15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on February 21, 2007
THE LABEL has to be one of the finest ever books about music, the music industry, and pop culture. And it has to be the coolest looking! It traces the history of Columbia Records from the invention of the phonograph to the present, and all the greats are there: Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Barbra Streisand, Duke Ellington, Leonard Bernstein, Billie Holliday, Michael Jackson, Janis Joplin, Benny Goodman, Sinatra, Horowitz, Kostelanetz, and on and on! And of course Walter Yetnikoff and the ever-present Clive Davis. What a feast -- you won't want to put it down! The writing is very graceful and astute, filled with fascinating details about deals and star-making and egos, trends and manias and feuds and so on. And the book, with its multiple photo sections and 50 pages of footnotes, is impeccably researched.
Music fiends are going to adore this book - what a great gift idea! I'm giving it to several of my music-fanatic friends, 'cause I know they'll REALLY like it. Very hip. GREAT COVER. A book to disappear into for days...
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2007
This book is amazing. I literally couldn't put it down. And I thought I pretty much knew a lot of record business history. My father in his youth was a record promoter for Columbia (and then Decca Records) and used to tell me stories when I was a kid. They were nothin'...in comparison with this. And daddy never told me any of the real history of Columbia. I did know that when I grew up I wanted to be a recording artist and I only wanted to record for Columbia.
Unfortunately, the closest I got to that was doing backup in the '60's for a few artists who were signed to the label. But the studio singers rarely saw or heard the full scoop on behind-the-scenes machinations. So, what I didn't know then, I've found out from this book. Bravo to Mr. Marmorstein for his research. It's so in-depth! And I got a kind of perverse thrill from knowing that though a lot of this book reads like great fiction, it's all amazingly true. Just bought another copy for my son who's a musician and record producer. As far as I'm concerned, this should be required reading for every potential and existant artist, producer, arranger etc., not to mention every music lover who is capable of reading.
For me, Columbia was and always will be THE label and this book truly does it justice!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2007
Barely a chapter into this almost 600-page long history of the venerable record company, which sports its famed red label on the cover, I've already learned more than I ever knew about the origins of the modern recording industry. Columbia Records was actually founded in 1888 by Edward Easton, a stenographer and principal in the company based in Washington, D.C. (hence the name), which manufactured Graphophones, an early forerunner of the victrola, originally used for office dictation. Just like today, the technology came first, and uses for the invention only came later. The fact that music could be recorded and played back on wax cylinders was virtually an afterthought (Thomas Edison, with his competing phonograph, felt music "demeaned" his invention), as the label was launched with a selection of John Philip Sousa marches recorded by the U.S. Marine Band and black singer George Washington Johnson, dubbed the "Whistling Coon" after his hit of the same name, brought to the label by prototypical 19th century A&R man Victor Emerson. What's striking is the role technology played in the growth of the industry, and how the format affected what was recorded and distributed, a factor still in place today in the wake of the digital revolution. A fascinating read that I have just dipped into, but will keep you abreast as I get deeper. - Roy Trakin
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 2007
Though there were several insignificnt accuracy errors, none of them take away from the superb, almost scholarly quality of the research. It is a fascinating and riveting look at the entire background at what, at least, was the gold standard of recorded music. Sadly it was sold off, as a one shot, short term basis attempt to improve a then sagging balance sheet of CBS. One of the worst financial decisons ever made by the Tischman group that bought out the Paley interests. It is clearly a decision that would never have been taken by what had previously been virtually flawless policies under the stewardship of Paley and Stanton.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2010
I bought this book primarily for information on Columbia's early history. So far I have been extremely disappointed. There are some glaring errors in just the first seven pages. Page 5: The Volta Graphophone Co. was organized in Alexandria, VIRGINIA - not West Virginia. Page 7: Emile Berliner patented the microphone that made the telephone practical well BEFORE he began work on the Gramophone.
My focus on Columbia's early history probably make me more sensitive to errors in this chapter. I haven't read the whole book but I suspect that the author's focus was probably on Columbia's later history and its better known artists and personalities. Columbia's early history was likely added to round out the project. Unfortunately, it reads like an afterthought. I hope that as I read further I won't be so distracted by mistakes that should have been caught by the editor.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 8, 2009
Well I just finished slogging through this long book. Overall, I was disappointed. The book concentrates on the rise and fall of those in the executive offices. It describes the intercine warfare between those who were "in" and those who were "out" but wanted to be "in".
The items of interest to me, the great artists who recorded for Columbia and the changes brought about by technology receive short shrift or no mention at all. I would have loved to be taken into a recording session by Bessie Smith or Bob Dylan. I would have loved to read how the engineers developed the LP, the technical obstacles that needed to be overcome and how Columbia successfully marketed the change to the public, especially when it required a substantial change of their playback equipment at a fairly substantial investment. Sadly, despite its length, my interests were not covered.
It's OK for what it is, but maybe it needs to be just one volume in the Columbia Record story. It could be titled "The Executives". Other volumes could include "The Artists", "The Engineers" and "The Salesmen", although the book "Hit Men" might be "The Salesmen" missing volume.
It wasn't anywhere close to what I was expecting. What a letdown.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I grew up basically in ignorance of everything associated with Columbia Records. When I did learn about Columbia, it was in the period after they had been sold to Sony Corp., which is where this book ends. The Columbia Records of today is like a ghost of the original.
The glory days of Columbia Records came in the pre-rock era. You can actually feel the domination coming to an end during the chapter in which Clive Davis is described cavorting at the Monterey Jazz and Pop Festival while long-time head of label Gordon Lierberson broods in his suite of offices in New York City.
Today, we think of Record Labels as being little more then a generic off shoot of the global culture industrial complex, but twas a time, my children, when bold entrepreneurs invested millions in the idea that Americans and the World would buy recorded music in large numbers. In the beginning, there was classical music. In particular, the early chapters of The Label are devoted almost entirely by the high minded attempts by Columbia to bring the best in classical music to the masses. In attitude they resemble the indie tape labels of today, determined to bring the music to the audience whether the audience wanted to hear it or not.
In the 30s and 40s, Columbia developed a catalogue of Jazz and Pop music, but eschewed blues and rhythm and blues- let alone rock and roll. Columbia is like...the label of the world of Mad Men: smooth, suave but kind of scared of black people and smug and superior about rock and roll and country music.
At the same time, it was Columbia Records where Bob Dylan recorded his most seminal albums of the 60s. In the 70s, Epic Records (a subsidiary) brought the world arena rock- one of the most interesting asides in the entire book is when Marmorstein's describes how Columbia had to bend "Union Rules" to allow producers to work in the basement studio of Boston writer/singer Tom Scholz- how DIY is that? And of course... there was Michael Jackson. Columbia Records continued to pump out hits, but they didn't really control the Zeitgeist after the one-two punch of the Beatles and the "Summer of Love."
Once again, the mid-60s proves crucial in the story of a large American culture corporation.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2008
This book is for music collctors. It's a well written very informative account of Columbia records. Filled with many interesting stories about all the greats of music. Sinatra, Bruno Walter, Streisand, and so many others. Every music collector should read this book. The most interesting part for me was the dawn of the lp, how RCA did everything they could to compete with the new format, only to lose out and create the 45. GREAT book and a must read for record collectors.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2010
As a lifelong fan of music, the vinyl record has always been an obsession with me. Through the years I have done much research on the mechanics, and the outcome of recorded music. This book is an essential part of anyone's library for those who love music, and the history behind one of the world's biggest labels.
The beginnings of the label are fascinating, as it explains the early technology used in order to reproduce sound, and how to mass market. As of now, we take music for granted, as it evolves into more of a convenience than a chore. Now, we can download through a computer what we would like to hear. Years ago, we sometimes wanted to hear in the record store what we may like, or listened to the radio and when our favorite song came on, just increased the volume.
From the early days of creation to marketing, this book also touches on the famous groups and singers who made the label what it is, respectable.
Columbia also has been the label that took the longest to conquer the rock and soul market. Releasing middle-of-the-road and adult contemporary up into the mid 60's, the label finally began to evolve into a major force. With over 600 pages of information, you may become overwhelmed by it's majesty, but if you may have an interest in what made the label what it is now, you are in for a treat.
For what took awhile for me to finish, you can walk away with the knowledge that a record label is alot more than just releasing music.
I give this book 5 stars, mainly for the fact that alot of research that went into this project was easily digestible, and for the most part, fascinating.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2013
This book is pretty much what I expected. The history seems thoroughly researched, and I don't know how accurate the research is, but it was way too dense in the excruciating details of certain old-time personalities and ancient events to keep my interest. Many 'stories' seem to follow personalities, and jump forward and backwards in time, making the entire book a chore to complete. I did read it all (almost) in it's entirety, yet will confess I lightly skimmed or skipped most of the book's section dealing with the label's Show Tunes.
Other reviewers mention inaccuracies on which I can't comment. If you want to learn about the artists recording for the label, pass this book by. Frankly, that was one of the positives I took away, as I truly did want history, and didn't want to necessarily read about current artists, say, Bruce Springsteen. I was overdosed on Mitch Miller, Ray Conniff, Andre Kostelanetz, and other anecdotes. This narrative delivered just too much detail in confusing ways.
It was fascinating to learn about "Format Wars" pertaining to hardware and software dating to the 1800's, and some other historical nuggets.
I pd about $8 incl. shipping. For that investment, it was worthwhile.