- This article is about the record label active from the 1950s to the 1970s. For the earlier Bell Records labels, see Bell Records (1920) and Bell Records (1940).
Bell was also a custom label active in the 1940s for recordings by Benny Bell.
|Parent company||Columbia Pictures Industries|
|Status||Defunct, November 1974 (fate: reorganized into Arista Records)|
|Country of origin||United States|
Bell Records was an American record label founded in 1952 in New York by Arthur Shimkin, the owner of the children's record label Golden Records, and initially a unit of Pocket Books, after the rights to the name were acquired from Benny Bell who used the Bell name to issue risque novelty records. A British branch was also active in the 1960s and 1970s. Bell Records was reorganized in November 1974, which was the birth of Arista Records.
Upon its inception in 1952, Bell specialized in budget generic pop music, with the slogan "music for the millions". Originally sold on seven-inch 78rpm and 45rpm records for 39 cents (US), this style of music went out of fashion as rock and roll became more prevalent. Sound-alike cover versions of hit records were also issued on 78rpm as well as 45rpm disks priced at 49 cents.
Instead of being pressed into vinyl like a normal 7-inch disc, these records were injection molded using polystyrene, which either had glued-on labels or the label information was printed directly on the polystyrene, rendering many copies almost unreadable years later. Most (but not all) Bell and associated label 45rpm records were similarly injection-molded all the way into the 1970s.
As Al Massler, the head of record manufacturer Bestway Products, had become head of Bell Records in 1959, Mala Records was then formed as a Bell subsidiary label, specializing in rock and roll along with rhythm and blues.
In 1960, Amy Records was formed as yet another subsidiary label, focusing on a lot of what would come to be known as northern soul and/or blue-eyed soul acts. The following year, Larry Uttal folded his Madison Records label into Bell after purchasing the label, along with its Amy and Mala subsidiary labels. Concentrating his efforts on the Amy and Mala labels, Uttal rendered the Bell parent label dormant until 1964, when the label was revived, featuring a logo utilizing a stylized "BELL" word mark shaped like a bell.
In 1966, the Bell label was expanded internationally and the company decided to issue all their albums, even for Amy and Mala acts, on the Bell label, and went on to issue several hit singles, including "I'm Your Puppet" by James and Bobby Purify in 1966, "The Letter" by the Box Tops (the single on Mala, the album on Bell) in 1967, "Angel of the Morning" by Merrilee Rush & the Turnabouts in 1968, and "Gimme Gimme Good Lovin" by Crazy Elephant in 1969.
Later that year, after the three labels were merged into a single unit, retaining the Bell moniker, the combined company was then acquired by Colgems Records' parent company Columbia Pictures, expanding its roster of acts when Colgems, previously distributed by RCA Records, was folded into the newly purchased company. Retaining ownership of a portion of the new company and remaining as Bell's president, Larry Uttal was instrumental in signing many soon-to-be-famous acts such as the Partridge Family, David Cassidy, Ricky Segall, the 5th Dimension and Tony Orlando & Dawn, as well as adopting a new "thick-stripe" logo.
By 1970, the Bell label was more successful with pop music singles, and less successful with more lucrative pop LPs. When Uttal left the company in 1974 to begin his own label Private Stock, Columbia Pictures' music consultant Clive Davis took over as President and merged the various Columbia Pictures legacy labels (Colpix, Colgems, and Bell) into a new entity renamed Arista later that year, ultimately buying a percentage of the company from Columbia.
Bell had its final #1 hit in January 1975 with Barry Manilow's "Mandy" (Bell 45,613), followed shortly by the label's final hit, as well as its final single, "Look in My Eyes Pretty Woman" by Tony Orlando and Dawn (Bell 45,620—US #11) after which the more successful Bell albums were reissued on Arista. The very last releases utilizing the Bell imprint have the designation "Bell Records, Distributed by Arista Records, 1776 Broadway, New York, New York 10019" around the rim of the label.
Bell Records UK
The British branch was established in 1967. Previous British issues of Bell recordings were on EMI's Stateside Records. Bell/Amy/Mala's association with EMI dates back to 1964. Bell Records in London was headed by Dick Leahy and distributed by EMI. (In other foreign territories, Polydor handled distribution which later picked up British distribution.) Artists signed to them included the Bay City Rollers, Gary Glitter, Showaddywaddy, the Glitter Band, and US acts Reparata and the Delrons and the Partridge Family with David Cassidy. Other artists on the label included Barry Blue, Barry Manilow, Terry Jacks, Hello, the Piglets, the Pearls and Harley Quinne, the Drifters and the UK releases of the Box Tops.
Bell UK initially kept its identity when Bell US was reorganized into Arista in 1974, but a year later, although releases continued on the UK Bell label until 1976, the UK label adopted the Arista name in 1975. Showaddywaddy released the last Bell single, "Under the Moon of Love", which reached No.1 in December 1976 before Arista UK briefly revived the label in 1981. The Bell logo has made occasional appearances on the jackets and labels of Arista UK releases.
Subsidiary and associated labels
- Big Tree Records
- Philly Groove Records
- Aurora Records
- Mala Records
- Amy Records
- AGP (American Group Productions)
- Bigtop Records
- Direction Records
- Neighborhood Records
- Nite Life Records
- DynoVoice Records
- NewVoice Records
- Page One Records
- Penny Farthing Records
- Carousel Records
- Rocky Road Records
- Vando Records (acquired from Cameo-Parkway Records)
- Windfall Records
Bell also had three oldies reissue labels in its history:
- Flashback Records: Started in 1964 and continued after the Bell/Arista transformation
- Sphere Sound Records (1965–1970): Released reissue singles as well as albums with previously issued and unreleased tracks
- Bell Gold Records (1972): Short-lived label consisting of hits from artists the 5th Dimension and Al Wilson, both of whom were on Soul City which was sold to Bell
Bell Records artists (1960s)
The following artists have had at least one recording released on the Bell Records label or one of its subsidiaries.
(In alphabetical order)
- Cilla Black
- The Box Tops (Mala, Bell)
- Solomon Burke
- Crazy Elephant
- Bette Davis
- The Delfonics (Philly Groove)
- Lee Dorsey (Amy)
- Georgia Gibbs
- Al Greene & The Soul Mates (Hot Line)
- James & Bobby Purify
- Reparata and the Delrons
- Ronny & the Daytonas (Mala)
- Merrilee Rush & The Turnabouts (Bell, AGP)
- Del Shannon (Amy)
- Syndicate of Sound
- Vanity Fare (Page One)
- Jimmy Velvit recording as James Bell
Bell Records artists (1970s)
- April Wine (Big Tree)
- Miki Antony
- Bay City Rollers
- Barry Blue
- Brownsville Station (Big Tree)
- David Cassidy
- Climax (Carousel, Rocky Road)
- Tony Orlando and Dawn
- The Drifters
- Edison Lighthouse
- The Fantastics
- The 5th Dimension
- First Choice (Philly Groove)
- Gary Glitter
- The Glitter Band
- Godspell (1971 Off-Broadway Cast)
- Godspell (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
- Let the Good Times Roll (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
- Lost Horizon (1973 film) (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
- Terry Jacks
- Davy Jones
- Shirley Jones
- Vicki Lawrence
- Leapy Lee
- Lobo (Big Tree)
- Melissa Manchester
- Barry Manilow
- Sylvia McNeill
- The Partridge Family
- Suzi Quatro
- Rodney Allen Rippy
- Labi Siffre (two singles, no albums)
- The Stampeders
- The Sweet
- Marlo Thomas (Free to Be... You and Me)
- Al Wilson (Rocky Road)
- Lenny Zakatek
- Sylvia McNeill
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