WARNER BROS. RECORDS INC. is an American major record label
established in 1958 as the foundation label of the present-day Warner
Music Group (WMG), and now operates as a wholly owned subsidiary of
Warner Bros. Records was established on March 19,
1958, as the recorded-music division of the American film studio
Warner Bros. For most of its early existence it was one of a group of
labels owned and operated by larger parent corporations. The sequence
of companies that controlled
Warner Bros. and its allied labels
evolved through a convoluted series of corporate mergers and
acquisitions from the early 1960s to the early 2000s. Over this
Warner Bros. Records grew from a struggling minor player in
the music industry to become one of the top recording labels in the
In 2003, these music assets were divested by their then owner Time
Warner and purchased by a private equity group. This independent
company traded as the
Warner Music Group
Warner Music Group before being bought by Access
Industries in 2011. WMG is the smallest of the three major
international music conglomerates and the world's last publicly traded
major music company. Cameron Strang serves as CEO of the company.
Artists currently signed to
Warner Bros. Records include but are not
Sleeping with Sirens ,
Kylie Minogue ,
Kimbra , the
Goo Goo Dolls ,
Sheryl Crow ,
Adam Lambert , Bette
Midler , Blur ,
Duran Duran ,
Fleet Foxes ,
Jason Derulo ,
Kid Rock ,
Lily Allen ,
Linkin Park , Muse ,
Nile Rodgers , the Red Hot Chili
Peppers , the Black Keys ,
My Chemical Romance and
Regina Spektor .
* 1.1 Founding
* 1.2 1958–1963: formation and early years
* 1.3 Warner/Reprise 1963–1967
* 1.4 1967–1969: Warner-Seven Arts
* 1.5 1969–1972: Kinney takeover
* 1.6 1970–1979: The Ostin era
* 1.7 1980–1988
* 1.8 1989–2004: The
Time Warner era
* 1.8.1 End of an era: Ostin and Waronker depart
* 1.9 2004–present:
Warner Music Group
Warner Music Group
* 2 Affiliated labels
* 2.1 Current
* 2.2 Former
* 3 Artists
* 4 See also
* 5 References
* 6 External links
At the end of the silent movie period,
Warner Bros. Pictures decided
to expand into publishing and recording so that it could access
low-cost music content for its films. In 1928, the studio acquired
several smaller music publishing firms which included M. Witmark ">
The gold, black and red label design used for
Warner Bros. stereo
albums from 1958 to 1968 and mono albums from 1964 to 1968. The
grey, black, white and yellow label design used for
Warner Bros. mono
albums from 1958 to 1964 when it switched to the same gold label as
the stereo version.
Warner Bros. reëntered the record business in 1958 with the
establishment of its own recording division,
Warner Bros. Records. By
this time, the established
Hollywood studios were reeling from
multiple challenges to their former dominance - the most notable being
the introduction of television in the late 1940s. Legal changes also
had a major impact on their business—lawsuits brought by major stars
had effectively overthrown the old studio contract system by the late
Warner Bros. Pictures sold off much of its movie library in
1948 (although, ironically, Time Warner's 1996 takeover of Turner
Broadcasting returned most of the Warner archive to the company) and,
beginning in 1949, anti-trust suits brought by the U.S. government
forced the five major studios to divest their cinema chains.
Harry Warner and
Albert Warner sold their interest in the
studio and the board was joined by new members who favoured a renewed
expansion into the music business—Charles Allen of the investment
bank Charles Allen its founding directors of A its original office was
located above the film studio's machine shop at 3701 Warner Boulevard
in Burbank, California. Its early album releases (1958–1960) were
aimed at the upscale end of the mainstream audience, and Warner Bros.
took an early (though largely unsuccessful) lead in recording stereo
LPs that targeted the new "hi-fi " market. The catalogue in this
* vocal /spoken word albums by Warner contract players such as Tab
Edd Byrnes ,
Connie Stevens ,
Jack Webb and
* novelty /comedy albums by artists such as
Spike Jones and Bob
* film soundtracks and collections of film and TV themes
* 'middle of the road' instrumental albums by artists including
Matty Matlock , Buddy Cole ,
Henry Mancini ,
George Greeley , Warren
Barker and "Ira Ironstrings" (a pseudonym for guitarist
Alvino Rey ,
Conkling's brother-in-law, who was in fact under contract to Columbia
Records at the time).
Some albums featured jokey or self-deprecating titles such as:
* Music for People with $3.98 (Plus Tax If Any),
* Terribly Sophisticated Songs: A Collection of Unpopular Songs for
* Songs the Kids Brought Home from Camp
* Don't Put Your Empties on the Piano and
* But You've Never Heard Gershwin With Bongos.
Almost all were commercial failures; and the only charting album in
Warner Bros.' first two years was Warren Barker\'s 'soundtrack' album
for the studio's hit series
77 Sunset Strip , which reached #3 in
1959. Tab Hunter's "
Jealous Heart " (WB 5008), which reached #62, was
Warner Bros. only charting single during its first year.
Warner Bros. singles had distinctive red labels, with the WB
logo to the side and a number of different-colored arrows surrounding
and pointing at the center hole. The first hit was the novelty record
"Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb)", which reached #4 on the
Billboard Hot 100
Billboard Hot 100 . It was nominally performed by Warner contract
Edd Byrnes , who played the wisecracking hipster character
Gerald Lloyd "Kookie" Kookson III on Warner's TV detective series 77
Sunset Strip . The story behind the recording illustrates the sharp
practices often employed by major recording companies. Actress and
Connie Stevens (who appeared in the Warner TV series Hawaiian
Eye ) sang the song's chorus, but although her record contract
entitled her to a 5 percent royalty rate, the label arbitrarily
defined her contribution to be a favour to Byrnes and assigned her
just 1% royalty on the song, despite the fact that, as she soon
discovered, her name was being prominently displayed on the single's
Warner Bros. also charged her for a share of the recording
costs, which was to be recouped from her drastically reduced royalty.
When Stevens scored her own hit single with "
Sixteen Reasons " in
Warner Bros. refused to allow her to perform it on Hawaiian Eye
because it was not published by MPHC, and they also prevented her from
singing it on
The Ed Sullivan Show
The Ed Sullivan Show , thereby robbing her of nationwide
promotion (and a $5000 appearance fee).
With only two hits to its credit in two years, the label was in
serious financial trouble by 1960, having lost at least US$3 million
and music historian Frederic Dannen reports that the only reason it
was not closed down was because the Warner board was reluctant to
write off the additional $2 million the label was owed in outstanding
receivables and inventory. After a restructure, Conkling was obliged
to report to Herman Starr; he rejected a buyout offer by Conkling and
a group of other record company employees but agreed to keep the label
running in exchange for heavy cost-cutting—the staff was reduced
from 100 to 30 and Conkling voluntarily cut his own pay from $1000 to
Warner Bros. now turned to rock\'n\'roll acts in hopes of advancing
its sales but their first signing,
Bill Haley , was by then past his
prime and failed to score any hits. The label was more fortunate with
its next signing, the
Everly Brothers , whom
Warner Bros. secured
after the end of their previous contract with
Cadence Records . Herman
Starr effectively gambled the future of the company by approving what
was reputed to be the first million-dollar contract in music history,
which guaranteed the
Everly Brothers $525,000 against an escalating
royalty rate of up to 7 percent, well above the industry standard of
the day. Luckily, the Everlys' first
Warner Bros. single, "Cathy\'s
Clown " was a smash hit, going to #1 in the U.S. and selling more than
eight million copies, and their debut
Warner Bros. album It\'s Everly
Time reached #9 on the album chart.
Warner Bros. had signed rising standup comedian Bob Newhart
, marking the beginning of the label's continuing involvement with
comedy. Newhart provided the label's next major commercial
breakthrough—in May 1960, three months after the success of "Cathy's
Clown", Newhart's debut album The Button-Down Mind of
Bob Newhart went
straight to #1 in the U.S., staying at the top for fourteen weeks,
charting for more than two years and selling more than 600,000 copies.
Capping this commercial success, Newhart scored historic wins in
three major categories at the 1961
Grammy Awards —he won Album of
the Year for Button-Down Mind, his quickly released follow-up album,
The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back (1960) won the Best Comedy
Performance - Spoken Word category and Newhart himself won Best New
Artist —the first time in
Grammy history that a comedy album had won
'Album of the Year', and the only time a comedian has won 'Best New
New staff joined the label in late 1961. Jim Conkling retired in the
fall of that year, selecting as his successor Mike Maitland, a former
Capitol executive, with Joe Smith appointed as head of promotions.
Warner Bros. made another prescient signing in folk group Peter, Paul
& Mary . The trio had been on the verge of signing with Atlantic
Records , but before the deal could be completed they were poached by
Warner Bros. Artie Mogull (who worked for one of Warner Bros.'
publishing companies, Witmark Music) had introduced their manager
Albert Grossman to Herman Starr, and as a result the group signed a
recording and publishing deal with
Warner Bros. Grossman's deal for
the group broke new ground for recording artists—it included a
substantial advance of $30,000 and, most significantly, it set a new
benchmark for recording contracts by stipulating that the trio would
have complete creative control over the recording and packaging of
Soon after, Grossman and Mogull signed a publishing deal that gave
Witmark one of its most lucrative clients --
Bob Dylan . Grossman
bought out Dylan's previous contract with Leeds Music and signed the
then unknown singer-songwriter to Witmark for an advance of $5000. Two
years later in 1963,
Peter, Paul & Mary scored two consecutive Top 10
hits with Dylan songs, launching Dylan's career, and this was followed
by many more hits by artists covering Dylan's songs, alongside the
growing commercial success of Dylan himself. Grossman benefited
enormously from both deals, because he took a 25% commission as
Dylan's manager, and he structured Dylan's publishing deal so that he
received 50% of Witmark's share of Dylan's publishing income —a
tactic that was later emulated by other leading artist managers such
David Geffen .
Meanwhile, the label enjoyed further success with comedy recordings.
Allan Sherman 's LP
My Son, the Folk Singer
My Son, the Folk Singer , which satirised the folk
boom, became a huge hit, selling over a million copies. Bill Cosby
broke through soon after and he continued the label's dream run with
comedy LPs into the late 1960s, releasing a string of highly
successful albums on
Warner Bros. over the next six years, alongside
his groundbreaking career as a TV actor.
The label's fortunes had finally turned around by 1962 thanks to the
Everly Brothers , Newhart , folk stars Peter, Paul Warner Bros.
Records head Mike Maitland became the president of the new combine and
Mo Ostin was retained as manager of the Reprise label.
Reprise was heavily in debt at the time of the takeover, and the
Warner Records management team was reportedly dismayed at their
balance sheet being pushed back into the red by the acquisition, but
they were given no choice in the matter. Ben Kalmenson, a Warner Bros.
company director and close aide to Jack Warner, summoned the label's
directors to a meeting in New York and explicitly told them that both
he and Warner wanted the deal and that they expected them to vote in
favor of it.
Despite these misgivings, the purchase ultimately proved very
beneficial to the Warner group. Reprise flourished in the late 1960s
thanks to Sinatra's famous "comeback" and the hits by Sinatra and his
daughter Nancy , and the label also secured the U.S. distribution
rights to the recordings of the Kinks and
Jimi Hendrix . Most
importantly for the future of the company, the merger brought Reprise
Mo Ostin into the Warner fold and "his ultimate value to
Warner Bros. would dwarf Sinatra's". Ostin's business and musical
instincts and his rapport with artists were to prove crucial to the
success of the Warner labels over the next two decades.
Warner Bros. started
Loma Records which was meant to focus
on R"> "Cream Puff War" (1967), the first single by the Grateful
Dead . The orange label with chevron border was used on Warner Bros.'
American 45s for much of the 1960s.
Warner Bros. successfully negotiated with French label
Disques Vogue and Warner Bros.' British distributor
Pye Records for
the rights to distribute
Petula Clark 's recordings in the US (said
rights were previously held by
Laurie Records ). Clark soon scored a
#1 US hit with "Downtown " and she enjoyed consistent chart success in
the USA over the next four years with hits such as "My Love ", "I Know
A Place ", "I Couldn\'t Live Without Your Love ", "This Is My Song "
and "Don\'t Sleep In The Subway ". Warner also released other Pye
artists in the U.S. market such as the Kinks .
Another significant development in the label's history came in 1966
when Ostin hired young independent producer
Lenny Waronker as an A&R
manager, beginning a strong and enduring mentor/protege relationship
between the two. Waronker, the son of
Liberty Records founder Simon
Waronker , had previously worked as an assistant to Liberty producer
Snuff Garrett . Later he worked with the small
San Francisco label
Autumn Records , founded by disc jockeys
Tom Donahue , Bobby Mitchell
and Sylvester Stewart (who would soon become famous as a musician
under his stage name, Sly Stone).
Waronker had been hired as a freelance producer for some of Autumn's
acts including The Tikis (who later became
Harpers Bizarre ), the Beau
Brummels and the Mojo Men and for these recording sessions he brought
in several musician friends who were then becoming established on the
L.A. music scene - composer/musicians
Randy Newman (a childhood
Leon Russell and
Van Dyke Parks . Together they became the
foundation of the creative 'salon' that centred on Waronker at Warner
Bros. and which, with Ostin's continuing support, became the catalyst
for Warner Records' subsequent success as a rock music label.
Initially, Waronker looked after the acts that
Warner Bros. took over
when they bought
Autumn Records for $10,000, but during the year he
also avidly pursued rising Los Angeles band
Buffalo Springfield .
Although (much to his and Ostin's chagrin) the band was ultimately
Atlantic Records , they eventually became part of the Warner
Bros. catalogue after Atlantic was purchased by
Warner Bros. Records.
Warner Bros. took over
Valiant Records , which added
hit-making harmony pop group the Association to the Warner roster.
This acquisition proved to be another huge money-spinner for Warner
The Association scored a string of major hits in the late
1960s, and their 1967 hit "
Never My Love " went on to become the
second most-played song on American radio and TV in the 20th century.
During the year, the label also took its first tentative step into the
burgeoning rock market when they signed leading San Francisco
psychedelic rock group the
Grateful Dead .
Warner Bros. threw the band
a release party at the
Fugazi Hall in San Francisco's North Beach .
During the concert, Warner A"> Beginning in 1968, Warner LP and
single label designs became identical. From 1968 to 1970, the label
Warner Bros.-Seven Arts Records. The basic design and
colour scheme of the W7 label were retained after the company name
Warner Bros. Records and the "WB" shield in 1970 and
remained in use until 1973.
In June 1967,
Mo Ostin attended the historic Monterey International
Pop Festival , where
The Association performed the opening set. Ostin
had already acquired the US rights to the
Jimi Hendrix Experience
recordings, sight unseen, but he was reportedly unimpressed by
Hendrix's now-famous performance. During his visit he met Andy Wickham
, who had come to Monterey as an assistant to festival promoter Lou
Adler . Wickham had worked as a commercial artist in
London , followed
by a stint with
Andrew Loog Oldham 's
Immediate Records before moving
to Los Angeles to work for Adler's Dunhill label. Ostin initially
hired Wickham as Warner's "house hippie" on a generous retainer of
$200 per week. Hanging out around Laurel Canyon , Wickham scouted for
new talent and established a rapport with the young musicians WBR was
seeking to sign. Like Lenny Waronker, Wickham's youth, intelligence
and hip attitude allowed him to bridge the "generation gap between
these young performers and the older Warner 'establishment'". He
played a major role in signing
Eric Andersen , Jethro Tull and Van
Joni Mitchell (who signed to Reprise), whom Wickham
successfully recommended to Ostin in his first week with the company.
Over the next thirty years, Wickham became one of WBR's most
influential A he also pointed out that the provocative title would
inevitably hurt sales because major retailers like Sears would refuse
to stock it. Realizing that this would reduce their income, the band
voluntarily changed the title to Grateful Dead, known generally as
Skull and Roses .
Some of Warner Bros.' biggest commercial successes during this period
were with "
Sunshine Pop " acts.
Harpers Bizarre scored a #13 Billboard
hit in April 1967 with their version of
Simon & Garfunkel 's "The 59th
Street Bridge Song (Feelin\' Groovy) " and a month later, the
Association scored a US #1 with "
Windy " and they reached #8 on the
album chart with their first WBR album
Insight Out . Their next single
Never My Love " also topped the charts in autumn 1967 (#2 Billboard ,
#1 Cashbox ) and now ranks as one of the most successful of all Warner
Bros. recordings—it became a radio staple and is now accredited by
BMI as the second most-played song on US radio in the
20th century ,
surpassing both "Yesterday " by the Beatles and "Stand by Me " by Ben
E. King . The group's 1968 Greatest Hits album was also a major hit,
reaching #4 on the US album chart. In 1968,
Mason Williams '
instrumental composition "
Classical Gas " reached #2 on the Billboard
chart, selling more than a million copies, and Williams won three
Grammys that year.
Another notable Warner release from this period was
Astral Weeks ,
the second solo album by
Van Morrison (his first was on Bang ), who
signed with the label in 1968. Although it sold relatively poorly on
its first release (and did not reach gold record status until 2001) it
has been widely acclaimed by musicians and critics worldwide, has
featured prominently on many "Best Albums of All Time" lists and has
remained in release almost continuously since 1968.
During 1968, using the profits from Warner/Reprise, W7 purchased
Atlantic Records for $17.5 million, including the label's valuable
archive, its growing roster of new artists and the services of its
three renowned executives,
Jerry Wexler ,
Nesuhi Ertegun and Ahmet
Ertegun . However, the purchase again caused rancour among the
Warner/Reprise management, who were upset that their hard-won profits
had been co-opted to buy Atlantic, and that Atlantic's executives were
made large shareholders in Warner-Seven Arts—the deal gave the
Ertegun brothers and Wexler between them 66,000 shares of Warner
Bros.' common stock.
On 1 June 1968, Billboard announced that WBR's star comedy performer
Bill Cosby had turned down a five-year, US$3.5 million contract
renewal offer and would leave the label in August that year to record
for his own
Tetragrammaton Records label. Just over one month later
(July 13) Billboard reported on a major re-organization of the entire
Warner-Seven Arts music division. Mike Maitland was promoted to
Executive Vice-President of both the recorded music and publishing
operations, and George Lee took over from Victor Blau as operational
head of the recording division. The restructure also reversed the
reporting arrangement put in place in 1960 and from this point the
Warner publishing arm reported to the record division under Maitland.
The Billboard article also noted the enormous growth and vital
significance of W7's music operations, which were by then providing
most of Warner-Seven Arts' revenue—during the first nine months of
that fiscal year, the recording and publishing divisions generated 74%
of the corporation's total profit, with the publishing division alone
accounting for over US$2 million of
ASCAP 's collections from music
1969–1972: KINNEY TAKEOVER
In 1969, Warner-Seven Arts was taken over by the Kinney National
Company , headed by New York businessman Steve J. Ross , who would
successfully lead the Warner group of companies until his death in
1992. The US$400 million deal created a new conglomerate that combined
the Warner film, recording and music publishing divisions with
Kinney's multi-faceted holdings. Ross had started the company in the
late 1950s while working in his family's funeral business—seeing the
opportunity to use the company's cars, which were idle at night, he
founded a successful hire car operation, which he later merged with
the Kinney parking garage company. Ross took the company public in
1962 and from this base it expanded rapidly between 1966 and 1968,
merging with National Cleaning Services in 1966 to form the Kinney
National Company, and then acquiring a string of companies that would
prove of enormous value to the Warner group in the years ahead --
National Periodical Publications (which included
DC Comics and All
American Comics ), the
Ashley-Famous talent agency and
In the summer of 1969,
Atlantic Records agreed to assist Warner Bros.
Records in establishing overseas divisions but when Warner executive
Phil Rose arrived in
Australia to begin setting up an Australian
subsidiary, he discovered that just one week earlier Atlantic had
signed a new four-year production and distribution deal with local
label Festival Records , without informing WBR.
During 1969, the rivalry between Mike Maitland and Ahmet Ertegun
quickly escalated into an all-out executive battle, but Steve Ross
favoured Ertegun and the conflict culminated in Maitland being
dismissed from his position on 25 January 1970. He declined an offer
of a job with
Warner Bros. Pictures and left the company, subsequently
becoming president of
MCA Records .
Mo Ostin was appointed as
Warner Bros. Records with Joe Smith as executive
1970–1979: THE OSTIN ERA
Beginning back in 1967 with the signing of the Grateful Dead, Warner
Bros. Records and its affiliate labels steadily built up a diverse and
prestigious lineup of rock and pop artists through the 1970s, and
earning a strong reputation as an "artists first" record company.
Under the guidance of Edward West, Vice-President of Warner Bros.
Records Inc in 1973 and its executives, A&R managers and staff
producers, including Mo Ostin, David Geffen, Joe Smith, Stan Cornyn,
Lenny Waronker, Andy Wickham,
Russ Titelman and ex-Warner Bros.
recording artist (with Harpers Bizarre)
Ted Templeman , sales grew
steadily throughout the decade and by the end of the 1970s Warner
Bros. and its sister labels had become one of the world's leading
recording groups, with a star-studded roster that included Fleetwood
James Taylor ,
Van Morrison , America ,
Alice Cooper , Carly
Van Halen , the Doobie Brothers ,
Bonnie Raitt , Ambrosia ,
Rickie Lee Jones . This was augmented by the group's valuable
back-catalogue, and lucrative licensing deals with American and
international labels including Sire , Vertigo and Island Records
(1975–1982) that gave WBR the American distribution rights for
leading British and European rock acts including
Deep Purple , Jethro
Black Sabbath ,
Roxy Music ,
King Crimson and
Kraftwerk . Aided
by the growth of FM radio and the album oriented rock format, LPs
became the primary vehicle of
Warner Bros. sales successes throughout
the 1970s, although artists such as the Doobie Brothers and America
also scored many major US and international hit singles .
One of the first
Warner Bros. albums to achieve both critical and
commercial success in the early 1970s was Van Morrison's third solo LP
Moondance (January 1970) which consolidated his distinctive blend of
rock, jazz and R
Deep Purple were originally signed in the USA to the
Tetragrammaton Records , which was distributed by Warner
Bros., who acquired the label after it folded in 1970. Black Sabbath's
eponymous debut album (recorded in just two days) reached #8 on the UK
album chart , and #23 on the
Billboard 200 , where it remained for
over a year, selling strongly despite some negative reviews. It has
since been certified platinum in the US by the Recording Industry
Association of America (RIAA) and in the UK by British Phonographic
Industry (BPI). Sabbath's second album was to have been called War
Warner Bros. Records changed the title to Paranoid fearing a
backlash by consumers. It was a Top 10 hit on the US album chart in
1971, and went on to sell four million copies in the US alone with
virtually no radio airplay.
By 1970, "Seven Arts" was dropped from the company name and the WB
shield became the
Warner Bros. Records logo again. During 1971, a
financial scandal in its parking operations forced Kinney National to
spin off its non-entertainment assets, and the Warner recording,
publishing and film divisions then became part of a new umbrella
Warner Communications .
In July 1970, the Warner recording group acquired another prestige
asset with the purchase of Jac Holzman's
Elektra Records for US$10
million. Like Atlantic, the new acquisition came with a very valuable
back-catalogue, which included the Doors , Love , Paul Butterfield
Blues Band ,
Tim Buckley , the Stooges ,
MC5 and Bread , but Elektra
soon began producing more major hits under the Warner umbrella. Recent
Carly Simon scored two successive Top 20 singles in 1971 with
"That\'s the Way I\'ve Always Heard It Should Be " and "Anticipation
", and her first two albums both made the Billboard Top 50, but the
following year she topped the single and album charts with her
international smash hit "You\'re So Vain " and the album No Secrets ,
which both went to #1 in the U.S.
Jac Holzman ran the label until
1972, when he was succeeded by
David Geffen and Elektra was merged
with Geffen's label
Asylum Records . Geffen was forced to step down in
1975 for health reasons and Joe Smith was appointed president in his
place, although the label's fortunes subsequently waned considerably,
with Elektra-Asylum reportedly losing some $27 million during the last
two years of Smith's tenure.
With three co-owned record companies, the next step was the formation
of the group's in-house distribution arm, initially called Kinney
Records Distributing Corporation, to better control distribution of
product and make sure records by breaking new acts were available.
In 1971, UK-based pop rock trio America were signed to the recently
established British division of
Warner Bros. Their debut album ,
released late in the year, at first enjoyed only moderate success, but
in early 1972 their single "
A Horse with No Name " became a major
international hit, reaching #1 in the US. Warner hastily reissued the
album with the song included and it too became a huge hit, reaching #1
on the US album chart and eventually earning a platinum record award.
Although criticised for their similarity to
Neil Young (indeed,
rumours circulated around
Hollywood that Young had cut the track
anonymously ), America scored five more US Top 10 singles over the
next three years, including a second US #1 with "
Sister Golden Hair
Sister Golden Hair "
in 1975. Their albums performed very strongly in the charts—each of
their first seven LPs were US Top 40 albums, five of these made the
Top 10 and all but one (Hat Trick , 1973) achieved either gold or
platinum status. Their 1975 Greatest Hits album became a perennial
seller and is now accredited at 4x platinum.
Dionne Warwick was signed to
Warner Bros. Records after
Scepter Records in what was the biggest contract at the time
for a female recording artist, although her five years at Warner Bros.
were relatively unsuccessful in comparison to her spectacular
hit-making tenure at Scepter.
After a slow start, the Doobie Brothers proved to be one of Warner
Bros.' most successful signings. Their debut album made little impact
but their second album
Toulouse Street (1972) reached #21 and spawned
two US Top 40 singles, "
Listen to the Music " and "Jesus is Just
Alright ", inaugurating a string of hit albums and singles over the
next five years. Their third album
The Captain and Me was even more
successful, reaching #7 in the US and producing two more hit singles,
"China Grove " (#15) and "Long Train Runnin\' " (#8); it became a
consistent seller and is now accredited 2x Platinum by the
RIAA . What
Were Once Vices Are Now Habits (1974) reached #4 and produced two more
hits including their first US #1 single "Black Water " (1975).
Stampede also reached #4, and produced another hit single with the
Motown cover "
Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While) " (US
Warner Bros. Records' reputation for nurturing new artists was
demonstrated by the career of
Alice Cooper (originally the name of the
band, but later taken over as the stage name / persona of singer and
main songwriter Vince Furnier). The
Alice Cooper band recorded two
unsuccessful albums for
Frank Zappa 's Warner-distributed label
Straight Records before teaming with producer
Bob Ezrin , who became a
longtime collaborator. Their third LP
Love it to Death (originally
released on Straight and later reissued on Warner Bros.) reached #35
on the Billboard album chart and produced the hit single "I\'m
Eighteen ", which reached #21. Following the runaway success of their
1971 European tour
Warner Bros. Records offered the band a multi-album
contract; their first
Warner Bros. album Killer sold well, with the
single "Halo of Flies " making the Top 10 in the Netherlands, but it
was their next album School\'s Out (1972) that really put them on the
map. The title song was a Top 10 hit in the US, reached #1 in the UK
and became a radio staple, and the album went to #2 in the USA and
sold more than a million copies.
Billion Dollar Babies (1973) became
their biggest success, going to #1 in both the US and the UK. The
Muscle of Love (1973) was less successful, although the
single "Teenage Lament \'74 was a Top 20 hit in the UK. Furnier split
from the band in 1974 and signed to Warner Bros.' sister label,
Atlantic as a solo artist, scoring further success with his solo
albums and singles.
Frank Zappa and manager
Herb Cohen closed the Straight and
Bizarre labels and established a new imprint,
DiscReet Records ,
retaining their distribution deal with
Warner Bros. Zappa's next album
Apostrophe (\') (1973) became the biggest commercial success of his
career, reaching #10 on the Billboard album chart, and the single
"Don\'t Eat the Yellow Snow " was a minor hit and (at the time) his
only single to make the Hot 100 chart. Zappa also enjoyed moderate
commercial success with the live double LP
Roxy and Elsewhere (1974)
and his next studio LP One Size Fits All (1975), both of which reached
the Top 30 on the Billboard album chart. The Warner Bros.
"Burbank" picture label introduced in 1973. It was later modified when
a banner was added across the WB Shield, on which the word "RECORDS"
WBR introduced a new label design for its LPs and singles in
mid-1973. This design, which WBR would use until mid-1978, featured a
multi-coloured, idealised view of a Burbank street lined by palms and
eucalypts, and titled with the slogan "Burbank, Home of Warner Bros.
After several years as a 'cult ' artist,
Randy Newman achieved his
first significant commercial success as a solo artist with his 1974
album Good Old Boys which made the Top 40. His controversial 1977
Short People " was one of the surprise hits of the year,
reaching #2 on the
Billboard Hot 100
Billboard Hot 100 . On October 12, 1974 WBR and
Phil Spector established
Warner-Spector Records , but the label was
short-lived and folded in 1977; most of its releases were reissues
Philles Records recordings from the 1960s and the only new material
released was two singles by the disco group Calhoon and a single by
David Geffen was obliged to leave the company for health
reasons, after being told that he had a terminal illness (although
this later proved to be a false diagnosis). In his place, Joe Smith
was promoted to become President of the combined Elektra /Asylum
label. At this time
Warner Bros. began to wind down the Reprise label.
In 1976–77 almost all Reprise acts, including
Fleetwood Mac ,
Gordon Lightfoot ,
Ry Cooder and Michael Franks were transferred to
Warner Bros., leaving only
Neil Young (who refused to move) and
founder Frank Sinatra. Apart from these artists and some reissues, the
Reprise label was dormant until it was reactivated in 1986 with the
issue of the Dream Academy 's single "The Love Parade " on Reprise
By far the most successful of the Reprise acts who moved to Warner
Fleetwood Mac , whose massive success firmly established
Warner Bros. in the front rank of major labels—although few would
have predicted it from the band's tumultuous history. Between 1970 and
1975 there were multiple lineup changes (with only two original
members remaining by 1974), their album sales declined drastically,
and a legal battle over the group's name kept them off the road for
over a year. However, just as
Fleetwood Mac was switching labels in
1975, the group re-invigorated by the recruitment of new members
Lindsay Buckingham and
Stevie Nicks . The 'new'
Fleetwood Mac scored a
string of US and international hits and their self-titled Warner Bros.
debut album was a huge success, reaching #1 in the US, charting for
more than 30 weeks and selling more than 5 million copies. In 1977,
their now-legendary Rumours took both group and label to even greater
heights—it generated a string of international hit singles and
became the most successful album in the label's history; it is
currently ranked the 11th biggest selling album of all time and as of
2009 was estimated to have sold more than 40 million copies.
After a string of albums with the Faces and as a solo artist for
Mercury Records in the early 1970s, British singer
Rod Stewart signed
Warner Bros. in 1974, applied for American citizenship and moved
to the USA. Launching a sustained run of success, his Warner debut
Atlantic Crossing (1975) was a major international hit, reaching
#9 on the Billboard album chart and #1 in
Australia , with the single
"I Don\'t Want to
Talk About It " going to #1 in the UK. His second
WBR album A Night on the Town (1976) went to #2 in the USA and #1 in
Australia and produced three US Top 40 singles, including his first US
#1 "Tonight\'s the Night ".
Foot Loose & Fancy Free (1977) reached #2
on the Billboard Pop Albums chart and #1 in
Australia and again
produced three US Top 40 singles, including "You\'re in My Heart (The
Final Acclaim) ", which reached #4.
Blondes Have More Fun (1978) went
to #1 in the USA and Australia, and produced two more Top 40 singles
including his second US #1, "Da Ya Think I\'m Sexy " (although Stewart
Carmine Appice were later successfully sued for
plagiarizing the song's catchy melody hook from "Taj Mahal l" by
Jorge Ben ). Stewart's Greatest Hits collection
(1979) went to #1 in the UK and Australia, giving the singer a
record-breaking five consecutive #1 albums in the latter country.
Warner Bros. Records also had unexpected success in the mid-1970s
with another 'heritage' act, veteran vocal group the Four Seasons . In
early 1975, they signed with
Curb Records (which was distributed by
WBR) just as lead singer
Frankie Valli scored a surprise hit with his
independently released solo single "
My Eyes Adored You ". Soon after,
Valli and The Four Seasons burst back onto the charts with the
Who Loves You ", which reached #3 in the US and sold
more than a million copies, and the album
Who Loves You sold more than
1 million copies. Their next single "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)
" topped the charts in both Britain and the US in early 1976, becoming
the group's first US #1 since 1967. A remixed version was a hit again
in 1994 and its total of 54 weeks in charts gives it the longest
tenure of any song on the Billboard Hot 100.
By the time of
The Doobie Brothers 1976 album Takin\' It to the
Streets , founding member Tom Johnston had effectively left the band
and he was replaced by former
Steely Dan session man Michael McDonald
, whose distinctive voice helped to propel the group to even greater
success. The new album sold strongly, reaching #8 in the US, and the
title track reached #13 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming a perennial
on radio playlists.
Warner Bros. also released the massively
Best of the Doobies (1976), which has become one of the
biggest-selling albums of all time and is currently accredited at 10x
Platinum status. 1978's
Minute by Minute marked the peak of their
career—both the album and its lead single "
What A Fool Believes
What A Fool Believes "
went to #1 in the US and the album's title track also made the US Top
20, although it was their last album with founding drummer John
Hartman and longserving guitarist
Jeff "Skunk" Baxter .
During the late 1970s, Warner Bros.' reputation as an "artists first"
label was challenged by a bitter and long-running dispute with Frank
Zappa . In 1976, Zappa's relationship with manager
Herb Cohen ended in
Zoot Allures , Zappa took his own copy of the master
Warner Bros. Records, who agreed to release the album,
therefore bypassing Cohen and DiscReet. However,
Warner Bros. changed
their position following legal action from Cohen. Zappa was then
obligated to deliver four more albums to
Warner Bros. for release on
DiscReet. Zappa sequenced a double live album and three studio albums,
Warner Bros. objected to some or all of these recordings and
refused to reimburse Zappa for production costs, as required by the
DiscReet distribution contract. Zappa then re-edited the material into
a 4-LP set called
Läther (pronounced 'leather'), made a deal with
Phonogram , and scheduled the release of
Warner Bros. threatened legal action, forcing Zappa to shelve
the release. Infuriated, Zappa hosted a broadcast on
Pasadena, California , where he played the entire
Läther album in
sequence, repeatedly criticizing Warner Bros., and openly encouraging
listeners to record the broadcast.
Warner Bros. took further legal
action against Zappa, which prevented him from issuing any material
for over a year. During 1978 and 1979,
Warner Bros. issued the
disputed material over four albums -
Zappa in New York (an edited and
censored version of the original 1977 live double album),
Studio Tan ,
Sleep Dirt and
Orchestral Favorites . Zappa eventually won the rights
to his Straight , Bizarre , DiscReet and
Warner Bros. material, but
remained trenchantly critical of his treatment by
Warner Bros. for the
rest of his life. Zappa's recordings were subsequently reissued on CD
Rykodisc (ironically it was later acquired by Warner Music),
Läther , which appeared posthumously in 1996.
Ry Cooder was another Reprise act who was transferred to Warner Bros.
in 1977. His first Warner release was the 1977 live album Showtime and
he remained with the label until his contract expired in the late
1980s. His 1979 album Bop \'Til You Drop is notable as the first
major-label rock album to be digitally recorded, and it became the
best-selling album of his career.
Thanks to its distribution deal with
Curb Records , WBR scored the
biggest hit single in the company's history in 1977. The ballad "You
Light Up My Life " (written and produced by Joe Brooks ) was
originally recorded by the late
Kasey Cisyk for the soundtrack to the
film of the same name, in which actress
Didi Conn lip-synched to
Cisyk's recording. Teenager
Debby Boone (daughter of actor-singer Pat
Boone ) was recruited to record a new version for single release, and
this became a massive success, topping the
Billboard Hot 100
Billboard Hot 100 for a
record-setting 10 consecutive weeks, and earning a Platinum
certification from the
RIAA . It became the most successful single of
the 1970s in the United States, setting what was then a new record for
longest run at #1 in the US and surpassing Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog
". Boone's success also earned her
Grammy nominations for "Best Female
Pop Vocal Performance " and "Record of the Year" and won her the 1977
Grammy for "Best New Artist" and the 1977
American Music Award
American Music Award for
"Favorite Pop Single". The song also earned Joe Brooks the 1977 "Song
of the Year "
Grammy (tied with "Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is
Born) ") as well as "Best Original Song" at both the 1977 Golden Globe
Academy Awards .
Throughout the 1970s,
Warner Bros. also benefited from its US/Canada
distribution deals with independent labels such as
Straight Records ,
DiscReet Records , UK labels Chrysalis (1972–1976) and Island
Bizarre Records ,
Bearsville Records (1970–1984)
Geffen Records (which was sold to MCA in 1990).
Although primarily associated with mainstream white acts in the
Seventies, Warner Bros.' distribution deals with smaller labels also
brought it some success in the disco , soul and funk genres in the
late 1970s and early 1980s. Among the imprints it distributed that
were notable in these fields were
Seymour Stein 's
Sire Records (which
Warner Bros. soon purchased),
Curtis Mayfield 's Curtom , Norman
Whitfield Records ,
Quincy Jones ' Qwest , Prince 's
Paisley Park , RFC Records (formed in December 1978 when Ray Caviano
became the executive director of Warner's disco division), and Tom
Tommy Boy Records (another label
Warner Bros. eventually
Until the late 1970s,
Warner Bros. itself still had very few African
American music artists on its roster, but this began to change with
the signing of artists such as
George Benson and Prince . Benson had
risen to prominence in jazz in the 1960s but was still relatively
little-known by the general public. However, his move to Warner Bros.
in 1976 and the teaming with producer
Tommy LiPuma enabled him to
straddle genres and made him a popular and highly successful
mainstream R&B and pop artist. His first
Warner Bros. LP Breezin\'
(1976) became one of the most successful jazz albums of the decade and
a major 'crossover' hit—it topped the American Pop, R&B and Jazz
album charts and produced two hit singles, the title track (which
Jazz standard and a radio favourite) and "
This Masquerade ",
which was a Top 10 pop and R the first five of these were also Top 20
hits on both the Pop and R&B charts. His live version of Leiber &
Stoller 's "On Broadway " (from his 1978 live album
Weekend in L.A. )
outcharted the original version by the Drifters , reaching #7 on the
Billboard Hot 100, and gained further exposure thanks to its memorable
use in the famous audition sequence in
Bob Fosse 's 1979 film All That
Jazz . Benson's most successful single "Give Me the Night " (1980)
became his first US #1 R&B hit, reached #4 on the Pop chart and also
reached #2 on the Hot
Disco Singles chart.
Prince signed to
Warner Bros. in 1977. His first album For You made
little impact, although the single "
Soft and Wet " reached #12 on the
Billboard R&B chart. However, his second self-titled album (1979)
fared considerably better, reaching #3 on the R the first single
lifted from the album, "
I Wanna Be Your Lover " became Prince's first
crossover hit, reaching #1 on the R&B chart and #11 on the main pop
chart, while the follow-up single "
Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad? "
reached #13 on the R its American signings included the Ramones , the
Dead Boys , and
Talking Heads and most importantly of all, Madonna ,
who soon became the most successful female artist in music history,
earning billions for Warner. Sire's distribution deals with British
independent labels including Mute , Rough Trade , Korova and Fiction
gave WEA the American rights to important UK-based New Wave bands
Depeche Mode , the Smiths , the Beat , Madness , Echo "When
Doves Cry " and "Let\'s Go Crazy " both reached #1 and the title track
reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, the sexually explicit
album track "
Darling Nikki " generated a major controversy that had
lasting effects—when politician's wife
Tipper Gore heard her
12-year-old daughter listening to the song and investigated the
lyrics, her outrage led to the formation of the conservative lobby
Parents Music Resource Center . Their stance was vehemently
opposed by former
Warner Bros. artist
Frank Zappa and others, but the
PMRC's political clout eventually forced the US recording industry to
adopt the compulsory practice of placing a "Parental Advisory:
Explicit Lyrics " sticker on records deemed to contain "offensive"
1984 also saw
Van Halen break into the big league with the single
"Jump " (their only US #1 hit) and the album 1984 ; it was a huge
seller (earning Diamond album status in 1999) and reached #2 in the
US, producing two more Top 20 hits. However, escalating friction
between guitarist Eddie
Van Halen and lead singer David Lee Roth
reached breaking point soon after the album's release and Roth left
the band, to be replaced by
Sammy Hagar , who recorded for WB as part
of Montrose ; 1984 was also the last time they worked with Ted
Templeman , who had produced all their albums up to this point.
In 1985, Dire Straits' single "Money for Nothing " gained massive
MTV thanks to its innovative computer-animated music video
, propelling the single to #1 in the US. They scored two more US Top
20 hits with "Walk of Life " and "So Far Away " and the album Brothers
in Arms was a phenomenal success—it went to #1 in the USA, Australia
and most European countries and sold in colossal numbers—by 1996 it
had been certified at 9× platinum in the USA and it is currently
ranked at #25 in the list of best-selling albums of all time , with
sales of more than 30 million copies worldwide.
The new incarnation of
Van Halen bounced back in 1986, releasing the
enormously successful 5150 album which went to #1 and produced two hit
singles, "Why Can't This Be Love" (US #3) and "Dreams" (#22). Their
four subsequent studio albums (
For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge ,
Balance , and
Van Halen III ) all reached #1 and the band scored 17 US
Top 20 singles, including 1988's "When It's Love" (US #5), but their
overall sales gradually declined, with each album selling less than
The same was true of Prince. He scored numerous hit albums and
singles through the latter half of the 1980s, but his record sales
Warner Bros. executives became increasingly concerned
that he was producing far more material than they could release. His
image was also tarnished by the failure of his later film ventures,
his embarrassing refusal to participate in the recording of "We Are
The World " and his sacking of guitarist
Wendy Melvoin and
long-serving keyboard player Lisa Coleman . The 1985 album Around the
World in a Day held the #1 spot on the
Billboard 200 for three weeks
and peaked at #5 in the UK, selling seven million copies despite
minimal promotion. Parade (1986) served as the soundtrack for Prince's
Under the Cherry Moon ; although the movie was a critical
and commercial failure, the album peaked at #3 in Billboard and #2 on
the R Prince then proposed a solo LP which he intended to issue under
the pseudonym Camille , but he eventually combined elements from both
to create the ambitious three-album set Crystal Ball . However,
because of the relatively lower sales of his previous albums, Prince's
manager Steve Fargnoli and
Warner Bros. president
Mo Ostin both
doubted the commercial viability of releasing a 3-LP set, and after
previewing Crystal Ball, Ostin insisted that Prince pare it down to
two records. Prince at first refused and a battle of wills ensued for
several weeks, but he eventually backed down and removed seven tracks;
the resulting double-album was released in March 1987 as "Sign o\' the
Times ". Despite Prince's bitterness over its forced reduction, it was
very successful, peaking at #6 on the
Billboard 200 albums chart and
selling 5 million copies, while the title single "Sign o\' the Times "
reached #3 on the Hot 100. The follow-up single "If I Was Your
Girlfriend " flopped (although it went to #12 on R&B chart) but he
scored big hits with the next two singles, "
U Got the Look " (#2 Hot
100, #11 R&B) and "
I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man " (#10 Hot
100, #14 R the title track also won 'Song of the Year' in 1987. In
Warner Bros. scored another artistic coup by signing jazz legend
Miles Davis after his break with longtime label Columbia . His
comeback album Tutu (1986) was a major crossover hit, gaining rave
reviews and winning a
Grammy in 1987.
In the summer of 1986,
Warner Bros. announced the reactivation of
Reprise Records with its own separate promotions department, and
Warner Bros. Vice President of Promotion Richard Fitzgerald was
appointed as label Vice President.
During 1987, Prince recorded a pared-down funk LP, The Black Album ,
but he withdrew it in December just before it was to be released (even
though 500,000 copies had been printed). Its hastily recorded
Lovesexy (1988) was a moderate success, reaching #11 on
the Billboard album chart although it reached #1 in the UK. However,
he rebounded in 1989 with the soundtrack for the hugely successful
Batman film, which sold more than eleven million copies, reached #1 on
the Billboard album chart and produced four hit singles including
Batdance ", which topped both the Hot 100 and R they also scored
three consecutive hit singles with "
Love Shack " (#3 US, #1
Roam " (US #3) and "
Deadbeat Club " (US #30).
Warner Bros.' most successful decade yet closed in sensational
fashion. In early 1989, Madonna signed an endorsement deal with Pepsi
, who introduced her new single "Like a Prayer " in the lavish "Make a
Wish" commercial—the first time a pop single had debuted in an
advertisement and the first time such a commercial was given a
worldwide satellite premiere. However
Pepsi had no control over
Madonna's own "Like a Prayer" music video, which debuted exclusively
MTV soon after—it generated heated criticism due to its
provocative use of religious imagery and was condemned by the Vatican
. As a result,
Pepsi withdrew the advertisement and canceled the
endorsement deal—although Madonna was allowed to retain her US$5
million fee—but the controversy only heightened interest in the
single and the album (also titled Like a Prayer). The single became
Madonna's seventh US #1 and topped the chart in more than 30 other
countries, and the album also went to #1, sold seven million copies
worldwide and produced two more US Top 5 singles, establishing Madonna
as the most successful female artist of the 1980s and one of the most
successful musical performers of all time.
1989–2004: THE TIME WARNER ERA
Time Inc. acquired
Warner Communications and merged the two
enterprises to create
Time Warner in a deal valued at US$14 billion.
After a long period of relative stability that was notable in the
cutthroat American music industry, the death of Steve Ross in late
1992 marked the start of a period of major upheaval at Warner Bros.
R.E.M.'s second Warner album Out of Time (1991) consolidated their
success, topping the charts in both the US and the UK and producing
two major hit singles: "
Losing My Religion " became their biggest
American single (#4 on Billboard Hot 100) and a hit in numerous other
countries, and "
Shiny Happy People ", a Top 10 hit in both the US and
the UK; the group also won three categories at that year's Grammy
Prince's fortunes in the Nineties were mixed; he scored more hits and
renewed his contract in 1992, but his relationship with Warner Bros.
Records soon soured, climaxing in a highly publicized legal battle and
his eventual departure from the label. Although his fourth film,
Graffiti Bridge was panned by critics and bombed at the box office
the album of the same name was very successful—it reached #6 on both
the Billboard Hot 200 and R&B album chart and produced two US Top 20
Diamonds and Pearls (1991) became one of the biggest albums
of his career, selling 9 million records, reaching #3 in the USA, #2
in the UK and #1 in Australia, with five of the six singles lifted
from the album becoming hits in the US and other countries, including
"Cream ", which became his fifth US #1.
Prince was appointed a vice-president of
Warner Bros. Records when he
re-signed with them in 1992, but soon regretted his decision. His next
album—identified by the cryptic symbol on the cover later defined as
"The Love Symbol "—was another solid hit, peaking at #5 on the
Billboard 200 and selling 5 million copies worldwide, but by now
tensions were increasing.
Warner Bros. wanted to release "7 " as his
next single, but Prince successfully pushed for "
My Name Is Prince
My Name Is Prince "
and it was only a minor hit (#36 Hot 100, #23 R the follow-up "Sexy MF
" was censored in the US because of the expletive in the chorus and
did not even make the US Top 50 although it was a Top 5 hit in the UK
and Australia. When eventually released, "7" became the only major US
hit lifted from the album, peaking (appropriately) at #7.
Following the 3-disc compilation
The Hits/The B-Sides
The Hits/The B-Sides (1993), Prince
stopped using his first name and started using only the "Love
Symbol"—a decision that drew considerable ridicule from the media.
Because this sign has no verbal equivalent, he was often derisively
referred to as "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince". By 1994,
relations between The Artist and his record label had reached an
impasse—in February WEA cancelled its distribution deal with Paisley
Park , effectively putting the label out of business. Although
released by an independent distributor, his next single "The Most
Beautiful Girl in the World " (1994) reached #3 in the U.S. and topped
the singles charts throughout Europe, becoming the biggest hit single
of his career.
Prince had meanwhile prepared two new albums, Come and The Gold
Experience; an early version of Come was rejected but Warner Bros.
eventually accepted both albums, although they refused to issue them
simultaneously. By this time Prince had launched a legal action to
terminate his contract and gain ownership of his master recordings,
and he publicised his views by appearing in public with the word
"SLAVE" written across his right cheek. Come (1994) was moderately
successful in the USA (#15, gold record) and the single "
reached #10 on the R it included "The Most Beautiful Girl in the
World" and produced two other charting singles, "
I Hate U
I Hate U " (US #11
and "Gold " UK #10). Prince's remarkable career with Warner Bros.
Chaos and Disorder (1996), compiled expressly to end his
contract. It was one of his least successful releases but still
managed to reach #26 in the USA and #14 in the UK and produced one
minor hit, "Dinner With Delores" (#36 UK). Prince subsequently
released recordings on his own NPG label (via
EMI ) before eventually
Universal Music in 2005.
Automatic for the People (1992) cemented their status as one
of the top bands of the period and was the most successful album of
their career, reaching #1 in the UK and #2 in the US, selling more
than 10 million copies worldwide and generating three US hit singles,
"Drive ", "Man on the Moon ", and "
Everybody Hurts ".
During 1992 WBR faced one of the most serious controversies in its
history over the provocative recording "Cop Killer " from the self
titled album by
Body Count , a rap metal band led by
Unfortunately for Warner Bros., the song (which mentions the Rodney
King case) came out just before the controversial acquittal of the
police charged with King's beating, which sparked the 1992 Los Angeles
Riots and the confluence of events put the song under the national
spotlight. Complaints escalated over the summer—conservative police
associations called for a boycott of
Time Warner products, politicians
George H. W. Bush
George H. W. Bush denounced the label for
releasing the song, Warner executives received death threats, Time
Warner stockholders threatened to pull out of the company and the New
Zealand police commissioner unsuccessfully tried to have the record
banned there. Although
Ice-T later voluntarily reissued Body Count
without "Cop Killer", the furore seriously rattled Warner Music and in
January 1993 WBR made an undisclosed deal releasing
Ice-T from his
contract and returning the
Body Count master tapes to him. In the
wake of the "Cop Killer" affair,
Warner Bros. distanced itself from
gangsta rap and in late 1995, it sold its 50% stake in Interscope
Records and its controversial subsidiary
Death Row Records
Death Row Records (Tupac
Snoop Dogg ) back to co-owners
Jimmy Iovine and Ted Field.
Iovine and Field quickly aligned Interscope with the Universal Music
Group ; the label, now known as Interscope-Geffen-A his debut album
You Might Be a Redneck If... was a major hit in the US and Canada, and
both it and his follow-up album sold more than three million copies
End Of An Era: Ostin And Waronker Depart
During 1994–1995, Warner Bros.'s successes and problems with its
artists were overshadowed by a protracted period of highly publicized
internecine strife, centering on
Warner Music Group
Warner Music Group chairman Robert J.
Morgado and his successor
Michael J. Fuchs . In September 1993, Ostin
began negotiations to renew his contract and it was at this point that
Morgado unveiled his plan for a major corporate shakeup of the Warner
group. This triggered a series of damaging corporate conflicts and in
particular created a fatal rift between Morgado and Ostin. The first
major casualty was Elektra chairman
Bob Krasnow , who resigned
abruptly in July 1994.
For many years Ostin had reported directly to
Time Warner chairman
Steve Ross (and then to Ross's successor Gerald Levin) but Morgado now
insisted that Ostin should report to him, and he established a new
division, Warner Music US, headed by
Doug Morris , to oversee the
three main record labels. Fearing the loss of autonomy and worried
that he would be obliged to implement Morgado's "slash-and-burn"
policy to streamline the label's staff and artist roster, he refused
to carry out Morgado's orders and decided not to renew his contract.
Ostin officially stepped down from
Warner Bros. when his contract
expired on 31 December 1994, although he stayed on as a senior
consultant to Time Warner's chairman until August 1995. He later
This business is about freedom and creative control. An executive
has to be able to make risky decisions with minimal corporate
interference. But Warner is a different company now than the company I
was brought up in. And in the end, I found it impossible to operate in
that kind of environment.
Ostin's departure sent shockwaves through the company and the
industry, and elicited glowing tributes from colleagues and
competitors like Joe Smith and
Clive Davis , and musicians like Paul
R.E.M. It also triggered an exodus of Warner executives who
had joined the company primarily because of Ostin. Next to go was
Lenny Waronker—he was initially designated to succeed Ostin as
chairman but he ultimately declined the job and left WBR soon after.
Following a period of uncertainty and speculation, the two joined
forces to establish a new label,
DreamWorks Records . Waronker was
replaced by ex
Atlantic Records president Danny Goldberg , but his
tenure proved short. Long-serving WBR executive
Russ Thyret , who had
joined the label in 1971 and worked closely with
Mo Ostin for many
years, was promoted to Vice-Chairman in January 1995.
Gerald Levin forced Morgado to resign in May 1995 and he was replaced
by HBO chairman
Michael J. Fuchs . Fuchs sacked Morris a month later
(sparking a US$50m breach of contract suit) and Warner Music US was
dissolved. Morris' removal led to speculation that Ostin was being
courted to return to WBR, but these reports proved unfounded, since
Ostin and Waronker moved to DreamWorks soon after. Morris moved to
MCA Records .
Despite his close ties to Morris, Danny Goldberg was initially told
he could remain as WBR president but he left the company in August
1995 after negotiating a settlement with
Time Warner to terminate his
five-year, US$20 million contract, which still had four years to run.
He was subsequently appointed president of Polygram subsidiary Mercury
Records in October. Following Goldberg's departure
Russ Thyret was
promoted to Chairman, CEO and label president. Fuchs himself was
forced out of
Time Warner on November 1995. In May 1997, Phil
Quartararo took over as president of WBR, only weeks after he had left
Virgin Records following a management shake-up there.
The departure of the team led by Ostin and Waronker also meant that
many of the Warner artists whose careers they had nurtured and curated
over the previous 30 years were now deprived of their patronage. As a
result, by the year 2000 many of the "flagship" Warner acts of the
Ostin/Waronker years left the label as their contracts expired. Ry
Cooder was dropped in 1995 and
Randy Newman followed Ostin and
Waronker to DreamWorks, departing with a wry comment on his own status
and the recent turmoil at Warner Bros.:
"I've sent Warner an amusing letter of resignation, and I haven't
heard anything. It's like trying to find a general to surrender to. I
think I'm gone, you know? And I signed with DreamWorks and I haven't
heard from them! The people I'm leaving don't give a shit that I'm
leaving and the people I'm going to don't give a shit that I'm coming!
Although never rising beyond "cult" status in terms of his sales as a
solo artist, one of the most notable survivors from the Ostin era was
Van Dyke Parks, who continued to release albums on
Warner Bros. -
Tokyo Rose (1989), the
Brian Wilson collaboration Orange Crate Art
(1995) and the live album Moonlighting: Live at the Ash Grove (1998).
In 2004 Parks reunited with
Brian Wilson to complete their
long-shelved collaboration, Smile , which was released on the Nonesuch
label to universal critical praise, winning a
Grammy award, and making
the Top 20 in the US and Top 10 in the UK, where it earned a gold
In early 2001, there was a major restructure of the Warner Music
Group; about 600 positions were eliminated across the three labels,
and an executive reshuffle led to the departures of Thyret and
Quartararo (as well as Reprise president Howie Klein) and the hiring
of then-Interscope president Tom Whalley as head of Warner Bros.
Records. In August Whalley appointed Jeff Ayeroff as Creative
Warner Bros. Records and Creative Consultant to Warner
Music Group. Ayeroff had previously been WBR's Senior Vice-President
and Creative Director from 1983–86, overseeing many successful album
covers and music videos in that period.
Linkin Park won the
Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock
Performance for their single Crawling released under Warner Bros.
Whereas they were also nominated for Best Rock Album for Hybrid Theory
which also turned out to be the best selling album of 2001 worldwide
and Best New Artist . In 2004, the band was nominated for their song
Session for Best Rock Instrumental Performance . In 2006 the band won
Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for the song
Numb/Encore released under
Roc-A-Fella /Machine Shop .
2004–PRESENT: WARNER MUSIC GROUP
Warner Bros. Records headquarters, at 3300 Warner in Burbank,
In 2003, amid management disputes, sagging share prices and rising
alarm about the impact of digital file sharing ,
Time Warner decided
to unload its music operations. In March 2004, Time Warner's music
assets were acquired by a private equity group headed by Thomas H. Lee
Partners , Lexa Partners (led by
Edgar Bronfman Jr. , who put up
US$150 million drawn from his family's stake in
Vivendi ), Bain
Providence Equity Partners . The deal set the group's
value at around US$2.6 billion, payable in cash and other
considerations, and it included an option that would allow Time Warner
to buy back in if conditions proved favorable. Bronfman, Lee, Bain and
Providence had reportedly recouped their investment by May 2006
through dividends, refinancing and a share offer floated in May 2005.
Warner Bros. Records remains one of Warner Music Group's
dominant labels, with around 120 artists on its roster.
Despite the divestiture, WMG currently enjoys a royalty-free license
Time Warner for the use of
Warner Bros. trademarks, although this
could be revoked if WMG comes under control of a major motion picture
Mike Shinoda of
Linkin Park started his own record label
Warner Bros. named as Machine Shop .
Linkin Park asked
Warner Bros. Records to release their
contract with the band, however
Warner Bros. convinced the band to
stay in the label. In 2006, the
Warner Music Group
Warner Music Group signed a licensing
and revenue-sharing deal with internet video service
According to a New York Times report, this reflected ongoing efforts
YouTube to deal with the fact that many of its user-generated video
clips include copyrighted music and images sourced from commercial TV
and film productions. Under the agreement,
YouTube would use special
software to identify recordings used in videos posted by users and
then offer the owner of the copyrighted content a percentage of the
fee for advertising that would run alongside the clip. The deal also
allowed the copyright owner to demand that
YouTube remove the clip.
In October 2007, Madonna ended her 25-year association with Warner
Bros., becoming the inaugural artist on a new label established by
American concert promoter
Live Nation . Under the terms of the new
US$120 million, 10-year contract, which Warner was unable to match,
Madonna reportedly received a signing bonus of about US$18 million and
an approximate US$17 million advance for each of three albums, with
Live Nation also agreeing to pay US$50 million in cash and stock to
promote each Madonna tour. Madonna concluded her career with Warner
Bros. through her last studio album Hard Candy (2008) and the
greatest hits retrospective Celebration (2009). Even though the
latter was to be the final release, she released her live album of the
first concert tour through her
Live Nation deal, Sticky & Sweet Tour
(2010) on the former record label.
Metallica 's contract with
Warner Bros. had expired and they
were hoping to get another contract agreement due to their current one
expiring with the release of Death Magnetic, but ultimately it ended
Metallica forming their own label called
Blackened Recordings ,
while future releases would be distributed via
Rhino Records .
In February 2010, Madonna's long-serving publicist Liz Rosenberg, a
39-year veteran of WBR, left the label to start her own firm.
In 2013, WMG acquired
Parlophone Records from
EMI as part of its sale
Universal Music Group . Most
Parlophone artists (excluding Coldplay
Tinie Tempah , who were placed under Atlantic) were placed under
Warner Bros. Records for U.S. distribution. In December 2013, Dan
McCarroll joined the company as President.
In June 2014,
Warner Bros. announced Prince had re-joined the company
after nearly twenty years and was to release a deluxe remaster of the
Purple Rain album.
* A dormant)
Maybach Music Group (2011–2012)
Metal Blade Records (1988–1993)
* Music for Little People (1990–1995)
* Opal Records (1987–1993)
Paisley Park Records (1985–1994)
* Perezcious Music
* Premeditated Records (middle 1990s)
Public Broadcasting Service
Public Broadcasting Service
Qwest Records (1980–2000)
* Raybaw Records (2005–2008)
Slash Records (1982–1996)
Tommy Boy Records (1985–2002)
Valiant Records (1960–1966)
Warner Alliance (1986–1998)
Funk Volume (2015–2016)
Main articles: List of current
Warner Bros. Records artists and List
Warner Bros. Records artists
List of record labels
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* Video Interview with Bill Bennett – CEO