History of Record Labels and the Music Industry: 1970s
by Alex Cosper

Introduction 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s

see also American Radio History


- WEA was formed in 1970 under Warner Communications between the three labels Warner, Elektra and Atlantic to create a huge distribution operation.

- Philadelphia International Records was started in 1971 by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.

- ABC-Dunhill bought Dot, Neighborhood and Blue Thumb in the seventies. As the label stopped having big hits, ABC-Dunhill was sold to MCA in the late seventies for $50 million.

- With encouragement from Atlantic head Ahmet Ertegun, David Geffen, who had managed Crosby, Stills & Nash, formed Asylum Records in 1971. A few years later after success with artists such as the Eagles and Jackson Browne, Warner Communications bought Asylum and kept Geffen in charge of the label. Asylum merged with Elektra in 1973 under the Warner umbrella.

- Phonogram merged with Siemens label Polydor in 1972 under PolyGram.

- EMI launched EMI Records in 1972.

- Mike Curb formed his own Curb Records in 1973 after working for MGM.

- "Love's Theme" by Love Unlimited Orchestra, which was written, arranged and produced by Barry White became the first disco record to hit number one in America and marked the beginning of the disco era.

- Sugar Hill Records was set up by Joe and Sylvia Robinson in 1974 to be the first label issuing exclusively rap music. Their first release would come out five years later, which was "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugar Hill Gang.

- By the mid-seventies the top major labels were ABC, Warner, CBS, RCA, EMI and PolyGram. CBS owned Colgems. PolyGram owned Polydor, Mercury, Smash, MGM and Verve. PolyGram took over the United Artists distribution system in the early seventies.

- Neil Bogart made a deal with Warner Brothers to establish Casablanca Records in 1973. The following year Bogart left Buddah, which went bankrupt in 1976. PolyGram bought half of Casablanca in 1977 after a string of disco hits.

- In 1974 MCA switched its UK licensing deal from Decca to EMI.

- Bell Records changed its name to Arista Records in 1975 after hiring former CBS Records executive Clive Davis to run the label. At the end of the seventies Arista was acquired by Ariola, owned by Bertlesman Music Group of Germany.

- Warner Brothers acquired Sire in 1976.

- PolyGram acquired RSO Records in 1976. RSO went on to become a top disco label of the late seventies, highlighted by the success of the Bee Gees and the movie soundtrack Saturday Night Fever, which became the best-selling album to date until Michael Jackson's Thriller in 1983 on Epic Records.

- Beggars Banquet launched in 1976 by Matin Mills as an early indie punk label that signed Gary Numan.

EMI set up a second American label alongside Capitol in 1978 called EMI-America. EMI purchased Liberty in 1979 to put under the United Artists umbrella. EMI was then bought out by UK electrical manufacturing conglomerate Thorn to become Thorn-EMI.

- By the end of the 1970s the top major labels were CBS, EMI, Warner, PolyGram and MCA.

Introduction 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s

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