Casablanca Records

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Casablanca Records
Casablanca logo.png
Parent company Universal Music Group
Founded June 13, 1973 (original label; defunct 1986 and absorbed into Mercury Records)
2000 (current label)
Founder Neil Bogart, Larry Harris, Cecil Holmes, Buck Reingold
Distributor(s) The Island Def Jam Music Group
(In the US)
Universal Island Records
(Outside the US)
Genre Various
Country of origin United States
Location New York City
Official website www.casablanca-music.com

Casablanca Records, Inc., who became most successful as a disco label, was formed in 1973 by former Buddah Records executives Neil Bogart (who named the label as an homage to the classic film Casablanca), Cecil Holmes, Larry Harris and Buck Reingold.

Biography[edit]

Casablanca Records was an American record label started by Neil Bogart, who partnered with Cecil Holmes, Larry Harris, and Buck Reingold in 1973, and based in Los Angeles. The label was formed after all of them had left Buddah Records and secured financing by Warner Bros. Records to start the venture. Casablanca had become one of the most successful labels of the 1970s, signing and releasing albums by such acts as Kiss, Donna Summer, Village People, Cher, Lipps Inc. (lead vocalist Cynthia Johnson) and Parliament featuring George Clinton. The label's film division, Casablanca Filmworks, had hits with the movies The Deep and Midnight Express.

In 1977, PolyGram Records acquired a 50 percent stake of Casablanca for $15 million, and then in 1980 it purchased the other 50 percent. Also in 1980, one of the label's biggest acts, Donna Summer, left for another record company as she and Casablanca could not come to terms on her musical direction in the new decade. That same year, PolyGram pushed Bogart out of Casablanca due to what it viewed as the label's overspending and accounting irregularities. In the early '80s, with Bogart no longer heading the label, Casablanca had hits with acts Lipps Inc and Irene Cara, but it did not have the same level of success it had in the '70s. The label was eventually shut down by PolyGram with some of the artist roster and catalogue absorbed into sister label Mercury Records.

In 1999, PolyGram (and all its subsidiaries) were purchased by Seagram, and then merged with Seagram's MCA Inc. to form the Universal Music Group. In 2000, the Casablanca Records name was revived for a joint venture between Universal Music Group and Tommy Mottola. In a Billboard article, Mottola said that he chose the name as a homage to the original label, but that there was no actual connection between the old and new labels. Casablanca is currently a dance and electronic label under Republic Records headed by Casablanca Records’ GM Brett Alperowitz.[1]

History[edit]

Neil Bogart was the head of Buddah Records, which was owned by the Viewlex Corporation. Also employed at Buddah Records were Holmes, Harris, and Reingold. Bogart had an unorthodox approach to the music business and he eventually grew tired of answering and conforming to Viewlex's business mode. In 1973, he arranged financing through Warner Bros. Records whereas he could start his own record label, which would be a sudsidiary of Warner Bros. After much back and forth, the green light was eventually given by Warner and Bogart started the new label, bringing Harris, Holmes, and Reingold with him. Bogart called the label Casablanca as it was the name of his favorite film, and he also had the same last name as its star Humphrey Bogart. Also, since Warner Bros. owned the rights to the title of the film Casablanca, Bogart knew there would be no lawsuit against him regarding the name Casablanca Records. The label's first signing was the rock group Kiss, however, the label's first single was Bill Amesbury's "Virginia (Touch Me Like You Do)" which became a minor hit on the US Hot 100.

From the time of its inception, Casablanca didn't quite fit within the Warner scope of music, especially with the signing of a then-new act known as Kiss. Neil Bogart was also quite brash and sure of himself, which rubbed some Warner staffers the wrong way. Thus, Casablanca experienced lukewarm relations with Warner Bros, its parent company. Warner manufactured and distributed albums for its own acts, as well as all its sudsidiary labels. Both Casablanca and Warner handled promotion for Casablanca artists. However, a few years later when Warner began experiencing manufacturing problems, it began focusing mainly on manufacturing albums by Warner acts and not so much the sudsidiaries. Thus, Casablanca found itself with only modest success with its releases as it had limited distribution. Once Bogart realized this, he took the issue to Warner head Mo Ostin who had not been aware of the lack of attention being given to the sudsidiary labels. Ostin, who didn't feel strongly about the Casablanca venture anyway, decided to handle the situation by completely breaking Casablanca Records away from Warner Bros. and giving Bogart ownership of the label, thus making Casablanca an independent label. Bogart was thrilled at the opportunity to own his own record company outright and being able to make all the decisions, but he did insist on paying Warner Bros. in installment payments for the Casablanca label as opposed to taking it for free.

The now independent Casablanca Records was suddenly put in a tenuous financial situation as it still had yet to score a major hit album, and now it no longer had the backing of Warner Bros. Casablanca was banking on the success of an upcoming album it was planning; a two-record set of audio highlights from television's The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. The album was entitled Here's Johnny: Magic Moments from The Tonight Show and it was released in November 1974. Although the album was certified gold by the RIAA for shipments to stores of over 500,000 copies, the album did not sell well, and returns from retailers of unsold copies were high. Even the promotional copies were returned, initiating the joke that "it shipped gold and went back to the label platinum". Casablanca had realized that even though The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was immensely popular, the show didn't carry over well to recordings.

Signed Acts[edit]

Kiss[edit]

Casablanca had released three albums by Kiss; Kiss (1974), Hotter Than Hell (1974), and Dressed to Kill (1975), but all had failed to make a big impact on the charts. The label also didn't experience heavy sales with albums by Angel who were introduced to the label by Kiss's Gene Simmons, although that glam rock band did amass a cult following. The label would have been on the verge of bankruptcy, but Bogart decided to release a live album by Kiss. Although the band's studio albums thus far had not been strong sellers, the band had a reputation for exciting live shows. Casablanca decided to try to capitalize on that reputation and it released the double-live Alive! (1975) album. It became both Casablanca's and Kiss's first top ten album, being certified gold.

Kiss's follow-up studio albums to Alive! were better sellers than its previous studio albums. Destroyer (1976), Rock and Roll Over (1976), and Love Gun (1977) were all certified platinum in the United States. The band would release several more albums with its last studio album on Casablanca being 1982's Creatures of the Night.

Donna Summer[edit]

In 1975, Casablanca had signed a new artist named Donna Summer and released her album entitled Love to Love You Baby which was certified gold. The title song would be over 17 minutes long, and Casablanca would release the song in its entirety as a single (a shorter version would also be promoted to radio). In releasing the 17 minute version as a single, Casablanca would help make popular a format that would become known as the 12 inch. The song, which featured Summer seductively moaning and groaning, would be banned by some American radio stations (as it had been in Europe) but still claw its way to #2 on the US Hot 100. Summer would have several gold and platinum albums on Casablanca from 1975–1979, and become the label's most successful act on the singles chart. At one point, she scored eight US top 5 singles within a two-year period.

Summer would be deemed in the press as "The First Lady of Love", a moniker that she was not totally comfortable with, but one that Casablanca would continue to market to great success. Other Summer hits included "I Feel Love", "Bad Girls", the Oscar and Grammy winning "Last Dance", and the Grammy winning "Hot Stuff". Casablanca would release the Bad Girls album and watch it soar to double-platinum status. The label would follow that with a Summer greatest hits collection; a double-album entitled On the Radio: Greatest Hits Volumes I & II, which would also be certified double platinum, and would be Summer's last album on Casablanca.

Lipps, Inc.[edit]

In 1979 Lipps Inc. with Cynthia Johnson on lead vocals signed with Casablanca, soon the single "Rock It" was released, followed by the album Mouth to Mouth with the #1 smash hit Funkytown, the last big hit of the disco era that continues to be popular till today with over 35 Million times sold internationally.

Parliament[edit]

Parliament was signed to the Casablanca label in late 1973, due to Neil Bogart's long-standing relationship with group leader George Clinton. Their relationship dates back to Bogart's period at Buddah Records. Their first official release for the label was in 1974 with the album Up for the Down Stroke. The title song from the album gave Parliament its first top ten R&B hit. Their next album, Chocolate City sold approximately 150,000 albums in the Washington, D.C. area alone. But it would be their next release, Mothership Connection, that would give the group its first gold and, eventually, platinum album. Parliament would achieve either gold or platinum status with each album release up until 1980, as well as scoring hit singles with "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)", "Flash Light" (Casablanca's first R&B number one hit) and "Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)". The success of Parliament allowed George Clinton to develop another P-Funk spin off act known as Parlet.

Casablanca also financed the various extravagant P-Funk stage shows, including the "Mothership Connection/P-Funk Earth Tour" of 1976-77; as well as the Motor Booty Affair underwater tour of 1979. Parliament were later inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Parliament also gave Casablanca Records a much needed presence in the R&B/Soul market.

Other events[edit]

Casablanca started a subsidiary label in 1975 called Chocolate City Records. It was mainly overseen by Bogart's partner Cecil Holmes and the label focused on R&B, funk, and disco releases. Chocolate City's signings included the then-new acts of Cameo and Brenda & the Tabulations.

Casablanca also had another subsidiary label called Parachute Records from 1976 to 1979. The label was run by former Motown Records promoter and Uni Records CEO Russ Regan.[2][3] A few of the artists signed to the label were singer Randy Brown, the heavily sampled disco group 7th Wonder and songwriter-author-poet Shel Silverstein, who recorded one album for the label- 1978's Songs and Stories.[4]

The offices of Casablanca Records moved onto Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles into the former A&M Records offices. Casablanca's new offices were soon modeled after the movie set of the film of the same name. Later, the record company merged with an Indie production company called Filmworks, Inc., which was founded by former Columbia Pictures executive Peter Guber. The new company became known as Casablanca Record and Filmworks, with Bogart still at its helm as President, while Guber became Chairman of the Board and head of its film division. Guber would remain with the company for two years. In 1977, PolyGram Records acquired a 50% stake in the independent Casablanca, which had been quite successful for several years.

Casablanca remained very successful throughout the rest of the 1970s. But the label's rise and fall would both be dramatic instances. The rise came with the success of several acts such as Donna Summer, Kiss, Parliament, and the Village People; as well as some success from its subsidiary label and its film division. The fall began when the 1980s rolled in. The label was also known to spend lavish amounts of money on parties, events, and promotion. Although this resulted in hit albums and singles, the profit margin suffered due to the care-free spending by the label. Casablanca spent lavish amounts of money on promoting its releases, which made its artists happy, but not necessarily PolyGram, which now owned a 50% stake in the label. When Casablanca's lavish spending habits were realized by PolyGram, it quickly made an offer to purchase the other 50% of Casablanca in 1980. Bogart accepted, however he soon found out he would not be allowed to stay with Casablanca, and PolyGram released him from his post. He used the money he acquired from the sale to start Boardwalk Records and he signed then-new rocker Joan Jett, who had experienced some success in Japan as a member of the group The Runaways. But Bogart died from cancer in 1982 and Boardwalk Records folded.

Post-Bogart Years[edit]

Casablanca Records was not as successful without Bogart running the company. Its only notable releases from 1980 onward were the Robin Williams debut comedy LP Reality, What A Concept! (1981), the soundtrack to the film Flashdance (1983), and the final three Kiss LP's on Casablanca: Unmasked, Music from "The Elder" and Creatures of the Night. Dusty Springfield's sole release on Casablanca, 1982's White Heat, came and went with little notice due to the label's mounting internal problems. The last album released by the label was Animotion's Strange Behavior in 1986, which was a modest seller. By that time, PolyGram had folded Casablanca Records and some of its acts were moved over to Mercury Records, while other acts were dropped altogether.

Official biography[edit]

In 2009, Casablanca co-founder Larry Harris released the definitive insider's history of the label with a book entitled And Party Every Day: The Inside Story of Casablanca Records.

2000 relaunch[edit]

In 1998, Seagram purchased PolyGram Records and merged it with its own music division to create the Universal Music Group. In 2000, Universal and Tommy Mottola partnered to launch a new record label that would be headed by Mottola and be part of Universal Music Group. Mottola chose the name Casablanca, in homage to the Casablanca Records once run by Neil Bogart. There would be no legal issue with the name as Universal owns the Casablanca Records name. The label's first release was to be a girl-group first known as "iNK", but which later changed its name to "NSS (Not So Sweet) 16". The group, however, disbanded due to internal problems.

Some of Casablanca releases included albums by Lindsay Lohan in 2004, albums by Lohan and Brie Larson in 2005, and by Mika in 2007, who scored a hit with the song "Relax, Take It Easy". Mottola's label once again become inactive when Lohan and Larson moved to other labels within the Universal family.

In the fall of 2009, Casablanca became active again (albeit in name only) with the releases of Mika's second album, The Boy Who Knew Too Much, and Ryan Leslie's second album, Transition.

Releases[edit]

2012 relaunch[edit]

In January 2012, Casablanca Records was relaunched as an electronic music imprint under Republic Records, as a reflection to the original label. Working with an international roster of both established and emerging artists, Casablanca has already released albums from Crystal Castles, C2C, Kavinsky, The Presets, Scissor Sisters, Chase & Status, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, Ladyhawke, Elton John Vs. Pnau and Kindness. 2013 will see releases from Sub Focus, The Aston Shuffle, Chase & Status and many more.

Current artists[edit]

Past Casablanca artists[edit]

*Animotion   {1986)

References[edit]

External links[edit]