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Iconic Labels: A&M Records

Posted by James Duncan on

Who doesn’t remember A&M albums in their collection? This is the first in a series of profiles of iconic record labels, exploring the label's history and some interesting stories about the artists they signed and music they released. Look for more label profiles coming up soon.

A&M Records holds a significant place in the annals of the music industry, emerging as one of the most influential labels of the 20th century. Founded in 1962 by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss (1935-2023), the label's name derived from the first initials of their last names. Initially launched as an independent record label, A&M quickly rose to prominence, leaving an indelible mark on the music scene.

The early years of A&M Records were characterized by its unconventional approach and commitment to artistic integrity. Alpert and Moss fostered a supportive environment for artists, allowing them creative freedom while providing the resources necessary for success. This philosophy attracted a diverse roster of talent spanning various genres, including pop, rock, jazz, and soul.

@ A&M Studios Main Gate, 11 Feb 1988
A&M Records campus in Los Angeles in 1988 (Photo by JacoTen / CC-BY-SA-3.0)

 

One of A&M's earliest successes came in 1965 with the release of Alpert’s own Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass album Whipped Cream & Other Delights. The album's iconic cover art and catchy tunes, including the hit single "A Taste of Honey," propelled it to the top of the charts and making it the #1 album of 1966, earning Alpert and A&M its first taste of commercial success.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, A&M Records continued to expand its roster, signing artists such as The Carpenters, Cat Stevens, and Joe Cocker. These signings further solidified the label's reputation for nurturing talent and producing chart-topping hits. The Carpenters, in particular, became synonymous with A&M, achieving widespread acclaim with songs like "Close to You" and "We've Only Just Begun."

Captain & Tennille Love Will Keep Us Together Australian Gold Award presented to Captain & Tennille - Record Award

Other artists on the label in the 70s included Humble Pie (featuring a young Peter Frampton who would later also be signed as a solo artist), Captain and Tennille, Procol Harum, Joan Baez, Rita Coolidge, Billy Preston, Nazareth, the Tubes, Styx, Supertramp, Joan Armatrading, Squeeze, and the label also continued its jazz heritage with artists such as Wes Montgomery.

An interesting episode occurred on March 10, 1977, when A&M "signed" the Sex Pistols in a mock signing ceremony outside Buckingham Palace right after the group had been dropped by EMI. The group really had been signed by the label the day before. However, A&M dropped the band less than a week later in the wake of a raucous after-signing party which saw the Sex Pistols Sid Vicious smashing a toilet in A&M’s posh building while Rotten threatened and swore at every executive he could find, among other similarly debauched behavior.

Meanwhile, 25,000 copies of the Pistols 45 of "God Save The Queen" had been pressed by A&M, but most were destroyed. Note to collectors: If you can find one it’s worth a good amount. Someone paid over $15,000 for an original in perfect shape in November 2019, thought to be one of only nine mint originals that exist.

During the 1980s, A&M Records expanded far into pop and rock, continuing its tradition of signing diverse and influential artists. The label released a wide range of albums across various genres during a very prolific period for the label and its’ artists.

Janet Jackson Control RIAA Platinum LP Award - Record Award

Some notable artists signed to A&M during that decade included The Police, along with Sting as a solo artist, Janet Jackson, Bryan Adams, OMD, Joe Jackson, the Human League, the Brothers Johnson, Falco, Atlantic Starr, Suzanne Vega, Jeffrey Osborne, Oingo Boingo, and the Go-Gos, among others.

These albums represent just a sampling of the diverse range of music released by A&M Records during the 1980s, highlighting the label's ability to nurture talent and produce chart-topping hits across multiple genres.

A defining moment in A&M's history came in 1989 when it was acquired by PolyGram, a major player in the music industry at the time. The acquisition provided A&M with access to greater resources and distribution channels, allowing it to reach a broader audience. However, the deal also marked a shift in the label's identity, as it became part of a larger corporate entity.

Despite the acquisition, A&M Records continued to thrive, signing new talent and releasing hit albums throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Artists such as Soundgarden, Sheryl Crow, and Sting found success under the A&M banner, further cementing the label's place in music history.

In 1999, PolyGram was acquired by Universal Music Group, leading to further changes for A&M Records. As Universal restructured its operations, A&M was absorbed into Interscope Geffen A&M, becoming one of its flagship labels. While some feared that A&M's unique identity would be lost in the merger, the label continued to operate, releasing music from both established and emerging artists.

In recent years, A&M Records has adapted to the evolving music landscape, embracing digital distribution and new technologies to connect with audiences worldwide. While its roster may have changed, the label's commitment to fostering talent and producing quality music remains as strong as ever.

Today, A&M Records stands as a testament to the enduring power of music and the vision of its founders, Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss. From its humble beginnings as an independent label to its status as a global powerhouse, A&M Records has left an indelible mark on the music industry, shaping the sound of generations and inspiring countless artists along the way. As the legacy of A&M Records continues to unfold, its contributions to music history remain as vibrant and influential as ever.

One note for record award collectors is that A&M often shunned obtaining traditional record awards from RIAA award makers. At times especially in the 70s -- and probably to save money -- they often chose to make non-RIAA logo awards to recognize the sales of their releases such as these examples for Supertramp and Styx: 

Supertramp Breakfast In America 70s A&M Records Award - Record Award

Interested in genuine RIAA Gold and Platinum and other record awards? Check out our selection here. We typically have several hundred in stock.

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