Creator: Warner Bros. Records
The mid-70s "Burbank label". The street doesn't exist, at least not in Burbank; the painting was inspired by art from a 1920s orange crate.
"Whenever a mystique forms around a corporation, as it has with Apple or Microsoft, and as it did around Warner/Reprise, I always think it's excessive, because it's still a corporation. And when you dealt with Warners on business, you may as well have been dealing with a mortgage broker. They were tough. Mo [Ostin], Joe Smith, whomever you dealt with. Though not on record budgets—I never heard that I couldn't use an orchestra, for instance. The main thing about the label, though, is that they gave you the chance to fail. They put up with you if what you were doing was good in, let's say, an aesthetic way. There was no A&R department that passed judgment. If it felt like somebody was doing something—-they'd let you fail, and fail again, and fail again. And fail forever. Like me, and [Ry] Cooder, and Bonnie [Raitt], for a time. Now that's gone. You can't find it. And that's a very big thing."
on his old employer
Warner Bros. Records began as an offshoot of the film studio
. Like many of its artists, it was given "the chance to fail" until it emerged not only as a successful label, but a major force in the music industry.
Warners had dabbled in the record business as early as the late 1920s
, when the company bought Brunswick Records and several music publishers. Like the rest of the record industry, Brunswick suffered due to both The Great Depression
and the introduction of broadcast radio, so WB sold the label in 1931. Warners stayed out of music, licensing film soundtrack albums (and Mel Blanc
's Looney Tunes
discs) to other labels, for the next 27 years.
By the late 1950s
, the film industry was in decline thanks to TV and other factors. Meanwhile, the music industry was on an upswing, and movie studios were taking advantage of it. MGM
Records had been successful for years; Paramount
had just bought Dot Records; United Artists
Records, 20th Century Fox
Records,and Columbia Pictures
' Colpix label were entering the fray; even Disney
had a small pop label, Buena Vista. (Universal
reversed the pattern—they were owned by
a record company, US Decca.) The final impetus was provided by Tab Hunter, a Warners contract player who moved into music and had several hit singles—for Dot. After a failed attempt to buy the Imperial label, WB took the plunge; on 19 March 1958, Warner Bros. Records opened for business.
The label's formative years provided a lot of Early Installment Weirdness
. Besides the expected soundtrack LPs, there were stereo demonstration records, Concept Albums
with titles like Terribly Sophisticated Songs (A Collection Of Unpopular Songs For Popular People)
, and musical excursions by actors like Dragnet
creator/star Jack Webb, who recited
love songs in his Sgt. Friday monotone. Space Age Jazz
and Easy Listening
ruled, and Rock
was almost non-existent. Unsuprisingly, only a handful of WB's releases charted. The few hits it managed were tied to the studio's popular TV series 77 Sunset Strip
; the soundtrack album sold well, and actor Edd Byrnes (who played the show's Breakout Character
Kookie) had a fluke novelty hit with "Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb)". Still, the successes were far outweighed by the failures. Warner Bros. Records was losing money, and the company was almost shut down—but fortunately, they were given one more chance to fail. And as with society in general, The Sixties
Warner Bros.' salvation began with another group of siblings—The Everly Brothers
, who had been consistent hitmakers for the independent Cadence label. Warners wooed them away with an unprecedented million-dollar contract in 1960, and while the hits dried up after a while, the Everlys stayed on the label for years afterward. WB's next major act was Bob Newhart, whose chart-topping debut album established Warner Bros. as the
label for Recorded and Stand-Up Comedy
for decades to come. The next big signing was Folk Music
trio Peter, Paul & Mary, whose numerous hits included "Puff the Magic Dragon
In 1963, Warners bought Frank Sinatra
's struggling indie label Reprise Records
, just in time for Ol' Blue Eyes to begin a career comeback. A few years later, Reprise manager Mo Ostin helped bring both labels into the Psychedelic Rock
era by signing Jimi Hendrix
to Sinatra's imprint. The Grateful Dead
were already part of the Warner Bros. stable, and these two acts became the wave of Warners' future, attracting the new generation of Rock
musicians with their combination of artistic credibility and high sales. By The Seventies
, Warners had become one of the biggest labels in the music business, with a diverse roster ranging from soft rock performers like James Taylor
to Heavy Metal
bands like Black Sabbath
and Deep Purple
. It also became part of WEA Records (now Warner Music Group), an entity formed when Warners' corporate parent bought two more record labels, Elektra and Atlantic.
Today, Warner Bros. Records remains an industry leader, despite the decline of record labels in general and the loss of key executives during corporate shakeups in the 2000s. It's no longer under the same corporate umbrella as the Warner Bros.
film studio—Time Warner sold Warner Music Group in 2004—but still has a royalty-free license to use the name and trademarks.
For an extensive label history, see the entry
. For a truly
exhaustive look at the company, read Warren Zanes' 2008 book Revolutions in Sound: Warner Bros. Records—The First Fifty Years
, source of the Randy Newman page quote.
Like its parent company, the label was known as Warner Bros.-Seven Arts Records between 1967 and 1970.
Also see Sire Records
, which WB distributes.
Warner Bros. Records performers, past and present, with TV Tropes pages:
* Signed in the US and Canada only
+ Transferred from Reprise
++ Transferred to