Atlantic catalog is worthy choice for collectors

Poll any random gathering of committed record collectors, and you will quickly discover that there are as many different themes to collect as there are collectors themselves.

Individual bands and artists are, for many people, the most obvious direction to follow, particularly when one first enters the hobby on any kind of serious level. But branch out a little, and you might find yourself jealously hoarding all manner of things.

Picture discs, Christmas songs, surf instrumentals, punk 45s ? they all have their devoted adherents. So do individual record labels. It doesn?t matter whether they are sprawling majors or back-bedroom Indies, decades-long survivors or flash-in-the-pan nonentities. Someone, somewhere, cares enough to invest a sizeable proportion of their time and money into chasing down every last disc in the catalog.

My thoughts initially were turned to this subject by the recent publication of “The Label,” Gary Marmorstein?s unequivocally titled history of the Columbia label. Although not written specifically for collectors (and, indeed, in many ways going out of its way to avoid their attention), it is nevertheless a gripping survey of what, for many years, was an American musical institution.

But, of course, it is not the only label that can make that claim, and so, this month, the Complete Collector brings you the first in what will be a sporadic A-to-Z glance back at some of the other leviathans of the industry, beginning with a label that has hitched its star to some of the most important (and themselves collectible) names in rock and jazz: Atlantic.

Interest in the label rarely has faltered, with the celebrations of its 50th anniversary in 1997 encouraging a new generation of collectors to pay attention. The recent death of founder Ahmet Ertegun has focused a degree of fascination, too, but the true key to Atlantic?s popularity remains its musical output ? the run of essential soul/R&B releases of the 1960s and the label?s near-monopoly on the rock explosion of the early 1970s.

On either side of these key sequences, Atlantic?s 1940s/?50s jazz catalog is second to none, while the 1980s and 1990s each produced their fair share of eminently collectible acts. In addition, the Atco and Cotillion (originally a publishing wing formed in 1964) subsidiaries also merit serious consideration.

The son of Turkey?s U.S. ambassador, Ertegun founded Atlantic in 1947 alongside Brooklyn-born jazz promoter, Herb Abramson, a part-time record producer with National Records. Abramson was president; Ertegun and Abramson?s wife, Miriam, were vice presidents. In 1953, Billboard journalist Jerry Wexler joined the team to serve as a vice president and in-house R&B producer. Ertegun became Atlantic?s president in 1958, three years after Abramson moved to Atco.

Atlantic swiftly established a reputation for fair dealings, and it prospered both artistically and commercially. Early signings included the vocal groups Delta Rhythm Boys, the Clovers and the Cardinals; bluesmen Leadbelly and Sonny Terry; and jazz musicians including Art Pepper, Erroll Garner, Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughan. Within five years, Atlantic boasted hits by Ruth Brown, Stick McGhee, Joe Turner, Professor Longhair, Laurie Tate and Joe Morris, while Ertegun proved a successful composer. The Clovers? chart-topping ?Don?t You Know I Love You? became the label?s second R&B #1.

As early as March 1949, Atlantic issued its first 33-1/3 RPM long-playing, 10-inch record, poet Walter Benton?s This Is My Beloved (Atlantic 110), narrated by John Dall over musical accompaniment by Vernon Duke. The same material was spread over three 12-inch 78s, effortlessly proving the efficiency of the new format. Atlantic?s first 33-1/3, 12-inch LP followed in early 1951 ? scenes from Shakespeare?s Romeo and Juliet by Eva LaGallienne and Richard Waring (ALS-401).

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