AT ONE TIME, LABELS (LIKE TITLES) MADE A DIFFERENCE!
by Mike DeVita
As I was recently reorganizing some of my 78 rpm records (yes, I still have many of them), I got to thinking about how I obtained many of them...especially the ones I still own by Doris Day.
When I was growing up in the late 40's and early 50's, and just starting my massive record collection, I was told that I could go downtown to the local five and ten cent store and stock up on records that had been placed in the store bins for resale; they had just come off of area jukeboxes (like the one on the left). The store clerk informed me that fresh supplies came in every Friday. That meant a trip for me once a week to stock up on as many gems as I wanted at ten cents each (and some were only a nickel). Rarely were they ever scratched, and I can still play and enjoy them today (as long as I can still get needles for the record player).
You might think that selecting a record would take a long time as there could be as many as five or six hundred there, and they were easily breakable if you did not proceed with care. What was needed was a system...one much easier back then; it did not matter once 45's came out because by then I was paying full price. What made it easy was two things. The records were stacked upright in the store bins in their accompanying sleeves, and you could just look through them much like you would look through videos today. For me, it was even easier because all of the records had distinguishing labels as did many of the sleeves, at least at first. Some even changed from month to month (as new artists were added or dropped to the label roster, especially Columbia.)
As the years progressed and more and more record companies came into play, it got much more difficult. But in the late 40's and early 50's, I knew up front what I was looking for...so I would do my search by colors (label colors, that is). I also knew which artists would be found on which colors. Huh? For example, Doris Day was on the Columbia Label, along with Jo Stafford, Frankie Laine, Guy Mitchell, Frank Sinatra (for a while), Rosemary Clooney, Andy Williams , Johnnie Ray, Johnny Mathis, Dinah Shore (for a while), Tony Bennett, Marty Robbins, and many of my special favorites. At that time, Columbia had a bright red label and the writing was in white. It was hard to miss. Here are some originals (keep in mind that if it was a deejay promo record, then the label was always in black and white, also easy to spot):
When the record companies switched from 78 rpm to 45 rpm records in the mid fifties (the little record with a big hole), they also decided to change some of their label colors. That made them a little more difficult to notice unless you knew upfront what the labels looked like. Columbia went from Red and White to Yellow and Black. That said, they also were not always consistent, sometimes red and white, sometimes yellow & black, but still easy to see. (below)
There was more consistentcy when the long play albums came out because columbia used its original Red labels with varying degrees of white or black, as indicated in the pictures below:
You may ask why I began with Columbia Record Labels. Because on the majority of research source lists, Columbia almost always comes out in first place. From Joel Whitburn's Record Research Books, the list of top 15 Record Labels as follows (based on # of charted hits):
This listing represented the years from 1955 through 1996. Had we gone back to the years immediately before that, Columbia, Capitol and RCA would still have been the Top 3, but Mercury, Decca, Dot and Coral would most likely have rounded out the Top 7. Today, there are so many hundreds of labels that it no longer matters because it is not a really distinguishing factor in record sales. What matters more today is the easy accessibility to music on the internet.
What mattered for me (and for most record collectors) was the artist and the label association. Take someone like Frank Sinatra, for example. He began his recording career as a vocalist with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, who recorded for Victor Records (also known as RCA Victor). He then moved to Columbia Records for a number of years. From there, he went to Capitol, so he moved along the Big Three, until he decided to branch out on his own and formed Reprise Records in 1959 to allow himself more artistic freedom. (Not too long after that, he managed to add big artists like Dean Martin, Jo Stafford, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and others to his stable of artists.) Many of the older artists were dropped when Sinatra sold the label to Warner Bros. Records in early 1963 due to insufficient sales. Reprise president Mo Ostin was retained as the head of the label and he went on to play a very significant role in the history of the Warner group of labels over the next four decades. My familiarity with artists and labels, however, goes back to the time in the late forties and early fifties as I was beginning to develop my record collection. Back then, the popular artists became well known for their hits with certain labels, and Columbia was always #1 in my memory because they had the most popular artists.
Some of the most popular artists with Columbia in the 40's and 50's included: Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, Johnnie Ray, Frankie Laine, Jo Stafford, The Four Lads, Tony Bennett, Guy Mitchell, Rosemary Clooney, Johnny Mathis, Percy Faith, and Ray Conniff.
The pictures below represent some of the most popular labels in my collection in the late 40's and the early to mid 50's:
Capitol Records, #2, was actually founded by artist/composer Johnny Mercer and was often called "The House that Nat Built", Nat of course referring to their most significant artist in the early 50's, Nat King Cole. Most of the recording studios did not have any distinguishing kind of building to represent their product. Capitol is an exception...most people are familiar with the building representing them, known as the tower:
Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra are not the only MAJOR artists associated with this record company, but they are two of the biggest. Just check out this list of important music figures who spent the majority of their recording careers with Capitol:
Les Paul & Mary Ford Peggy Lee Bobby Darin Johnny Mercer Four Freshmen The Lettermen Kingston Trio Glen Campbell Beatles Beach Boys Dean Martin Nancy Wilson Judy Garland June Christy Tex Ritter Jo Stafford (before she went to Columbia Records in the 50's) Les Baxter Jackie Gleason Billy May Gordon MacRae Betty Hutton Margaret Whiting Kay Starr Stan Freburg Tennessee Ernie Ford Ray Anthony Faron Young Stan Kenton
And the capitol record label was also very distinctive and easily recognized. It was all about the color purple (in later years, like Columbia, the company sported an updated label in orange,yellow and black...different colors but very much like the updated Columbia labels.)
RCA was destined to become one of the Big 3 Record Companies, if for no other reason than its primary artists. Of the top Male Singers of the 20th Century, this company had three of the biggest:
By the end of 1955, there was no question about who were the most popular male singers of the first half of the 20th Century, in no special order. But the list certainly was topped by Bing Crosby (Decca), Frank Sinatra (Capitol) and Perry Como, Eddie Fisher and Elvis Presley, all on RCA Records. RCA also was the most consistent in its label representation. The nipper trademark almost always appeared somewhere on the top, along with the name of the company, and the label was black in color with white graphics. Here are some variations...
RCA's roster of major artists reads like a whose=who in the entertainment business. Apart from Perry, Elvis and Eddie, in and of themselves a major claim to fame, here are some of the bigger names associated with this company through the years:
Tommy Dorsey Orchestra Paul Anka Louis Armstrong Eddy Arnold Crew Cuts Harry Belafonte Brook Benton Gogi Grant Neil Sedaka Vaughan Monroe Joe Williams Hugo Winterhalter Kay Starr (move from Capitol) Sam Cooke LeRoy Anderson
For our last choices of major labels, we go with Mercury, Decca, Dot and Coral.. (Although others appear earlier in the lists above, these were the big 7 at the time when I was collecting records.)
#1 Others have tried to claim this title, but no one even comes close to the record established by BING CROSBY. His first hits were on the "Brunswick" label from 1931 to 1934, a total of 63 charted hits. In 1934, he moved to Decca Records, where he remained until early 1956 In that period of time, he had a record 254 chart entries before he moved to Capitol Records, and his first hit there, in 1956, was a million selling recording (with Grace Kelley) on "True Love". He remained with Capitol only for the duration of time to allow him to release his recordings from the highly popular film, "High Society", allowing duets with Frank Sinatra & Louis Armstrong to hit the charts. He then returned to Decca, where he had an additional 15 chart entries (mostly at Christmas time). So, if Decca records had no other claim to fame, Crosby's affiliation would be quite enough. Aadd to that, his recording(s) of "White Christmas" are still the biggest selling records of all time. A few of the other famous artists associated with Decca include: The Ink Spots, Bob Crosby, Bobby Helms, Guy Lombardo, Rick (Ricky) Nelson, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Andrews Sisters, Louis Armstrong, Carmen Cavallaro and The Four Aces. The Decca Label, like its color counterpart on RCA, is a basic black with no little nipper. A couple random labels (an occasional burst of color appears if the recording has some special significance):
MERCURY records, was another of what I refer to as "The Black Labels", only distinguished for their lack of color. Black with whitish gray printing, almost a silver hue. The label is primarily known for two things: the jazz greats and that singing rage, Patti Page. (Patti, popular in both country and pop music, is known for originating the duets with herself. Page sold more single records that any other female artist in the 50's...Doris Day lays claim to the biggest sale of albums.)Other major artists with Mercury include: Dinah Washington, Rusty Draper, Sarah Vaughn, Cannonball Adderly, Xavier Cugat, Carmen Miranda, The Diamonds, Georgia Gibbs, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tony Martin, Reba McEntire, Dolly Parton, Carl Perkins, and The Platters, among others. Here are examples of a few of the Mercury labels, with the logo a bit representative of the Winged God, Mercury:
DOT and CORAL are not associated in any special way. I think of them together only because 1) they had very distinctive colors for their labels and 2) although they were small operations, they had some of my very special favorite artists. The typical color labels for Dot were two: my favorite was the black label that had a very distinctive 3 color logo for D, O and T in respective colors of yellow, red and greenish blue. Earlier, they had a maroonish/purple label with the logo in white. (I preferred the former). Coral labels never varied while I purchased them. I called them Halloween colors: orange and black. Coral was actually a subsidiary of Decca, formed in 1949 (like Okeh Records was a subsidiary of Columbia.)
http://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2012/feb/02/behind-music-record-labelsMajor artists associated with Dot Records included: Pat Boone, Tab Hunter, Jimmy Boyd, The Dell Vikings, The Hilltoppers, The Fontane Sisters, Jimmy Dorsey, The Lennon Sisters, Lawrence Welk, Liberace, Jim Lowe, Gale Storm, The Platters and Jimmie Rodgers. On Coral Records it was: Teresa Brewer, Don Cornell, Debbie Reynolds, Buddy Holly, The Crickets, The Ames Brothers, Patsy Cline, The Vogues, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. Somewhere along the way, all major labels had "special colored labels" which signified various things. Both Columbia and RCA used richer colors for their classical masterworks series of recordings. The records (no matter the size) always came in a little sleeve. Some were ordinary but always distincitive (Columbia, Capitol). Many times the record sleeve (especially with 45 rpm records) was more like a little photo album that contained a picture of the artist, the name of the songs therein, and often a backdrop from a movie (especially with Elvis Presley and Doris Day because so many of their movie songs became hits). These sleeves later became the cover and back side of the package which contained the lp or cd records and today, the packaging which contains one or more records. Often, even the disc itself came in color rather than usual black or silver (cd). Here are some examples:
As time moved on and hundreds of other labels came on the scene, I am happy to say that I still can find these BIG 6 very easily because even though they varied somewhat, I still feel they have the most appealing labels around. As for Columbia, red has always been my favorite color!