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The Label: The Story of Columbia Records Hardcover – February 27, 2007

3.7 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Hardcover, February 27, 2007
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1948, Hungarian-born engineer Peter Goldmark unveiled for Columbia the creation of the 331/3long-playing microgroove record, revolutionizing the music industry. In this comprehensive history, Marmorstein (Hollywood Rhapsody) offers an overview of those events in the context of a complete company history spanning a dozen decades. He documents the 1889 origins of the Columbia Phonograph Company and subsequent technological plateaus, from cylinder recordings to single-sided and double-sided discs, followed by the LP, stereo and the dawn of the digital era. Along with company mergers, he profiles music makers from Bessie Smith to Bob Dylan and looks at the innovative album art of Jim Flora ("a post-nuclear Miró") and the creation of logo designs. He turns up the volume when writing about the men behind the music, from "witty and plugged-in" president Goddard Lieberson to acclaimed producers John Hammond and George Avakian. Along with an earful of audio archives and oral histories, Marmorstein leafed through recording contracts, sales reports, job sheets, memos and personal correspondence. The 35 pages of bibliographic notes indicate the exhaustive research that led to this authoritative history. 16-page photo insert not seen by PW. (Mar. 26)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Marmorstein's exhaustive study of one of the world's most venerable recording labels must cover nearly every wrinkle in Columbia's long history and varied corporate existence, which may be either good or bad for readers, depending on their tolerances for the likes of Billy Joel, Mitch Miller, and other mainstays. Those only casually interested in the company's corporate side may also find the tome's length daunting, but Marmorstein's writing is hardly ponderous. It also takes awhile to do justice to a business that has endured for more than 90 years, in the process bringing such certifiable greats as Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, and Michael Jackson, not to mention hosts of jazz and classical stars, to iconic status. Moreover, Columbia has employed some of the most notorious figures in the music biz over the years, such as the storied Clive Davis and the perhaps odd but always interesting Tommy Mottolla, who foisted Mariah Carey on an unsuspecting public. A book to please music-history and music-biz-history mavens alike. Mike Tribby
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; annotated edition edition (February 27, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560257075
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560257073
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,347,232 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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...
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Format: Hardcover
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!
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Format: Hardcover
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
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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