|Distributor(s)||EMI (in the UK)|
|Country of origin||U.S., UK|
Liberty Records was a United States-based record label. It was started by chairman Simon Waronker in 1955 with Al Bennett as president and Theodore Keep as chief engineer. It was reactivated in 2001 in the United Kingdom and had two previous revivals.
Liberty's early releases focused on film and orchestral music. Its first single was Lionel Newman's "The Girl Upstairs." Its first big hit, in 1955, was by Julie London singing her version of the torch song, "Cry Me a River", which climbed to No. 9 in the Billboard Hot 100. It helped Liberty sell her first album, Julie Is Her Name. She was to record 32 albums in her career.
In 1956 Liberty signed the little-known Henry Mancini. They released two singles and several albums for him, but he left in 1959 when he gained in popularity. Billy Rose and Lee David's song, "Tonight You Belong to Me", scored a number 4 (US) and number 28 (UK) as performed by teen sisters Patience and Prudence (McIntyre), selling over a million copies. (It was first recorded in 1927, revived by Frankie Laine in 1952.)
Their biggest early rock and roll artist was Eddie Cochran, who had just starred in his second film, Untamed Youth. His first hit for the label was John D. Loudermilk's "Sittin' in the Balcony" in 1957, then came "Summertime Blues" and "C'mon Everybody".
The label was also home to R&B veterans Billy Ward and His Dominoes after Jackie Wilson quit, replacing him with ex-Lark Eugene Mumford. They hit with Hoagy Carmichael's 1927 song, "Stardust" – already recorded by many artists – which rode the pop chart for 24 weeks and got to number 13 in the Hot 100. The track also reached number 13 in the UK Singles Chart in October 1957. It was to be their only million seller.
By 1958, Liberty was close to bankruptcy when singer-songwriter David Seville (Ross Bagdasarian, Sr.) convinced them that they might as well press singles of his novelty song "Witch Doctor" with the leftover vinyl pucks and labels in their warehouse. The song became a number 1 hit and rescued the company. Later that year, Bagdasarian combined multi-track recording with the altered speed technique he had used in "Witch Doctor" and introduced the Chipmunks, Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, in "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)". (The Chipmunks were named after Liberty execs Bennett, Waronker and Keep respectively.) In just a few months leading up to Christmas in 1958, the record shot to the top of the charts. It became the only Christmas record to reach number 1 on the pop chart, selling 4.5 million copies. Liberty's immediate future was secured.
Another performer who contributed greatly to Liberty's success was pianist-bandleader Martin Denny, whose Polynesian-influenced lounge-jazz music established a genre known as "Exotica," after his first album for the label. Its success led to a long string of similar albums by Denny for Liberty over the next decade.
In 1959 Liberty moved to its long-time address at 6920 Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.
1960s and 1970s
Liberty's most successful signing of the early 1960s was Bobby Vee. They picked up his single recorded for Soma with his combo the Shadows, "Suzie Baby" and stuck with him as a solo act. He covered the Clovers' 1955 doo-wop ballad, "Devil or Angel" in mid-1960 and later that year recorded Gene Pitney's "Rubber Ball" which made him an international star. In the summer of 1961 Vee had a big hit with " Take Good Care of My Baby", which peaked at number one (US) and number 3 (UK). He regularly had Hot 100 hits until 1970.
Liberty staff producer Snuff Garrett, in addition to producing hits for many of the stars listed above, also had great success with a series of instrumental easy listening albums credited to "The 50 Guitars of Tommy Garrett." The name of the group was sold to Sony before being acquired by Tom Ficara and Combined Artists in 1997. New versions are made to this day under the Applause label.
In 1963 the Liberty Records label was sold to Avnet (an electronics corporation) for $12 million. Avnet also bought Blue Note Records, Imperial Records, Dolton Records, Aladdin Records and Minit Records. After two years of losses, Avnet sold the labels back to Al Bennett for $8 million. In 1966 a reissue label, Sunset Records, was started to deal with previously issued records from the new labels...one notable Jazz artist found on Sunset at this time was Eddie Harris, a Chicago born sax player who released a collection of his better known sax works, called, The Explosive Eddie Harris (SUS-5234) – among other records at this time were artists like: Jimmy Reed (Something Else, SUS-5218), Les McCann (Django, SUS-5214), Teddy Buckner (A Salute To Sachmo, SUS5204), Wild Bill Davis (Flying Home, SUS-5191), Lester Young (Giant of Jazz, SUS5181) and Chet Baker (Swings Pretty, SUS5180)... released at a time when Liberty's 'Sunset Records' office was located at 6920, Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles, CA, 90028.
Liberty recordings were first distributed in the UK by the Decca group on London Records, then by EMI on its new Liberty label. Liberty established a branch office in London, which signed acts such as the Bonzo Dog Band, Idle Race and the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation. After moving distribution to Philips Records in 1967, they returned to EMI in 1970. Liberty also signed the Searchers for a short time in 1968 and, in 1967, they issued the first single by Family. Ron Kass, onetime president of Liberty Records, later became the head of the Beatles' record label, Apple Records and Ron Bledsoe, assistant to Al Bennett, was picked by Clive Davis to run the Nashville arm of Columbia Records.
In 1966 singer (and Imperial artist) Johnny Rivers started another Liberty subsidiary, Soul City Records. The following year, Liberty discontinued the Dolton label and moved its artists to the parent label. In 1967, Liberty Records signed Canned Heat who had three big hit singles for the label.
In 1968 Liberty was bought for $38 million by Transamerica Corporation (an insurance company) and combined with their other label United Artists Records. Two years later they shut down Imperial and Minit and transferred their artists to Liberty.
In 1970 Liberty act Sugarloaf scored a top 10 hit in the United States with "Green-Eyed Lady", which reached number 3 on the Billboard chart. Sugarloaf would score again in 1975 with "Don't Call Us, We'll Call You" (US number 9).
Finally in 1971, Liberty and its remaining labels (with the exception of Soul City of which the name was retained by its owner Johnny Rivers and its catalog sold to Bell Records and Blue Note Records) were shifted to United Artists Records and Liberty Records was no more.
In 1978 Artie Mogull and Jerry Rubinstein acquired United Artists Records and Liberty Records (with money they borrowed from Capitol Records which, ironically, was originally going to be named Liberty Records before changing names prior to incorporation). In February 1979, Capitol's parent company EMI foreclosed on them and has owned the rights to the Liberty labels ever since. Capitol Records (now a unit of Universal Music Group) manages the Liberty catalog today.
Above, left: 1961-1965. This example is the first of three issues of Golden Hits, Volume 2, released in 1965 by Jan and Dean.
Above, center: 1966-1969. The record was reissued in 1966. By then, the Liberty label graphic had changed to the monochrome 'rounded box' version, used until 1969.
Above, right: 1970-1971. When the record was again reissued, it was on the third and final version of the black label, used from 1970-1971, after which Liberty Records was folded into United Artists Records, and subsequent Jan and Dean material from the 1970's used one of the various UA labels.
1980s and 1990s
In 1980, EMI dropped the United Artists name and revived the Liberty name. Initially, EMI used Liberty to reissue the United Artists, Liberty and Imperial catalogues. From 1980 until 1984, Capitol used Liberty as a country music label, featuring such artists as Kenny Rogers and Dottie West and heavy metal band Manowar. In 1991, EMI renamed its Capitol Nashville label to Liberty Records, before returning to the Capitol Nashville name four years later.
In 1994, Liberty Records president Jimmy Bowen also founded a sister label to Liberty called Patriot Records, whose roster included Bryan Austin, Lisa Brokop, John Berry, Deana Carter, John Bunzow and Noah Gordon. Berry had previously been on Liberty, while the other acts were newly signed. After the label closed in 1995, Berry, Brokop and Carter transferred to Capitol Nashville.
Liberty Records in the 2000s in the United Kingdom
After releasing many late-1990s Europop records like the Hermes House Band, EMI reformatted the label in 2001 to focus on 'heritage acts'. The label, now operating in a similar sphere to that of rival and one-time sister label Sanctuary, signed a number of acts, such as the Alarm MMVI, the Stranglers, British virtual/cartoon girl band VBirds and Prefab Sprout.
While the Liberty Records catalog is today owned by the Capitol Records unit of Universal Music Group, Liberty Records' UK original issues by British acts such as the Bonzo Dog Band are now controlled by the Parlophone unit of Warner Music Group.
Liberty Records artists
- Nocturne Records, merged with Liberty in 1955
- Pacific Jazz Records, acquired by Liberty in 1957
- List of record labels
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- Sunset Records, Dept SU, and information about Eddie Harris recordings, as well as other mentioned jazz artists, found on LP SUS-5234 Sunset Records, listed as a product of LIBERTY RECORDS, SUS-5234-1
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