capitol was not attracting a new young vibrant

consumer...teenagers!

 

As the 60’s began, one of Capitol’s artist of 20 years wanted to record a song she had written. The label Producers nixed the idea. Peggy Lee went ask Glenn Wallichs if he thought the song was okay to record. He said,”Peggy, you helped build this building. You don’t have to ask me what to record. I

say if you want to record it, go ahead.” Peggy Lee recorded the song and had one of the biggest

hits of her career. “Is That All There Is?” became a #1 hit on easy listening charts and #15 on the

Pop Charts along side Sly and Family Stone, Blood, Sweat and Tears. Glen Campbell became a flagship artist for Capitol. Campbell often said, “ I am not a country singer,  I am a country boy who

sings.” Over his recording career he amassed 35 country crossover hits the total matched by

three artists, Elvis, Johnny Cash and Eddy Arnold. In the beginning stages of recording the producers thought Glen sung to stiffly. But label executives prevailed and declined to drop him. That is when Campbell recorded “Gentle On My Mind.” There are many stories similar. Bobbie Gentry’s great success with “Ode To Billie Joe.” It went to Number One in just 4 weeks despite clocked at 4:13 seconds, too 40 radio loved it so did their listeners. Although Capitol featured recordings by The Band, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Joe South The Seekers and country great Buck Owens. The void for younger consumers was greatly filled by two groups The Beach Boys and The Beatles. Their contributions to Capitol Records was gigantic. But Capitol almost missed out on both.

 

All that in the next installment of Capitol Records.

 

Research from Capitol 50 Years.

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