Warner Bros. Records: Wikis


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Warner Bros. Records
WBR logo.PNG
Parent company Warner Music Group
Founded March 19, 1958
Founder Jack Warner
Distributing label Warner Bros. Records
(In the U.S.)
WEA International Inc.
(Outside the U.S.)
Genre Various
Country of origin United States
Location Burbank, California
New York, New York
Official Website Official web site of Warner Bros. Records

Warner Bros. Records Inc. is an American record label. It was the foundation label of the present-day Warner Music Group, and now operates as a wholly-owned subsidiary of that corporation. It is also colloquially known as 'Warners' or 'the Bunny', based on the Bugs Bunny cartoons produced by the former animation division of the label's parent company, Warner Bros. Pictures.





Warner Bros. Records was originally established in 1958 as the recorded music division of the American movie studio Warner Bros. Pictures. For most of its existence it was one of a group of labels owned and operated by larger parent corporations. The sequence of companies that controlled Warner Bros. and its allied labels evolved through a convoluted series of corporate mergers and acquisitions from the early 1960s to the early 2000s. Over this period, Warner Bros. Records grew from a struggling minor player in the industry to become one of the top recording labels in the world.

In 2003 these music assets were divested by their then owner Time Warner and purchased by a private equity group. This independent company currently trades as the Warner Music Group (WMG), of which Warner Bros. Records is still an active label. WMG is currently the third-largest of the four major international music conglomerates and the world's only publicly traded major music company[1]. The group's extensive publishing assets, which include over one million song copyrights by more than 65,000 songwriters[1], currently make it the world's largest music publisher.


At the end of the silent movie era Warner Bros. Pictures decided to expand into publishing and recording so that it could access low-cost music content for its films. In 1928 the studio acquired several smaller music publishing firms—including M. Witmark & Sons, Remick Music Corp., Harms Inc. and a partial interest in New World Music Corp., and merged them to form the Music Publishers Holding Company. This new group controlled valuable copyrights on standards by George and Ira Gershwin and Jerome Kern and the new division was soon earning solid profits of up to US$2 million annually[2].

In 1930 MPHC paid US$28 million to acquire Brunswick Records, whose roster included Duke Ellington, Red Nichols, Leroy Carr, Tampa Red and Memphis Minnie, and soon after the sale to Warners, the label signed rising radio and recording star Bing Crosby. Unfortunately for Warners, the dual impact of the Great Depression and the introduction of broadcast radio decimated the recording industry -- sales crashed, dropping by around 90% from more than 100 million units in 1927 to less than 10 million by 1932[3][4] and major companies such as Decca Records were forced to halve the price of records from 75c to 35c[5]. In 1932 Brunswick was offloaded to the American Record Corporation (ARC) for a fraction of its former value and this loss implanted a deep mistrust of the record industry in Warner corporate director Herman Starr, who also headed MPHC from 1939. Mainly due to Starr's considerable influence over Jack Warner, the studio stayed out of the record business for more than 25 years, and during this period it licensed its film music to other companies for release as soundtrack albums[6].

1958-1963: formation and early years

The gold, black and red label design used for Warner Bros. stereo albums from 1958-1968 and mono albums from 1964-1968.
The grey, black, white and yellow label design used for Warner Bros. mono albums from 1958-1964 when it switched to the same gold label as the stereo version.
An early Warner Bros single by Troyce Key, showing the original 1958 label and sleeve design.

Warner Bros. re-entered the record business in 1958 with the establishment of its own recording division, Warner Bros Records. By this time the established Hollywood studios were reeling from multiple challenges to their former dominance, the most notable being the introduction of television in the late 1940s. Legal changes also had a major impact on their business -- lawsuits brought by major stars had effectively overthrown the old studio contract system by the late 1940s; Warner Bros. Pictures sold off much of its movie library in 1948 (although, ironically, Time Warner's 1989 takeover of Turner Broadcasting returned most of the Warner archive to the company) and in 1949 anti-trust action by the US government forced the five major studios to divest their cinema chains.

In 1956 Harry Warner and Albert Warner sold their interest in the studio and the board was joined by new members who favoured a renewed expansion into the music business -- Charles Allen of the investment bank Charles Allen & Company, Serge Semenenko of the First National Bank of Boston and investor David Baird. Semenenko in particular had a strong professional interest in the entertainment business and he began to push Jack Warner on the issue of setting up an 'in-house' record label. With the record business booming—sales had topped US$500 million by 1958—Semenenko argued that it was foolish for Warners to make deals with other companies to release its soundtracks when, for less than the cost of one motion picture, they could establish their own label, creating a new income stream that could continue indefinitely and provide an additional means of exploiting and promoting its contract actors[7].

Another impetus for the label's creation was the brief music career of Warner Bros actor Tab Hunter. Although Hunter was signed to an exclusive acting contract with the studio, it did not prevent him from signing a recording contract, which he did with Dot Records, since Warners had no label of its own at the time. Hunter scored several hits for Dot, including the U.S. #1 single "Young Love" (1957), and to Warners' chagrin, reporters were primarily asking about the hit record, rather than Hunter's latest Warner movie. In 1958 the studio signed Hunter to its newly formed record division, although his subsequent recordings for the label failed to duplicate his success with Dot[8].

Warner Bros agreed to buy Imperial Records in 1956 and although the deal fell apart it marked the breaking of a psychological barrier — if the company was willing to buy another label, why not start its own? To establish the label the company hired former Columbia Records president James B. Conkling; its founding directors of A&R were Harris Ashburn, George Avakian and Bob Prince[9]. Conkling was an able administrator with extensive experience in the industry -- he had been instrumental in launching the LP format at Columbia and had played a key role in establishing the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences the previous year[10]. However, Conkling had decidedly middle-of-the-road musical tastes (he was married to Donna King of vocal trio the King Sisters) and was thus rather out of step with emerging trends in the industry, especially the fast-growing market for rock'n'roll music[11].

Warner Bros Records opened for business on 19 March 1958; its original office was located above the film studio's machine shop at 3701 Warner Boulevard in Burbank, California[12]. Its early album releases (1958-1960) were aimed at the upscale end of the mainstream audience, and Warners took an early (though largely unsuccessful) lead in recording stereo LPs that targeted the new "hi-fi" market. The catalogue in this period included:

Some albums featured jokey or self-deprecating titles such as:

  • Music for People with $3.98 (Plus Tax If Any),
  • Terribly Sophisticated Songs: A Collection of Unpopular Songs for Popular People,
  • Songs the Kids Brought Home from Camp
  • Don't Put Your Empties on the Piano and
  • But You've Never Heard Gershwin With Bongos.

Almost all were commercial failures[13]; and the only charting album in Warners' first two years was Warren Barker's 'soundtrack' album for the studio's hit series 77 Sunset Strip, which reached #3 in 1959[14]. Tab Hunter's "Jealous Heart" (WB 5008), which reached #62, was Warner Brothers only charting single during its first year[15].

Warners' first hit single was the novelty record "Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb)", which reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was nominally performed by Warner contract actor Edd Byrnes, who played the wisecracking hipster character Gerald Lloyd "Kookie" Kookson III on Warner's TV detective series 77 Sunset Strip. The story behind the recording illustrates the sharp practices often employed by major recording companies. Actress and singer Connie Stevens (who appeared in the Warner TV series Hawaiian Eye) sang the song's chorus, but although her record contract entitled her to a 5 percent royalty rate, the label arbitrarily defined her contribution to be a favour to Byrnes and assigned her just 1% royalty on the song, despite the fact that, as she soon discovered, her name was being prominently displayed on the single's label. Warner Bros. also charged her for a share of the recording costs, which was to be recouped from her drastically reduced royalty. When Stevens scored her own hit single with "Sixteen Reasons" in 1960, Warner Bros. refused to allow her to perform it on Hawaiian Eye because it was not published by MPHC, and they also prevented her from singing it on The Ed Sullivan Show, thereby robbing her of nationwide promotion (and a $5000 appearance fee)[16].

With only two hits to its credit in two years, the label was in serious financial trouble by 1960, having lost at least US$3 million[16][17] and music historian Frederick Dannen reports that the only reason it was not closed down was because the Warner board was reluctant to write off the additional $2 million the label was owed in outstanding receivables and inventory. After a restructure, Conkling was obliged to report to Herman Starr, who still loathed the record business; he rejected a buyout offer by Conkling and a group of other record company employees but agreed to keep the label running in exchange for heavy cost-cutting—the staff was reduced from 100 to 30 and Conkling voluntarily cut his own pay from $1000 to $500[18].

Warner Bros now turned to rock'n'roll acts in hopes of improving its sales but their first signing, Bill Haley, was by then past his prime and failed to score any hits. The label was more fortuntate with its next signing, The Everly Brothers, whom Warners secured after the end of their previous contract with Cadence Records. In an uncharacteristically bold move, Herman Starr effectively gambled the future of the company by approving what was reputed to be the first million-dollar contract in music history[19], which guaranteed the Everly Brothers $525,000 against an escalating royalty rate of up to 7 percent, well above the industry standard of the day[18]. Luckily the Everlys' first Warner Bros single, "Cathy's Clown" was a smash hit, going to #1 in the U.S. and selling more than eight million copies, and their debut Warners album It's Everly Time reached #9 on the album chart.

In 1959 Warner Bros had signed rising standup comedian Bob Newhart, marking the beginning of the label's continuing involvement with comedy. Newhart provided the label's next major commercial breakthrough -- in May 1960, three months after the success of "Cathy's Clown", Newhart's debut album The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart went straight to #1 in the U.S., staying at the top for fourteen weeks, charting for more than two years and selling more than 600,000 copies[18]. Capping this commercial success, Newhart scored historic wins in three major categories at the 1961 1961 Grammy Awards -- he won Album of the Year for Button-Down Mind, his quickly-released follow-up album, The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back (1960) won the Best Comedy Performance - Spoken Word category and Newhart himself won Best New Artist -- the first time in Grammy history that a comedy album had won 'Album of the Year', and the only time a comedian has won 'Best New Artist'.

New staff joined the label in late 1961 -- Jim Conkling retired in the fall of that year, selecting as his successor John K. (Mike) Maitland, a former Capitol executive, with Joe Smith appointed as head of promotions. Warner Bros. made another prescient signing in folk group Peter, Paul & Mary. The trio had been on the verge of signing with Atlantic Records, but before the deal could be completed they were poached by Warners. Artie Mogull (who worked for one of Warners' publishing companies, Witmark Music) had introduced their manager Albert Grossman to Herman Starr, and as a result the group signed a recording and publishing deal with Warners. Grossman's deal for the group broke new ground for recording artists—it included a substantial advance of $30,000 and, most significantly, it set a new benchmark for recording contracts by stipulating that the trio would have complete creative control over the recording and packaging of their music[20].

Soon after, Grossman and Mogull signed a publishing deal that gave Witmark one of its most lucrative clients -- Bob Dylan. Grossman bought out Dylan's previous contract with Leeds Music and signed the then unknown singer-songwriter to Witmark for an advance of $5000. Two years later in 1963, Peter, Paul and Mary scored two consecutive Top 10 hits with Dylan songs, launching Dylan's career, and this was followed by many more hits by artists covering Dylan's songs, alongside the growing commercial success of Dylan himself. Grossman benefited enormously from both deals, because he took a 25% commission as Dylan's manager, and he structured Dylan's publishing deal so that he received 50% of Witmark's share of Dylan's publishing income[20] -- a tactic that was later emulated by other leading artist managers such as David Geffen.

Meanwhile, the label enjoyed further success with comedy recordings. Allan Sherman's LP My Son, the Folk Singer, which satirised the folk boom, became a huge hit, selling over a million copies. Bill Cosby broke through soon after and he continued the label's dream run with comedy LPs into the late 1960s, releasing a string of highly successful albums on Warner Bros over the next six years, alongside his groundbreaking career as a TV actor.

The label's fortunes had finally turned around by 1962 thanks to the Everly Brothers, Newhart, Peter, Paul & Mary and Allan Sherman, and Warner Bros Records ended the financial year 1961-62 in the black for the first time since its foundation[21].

Warner/Reprise 1963-67

In August 1963 Warner Brothers made a "rescue takeover" of Frank Sinatra's ailing Reprise Records as part of a deal to acquire Sinatra's services as a recording artist and as an actor for Warner Bros Pictures. The total deal was valued at around US$10 million and it gave Sinatra a one-third share in the combined record company and a seat on the Warner-Reprise board; Warner Bros. records head Mike Maitland became the president of the new combine and Mo Ostin was retained as manager of the Reprise label[18][22].

Reprise was heavily in debt at the time of the takeover, and the Warner Records management team was reportedly dismayed at their balance sheet being pushed back into the red by the acquisition, but they were given no choice in the matter -- Ben Kalmenson, a Warner Bros company director and close aide to Jack Warner, summoned the label's directors to a meeting in New York and explicitly told them that both he and Warner wanted the deal and that they expected them to vote in favor of it[23].

Despite these misgivings, the purchase ultimately proved very beneficial to the Warner group. Reprise flourished in the late 1960s thanks to Sinatra's famous "comeback" and the hits by Sinatra and his daughter Nancy, and the label also secured the U.S. distribution rights to the recordings of Jimi Hendrix. Most importantly for the future of the company, the merger brought Reprise manager Mo Ostin into the Warner fold and "his ultimate value to Warner Bros. would dwarf Sinatra's"[24]. Ostin's business and musical instincts and his rapport with artists were to prove crucial to the success of the Warner labels over the next two decades.

"Cream Puff War" (1966), the first Warner Bros single by The Grateful Dead, showing the orange label with chevron border used on WBR's American 45s for much of the 1960s.

In 1964, Warner Bros successfully negotiated with French label Disques Vogue and Warners' British distributor Pye Records for the rights to distribute Petula Clark's recordings in the US. Clark soon scored a #1 US hit with "Downtown" and she enjoyed consistent chart success in the USA over the next four years. Warner also released other Pye artists in the U.S. market such as The Kinks, although Donovan signed to WBR's rival Epic Records in late 1965, triggering a legal dispute with Pye that kept him out of the studio for almost a year. Donovan's pre-Epic Pye recordings were licensed to Hickory Records in the U.S.

Another significant development in the label's history came in 1966 when Ostin hired young independent producer Lenny Waronker as an A&R manager, beginning a strong and enduring mentor/protege relationship between the two. Waronker, the son of Liberty Records founder Simon Waronker, had previously worked as an assistant to Liberty producer Snuff Garrett[25]. Later he worked with the small Los Angeles label Autumn Records, founded by disc jockeys Tom Donahue, Bobby Mitchell and Sylvester Stewart (who later became famous as Sly Stone). Waronker had been hired as a freelance producer for some of Autumn's acts including The Tikis (who later became Harpers Bizarre), The Beau Brummels and The Mojo Men and for these recording sessions he brought in several musician friends who were then becoming established on the L.A. music scene -- pianists Randy Newman (a childhood friend), Leon Russell and Van Dyke Parks. Together they became the foundation of the creative circle that centred on Waronker at Warner Bros and which, with Ostin's continuing support, became the catalyst for Warner Records' subsequent success as a rock music label[26]. Initially, Waronker looked after the acts that Warners took over when they bought Autumn Records for $10,000, but during the year he also avidly pursued rising Los Angeles band Buffalo Springfield although, much to his and Ostin's chagrin, the band was ultimately signed by Atlantic Records.

In 1967 Warners took over Valiant Records, and this added harmony pop group The Association to the Warner roster. During the year the label also took its first tentative step into the burgeoning rock market, signing leading San Francisco psychedelic rock group The Grateful Dead. Warner Bros. threw the band a release party at the Fugazi Hall in San Francisco's North Beach. During the concert Warner A&R manager Joe Smith took the stage and announced "I just want to say what an honor it is to be able to introduce The Grateful Dead and its music and its music to the world", which prompted a cynical Jerry Garcia to quip in reply: "I just want to say what an honor it is for The Grateful Dead to introduce Warner Brothers Records to the world."[27]

1967-1969: Warner-Seven Arts

In November 1966 the entire Warner group was taken over by and merged with Seven Arts Productions, a New York-based company owned by Elliot Hyman. Seven Arts specialized in syndicating old movies and cartoons to TV and had independently produced a number of significant feature films for other studios, including Stanley Kubrick's Lolita, as well as forging a successful production partnership with noted British studio Hammer Films. Hyman's purchase of Jack Warner's controlling share of the Warner group for US$32 million stunned the film world -- Warner Records executive Joe Smith later quipped that it was "... as if the Pasadena News bought The New York Times. As ludicrous as that."[28].

The newly-merged group was renamed Warner Bros.-Seven Arts (often referred to in the trade press by the abbreviation it adopted for its new logo, "W7"). Although Warner Bros. Pictures was faltering, the purchase coincided with a period of tremendous growth in the music industry and Warner-Reprise was now on its way to becoming a major player in the industry. Hyman's investment banker Alan Hirshfeld, of Charles Allen and Company, urged him to expand the company's record holdings and arranged a meeting with Jerry Wexler and Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, co-owners of leading independent label Atlantic Records, which eventually resulted in the purchase of Atlantic in 1968.

Beginning in 1968, Warner LP and single label designs became identical. From 1968 to 1970, the label was called Warner Bros.-Seven Arts Records. The basic design and colour scheme of the W7 label were retained after the company name and logo reverted to Warner Bros. Records and the "WB" shield in 1970 and remained in use until 1975.

In June 1967 Mo Ostin attended the historic Monterey International Pop Festival, where The Association performed the opening set. Ostin had already acquired the US rights to the Jimi Hendrix Experience recordings, sight unseen, but he was reportedly unimpressed by Hendrix's now-famous performance. During his visit he met Andy Wickham, who had come to Monterey as an assistant to festival promoter Lou Adler. Wickham had worked as a commercial artist in London, followed by a stint with Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate Records before moving to Los Angeles to work for Adler's Dunhill label. Ostin initially hired Wickham as Warner's "house hippie" on a generous retainer of $200 per week. Hanging out around Laurel Canyon, Wickham scouted for new talent and established a rapport with the young musicians WBR was seeking to sign. Like Lenny Waronker, Wickham's youth, intelligence and hip attitude allowed him to bridge the 'generation gap between these young performers and the older Warner 'establishment'[29]. He played a major role in signing Eric Andersen, Jethro Tull and Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell (who signed to Reprise), whom Wickham successfully recommended to Ostin in his first week with the company [30]. Over the next thirty years Wickham became one of WBR's most influential A&R managers, signing such notable acts as Emmylou Harris, Buck Owens and Norwegian pop trio a-ha.

During this formative period WBR made several other notable new signings including Randy Newman and Van Dyke Parks. Newman would not make his commercial breakthrough until the mid-1970s but he achieved a high profile in the industry thanks to songs he wrote that were covered by other acts like Three Dog Night and Alan Price. Although Warners spent large sums on albums that sold poorly, and there were some missteps in its promotion strategy, the presence of unorthodox acts like the Dead and critically-acclaimed 'cult' performers like Newman and Parks, combined with the artistic freedom that the label afforded them, proved significant in building Warner Bros' reputation and credibility. Bob Krasnow, who briefly headed Warners' shortlived 'black' label Loma Records later commented that the Dead " .... were really the springboard. People said 'Wow, if they'll sign the Dead, they must be going in the right direction.'"[31]

Although not widely known to the general public at that time, Van Dyke Parks was a figure of high repute on the L.A. music scene thanks to his work as a session musician and songwriter (notably with The Byrds and Harper's Bizarre) and especially because of his renowned collaboration with Brian Wilson on the legendary unreleased Beach Boys album Smile. In 1967 Lenny Waronker produced Parks' Warner debut album Song Cycle, which reportedly cost more than $35,000 to record, making it one of the most expensive 'pop' albums ever made up to that time. It sold very poorly despite rave critical reviews, so publicist Stan Cornyn (who had helped the label to sign The Grateful Dead) wrote an infamous tongue-in-cheek advertisement to promote it. The ad cheekily declared that the label had "lost $35,509 on 'the album of the year' (dammit)", suggested that those who had purchased the album had probably worn their copies out by playing it over and over, and made the offer that listeners could send these supposedly worn-out copies back to Warner Bros, who would exchange it for two new copies, including one "to educate a friend with". Incensed by the tactic, Parks accused Cornyn of trying to kill his career. Cornyn encountered similar problems with Joni Mitchell—he penned an advertisement that was meant to convey the message that Mitchell was yet to achieve significant market penetration, but the tag-line -- "Joni Mitchell is 90% Virgin" -- reportedly reduced Mitchell to tears and Cornyn had to withdraw it from publication[32].

Warner Bros. also struggled with their flagship rock act The Grateful Dead who, like Peter, Paul & Mary, had negotiated complete artistic control over the recording and packaging of their music[33]. Their debut album had been recorded in just four days, and although it was not a major hit, it cracked the US Top 50 album chart and sold steadily, eventually going gold in 1971. For their second album, the Dead took a far more experimental approach, embarking on a marathon series of recording sessions lasting seven months, from September 1967 to March 1968. They started the album with David Hassinger, who had produced their first album, but he quit the project in frustration in December 1967 while they were recording in New York City (although he is co-credited with band on the album). The group and their concert sound engineer Dan Healy then took over production of the album themselves, taking the unusual step of intermixing studio material with multitrack recordings of their concerts. Anthem of the Sun proved to be the least successful of the Grateful Dead's 1960s albums -- it sold poorly, the extended sessions put the band more than $100,000 in debt to the label[32], and Warner Bros executive Joe Smith later described it as "the most unreasonable project with which we have ever involved ourselves"[34].

The Dead's relationship with Warners was stretched even further by the equally protracted production of their third album Aoxomoxoa, one of the first records to be made using the new Ampex 16-track tape recorder. It also took around seven months to record (Sep. 1968 - Mar. 1969) and cost $180,000, almost twice as much as its predecessor. It too sold poorly on first release and took almost thirty years to be accredited with Gold Record status[35]. There were further difficulties in 1969 when the band presented Warner Bros with the tapes of a live double-album which, they declared, they wanted to call Skull Fuck, but Ostin handled the matter diplomatically. Rather than refusing point-blank to release it, he reminded the group that they were heavily in debt to the label and would not see any royalties until this had been repaid; he also pointed out that the provocative title would inevitably hurt sales because Sears and other major retailers would not stock it. Realizing that this would reduce their income, the band volunteered to change the title of the album, which was eventually released as Live/Dead[36].

Some of Warners' biggest commercial successes during this period were with "Sunshine Pop" acts. Harpers Bizarre scored a #13 Billboard hit in April 1967 with their version of Simon & Garfunkel's "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)"[37]. A month later The Association scored a #1 US hit with "Windy" and they reached #8 on the album chart with their third album Insight Out (their first for Warner Bros., which had taken over their previous label, Valiant). Their next single "Never My Love" also topped the charts in autumn 1967 (#2 Billboard, #1 Cashbox) and went on to become one of the most successful of all Warner Bros recordings—it became a radio staple and is now accredited by BMI as the second most-played song on US radio in the 20th century, surpassing both "Yesterday" by The Beatles and "Stand By Me" by Ben E. King[38]. The group's 1968 Greatest Hits album was also a major hit, reaching #4 on the US album chart.

Another notable Warner release from this period was Astral Weeks, the debut solo album by Van Morrison, who signed with the label in 1968. Although it sold relatively poorly on its first release (and did not reach gold record status until 2001) it has been widely acclaimed by musicians and critics worldwide, has featured prominently on many "Best Albums of All Time" lists[39] and has remained in release almost continuously since 1968.

During 1968, using the profits from Warner/Reprise, W7 purchased Atlantic Records for $17.5 million, including the label's valuable archive, its growing roster of new artists and the services of its three renowned executives, Jerry Wexler, Nesuhi Ertegun and Ahmet Ertegun. However, the purchase again caused rancour among the Warner/Reprise management, who were upset that their hard-won profits had been co-opted to buy Atlantic, and that Atlantic's executives were made large shareholders in Warner-Seven Arts—the deal gave the Ertegun brothers and Wexler between them 66,000 shares of Warners' common stock[40].

On 1 June 1968 Billboard announced that WBR's star comedy performer Bill Cosby had turned down a five-year, US$3.5 million contract renewal offer and would leave the label in August that year to record for his own Tetragrammaton Records label[41]. Just over one month later (July 13) Billboard reported on a major re-organization of the entire Warner-Seven Arts music division. Mike Maitland was promoted to Executive Vice-President of both the recorded music and publishing operations, and George Lee took over from Victor Blau as operational head of the recording division. The restructure also reversed the reporting arrangement put in place in 1960 and from this point the Warner publishing arm reported to the record division under Maitland. The Billboard article also noted the enormous growth and vital significance of W7's music operations, which were by then providing most of Warner-Seven Arts' revenue -- during the first nine months of that fiscal year, the recording and publishing divisions generated 74% of the corporation's total profit, with the publishing division alone accounting for over US$2 million of ASCAPs collections from music users[42].

1969-71: Kinney takeover

In 1969 Warner-Seven Arts was taken over by the Kinney National Company, headed by New York businessman Steve J. Ross, who would successfully lead the Warner group of companies until his death in 1992. The US$400 million deal created a new conglomerate that combined the Warner film, recording and music publishing divisions with Kinney's multi-faceted holdings. Ross had started the company in the late 1950s while working in his family's funeral business -- seeing the opportunity to use the company's cars, which were idle at night, he founded a successful hire car operation, which he later merged with the Kinney parking garage company. Ross took the company public in 1962 and from this base it expanded rapidly between 1966 and 1968, merging with National Cleaning Services in 1966 to form the Kinney National Company[43], and then acquiring a string of companies that would prove of enormous value to the Warner group in the years ahead -- National Periodical Publications (which included DC Comics and All American Comics), the Ashley-Famous talent agency and Panavision[44].

In the summer of 1969 Atlantic Records agreed to assist Warner Bros Records in establishing overseas divisions but when Warner executive Phil Rose arrive in Australia to begin setting up an Australian subsidiary, he discovered that just one week earlier Atlantic had signed a new four-year production and distribution deal with local label Festival Records, without informing WBR.

During 1969 the rivalry between Mike Maitland and Ahmet Ertegun quickly escalated into an all-out executive battle, but Steve Ross favoured Ertegun and the conflict culminated in Maitland being dismissed from his position on 25 January 1970. He declined an offer of a job with Warner Bros Pictures and left the company, subsequently becoming President of MCA Records. Mo Ostin was appointed as president of Warner Bros Records with Joe Smith as executive vice-president[45].


The standard Warner Bros album and single label design used from 1970 to 1975, when the company reverted to Warner Bros. Records and the "WB" shield.

By 1970, "Seven Arts" was dropped from the company name and the WB shield became the Warner Bros. Records logo again. In July 1970 the Warner recording group acquired another prestige asset with the purchase of Jac Holzman's Elektra Records for US$10 million. With three co-owned record companies, the next step was formation of the group's in-house distribution arm, initially called Kinney Records Distributing Corporation, to better control distribution of product and make sure records by breaking new acts are available.[46]

Up to this point WBR had relied on licensing deals with local record labels to manufacture, distribute and promote its products in other countries; concurrent with the establishment of its new distribution arm, the company now began establishing subsidiary divisions in other major markets, beginning with the creation of Warner Bros Records Australia in 1970[47] and soon followed by branch offices in the UK, Europe and Japan.

During 1971 a financial scandal in its parking operations forced Kinney National to spin off its non-entertainment assets, and the Warner recording, publishing and film divisions then became part of a new umbrella company, Warner Communications Inc..

In July 1971 the new in-house distribution company was incorporated as Warner-Elektra-Atlantic Distributing Corp. (WEA) and branches were established in eight major US cities; Joel Friedman a one-time Billboard writer who had been the head of Warner's advertising/merchandising division in its early years, was appointed to head WEA's US domestic division, and Ahmet Ertegun's brother Nesuhi was appointed to oversee its international operations. A de facto committee of three senior marketing executives -- Dave Glew from Atlantic, Ed Rosenblatt from Warner Bros and Mel Posner from Elektra -- oversaw the integration of each label's marketing and distribution through the new division[48], but each label continued to operated totally independently in A&R matters and also applied their own expertise in marketing and advertising[49].

On 1 July 1971, following the pattern set by similar joint ventures in Canada and Australia, the Warner labels entered into a partnership with the British arm of CBS Records to press and distribute Warner-Reprise product in the United Kingdom, although this was undertaken as a cooperative venture rather than a formally incorporated business partnership. The Billboard article that reported the new arrangement also noted that, despite their intense competition in the US market, CBS continued to press Warner-Reprise recordings in the USA. However the establishment of the new UK arrangement was a major blow to Warner's previous British manufacturer Pye Records, for whom Warner-Reprise had been their largest account. With the scheduled addition of the UK rights to the Atlantic catalogue, which would revert to Kinney in early 1972, Billboard predicted that Kinney-CBS would have a 25-30% share of the UK music market[50].

Building from the signing of The Grateful Dead in 1967, Warner Bros. Records steadily built up a diverse and prestigious lineup of rock and pop artists through the 1970s. Under the guidance of its executives, A&R managers and staff producers, including Mo Ostin, Stan Cornyn, Lenny Waronker, Andy Wickham, Russ Titelman and Ted Templeman, sales grew streadily throughout the 1970s and by the end of the decade it had became one of the world's leading rock labels, with a star-studded roster that included Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor, Van Morrison, America, Alice Cooper, Van Halen, The Doobie Brothers, Little Feat, Bonnie Raitt, Seals & Crofts, LaBelle and Rickie Lee Jones. Warners' stable of recording artists was augmented by lucrative licencing deals with American and international labels including Sire, Vertigo and Island Records (1975-1982) that gave Warner Bros the American distribution rights for leading British and European rock acts including Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath, Roxy Music, King Crimson and Kraftwerk. Aided by the growth of FM radio and the album oriented rock format, LPs became the primary vehicle of Warners sales successs throughout the 1970s, although artists such as the Doobie Brothers and America also scored many major US and international hit singles.

One of Warners first critical and commerical breakthroughs in the early 1970s was Van Morrison's second solo album Moondance (Jan. 1970) which consolidated his distinctive blend of rock, jazz and R&B, earned glowing critical praise, and proved far more commercially successful than Astral Weeks -- it made the Top 40 album chart in both the US and the UK, the single "Come Running" was a US Top 40 hit (#39, Billboard) and the title track became a radio staple. Like Astral Weeks the LP still features prominently in many "Best Albums of All Time" listings[51] and 40 years after its release it still ranks in the Top 20 in three major album sales categories on Amazon.com[52].

Licensing deals gave Warner Bros the US rights to two of the biggest hard rock groups of the period. British group Black Sabbath were signed to Philips Records' progressive subsidiary Vertigo, which Warners distributed in the USA; Deep Purple were originally signed in the USA to the independent Tetragrammaton Records, which was distributed by Warners, who acquired the label after it folded in the early 1970s. Black Sabbath's eponymous debut album (recorded in just two days) reached #8 on the UK album chart, and following its US release in May 1970 it reached #23 on the Billboard 200, where it remained for over a year[53][54], selling strongly despite some negative reviews[55]. It has since been certified platinum in both US by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and in the UK by British Phonographic Industry (BPI).[56][57] Their second album was to have been called War Pigs after the song of the same name, but Warners changed the title to Paranoid, fearing a backlash by consumers. The LP made the Top 10 on the US album chart in March 1971, and went on to sell four million copies in the US[58] with virtually no radio airplay.[54].

UK-based pop-rock trio America signed with the recently established British division of Warner Bros signed and issued their debut album late in the year to only moderate success, but in early 1972 their single "A Horse With No Name" became a major international hit, reaching #1 in the US. Warner Bros hastily reissued the album with the hit song included and it too became a huge hit, reaching #1 on the US album chart and eventually earning a platinum record award. Although criticised for their similarity to Neil Young (rumours circulated in Hollywood that Young had cut the track anonymously[59]), America scored five more US Top 10 singles over the next three years, including a second US #1 with "Sister Golden Hair" in 1975. Their albums performed very strongly in the charts -- each of their first seven LPs were US Top 40 albums, five of these made the Top 10 and all but one (Hat Trick, 1973) achieved either gold or platinum status. Their 1975 Greatest Hits album became a perennial seller and is now accredited at 4x platinum.

In 1972, Dionne Warwick was signed to Warner Bros after leaving Scepter Records in what was the biggest contract at the time for a female recording artist, although her five years at Warners were relatively unsuccessful in comparison to her spectacular hit-making tenure at Scepter.

After a slow start, Californian band The Doobie Brothers proved to be one of Warners' most successful signings. Their debut album made little impact but their second LP Toulouse Street (1972) reached #21 on the US album chart and spawned two US Top 40 singles, "Listen to the Music" and "Jesus is Just Alright". This breakthrough inaugurated a sustained run of hit albums and singles over the next five years. Their third album The Captain and Me was even more successful, reaching #7 in the US and producing two more hit singles, "China Grove" (#15) and "Long Train Runnin'" (#8); it became a consistent seller and is now accredited 2x Platinum by the RIAA. Their fourth album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits (1974) fared even better, reaching #4 and spawning two more hits, "Another Park, Another Sunday" (1974) and their first US #1, "Black Water" (1975). Their 1975 album Stampede also reached #4, and producing another hit single with the Motown cover "Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)", which reached #11 in the US.

Warners' reputation for nurturing its artists in the Seventies was also demonstrated by the career of Alice Cooper (originally the name of the band, but later taken over as the stage name / persona of singer and main songwriter Vince Furnier). The Alice Cooper band recorded two unsuccessful albums for Herb Cohen's Straight Records before they were teamed with producer Bob Ezrin, who became a longtime collaborator. Their third LP Love it to Death (originally released on Straight and later reissued on Warner Bros), became their first commercial success, reaching #35 on the Billboard album chart and producing the hit single "I'm Eighteen", which reached #21. The runaway success of their 1971 European tour led Warners to offer the band a multi-album contract and their first Warner album Killer sold well, with the single "Halo of Flies" making the Top 10 in the Netherlands, but it was their next album School's Out (1972) that really put them on the map. The title song was a Top 10 hit in the US, reached #1 in the UK and became a radio staple, while the album went to #2 in the USA and sold more than a million copies. Billion Dollar Babies (1973) became their biggest success, going to #1 in both the US and the UK. The follow-up Muscle of Love (1973) was less successful, although the single "Teenage Lament '74" was a Top 20 hit in the UK. Internal problems led to Furnier splitting from the band in 1974 and he signed to Warners' sister label Atlantic as a solo artist, scoring further success with his subsequent albums and singles.

After several years as a 'cult' artist, Randy Newman achieved major commercial success with his 1974 album Good Old Boys which made the US Top 40 album chart. He had further success in 1977 with his controversial single "Short People", which was one of the surprise hits of the year, reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. On October 12, 1974 Warners and Phil Spector established Warner-Spector Records, but the label was short-lived and folded in 1977; most of its releases were reissues Philles Records recordings from the 1960s and the only new material released was two singles by the disco group Calhoon[60].

The Warner Bros. "Burbank" picture label introduced in 1975. It was later modified when the WB shield added a banner saying "records."

In 1975 Joe Smith was promoted to become President of the combined Elektra/Asylum label. By this time Reprise was almost inactive[61], and the only artists still issuing new material on the label were its aging founder Frank Sinatra and Neil Young (who refused to leave). From 1975-77, all other Reprise acts were transferred to the Warner Bros label, including Fleetwood Mac, Ry Cooder and jazz-rock singer-songwriter Michael Franks; apart from re-releases issued by Warners under the Reprise trademark, the label was effectively dormant until its reactivation in 1988. It was around this time that WBR introduced a new multi-coloured pictorial label design, featuring an idealised view of a Burbank street lined by palms and eucalypts, superimposed with the slogan "Burbank, Home of Warner Bros. Records".

By far the most successful of the Reprise acts who moved to Warner Bros was Fleetwood Mac, whose massive success in the late 1970s and early 1980s firmly established Warner Bros in the front rank of major record labels, although few would have predicted it from the band's tumultuous history. Between 1970 and 1975 there were multiple lineup changes (with only two original members remaining by 1974), their album sales had declined drastically, and a legal battle over the group's name kept them off the road for over a year. However, just as Fleetwood Mac was switching labels in 1975, it was re-invigorated by the recruitment of new members Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. The 'new' Fleetwood Mac scored a string of US and international hits and their self-titled Warner Bros. debut album was a huge success—it reached #1 in the US, charted for more than 30 weeks and sold more than 5 million copies. In 1977, despite major internal problems, they produced their now-legendary Rumours LP, which similarly generated a string of hit singles and became the most successful album in the label's history—it is currently ranked the 11th biggest selling album of all time and as of 2009 was estimated to have sold than 40 million copies[62].

British singer Rod Stewart became one of Warner Bros biggest acts in this period. After making a string of albums with The Faces and as a solo artist for Mercury Records in the early 1970s, Stewart signed with Warner Bros in 1974, applied for American citizenship and moved to the USA. Launching a sustained run of hits, his debut Warners album Atlantic Crossing (1975) was a major international success, reaching #9 on the Billboard album chart and #1 in Australia, and the single "I Don't Want to Talk About It," went to #1 in the UK. His second WB album A Night on the Town (1976) went to #2 in the USA and #1 in Australia and produced three US Top 40 singles, including his first US #1 "Tonight's The Night". Foot Loose & Fancy Free (1977) reached #2 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart and #1 in Australia and again produced three US Top 40 singles, including "You're In My Heart", which reached #4. Blondes Have More Fun (1978) went to #1 in the USA and Australia, and produced two more Top 40 singles including his second US #1, "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" (although Stewart and co-writer Carmine Appice were later successfully sued for plagiarizing the song's catchy melody hook from "Taj Mahal" by Brazilian songwriter Jorge Ben). Stewart's Greatest Hits collection (1979) went to #1 in the UK and Australia, giving the singer a record-breaking five consecutive #1 albums in the latter country.

Warners also had unexpected success in the mid-70s with another 'heritage' act, veteran vocal group The Four Seasons, who signed with the independent label Curb Records (which was distributed by WBR) in early 1975. This took place just as lead singer Frankie Valli scored a surprise hit with his independently-released solo single "My Eyes Adored You". Soon after, Valli and the Four Seasons burst back onto the charts with the disco-styled single "Who Loves You"; it reached #3 in the US and sold more than a million copies, and the album [[Who Loves You] also became a major hit, also selling more than 1 million copies. Their next single "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" fared even better, topping the charts in both Britain and the US in early 1976, becoming the group's first US #1 since 1967. A remixed version was a hit again in 1994 and its total of 54 weeks in charts gives it the longest tenure of any song on the Billboard Hot 100.

By the time of The Doobie Brothers 1976 album Takin' It to the Streets founding member Tom Johnston had effectively left the band and he was replaced by former Steely Dan session man Michael McDonald, whose distinctive vocals helped to propel the group to even greater success. The new album sold strongly, reaching #8 in the US, and the title track reached #13 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming a perennial on radio playlists. Warner Bros also released the massively successful Best of the Doobies (1976), which has become one of the biggest-selling albums of all time and is currently accredited at 10x Platinum status.

Ry Cooder's first Warner Bros release was the 1977 live album Showtime and he remained with the label until his contract expired in the late 1980s. His 1979 album Bop 'Til You Drop is notable the first major-label rock recording to be digitally recorded and it became his best seller, reaching #62 on the Billboard album chart. Michael Franks also enjoyed a long and successful tenure with Warner Bros.

Thanks to its distribution deal with Curb Records, WBR scored the biggest hit single in the company's history in 1977. The ballad "You Light Up My Life" (written ad produced by Joe Brooks) was originally recorded by the late Kasey Cisyk for the soundtrack to the film of the same name, in which actress Didi Conn lip-synched to Cisyk's recording. Teenager Debby Boone (the daughter of actor-singer Pat Boone) was recruited to record a new version for single release, and this became a massive success, topping the Billboard Hot 100 for a record-setting ten consecutive weeks and earning a Platinum certification from the RIAA. It became the most successful single of the 1970s in the United States, setting what was then a new record for longest run at #1 in the US and surpassing Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog". Boone's success also earned her Grammy nominations for "Best Pop Vocal Performance Female" and "Record of the Year" and won her the 1977 Grammy for "Best New Artist" and the 1977 American Music Award for "Favorite Pop Single". The song also earned Joe Brooks the 1977 "Song of the Year" Grammy (tied with "Love Theme from "A Star Is Born" (Evergreen)") as well as "Best Original Song" at both the 1977 Golden Globe and Academy Awards. The single currently ranks at #7 on the Billboard All Time Hot 100.

Throughout the 1970s Warner Bros. also benefited from its US/Canada distribution deals with independent labels such as Straight Records, DiscReet Records, UK labels Chrysalis (1972-1976) and Island (1974-1982)[63], Bizarre Records, Bearsville Records (1970-1984)[64] and Geffen Records (which was sold to MCA in 1990)[65].

Although primarily associated with mainstream 'white' acts in the Seventies, Warners' distribution deals with smaller labels also brought it some success in the disco, soul and funk genres in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Among the imprints it distributed that were notable in these fields were Seymour Stein's Sire Records (which Warners soon purchased), Curtis Mayfield's Curtom, Norman Whitfield's Whitfield Records, Quincy Jones' Qwest, Prince's Paisley Park, RFC Records (formed in December 1978 when Ray Caviano became the executive director of Warner's disco division), Tom Silverman's Tommy Boy Records (another label Warners eventually took over)[66].

Warner Brothers still had very few African American music artists on its own roster at this time, but this began to change during the late 1970s with the singing of artists such as George Benson and Prince. Benson had risen to prominence in jazz in the 1960s but was still relatively little-known by the general public. However, his move to Warner Bros in 1976 and the teaming with producer Tommy LiPuma enabled him to straddle genres and become a popular and highly successful mainstream R&B and pop artist. His first Warner Bros LP Breezin' (1976) became one of the most successful jazz albums of the decade and a major 'crossover' hit -- it topped the American Pop, R&B and Jazz album charts and produced two hit singles, the title track (which became a jazz standard and a radio favourite) and "This Masquerade," which was a Top 10 pop and R&B hit. Benson enjoyed enormous success with his subsequent Warner albums. All of his Warner LPs made the Top 20 on the US jazz album chart and beginning with Breezin', he scored seven consecutive US #1 jazz albums; the first five of these were also Top 20 hits on both the Pop and R&B charts. His live version of Leiber & Stoller's "On Broadway" (from his 1978 live album Weekend in L.A.) outcharted the original version by The Drifters, reaching #7 on the Billboard Hot 100. His most successful single "Give Me The Night" (1980) became his first US #1 R&B hit, reached #4 on the Pop chart and also reached #2 on the Hot Disco Singles chart.

Precocious young Minneapolis-based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Prince signed to Warner Bros in 1977. His first album For You made little impact, although the single "Soft and Wet" reached #12 on the Billboard R&B chart. However, his second (self-titled) album (1979) fared considerably better, reaching #3 on the R&B album chart and earning a gold record award; the first single lifted from the album, "I Wanna Be Your Lover" became Prince's first crossover hit, reaching #1 on the R&B chart and #11 on the main pop chart, while the follow-up single "Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?" reached #13 on the R&B chart. Although he was still little known outside the USA at this stage, this early success set the stage for his major commercial breakthrough in the 1980s.

Warner Bros also began to tentatively embrace the burgeoning New Wave movement in the late 1970s, signing cult alternative bands DEVO and The B-52s. A crucial acquisition in this field -- and one which would soon proved to be of enormous importance to the company -- was the New York-based Sire Records, founded in 1966 by Seymour Stein and Richard Gottehrer. Warner Bros took over Sire's distribution from ABC Records in 1977 and bought the label in 1978, retaining Stein as its president. The addition of the Sire roster gave Warners an important foothold in this area (indeed, Stein is often credited with naming the genre to replace the term "punk", which he disliked); its American signings included The Ramones, The Dead Boys, and Talking Heads and most importantly of all, Madonna, who soon became the most successful female artist in music history, earning billions for Warner. Sire's distribution deals with British independent labels including Mute, Rough Trade, Korova and Fiction gave WEA the American rights to important UK-based New Wave bands including Depeche Mode, The Smiths, The Beat, Madness, Echo & the Bunnymen and The Cure. Into the 1990s, the label had continued success with Seal, k.d. lang, Tommy Page, Ice-T and Ministry.

In the late '70s Warner Bros also scored mainstream pop hits with singer/actor Shaun Cassidy -- his version of "Da Doo Ron Ron" went to #1 in the US in 1977, his next two singles (both penned by Eric Carmen) were US Top 10 hits and Cassidy was nominated for a Grammy award. As the decade drew to a close there were more breakthroughs with new acts. Rickie Lee Jones' self-titled debut album went to #3 in the US, #1 in Australia and #18 in the UK and produced two hit singles, "Chuck E's in Love" (US #4) and "Young Blood" (US #40). Thanks to its American distribution deal with Vertigo, British group Dire Straits provided another sustained run of hit albums and singles in the late 1970s and 1980s. Their eponymous debut album (1978) was a surprise international hit, going to #2 in the USA and earning a gold record award from the RIAA, while the single "Sultans of Swing" went to #4 in the US. Their second album Communiqué (1979) made the Top 20 in many countries and earned another gold record award in the U.S.


The 1980s was a period of unprecedented success for Warner Bros Records. The golden decade began with the success of singer-songwriter Christopher Cross, whose self-titled debut album went to #6 in the US and produced four charting singles, including the #1 hit "Sailing". He also won five major categories at the 1981 Grammy Awards, becoming the only solo artist to date to win the "Big Four" awards in one year (Record, Song and Album of the Year, and Best New Artist) while his performance of "Arthur's Theme" from the Dudley Moore film Arthur, which also went to #1, won both the Oscar and the Golden Globe award for Best Original Song.

After two moderate-selling albums that established them as one of the more original American bands of the period, DEVO achieved brief mainstream success in 1980 with the album Freedom of Choice which reached #22 in the US. Thanks to its quirky music video, which was put on high rotation on MTV, the single "Whip It" reached #14 on the Billboard pop chart, becoming the group's biggest American hit. Their follow-up EP DEV-O-Live (1981) was a surprise hit in Australia, topping the singles chart there for three weeks, but their subsequent albums and singles suffered from declining sales and the group was eventually dropped by the label after their 1984 album Shout.

Prince's 1980 album Dirty Mind advanced his career and was widely praised by critics, earning a gold record award, but his 1982 double-LP 1999 (1982) became his first major hit album, selling over three million copies[67] and spawning three hit singles. The title track reached #12 in the US and provided his first international hit (#25 UK) and his next two singles, "Little Red Corvette" and "Delirious" were back-to-back Top 10 hits in the US.

Pop-rock band Chicago were picked up by Warner Bros in 1981 after being dropped by their former label Columbia, who believed the band was no longer commercially viable. After teaming with producer David Foster, they shot back into the charts in 1982 with the album Chicago 16, which reached #9 and produced two hit singles, the US #1 hit "Hard To Say I'm Sorry" and "Love Me Tomorrow" (#22). Their second Warner album Chicago 17 became the biggest seller of their career -- it reached #4 in the US (and is currently accredited at 6x Platinum) and produced four US Top 20 singles including the Top 5 hits "Hard Habit to Break" (#3) and "You're the Inspiration" (#3). Lead singer Peter Cetera left the group after this album, but had continued success as a solo artist for Warners, scoring a #1 hit in 1986 with with "The Glory of Love" (from the movie The Karate Kid), which also won a Grammy Award. His second solo album sold more than a million copies and produced another #1 hit, "The Next Time I Fall" (a duet with Amy Grant). His third solo album produced the Top 5 hit "One Good Woman" (1988) and "After All", his 1989 duet with Cher, went to #6.

After the end of his contract with RSO Records and Polydor, guitar legend Eric Clapton signed to Warner Bros in 1982 and his first album for the label Money and Cigarettes in 1983 (which featured Ry Cooder on guitar). It was a solid hit, reaching #16 on the Billboard album chart, and the single "I've Got A Rock'N'Roll Heart" reached #18 on the Billboard Hot 100. His next album Behind The Sun also fared well, reaching #34 and producing the hit single "Forever Man", which went to #26 on the Hot 100, but this ended his stint with Warner Bros and he transferred to Reprise for his next release.

Another resurgent 1970s act who scored major success with Warner Bros in this period was ZZ Top, who had previously been signed to London Records. During an extended break in the late '70s the group gained ownership of their London recordings and signed with Warners, who also re-issued their back-catalogue. The first new Warner album El Loco (1981) was moderately successful but the follow-up Eliminator (1983) became a major hit. Thanks to strong support for their music videos on MTV they scored three US hit singles including "Legs" (US #8) while the album reached #9 on the Billboard 200 and sold in huge numbers, earning a Diamond record award in 1996. Their next album Afterburner (1985) was even more successful in the US charts, going to #4 and producing a remarkable seven hit singles, including "Sleeping Bag", which reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Prince's hugely successful 1984 film and album Purple Rain cemented his international stardom, selling more than thirteen million copies in the U.S. and spending twenty-four consecutive weeks at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart, while the Purple Rain film won the Academy Award for Best Original Song Score and grossed more than $80 million in the US[68]. Singles from the album became hits on pop charts around the world; "When Doves Cry" and "Let's Go Crazy" both reached #1 and the title track reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album is ranked #72 in the Rolling Stone "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" list[69] and is also listed in the Time All-Time 100 Albums[70]. However, the sexually explicit album track "Darling Nikki" generated a major controversy that had lasting effects -- when politician's wife Tipper Gore heard her 12-year-old daughter listening to the song and investigated the lyrics, her outrage led to the formation of the conservative lobby group Parents Music Resource Center. Their stance was vehemently opposed by former Warner Bros artist Frank Zappa and others, but the PMRC's political clout eventually forced the US recording industry to adopt the compulsory practice of placing a "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics" sticker on records deemed to contain "offensive" content.

Concurrent with Prince's breakthrough, Madonna shot to international prominence with her 1983 self-titled debut album and her first mainstream hit single "Holiday"; it reached #16 in the US and became a hit in many other countries, including Australia and the UK, where was Top 5. The album was very successful, going Top 20 in more than a dozen countries including the USA, where it has been certified at 5x Platinum status. It was quickly followed by Like A Virgin, which became her first US #1 album and was immensely successful, selling more than 21 million copies worldwide. The title track was also a huge international hit, going to #1 in Australia, Canada, Japan and the USA. Boosted by her well-received role in the film Desperately Seeking Susan, "Crazy For You" (1985) became her second US #1 hit, and the follow-up Material Girl reached #2 in the USA and was a Top 5 in many other countries.

In 1985 Dire Straits broke through to major success in the USA. The single "Money For Nothing" gained massive exposure on MTV thanks to its innovative computer-animated music video, which propelled the single to #1 in the US, and they scored two more US Top 20 hits with "Walk of Life" and "So Far Away". The album Brothers in Arms was a phenomenal success -- it went to #1 in the USA, Australia and most European countries and sold in colossal numbers -- by 1996 it had been certified at 9x platinum in the USA and it is currently ranked at #25 in the list of best-selling albums of all time, with sales of more than 30 million copies worldwide.

Prince's success continued through the latter half of the 1980s, although his record sales began to decline and WBR became increasingly concerned that he was producing far more material than they could release. His image was also tarnished by the failure of his later film ventures, his embarrassing refusal to participate in the recording of "We Are The World" and his sacking of guitarist Wendy Melvoin and long-serving keyboard player Lisa Coleman, a move that upset many fans. The 1985 album Around the World in a Day held the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 for three weeks and peaked at #5 in the UK. Parade (1987) served as the soundtrack for Prince's second film Under the Cherry Moon; although the movie was a critical and commercial failure, the album fared much better -- it peaked at #3 in Billboard and #2 on the R&B album charts and his classic single "Kiss" was another big international hit and went to #1 in the US.

Prince's next project, which he considered his magnum opus, proved to be a watershed in his career. It had a long and complicated gestation, evolving through a proposed concept double-album called Dream Factory and a solo LP which he intended to issue under the pseudonym Camille, culminating in the ambitious three-album set Crystal Ball. However, because of the relatively low sales of his previous albums, his manager Steve Fargnoli and WBR president Mo Ostin both seriously doubted the viability of releasing a 3LP set, and after previewing Crystal Ball Ostin insisted that Prince pare it down to two records. Prince at first refused and a battle of wills ensued for several weeks, but he eventually backed down and removed seven tracks; the resulting double-album was released in March 1987 as Sign O' The Times. Despite Prince's bitter disappointment over its forced reduction, it was very successful, peaking at #6 on the Billboard 200 albums chart and selling 3.2 million copies, while the title single "Sign O' The Times" reached #3 on the Hot 100. The follow-up single, "If I Was Your Girlfriend" was a flop, only reaching #67 on the Hot 100 (although it went to #12 on R&B chart) but "U Got the Look" (another a duet with Sheena Easton) reached #2 on the Hot 100 and #11 on the R&B chart and "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" made #10 on the Hot 100 and #14 on the R&B chart.

In contrast to Prince's fluctuating fortunes, Madonna's unstoppable rise continued with her landmark 1986 album True Blue, which took Sire and Warner Bros to new heights, producing three US #1s and two Top 5 singles. The LP was an unprecedented success, topping the charts in more than 28 countries (a feat that earned her a place in the Guinness Book of Records), and to date it has sold 24 million copies.

In jazz Warner Bros scored a coup in the mid-1980s, signing jazz legend Miles Davis after his break with longtime label Columbia. His first Warners album Tutu (1986) was a major crossover hit, gaining rave reviews and winning a Grammy award in 1987. In the summer of that year Warner Bros. Records Chairman Mo Ostin and label President Larry Waronker announced the reactivation of Reprise with its own separate promotions department, and former Warner Bros. Vice President of Promotion Richard Fitzgerald was appointed as label Vice-President[71].

During 1987 Prince recorded a pared-down funk LP, The Black Album but he withdrew it in December that year, just before its scheduled release (even though 500,000 copies had been printed). Its hastily recorded replacement Lovesexy (1988) was a moderate success, reaching #11 on the Billboard album chart although it reached #1 in the UK. However his career rebounded the following year when he collaborated with Tim Burton on the soundtrack for the hugely successful Batman movie; it sold more than four million copies and reached #1 on the Billboard album chart, while the "Batdance" single topped both the Hot 100 and R&B charts, "The Arms of Orion" (with Sheena Easton) reached #36, and "Partyman" reached #18 on the Hot 100 and at #5 on the R&B chart, while the love ballad "Scandalous!" went to #5 on the R&B chart.

Elvis Costello signed with Warner Bros in 1989 and his first Warner album Spike featured his biggest American single, the Paul McCartney collaboration "Veronica", which was a US Top 20 hit. The follow-up album Mighty Like A Rose, the single "The Other Side of Summer" and the Attractions reunion album Brutal Youth were critically applauded but sold only moderately and he was eventually dropped from the label after the release of All This Useless Beauty (1996). The same year, after an extended period of inactivity following the death of guitarist and main writer Ricky Wilson, The B-52s shot back to prominence with the album Cosmic Thing. It was a Top 5 hit in the USA (#4) and the UK (#2) and went to #1 in Australia, where the group had enjoyed a strong following since their debut single "Rock Lobster"); they also scored three consecutive hit singles with "Love Shack" (#3 US, #1 Aust.), "Roam" (US #3) and "Deadbeat Club" (US #30).

Warner Bros' most successful decade yet closed in sensational fashion. In early 1989, Madonna signed a landmark endorsement deal with Pepsi, who introduced her new single "Like a Prayer" on March 2 in their lavish "Make A Wish" commercial -- the first time a pop single had debuted in an advertisement and the first time such a commercial was given a worldwide satellite premiere[72]. However Pepsi had no control over Madonna's own "Like A Prayer" music video, which debuted exclusively on MTV soon after -- it generated heated criticism due to its provocative use of religious imagery and was condemned by the Vatican. As a result, Pepsi withdrew the advertisement and canceled the endorsement deal -- although remarkably Madonna was allowed to retain her US$5 million fee -- but (not surprisingly) the controversy only served to heighten interest in the single and the album (also titled Like A Prayer). The single topped the U.S. chart within three weeks of release, becoming Madonna's seventh US #1, and went to #1 in more than 30 countries; the album also went to #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, sold seven million copies worldwide and produced two more US Top 5 singles. This remarkable success established Madonna as the most successful female artist of the '80 and one of the most successful musical performers of all time.

1989-2004: the Time Warner era

In 1989 Time Inc. acquired Warner Communications and merged the two enterprises to create Time Warner in a deal valued at US$14 billion[73]. Through the 1990s it was the largest media company in the world, with assets in excess of US$20 billion and annual revenues in the billions of dollars; by 1991, Warner's music labels were generating sales valued at more than US$3 billion, with operating profits of $550 million[74]. Acquisitions and corporate changes within the Warner group of labels continued after the Time Warner merger -- in 1990 WEA purchased French label Carrere Disques, WEA was renamed Warner Music in 1991, leading French classical label Erato (1992) and in 1993 WEA bought the Spanish DRO Group, Hungary's Magneoton label, the Swedish Telegram Records, Brazil's Continental Records and Finnish label Fazer Musiiki. In 1994, Seagram acquired a stake in Time Warner.

In contrast to his massive success in the Eighties, Prince's fortunes in the Nineties were mixed -- he scored some big hits in this period, and renewed his contract in 1992, but his relationship with Warner Bros Records soon soured, climaxing in a highly publicized legal battle and his eventual departure from the label. Although his fourth film, Graffiti Bridge was panned by critics and bombed at the box office, grossing just $4.2 million[75] the album of the same name was, by contrast, very successful -- it reached #6 on both the Billboard Hot 200 and R&B album chart and produced two US Top 20 singles, "Thieves in the Temple" (#6 Hot 100, #1 R&B) and "Round and Round" (#12 Hot 100, #2 R&B). Diamonds and Pearls (1991) was one of the biggest albums of his career -- reaching #3 in the USA, #2 in the UK and #1 in Australia, with five of the six singles lifted from the album becoming hits in the US and other countries, including "Cream", which became his fifth US #1. He was appointed a vice-president of Warner Bros Records when he re-signed with them in 1992, but soon regretted his decision.

His next album -- identified by the cryptic symbol on the cover later defined as "The Love Symbol" -- was another solid hit, peaking at #5 on the Billboard 200[76] and selling 2.8 million copies worldwide[77], but by now tensions were increasing. Warners wanted to release "7" as his next single, but Prince successfully pushed for "My Name Is Prince", however it was only a minor hit (#36 Hot 100, #23 R&B ) and its follow-up single "Sexy MF" was censored in the US because of the expletive in the chorus and didn't even make the Top 50 (although it was a Top 5 hit in the UK and Australia). When eventually released, "7" became the only major US hit lifted from the album, peaking (appropriately) at #7.

Following the 1993 release of the three-disc compilation The Hits/The B-Sides, Prince took the unusual step of dropping the use his first name and identifying himself only with the "Love Symbol" -- a decision that drew considerable ridicule from the media[78]. Because this sign has no verbal equivalent, he was often derisively referred to as "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince". By 1994, relations between The Artist and his record label had reached an impasse -- in February that year WEA cancelled its distribution deal with Paisley Park, effectively putting the label out of business[79]. Two weeks later, Prince's next single "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" was released by an independent distributor, reaching #3 in the U.S. and topping the singles charts in the UK and Australia. Prince had meanwhile prepared two new albums, Come and The Gold Experience; an early version of Come was rejected but Warners eventually accepted both albums, although they refused Prince's request to issue them simultaneously. By this time Prince had launched his lawsuit against the company to extricate himself from his contract and gain ownership of his master recordings, and he highlighted his assertion that he was being exploited by appearing in public with the word "SLAVE" written across his right cheek.

Come was released in August 1994; it was moderately successful in the USA (#15, gold record) and the single "Letitgo" reached #10 on the R&B chart, although the album was a major hit in the UK, debuting at #1. It was followed in November by a limited edition release of Prince's shelved 1987 project The Black Album, but this was already in wide circulation as a bootleg among fans, sold poorly and was soon deleted. When The Gold Experience was finally issued in September 1995 it was hailed by some reviewers as Prince's best effort since Sign o' the Times; it included the previous hit single "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" and two other charting singles, "I Hate U", which reached #11 in the US, and "Gold" which only made #88 in America but rose to #10 in the UK. Prince's remarkable career with Warner Bros ended with the aptly-titled Chaos and Disorder (1996). Compiled expressly to end his contract, it was one of his least successful releases, although it still managed to reach #26 in the USA and #14 in the UK and produced one minor hit in "Dinner With Delores" which went to #36 in the UK. Prince subsequently released recordings on his own NPG label (via EMI) before eventually signing with Universal Music in 2005.

In 1993 comedian Jeff Foxworthy revived Warners' success with comedy recordings. His debut album You Might Be a Redneck If... was a major hit in the US and Canada, and both it and his follow-up album sold more than three million copies each.

2004-present: Warner Music Group

In 2003, amid management disputes, sagging share prices and rising alarm about the impact of digital file sharing, Time Warner decided to unload its music operations. In March 2004, Time Warner's music assets were acquired by private equity group headed by Thomas H. Lee Partners, Lexa Partners (led by Edgar Bronfman Jr., who put up US$150 million drawn from his family's stake in Vivendi), Bain Capital and Providence Equity Partners. The deal set the group's value at around US$2.6 billion, payable in cash and other considerations, and it included an option that would allow Time Warner to buy back in if conditions proved favorable. Bronfman, Lee, Bain and Providence had reportedly recouped their investment by May 2006 through dividends, refinancing and a share offer floated in May 2005.

Today Warner Bros. Records remains one of Warner Music Group's dominant labels, with around 120 artists on its roster.

Despite the divestiture, WMG currently enjoys a royalty-free license from Time Warner for the use of Warner Bros. trademarks although this could be revoked if WMG comes under control of a major motion picture studio.[80]

In October 2007 Madonna ended her 25-year association with Sire and Warners, becoming the inaugural artist on a new label established by American concert promoter Live Nation[81]. Under the terms of the new US$120 million, 10-year contract, Madonna reportedly received a signing bonus of about US$18 million and an approximate US$17 million advance for each of three albums, with Live Nation also agreeing to pay US$50 million in cash and stock to promote each Madonna tour[82].

American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi was appointed to vice president of A&R in 2008.

Affiliated labels




See also


  1. ^ a b Warner Music Group - Overview
  2. ^ Fred Goodman, The Mansion on the Hill: Dylan, Young, Geffen, Springsteen and the Head-on Collision of Rock and Commerce (Jonathon Cape, London, 1997, ISBN 0-224-05062-1), p.44
  3. ^ Goodman, 1997, pp.43-44
  4. ^ Answers.com - Music Industry
  5. ^ High Beam Business - Record and Prerecorded Tape Stores - Industry Report: Companies in this industry
  6. ^ Goodman, 1997, pp.43-44
  7. ^ Goodman, 1997, p.44-45
  8. ^ David Edwards, Patrice Eyries, and Mike Callahan (2004) - Warner Brothers Records Story
  9. ^ David Edwards, Patrice Eyries, and Mike Callahan (2004) - Warner Brothers Records Story
  10. ^ Jon Pareles, James Conkling obituary, New York Times, 17 April 1998
  11. ^ Goodman, 1997, p.45
  12. ^ Warner Brothers Records - FAQ
  13. ^ Goodman, 1997, p.45-46
  14. ^ Warner Bros album Discography Part 1
  15. ^ Edwards et al, 2004
  16. ^ a b Goodman, 1997, p.46
  17. ^ Frederick Dannen, Hitmen: Powerbrokers and Fast Money Inside The Music Business (Vintage Books, London, 1991, ISBN0-09-981310-6), p.121
  18. ^ a b c d Goodman, 1997, p.47
  19. ^ ketupa.net - Warner Music
  20. ^ a b Goodman, 1997, pp.88-90
  21. ^ Goodman, 1997, p.48
  22. ^ "It's Official - Warner Bros. Buys Reprise", Billboard, 13 August 1963
  23. ^ Goodman, 1997, p.51
  24. ^ Goodman, 1997, p.49
  25. ^ http://www.answers.com/topic/lenny-waronker
  26. ^ Goodman, 1997, p.65
  27. ^ Goodman, 1997, p.43
  28. ^ Goodman, 1997, p.138
  29. ^ Barney Hoskins, Hotel California: The True-Life Adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (John Wiley & Sons, 2007), p.33
  30. ^ Goodman, 1997, pp.76-78
  31. ^ Goodman, 1997, p.75
  32. ^ a b Goodman, 1997, p.79
  33. ^ Goodman, 1997, p.75
  34. ^ Jake Woodward, et al, The Grateful Dead: The Illustrated Trip (Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2003) p.83
  35. ^ RIAAGold & Platinum
  36. ^ Goodman, 1997, p.75
  37. ^ [http://www.cyList.com/List/400300177/ cyList - Billboard Top 40 Hits (1967)
  38. ^ BMI Announces Top 100 Songs of the Century
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  40. ^ Goodman, 1997, pp.138-139
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  42. ^ "Maitland to head W7 record-music wing", Billboard, 13 July 1968
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  44. ^ ketupa.net - Time Warner Landmarks
  45. ^ Goodman, 1997, pp.146-147
  46. ^ Seay, 1996, p.40
  47. ^ ketupa.net - Time Warner Landmarks
  48. ^ Seay, 1996, p.40
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  52. ^ Amazon.com - Moondance
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  54. ^ a b ""Rolling Stone Biography"". RollingStone.com. http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/blacksabbath/biography. Retrieved 2008-02-14. 
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  56. ^ "RIAA Gold & Platinum database -Black Sabbath". http://www.riaa.com/goldandplatinumdata.php?resultpage=1&table=SEARCH_RESULTS&action=&title=black%20sabbath&artist=black%20sabbath&format=&debutLP=&category=&sex=&releaseDate=&requestNo=&type=&level=&label=&company=&certificationDate=&awardDescription=&catalogNo=&aSex=&rec_id=&charField=&gold=&platinum=&multiPlat=&level2=&certDate=&album=&id=&after=&before=&startMonth=1&endMonth=1&startYear=1958&endYear=2009&sort=Artist&perPage=25. Retrieved 2009-02-22. 
  57. ^ "Certified Awards". British Phonographic Industry. http://www.bpi.co.uk/members-area/article/bpi-certified-awards.aspx. Retrieved 2009-04-23. 
  58. ^ "RIAA Gold & Platinum database-Paranoid". http://www.riaa.com/goldandplatinumdata.php?resultpage=1&table=SEARCH_RESULTS&action=&title=paranoid&artist=black%20sabbath&format=&debutLP=&category=&sex=&releaseDate=&requestNo=&type=&level=&label=&company=&certificationDate=&awardDescription=&catalogNo=&aSex=&rec_id=&charField=&gold=&platinum=&multiPlat=&level2=&certDate=&album=&id=&after=&before=&startMonth=1&endMonth=1&startYear=1958&endYear=2009&sort=Artist&perPage=25. Retrieved 2009-02-22. 
  59. ^ Goodman, 1997, p.238
  60. ^ Warner Bros Records @ Disco-Disco.com
  61. ^ Reprise Records official website -- Reprise Records history
  62. ^ [http://www.allbusiness.com/retail-trade/miscellaneous-retail-retail-stores-not/4386280-1.html "Stars Salute Rumours" |date=6 February 1998|publisher=Billboard Bulletin, page 7|accessdate=2009-05-03
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  65. ^ Warner Bros. Records @ Disco=Disco.com
  66. ^ Warner Bros. Records @ Disco=Disco.com
  67. ^ "CNN – WorldBeat Biography – Prince – December 20, 1999". Archives.cnn.com. http://archives.cnn.com/1999/SHOWBIZ/Music/12/20/wb.prince.bio/. Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  68. ^ http://www.rockhall.com/inductee/prince
  69. ^ "The RS 500 Greatest Albums of All Time," 18 November 2003, at RollingStone.com. Retrieved 9 September 2006
  70. ^ "The All-Time 100 Albums by ''Time'' magazine". Time.com. 2006-11-13. http://www.time.com/time/2006/100albums/index.html. Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  71. ^ Reprise Records official website: History
  72. ^ "The Madonna/Pepsi Controversy"
  73. ^ ketupa.net - Time Warner: Warner Bros and Warner Communications
  74. ^ Roger Cohen, "The Creator of Time Warner, Steven J. Ross, Is Dead at 65", New York Times, 21 December 1992. (Accessed 22 Feb. 2010)
  75. ^ IMDb - Graffiti Bridge - Box office
  76. ^ "Discography (more) - Prince & The New Power Generation — The Love Symbol Album". Billboard.com. 1992-10-31. http://www.billboard.com/bbcom/discography/more.jsp?tp=albums&pid=5451&aid=49118. Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  77. ^ Alex Hahn (2003). "Possessed: The Rise And Fall Of Prince". Billboard Books.  Retrieved on May 15, 2007 pg. 187
  78. ^ Rolling Stone - Prince biography
  79. ^ Rolling Stone - Prince biography
  80. ^ Warner Music Group 2008 Form 10-K
  81. ^ "Madonna announces huge Live Nation deal", MSNBC, 16 Oct. 2007
  82. ^ "Is this the day the music died? Big-name rock stars say sayonara to major record labels.", MSNBC, 12 October 2007

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