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Capitol Records is a major United States-based record label owned by EMI and located in Hollywood, California. Capitol's parent EMI is one of the "big four" music companies, the others being Universal Music, Sony BMG and Warner Music. Its headquarters building, the Capitol Tower, is a major landmark near the corner of Hollywood and Vine. Among the more famous artists who have recorded for Capitol Records are Tina Turner, Megadeth, Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Duran Duran, The Motels, the Beastie Boys, Coldplay, Kylie Minogue, Yellowcard and Radiohead.
The Capitol Records company was founded by the songwriter Johnny Mercer in 1942, with the financial help of movie producer Buddy DeSylva and the business acumen of Glenn Wallichs, (1910-1971) (owner of Music City, at the time the biggest record store in Los Angeles, California). Wallichs Music City record store opened in 1940 and was located in Hollywood on the corner of Sunset and Vine. It was the premier music store in Southern Cal for decades but closed in 1978.
Johnny Mercer first suggested the idea of starting a record company while he was golfing with Harold Arlen and Bobby Sherwood. He told them, "I’ve got this idea of starting a record company. I get so tired of listening to the way everyone treats music. I keep feeling they’re selling out. And I don’t like the way artists are treated either. Bing Crosby isn’t the only one who can make records. I don’t know, I think it would be fun." By 1941, Mercer was not only an experienced songwriter, but a singer with a number of records to his name. Mercer next suggested starting a record company to his friend Glenn Wallichs while Mercer was visiting Walichs' record store. Walichs responded, "Fine, you run the record company and find the artists,' and Mercer added, "and you run the business.
On February 2, 1942 they met with Buddy DeSyvla at a Hollywood restaurant to ask if Paramount Pictures would invest in the new record company. DeSylva said no, but that he would, and he gave them a check for $15,000. On March 27 the three men got a statement notarized that they have applied to incorporate Liberty Records. In May they amend the application to change the name to Capitol Records.
On April 6, 1942, Johnny Mercer supervised Capitol's first recording session, recording Martha Tilton singing 'Moon Beams". On May 5, Bobby Sherwood and his orchestra recorded two tracks. On May 21, Freddie Slack and his orchestra recorded three tracks, one with just the orchestra, one with Ella Mae Morse—"Cow Cow Boogie', and one with Mercer—"Air–Minded Executive".
On June 4, Capitol records opened it first office in a second floor room south of Sunset Boulevard. On the same day, Wallichs presents the first free record to a Los Angeles disc jockey named Peter Potter. Potter was so pleased Wallichs decided to give free records to other djs, becoming the first in the business to do so.
On June 5, Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra record four sides for Capitol. The orchestra recorded five more songs, including one side with Billie Holiday on June 12. On June 11, Tex Ritter recorded “(I Got Spurs That) Jingle Jangle Jingle” and “Goodbye My Little Cherokee” at his first Capitol recording session. They would become record #110
On July 1, Capitol Records released its first nine records:
- 101—"I Found a New Baby"/"The General Jumped at Dawn"—Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra
- 102—"Cow Cow Boogie" with Ella Mae Morse and Freddy Slack and His Orchestra/ "Here You Are"– Freddy Slack and His Orchestra
- 103—"Strip Polka"/"Air–Minded Executive"—both with vocals by Johnny Mercer
- 104—"Johnny Doughboy Found A Rose In Ireland"/ "Phil, The Fluters Ball" - both with vocals by Dennis Day
- 105—"The Angels Cried" – vocal Martha Tilton and The Mellowaires/I'll Remember April" - vocal Martha Tilton with Gordon Jenkins and his Orchestra
- 106—"He Wears A Pair Of Silver Wings" - vocal Connie Haines/"I’m Always Chasing Rainbows" - Gordon Jenkins and his Orchestra
- 107—"Elk's Parade"/"I Don't Know Why" - Bobby Sherwood and his Orchestra
- 108—"Serenade In Blue" - Martha Tilton with Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra/"I've Got A Gal In Kalamazoo" - The Mellowaires with Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra
- 109—"Windmill Under The Stars"/"Conchita Lopez" - Johnnie Johnston
By July 25, "Cow Cow Boogie" had gone to #1 on the hit parade. (see dates at #[]
The earliest recording artists included co–owner Johnny Mercer, Margaret Whiting, Jo Stafford, Paul Whiteman, Martha Tilton, Ella Mae Morse, the Pied Pipers, and Paul Weston and His Orchestra. Capitol's first gold single was Morse's "Cow Cow Boogie" in 1942. Capitol's first record album was "Capitol Presents Songs By Johnny Mercer", a three 78 rpm record set with recordings by Mercer, Stafford, and the Pied Pipers, all with Paul Weston's Orchestra.
Capitol was the first West Coast label, competing with RCA-Victor, Columbia and Decca, all based in New York. In addition to its Los Angeles recording studio Capitol had a second studio in New York City, and on occasion sent mobile recording equipment to New Orleans, Louisiana and other cities.
By 1946, Capitol had sold 42 million records and was established as one of the Big Six record labels. It was also that year that writer/producer Alan W. Livingston created Bozo the Clown for their new children's record library. Some notable music appreciation albums for children by Capitol during that era included Sparky's Magic Piano and Rusty in Orchestraville.
Capitol released a few classical albums in the 1940s, some featuring a heavily embossed, leather-like cover. These appeared initially in the 78-rpm format, then on some of Capitol's early LPs (33-1/3 rpm) which first appeared in 1949. Among the recordings was a unique performance of the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos' Choros No. 10 with a Los Angeles choral group and the Janssen Symphony Orchestra (1940-1952) conducted by Werner Janssen, Symphony No. 3 by Russian composer Reinhold Moritzovich Glière, and Cesar Franck's Symphony in D minor with Willem Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw Orchestra.
In 1949, the Canadian branch was established and Capitol purchased the KHJ Studios on Melrose Avenue next to the Paramount Pictures Lot in Hollywood. By the mid-1950s, Capitol had become a huge company, concentrating on popular music.
The 1950s roster now included Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, The Andrews Sisters, Jackie Gleason, Jane Froman, Ray Anthony, Andy Griffith, Shirley Bassey, The Kingston Trio, Dean Martin, The Four Freshmen, Al Martino, Dinah Shore and Nancy Wilson. There were also some notable comedy recordings, including several by Stan Freberg and the Yiddish-dialect parodies of Mickey Katz. The label also began recording rock and roll acts such as The Jodimars and Gene Vincent.
Many children became familiar with Capitol Records through the release of a number of Bozo the Clown albums, which featured 78-rpm discs and full color booklets which the children could follow as they listened to the recorded stories. Although there were a series of Bozo the Clowns on various television stations, Capitol used the voice of Pinto Colvig, who was also the voice for Walt Disney's cartoon character Goofy.
In 1955, the English record company EMI acquired 96% of Capitol Records stock, for $8.5 million. Soon afterward, EMI built a new studio at Hollywood and Vine to match its state-of-the-art Abbey Road Studios in London — see the Capitol Tower below. EMI's classical Angel Records label was merged into Capitol in 1957. Some classical recordings were issued in high fidelity and even stereophonic sound on the Capitol label by William Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski with various orchestra (including the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra), and Sir Thomas Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as light classical albums by Carmen Dragon and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and a series of albums of film music conducted by leading Hollywood composers such as Alfred Newman. Eventually, most of the classical recordings were released exclusively on the Angel and Seraphim labels in the U.S. EMI reissued many of the historic Capitol classical recordings on CD.
After initial resistance to issuing records by The Beatles who were signed to sister EMI label Parlophone, Capitol exercised its option in November 1963 and helped usher in Beatlemania in 1964. (The Beatles' earliest US issues had been on the small Vee-Jay label.) Capitol's producers significantly altered the content of the Beatles albums (see "Record Altering", below.), and, believing the Beatles' recordings were sonically unsuited to the US market, added equalization to brighten the sound, and also piped the recordings through the famous Capitol echo chamber, located underneath the parking lots outside the Capitol Tower.
Capitol also signed or became American distributors of albums by Badfinger, The Band, The Beach Boys, Grand Funk Railroad, If, Sandler and Young, Steve Miller Band, People, Pink Floyd, Linda Ronstadt, The Human Beinz, Peter Tosh, and various solo albums by members of the Beatles.
In the seventies, Capitol launched two alternative labels: EMI America Records and EMI Manhattan Records. New artists included April Wine, Blondie, Burning Spear, Buzzcocks, David Bowie, Kim Carnes, Rosanne Cash, Natalie Cole, Sammy Hagar, Heart, John Hiatt, The Knack, Maze, The Raspberries, Minnie Riperton, Diana Ross, Bob Seger, The Specials, Ten Wheel Drive, The Stranglers, Tavares, George Thorogood, Wings and The Persuasions. In 1977, EMI merged with THORN Electrical Industries to form Thorn EMI. In 1979, Capitol was made part of the EMI Music Worldwide division.
Capitol added artists in a variety of genres during the 1980s: popular music groups and singers like The Motels, Tina Turner, George Clinton, Crowded House, Duran Duran (and spinoffs Arcadia and Power Station), Glass Tiger, Katrina & The Waves, Grace Jones, Lloyd Cole, Pet Shop Boys, Queen, Roxette, Brian Setzer, The Smithereens, Spandau Ballet, and Paul Westerberg; punk/hard rock groups such as Butthole Surfers, Concrete Blonde, Billy Idol, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers; heavy metal bands like Megadeth, Iron Maiden and Queensrÿche; rap groups like the Beastie Boys, Mantronix; individuals like Robbie Robertson, jazz artist Dave Koz, and soul singer Freddie Jackson; and even a selective industrial/electronic artists such as Skinny Puppy.
Nineties acts include Selena, Blind Melon, Garth Brooks, Meredith Brooks, Coldplay, The Dandy Warhols, Dilated Peoples, Doves, Everclear, Geri Halliwell, Ice Cube, Idlewild, Jane's Addiction, Jimmy Eat World, Ras Kass, Kottonmouth Kings, Ben Lee, Less Than Jake, Luscious Jackson, Tara MacLean, Marcy Playground, Mazzy Star, MC Eiht, MC Hammer, MC Ren, The Moffatts, Moist, Liz Phair, Lisa Marie Presley, Radiohead, Bonnie Raitt, Snoop Dogg, Spearhead, Starsailor, STIR, Supergrass, Télépopmusik, Television, Richard Thompson, and Robbie Williams.
In 2001, EMI merged Capitol Records label with the Priority Records label. The combined label manages rap artists including Cee-Lo, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, and C-Murder, Lil Romeo, and Lil Zane. Other 2000s artists include J. Holiday, Jiggolo, LeToya (who had the first #1 album for the label since MC Hammer's 1990 Please Hammer Don't Hurt Em), Zay, Red Cafe, Aslyn, Auf Der Maur, Big Moe, Borialis, Chingy, The Decemberists, Dexter Freebish, Ebony Eyez, From First to Last, The F-ups, Faith Evans, Faultline, Fischerspooner, Interpol, Jonny Greenwood, Katy Perry, Ed Harcourt, Houston, Van Hunt, Javier, Matthew Jay, Methrone, Kylie Minogue, Dave Navarro, OK Go, Relient K, Roscoe, RBD, Saosin, Squad Five-O, The Star Spangles, Steriogram, Supervision, Skye Sweetnam, The Vines, Yellowcard, Young Bleed,Young Life Don Yute, Cherish, Shout Out Louds, Hurt, Corinne Bailey Rae, The Magic Numbers, Hedley, End of Fashion, Mims and Morningwood.
In 2006, the label hit paydirt after signing a deal to distribute Fat Joe and his Terror Squad Entertainment. Around the same time, Capitol was able to sign New York phenom Mims. In this deal they also agreed to distribute his American King Music label. The label has soared to greater heights with Mims being their central star. Mims has possibly been the most popular Capitol Records artist since MC Hammer until his departure from the label in 2008. Around this time they were also able to add J. Holiday, the main artist for Music Line Group to the label as they have all become frequent collaborators. Now it seems that Capitol has gained ground on some of the more popular labels such as Def Jam, or Interscope Records with these signings. In 2007, they were able to strike up a distribution deal with The Game's The Black Wall Street Records and have signed former Bad Boy Records star Faith Evans. Jermaine Dupri and his So So Def Recordings label were briefly signed on to the label as a result of the Virgin Records merger. Dupri was the head of urban music for the label.
In February 2007, EMI announced a merger of Virgin Records and Capitol Records into the Capitol Music Group, as part of this restructuring, hundreds of staff from multiple divisions were laid off and many artists were cut from the roster. With the sale of the Capitol Tower, EMI is planning to close Capitol's operations in Los Angeles and concentrate its work force in New York City.
Broadway and Films
Capitol Records also released some of the most notable original cast albums and motion picture soundtrack albums ever made. Between 1955 and 1956, they released the soundtrack albums of three now-classic film versions of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, Oklahoma!, took up more space at the time than mono grooves, the stereo versions of the soundtracks were always somewhat shorter than the mono versions. This was not much of a problem with Oklahoma!, because the album itself as then printed was relatively short, so all that was missing from the stereo version was a few seconds of the overture. With Carousel, however, half of the Carousel Waltz had to be lopped off from the stereo version, and with The King and I, the instrumental bridge from the song Getting to Know You was completely removed from the stereo version. These soundtrack albums (especially Oklahoma!) were bestsellers for Capitol for many years, until, in the 1990s, the rights to them were bought by Angel Records. Angel Records not only restored the portions which had been omitted from the stereo LP's and original CD issues, but, in 2001, issued new expanded editions which included all music which had been omitted from every previous edition of these soundtracks, bringing the playing time of each to well over an hour. All three albums continue to be best sellers to this day.
In 1957, Capitol Records issued the original cast album of The Music Man, starring Robert Preston, an album which became one of the biggest cast album sellers of all time, even after the highly successful film version of the show was released in 1962. Capitol was also responsible for the original cast and movie soundtrack albums of Cole Porter's Can-Can and the original cast album of Steven Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. In 1962, Capitol issued a studio cast recording of the songs from Lionel Bart's Oliver!, in anticipation of its U.S. tour prior to its opening on Broadway.
In 1966, Capitol released the soundtrack album of the documentary tribute, John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning, Day of Drums, a film made by the United States Information Agency, and originally not intended for general viewing. However, the quality of the film was considered so high that the public was eventually allowed to see it. The film featured the voice of Gregory Peck as narrator, with narration written and music composed by Bruce Herschensohn. The album was virtually a condensed version of the film — it included the narration as well as the music.
One spoken word album which was immensely successful for Capitol was that of the soundtrack of Franco Zeffirelli's smash film version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which became the highest grossing Shakespeare film for years. The album featured not only Nino Rota's score, but large chunks of Shakespeare's dialogue. The success of this album in that pre-VHS era spurred Capitol to issue two other Romeo and Juliet albums — one a three-disk album containing the entire soundtrack of the film (dialogue and music), and another album containing only Nino Rota's score.
However, as Capitol was to be later accused of doing with Beatles albums, there was some tampering with the Years of Lightning and Romeo and Juliet albums. Extra music was added to some scenes which, in the actual film, contained little or no music, such as the duel between Romeo and Tybalt. Presumably this was done to show off the score — and at the end of both the abridged and complete versions of the Romeo albums, the end credits music was omitted, especially unfortunate since virtually all of the film's credits were saved for the end of the picture.
Capitol tried to strike gold again with another spoken word album, one made from the 1970 film Cromwell, starring Richard Harris and Alec Guinness, but in this case, both film and album were not successful.
The influence of the Romeo and Juliet album spread to other record companies for a brief while. Columbia Records issued an album of dialogue and music excerpts from the successful 1970 Dustin Hoffman film, Little Big Man, and 20th Century Fox Records included George C. Scott's opening and closing speeches, as well as Jerry Goldsmith's score, in their soundtrack album made from the film Patton.
Capitol has been criticised many times for the heavy modification of albums being sold by Capitol in the USA which had been released in other countries beforehand. Possibly most infamous is Capitol's creation of "new" albums by The Beatles. This began with Capitol's release of Meet the Beatles!, the first album by the group to be released by Capitol in the USA. It was quite literally the British album With the Beatles, with five tracks ("Money", "You've Really Got A Hold On Me", "Devil In Her Heart", "Please Mister Postman", and "Roll Over Beethoven") removed in favour of the band's first American hit single, which consisted of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "I Saw Her Standing There". On the album, these songs comprised two tracks, one for each respective song. They also added on the British version of the single's B-Side, "This Boy". Also notable is the issuing of "duophonic" stereo releases of some recordings where the original master was monophonic. Capitol engineers split the single master monaural track into two, boosted the bass on one track, boosted treble on the other track and combined them slightly out of phase to produce a "fake stereo" release. This duophonic process meant that the Beatles' American fans would often hear a slightly different song from that heard by the rest of the world.
This trend continued through the Beatles' American discography, until the albums had little relation to their original British counterparts. The Beatles' albums were finally released unmodified starting with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
This continued with other bands:
- Pink Floyd's first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (on the Tower label), had several tracks removed in favour of their first hit single "See Emily Play". This was criticised because the removed tracks combined ("Flaming", "Bike", and "Astronomy Domine") were much longer than "Emily", making the removal of the three completely unnecessary for reasons of running time.
- Iron Maiden's first two albums, Iron Maiden and Killers, had additional tracks as opposed to their UK counterparts. Iron Maiden's 1980 self-titled debut was released in the US a few months after its UK release with the track "Sanctuary" added on. Its follow-up, 1981's Killers, was also released a few months after later in the US after its initial UK release with the track "Twilight Zone" added to the album.
- Megadeth's "Risk" album was littered with samples and guitar pieces which Dave Mustaine never authorised, causing him to release one final album on Capitol, Capitol Punishment, and then move on to a new label Sanctuary Records. As of right now, Megadeth's future with Capitol seems very bright, as they have released all their Remastered discs and their most recent Greatest Hits albums with Capitol. After leaving Sanctuary Records, it was rumoured that Megadeth would return to Capitol, but the rumour turned out to be untrue as Megadeth have recently signed with Roadrunner Records.
The company has also had a history of making mistakes with album releases; the American release of Klaatu's debut album 3:47 EST had several spelling errors on the track list, and later Capitol pressings of CD versions of Klaatu's albums suffered severe quality problems. The poor sound quality of Duran Duran's May 1982 release Rio (on Capitol subsidiary Harvest), contributed to the lag in initial sales, until a remixed version of the album was released in November.
The Capitol Records Tower
The Capitol Records Tower is one of the most distinctive landmarks in Hollywood, California. The 13-story earthquake resistant tower, designed by Welton Becket, was the world's first circular office building, and is home to several recording studios. Although not originally specifically designed as such, the wide curved awnings over windows on each story and the tall spike emerging from the top of the building combine to give it the appearance of a stack of vinyl 45s on a turntable. The rectangular ground floor is a separate structure, joined to the tower after it was completed. It was completed in April of 1956, just north of the intersection of Hollywood and Vine as the consolidated West Coast operations of Capitol Records; it houses the operations of Capitol Records and Capitol Studios, a recording facility which includes an echo chamber engineered by guitarist Les Paul. It would also be known as "The House That Nat Built" due to the vast amounts of records and merchandise Nat "King" Cole sold for the company.
The first album recorded in the tower was Frank Sinatra Conducts Tone Poems of Color.
The blinking light atop the tower spells out the phrase "Moon Beams" in Morse code, and has done so since the building's opening in 1956. This was an idea of Capitol's then president, Alan Livingston, who wanted to commemerate the studio's first recording, by Martha Tilton. The switch activating the light was thrown by Lyla Morse, Samuel Morse's granddaughter. In 1992 it was changed to read "Capitol 50" in honor of the label's fiftieth anniversary. It has since returned to spelling "Moon Beams".
In the 1974 disaster blockbuster film Earthquake, the tower was shown collapsing during a massive tremor. Thirty years later, in an homage to Earthquake, the tower was again depicted as being destroyed, this time by a massive tornado, in The Day After Tomorrow.
Capitol Records of Canada was established in 1949 by independent businessman W. Lockwood Miller. Capitol Records broke with Miller's company and formed Capitol Record Distributors of Canada Limited in 1954. EMI acquired this company when it acquired Capitol Records. In 1957, Paul White established an A&R department independent of the American company to promote talent for the Canadian market. They include home grown Canadian talent (of which Anne Murray is one of the more famous examples) as well as EMI artists from other countries. Canada only issues bore 6000 series catalogue numbers for LPs and 72000 series catalogue numbers for singles. Capitol Canada issues of American Capitol recordings bore the same catalogue numbers as their American counterparts. The company was renamed back to Capitol Records of Canada Ltd in 1958 after Miller's rights to the name expired. Beginning in 1962, Capitol of Canada issued albums by British artists such as Cliff Richard, Helen Shapiro and Frank Ifield. They said yes to The Beatles from day one, even though the American company turned them down during most of 1963. The company was renamed Capitol Records-EMI of Canada in 1974 then adopted its present name, EMI Music Canada, in the early 1990s.
The current headquarters for EMI Music Canada, which operates the Capitol label, are located in Mississauga, Ontario.
The Canadian branch of Capitol won two Juno Awards in 1971, the leading music awards in that country. One Juno was for "Top Record Company" and the other was for "Top Promotional Company".
Capitol Records of Taiwan was established in 2006. It is home to several artistes who are megastars in the Chinese Music Industry. They include Jolin Tsai (蔡依林), Stefanie Sun (孫燕姿), Zhang Hui Mei (張惠妹), Stanley Huang (黄立行) and Show Luo (羅志祥). Even though artistes are signed on with this label, the albums are still released under EMI Music Taiwan. The label is now the label with the highest sales among all labels in Taiwan.
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