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Date

June 1, 2020

“It is a time to dare and endure.” Winston Churchill (1940)The art is called ‘Atomic Flower’. I made…

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“It is a time to dare and endure.” Winston Churchill (1940)The art is called ‘Atomic Flower’. I made…

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Eduardo Rivadavia What’s in a Label: Columbia Records

In a nutshell:

Columbia was one of the very first record labels (and the greatest … if you ask its very biased employees), so its long history is also pretty much the history of the recording industry.

The History:

The world’s oldest surviving record label, Columbia was founded in 1889 by Edward D. Easton, a stenographer by trade, in the District of Columbia, which gave the company its name. 

In its infancy, Columbia had an exclusive contract for selling and servicing Thomas Edison’s namesake brand of phonographs and music cylinders, but by 1901 they had adopted rival RCA Victor’s patented “Disc Records” and, by 1908, introduced their own so-called “Double-Faced” 10-inch discs.

During the first quarter of the 20th Century, Columbia (now based in New York) generated most of its sales from opera stars associated with New York’s Metropolitan Opera, but the company didn’t hesitate to record most every available musical genre: from homegrown American styles like jazz, blues, country, and folk, to ethnic and foreign traditions, the better to supply its fast-growing overseas operations.

By the time America’s recording industry was rocked by the crippling effects of the Great Depression and the advent of free radio transmissions (shrinking to 1/10th its prior revenues between 1929 and ‘31), Columbia had weathered numerous ups and downs, separated from their U.K. division (which became EMI), and had been sold for a pittance to the American Record Corporation (ARC), virtually ceasing operations, in the process.

But the fortuitous hiring of legendary A&R scout John Hammond and a new focus on “secondary” genres like southern gospel, country, blues, and jazz, including discoveries like Benny Goodman, Bessie Smith, Charlie Christian, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Charles Davis Tillman, and the Chuck Wagon Gang, kept Columbia afloat long enough to turn its fortunes around.

This turnaround started in earnest with Columbia’s 1938 purchase by William S. Paley, of CBS (ironically, the same Columbia Broadcasting System the record company had founded in 1927, and later spun off), gained momentum in the next decade with the success of young New Jersey crooner named Frank Sinatra, and culminated in a major technological breakthrough in 1948 via Columbia’s development of the 12-inch, 33 1/3 RPM long-playing album, as we still know it today.

Under the leadership of Paley and new company president Goddard Lieberson, Columbia firmly reclaimed their major label status in the 1950s, leveraging the new LP format to boost classical music sales, to introduce mega-selling Broadway cast recordings (masterminded by Lieberson), and to score huge success with bandleader and A&R man Mitch Miller’s Sing Along with Mitch series, while beefing up their roster of easy listening stars (Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day), jazz innovators (Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck), and signing an Arkansas-born country singer named Johnny Cash.

The ‘60s brought a slew of folk giants in Pete Seeger, Leonard Cohen, Simon & Garfunkel, The Byrds, and arguably Hammond’s greatest discovery, Bob Dylan, plus a new mainstream star in Barbra Streisand; yet Columbia, swayed by Miller’s strong objections, stubbornly missed the boat on rock & roll until decade’s end, when new president Clive Davis dragged the label into the future with landmark signings like Janis Joplin, Chicago, and Santana.

Columbia rarely slept on another cutting-edge musical style again, nor did they relinquish their standing amongst the world’s most powerful majors, roaring through the ‘70s, first under Davis and then his successor Walter Yetnikoff, behind superstars like Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, Judas Priest, Willie Nelson and Earth, Wind & Fire, and into the ‘80s with Journey, Men at Work, The Bangles, L.L. Cool J, and countless others, paving the way for the company’s sale to the Sony Music in 1988.

Today, Columbia still operates under the Sony Music umbrella and remains one of the music industry’s perennial sales leaders, while navigating a succession of executives (Tommy Mottola, Rick Rubin, Rob Stringer, Ron Perry) and consistently launching new stars (Alice in Chains, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Ricky Martin, the Dixie Chicks, Beyoncé, John Mayer, Harry Styles, and Lil Nas X, etc.), very much the definition of a major label, well over a century since its modest beginnings.

 

The Labels:

A record company doesn’t stay in business for one hundred years-plus without making a few cosmetic changes to its brand, logo, and labels, yet Columbia’s core design hallmarks haven’t changed very much, all things considered. 

With only a few exceptions, Columbia labels have stuck with a single color as the background for their bold typefaces, starting with the vintage gold-on-black designs of the early 20th Century, before adding a variety of colors based on music genre: red for pop, green for jazz, gray for classical, orange for country, pink for sacred music, etc.

For a brief time in the 1930s, Columbia issued the now highly collectible “Royal Blue Records” (yes, both the label AND vinyl were blue), before cycling through a sequence of clean, classic, red designs in ensuing decades – all of them familiar to most consumers in possession of timeless LPs recorded by Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, etc., etc.

Among Columbia’s rare design deviations over the years, there have been the gray counterparts to these red labels employed for the Masterworks product line, a short-lived bright yellow 7-inch look used in the ‘50s, an uncharacteristically elaborate (read: corny) jazz and country reissue series of the ‘70s and ‘80s, and a memorable sunset design adopted in the ‘70s and ‘80s for singles in America and albums overseas, often substituting the logo of parent company CBS.

As for distinguishing trademarks, Columbia has also used them sparingly … 

First came the so-called “Magic Notes” gracing most Columbia labels into the 1940s (and occasionally, beyond), then the iconic, stylized, modernist microphone (a.k.a. the “Walking Eye”) that had previously served as the CBS logo outside North America, and was quietly dropped after the company’s sale to Sony Music.

 

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CAS Album of the Month Club

Join Classic Album Sundays founder Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy on Sunday June 28th at 8pm BST for our Album of the Month Club hosted on Zoom (only for Members and other eligible tiers).

We will be launching an online poll on Friday June 12th allowing our subscribers the opportunity to vote for which album they would like to hear. Subscribe now to have your say!

If you want to join us for the session, but not sure if you would like to continue attending afterward, you can Subscribe as a Member for £10 for this month only and then unsubscribe after the session.

Subscribe as a Member

We look forward to seeing you all at The Album Club on the Sunday June 28th! Thanks for listening.

Time and Date: Sunday June 28th 8pm BST

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Morgan Enos Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” At 40: Inside Ian Curtis’ Dispatch From The Brink

Ian Curtis was exuberant. His band Joy Division had the wind at their backs and were days away from their first North American tour. On the evening of May 16, 1980, they had a superb rehearsal and crammed into bassist Peter Hook’s car to drop off Curtis at his parents’ house in Failsworth, England. As Hook remembered 32 years later, the boys were on top of the world — especially their legendarily scowly lead singer.

“We were laughing and joking… one of us would go, ‘I can’t believe we’re fucking going to America!’ We were screaming in the car, jumping up and down on the seats, properly shouting, whooping, hollering: ‘Yeah! America!’” Hook wrote in his 2012 memoir Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division. “I drove [Ian] home that Friday night and he was cock-a-hoop, full of it.” Curtis exited the vehicle outside his house a quarter of a mile from Hook’s. It was the last time Hook ever saw his bandmate and friend.

On Saturday morning, things took a despondent turn. As Hook wrote, Curtis received a letter about his impending divorce proceedings from his wife Deborah. Curtis canceled a water-skiing trip with guitarist Bernard Sumner, and that night, Deborah dropped by Ian’s house to find him drinking whiskey and coffee after watching Stroszek, Werner Herzog’s film about a European émigré to America who kills himself rather than choose between two women.

Deborah offered to stay the night, worried that Curtis, an epilepsy sufferer, would have a fit, but he asked her to leave instead. After listening to Iggy Pop’s The Idiot on repeat, he hanged himself to death on a kitchen clothes rack in the early hours of Sunday morning. He was two months shy of his 24th birthday.

Accounts from those close to Curtis vary on his state of mind in the last few weeks of his life. “The week before, we went and bought all these new clothes; he was really happy,” Factory Records co-owner Rob Gretton said in Deborah’s 1996 book Touching From a Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division. On the other hand, Curtis reportedly told Psychic TV’s Genesis P-Orridge that he’d “rather die” than go on tour. (“Maybe he did say that, but not to us he didn’t,” Hook explained in his book. “No way. With us, Ian was bang into the idea.”)

Whatever the case, the surviving Joy Division members were devastated. “I stayed numb for days… as though my brain was frozen,” Hook wrote in Unknown Pleasures about hearing the news of Curtis’ death. On top of that, “We had so much going for us then. The word was getting out that we were a great group to see live. We had ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ up our sleeve. We were on the way up.”

The Story Of “Love Will Tear Us Apart”

“Love Will Tear Us Apart,” which was released 40 years ago today (June 1), features uncharacteristically jangly guitar for Joy Division, not to mention one of their most memorable hooks. It was ironically titled in response to the sunny “Love Will Keep Us Together,” which was written by Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield and made a No. 1 hit by Captain & Tennille in 1975.

Given Curtis’ marital problems and his affair on the road with Belgian journalist Annik Honoré, its lyrics could arguably be read as autobiographical — its references to festering resentment and communication breakdown cut deep. “Understandably, the lyrics were interpreted by the press as being about a love affair gone wrong,” Deborah wrote in Touching From a Distance. “But as the last to know that our love affair had ‘gone wrong,’ I had taken Ian’s infidelity as part of his illness.”

“I certainly wouldn’t like that song to be written about me,” Hook told NME in 2012, adding in retrospect that he was “very, very shocked at how barbed and how vicious” the lyrics were.

Joy Division debuted “Love Will Tear Us Apart” at Plan K in Brussels, Belgium, on a bill featuring Cabaret Voltaire and headliner William Burroughs, depicted in Anton Corbijn’s 2007 Curtis biopic Control. Onstage, Curtis played guitar (while Sumner switched to keyboard) on the song despite knowing only one shape — D major.

“I wonder if that’s why we wrote ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart,’ you could drone a D through it,” Sumner pondered in Pat Graham’s 2011 photobook Instrument. The distinctive 12-string Echo guitar part on the recording is courtesy of Sumner; the band apparently bought the Italian instrument without testing it out. “I think we all just went to a record shop and said, that one looks cool, get that one,” he wrote.

Enter Martin Hannett

After performing the song during a Peel Session in 1979, they attempted to record it in January 1980 at Pennine Studios in Oldham. Unhappy with the results, they reconvened in March at Strawberry Studios in Stockport — the same studio where Sedaka had recorded “Love Will Keep Us Together.” Behind the boards was Martin Hannett, Factory’s unconventional and visionary producer who both helped define the band’s sound and treated them as frenemies.

“He may have been a genius, Martin, but that didn’t stop him from being a right twat sometimes,” Hook wrote. “The night he did ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ the air-conditioning was cranked up as usual. I was freezing while [he] sniggered.” (When it came time to record their second and last album Closer that month, Hammett booked a hotel as far as possible from the band’s rented flats. “He thought we were pricks,” Hook wrote.)

This was all in good fun. “We were brimming with confidence back then,” Hook wrote. “Ian’s illness was the only black spot on the horizon. Otherwise, we were rocking.”

Enter Frank Sinatra

At some point, Factory co-founder Tony Wilson gave Curtis a copy of Frank Sinatra’s 1977 compilation album Portrait of Sinatra — Forty Songs From the Life of a Man for inspiration when re-tracking his vocals. “When the band were unable to decide which vocal should be used, they released both,” Deborah explains in Touching From a Distance. “One on each side of the seven-inch single.”

“Christ, the recording of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ was a marathon,” Hook wrote in Unknown Pleasures. “Martin kept remixing it and must have done it ten to fifteen times; then Tony pulled the plug on him because it was costing so much money. Martin was never happy with it and kept searching, constantly, for the great mix.”

“Funnily enough, I now don’t like the mix he eventually chose for the single,” he admitted. “I like the one that’s got a dead-loud guitar overdub on it, a radio mix.”

“Love Will Tear Us Apart” was released two weeks after Curtis’ death and hit No. 42 on the Billboard Disco Top 100 Chart — thereby nestling a heavy-hearted goth anthem near toe-tapping hits like Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” George Benson’s “Give Me the Night” and The Doobie Brothers’ “Real Love.” (Cuts by David Bowie and Killing Joke also made the chart.) Because of a union dispute, its self-shot promotional video — the only one the band ever made — was excluded from Top of the Pops. Pitchfork later deemed it the seventh greatest song of the 1980s.

Love Will Tear Us Apart… Was Pretty Well How We All Felt

When asked what she wanted to engrave on Curtis’s tombstone, Deborah picked the only five words she deemed appropriate. “There seemed little point in changing it,” she wrote in Touching From a Distance. “It seemed to encapsulate all I wanted to say. ‘Love will tear us apart’ was pretty well how we all felt.”

“I kept the guitar after he died,” Sumner wrote of the 12-string Echo that punctuates “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” “[I] kept it under my bed in a case and then gave it back to [Curtis’s] daughter [Natalie] when she came of age.”

Deborah is of the belief that Curtis’ suicide was planned — his crippling fear of flying and his epilepsy being factors. But despite the pain and heartbreak that went into “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” she looks back on their relationship warmly, as she wrote in Touching From a Distance.

“Ian’s pale blue-green eyes linger on in our daughter,” she reflected. “When those familiar long fingers twine themselves unwittingly into those inherited mannerisms, I remember how warm and loved I felt.”

“Love Will Tear Us Apart” may rightfully be seen as a forlorn goodbye to a too-young singer and a major rock band, but it pulses with just that — love.

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Daisy Hyde presents Adventures In Sound And Music

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CAS The Story of Fugees ‘The Score’

Ready or not, in 1996 the Fugees dropped The Score and scored an opus masterpiece that achieved massive commercial and crossover success and is now considered a classic album.

The trio of Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel formed in the late 1980’s in South Orange, New Jersey. However, the Fugees are not a story of local kids gone worldly; rather through upbringing, musical alchemy and perhaps sheer divine intervention, the Fugees had already internalized a world of music by the time they changed their name from Tranzlator Crew to Fugees.


Classic Albums at Home – CAS Washington DC’s Joe Lapan presents Fugees ‘The Score’

Their debut album Blunted on Reality scored a cadre of hits with offbeat and quirky hip-hop-reggae instrumentation and vocals with tracks like “Vocab” which has a bump-along guitar-based vibe that melds old school Jamaican chatting with the vocal gymnastics of American hip-hop emcees. The ‘Bootleg Versions’ were a series of remixed album singles released alongside Blunted on Reality, some of which achieved greater popularity than the original album cuts.

Nonetheless, the Fugees had achieved the attention of the hip-hop and popular music communities and a spot on your local radio rotation; at least enough for Ruffhouse Records to give the crew a $135,000 advance and the resources required to make a second album. The group used the money for recording equipment and set up a studio in Wyclef Jean’s uncle’s basement, which they christened “Booga Basement”, and hunkered down and recorded the new album for the latter half of 95. The trio handled most of their own writing and production which was impressive as they were quite young at the time – Hill was 20, Pras 23 and Jean the elder statesman at age 25. But they also collaborated with Diamond D, Saleem Remi and Jerry Duplessis.


Listen: Fugees ‘The Score’ Legacy Playlist

Released in Feburary 1996, Lauryn Hill described The Score as “an audio film. It’s like how radio was back in the 1940s. It tells a story, and there are cuts and breaks in the music. It’s almost like a hip-hop version of Tommy, like what The Who did for rock music.”

The opening “Red Intro” is immediately deeper and more substantial and cinematic than anything from Blunted on Reality and makes one wonder what happened to the slightly off-key, popcorn version of the early Fugees.

The Scoredraws us in even more with the flagship track “Ready or Not” which uses The Delfonics 1968 hit as a reference point. Wycelf Jean leads us into a dreamlike world of storytelling that could just as easily describe an urban underbelly as his adopted New Jersey hometown.

“Zealots” begins with an eerie reinterpretation of the sample from The Flamingos 1959 hit “I Only Have Eyes For You”. The Fugees use of this Flamingos’ sample foreshadows the way in which horror film directors of movies like ‘Black Mirror’ or Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’ have since re-contextualized popular music to make us legitimately uncomfortable in our familiarity. This point of tension runs throughout The Score.


Listen: Fugees ‘The Score’ Musical Lead-Up Playlist

The first half of The Scoreunfurls with lyrical political commentary, verbal wordplay and sing-able hooks on tracks “The Beast”, “Fu-Gee-La” and “Family Business”. The second half of the album begins in earnest when Hill softens the tone with a heartfelt and soulful rendition of the Roberta Flack classic “Killing Me Softly With His Song”. It is buoyed by the familiar sample from A Tribe Called Quest’s classic “Bonita Applebum” perfectly rooting her version in contemporary hip-hop sensibilities.

Lauryn Hill is unquestionably the breakout star of The Score.  As a teenager on the Fugees debut, Hill played her role as an equal part of the group. However, on The Score, her ability to both sing and rap in addition to her general vibe, character and appearance clearly placed her as the central figure on this album and the album cover reinforces this perception.

The album wraps up with another nod to its reggae forebears with a signature Haitian-infused version of Bob Marley classic “No Woman, No Cry”.

Upon its release, The Score was a commercial success, peaking at number one on both the Billboard 200 and the Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart.  A year and a half after its release, The Scorewas certified six times platinum sales by the Recording Industry Association of America and the same year The album won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album. The following year, the album was included in The Source’s 100 best rap albums list.

The Score regurgitated classic doo-wop, soul, R&B and reggae into a contemporary album that was a pivotal player in the evolution of a new breed of hip-hop and neo-soul, a musical amalgam that has carried over into the 21st century influencing artists like Tom Misch and Jorja Smith, a testament to the album’s lasting legacy.

By Joe Lapan, from Songbyrd Record Café and Music House and our Classic Album Sunday Washington DC Host.

 

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CAS Jazzie B on ‘Revolutionary Soul and Ska’ at Classic Album Sundays and The Royal Albert Hall

If you weren’t able to join us at Royal Albert Hall for out evening with Jazzie B, check out the full interview here.

Classic Album Sundays’ Colleen Murphy and Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B discuss how Black musicians and producers inspired new musical genres, and became entrepreneurs in the face of racial adversity. Music from these revolutionary artists will be played on vinyl on the CAS audiophile hi-fi featuring Audio Note UK and Klipschorns.

Featured artists and producers: James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, Marvin Gaye, George Clinton, Sir Coxsone Dodd and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry

Read more: Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B’s Top Five Albums
Read more: Don Lett’s Top Five Albums Of All Time

Screen Shot 2017-05-24 at 16.05.35

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Classic Album Sundays Support & Subscribe: https://ift.tt/2SJScF0

We have launched a Classic Album Sundays Subscription Offering!

This month we have three online events you can join.

May Album Club: Sunday 31st May 8pm BST (Subscribe as a Member)

Our first ever online Album Club features our Album Of The Month Kraftwerk The Man-Machine live on zoom with Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy.

Safe & Sound Webinar: Wednesday 27th May at 8pm BST (Subscribe as a Contributor)

In our brand new series Colleen and Loud & Clear and Renaissance Audio Managing Director John Carroll will discuss what you can do to maximise your own sound system and room acoustics for a better listening experience without specking any extra money!

Classic Album Pub Quiz: Friday 29th May at 8pm BST (Subscribe as a Punter)

Join Classic Album Sundays founder Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy for our first Classic Album Pub Quiz hosted on zoom. Grab a drink (BYOB), test your musical knowledge and you may even win a prize!

If you want to join us for an event, but not sure if you would like to continue attending afterward, you can Subscribe for the event and then unsubscribe at anytime.

Subscribe Here

We miss hanging out and sharing and discussing music with others, so until it is safe to host ‘in-person’ events, we are moving all our event activity online until further notice. And as the future is so uncertain, to ensure the survival of Classic Album Sundays so that we can continue to serve our community, we have launched this Patreon campaign.

We are offering a range of tiers, opportunities, events and rewards with monthly subscriptions starting at £3 for a Supporter to enable us to continue to create and distribute the content we share free of charge such as podcasts, playlists, written features and videos. This month, we will share a podcast featuring our friend Gilles Peterson discussing the albums he has been listening to during lockdown.

Starting in May we will also launch a new monthly podcast called ‘Safe & Sound’ which will offer tips on improving our own home sound systems as music listening plays an even greater role during this period of isolation. This podcast is in line with Classic Album Sundays’ passion for offering the best possible listening experience so that fans can hear the most profound sonic details. At our events we use some of the world’s best audiophile sound systems so that listeners can experience the music as close as possible to the artists’ original intention and we want to share what we have learnt.

We are also offering subscriptions for monthly online events such as the Classic Album Sunday Pub Quiz and our Classic Album Sundays Album Club so that we can join together and share music, just as we do at our in-person events.

Tiers with added value offerings go all the way to an Angel for those in a financial position who feel Classic Album Sundays has a significant role in supporting the album format, vinyl culture, audiophile sound, the art of listening, musicians and music. The Angel offering is limited as the reward is a private online Classic Album Sundays event with Colleen and a group of their friends.

We understand that many are in challenging economic circumstances and we will continue to host free-of-charge live Classic Album Sundays sessions and content. We will continue to host our online offerings when we return to ‘in-person’ events, as well.

Although we are asking for our community’s support, any of which will be greatly appreciated, we also feel we are offering value: a way to connect and share with other music fans, a means to discover and learn more about music and sound systems, and a platform to experience music differently.

Thanks so much for your continued support and we hope to ’see you’ at one of our online events! Thanks for listening.

 

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