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Creator / Arista Records

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The logo for the 2018 relaunch.
Established in 1974, Arista Records soon became a leader in the music industry, but it already had a lot of history behind it.

Hoping to emulate the success of MGM Records, Columbia Pictures established several different record labels over the years. The first was Colpix in 1958, which had two major hits ("Blue Moon" by The Marcels and "Johnny Angel" by Shelley Fabares) but not much more in the way of success. When Columbia's Screen Gems division managed to sell the pilot for a series about a rock band called The Monkees (with two members who happened to be Colpix artists, David Jones [aka Davy Jones] and Michael Blessing [aka Michael Nesmith]), in 1966, the studio took the opportunity to reorganize its music division as Colgems (distributed by RCA), which the massive sales of Monkee music helped keep afloat. It even briefly opened a subsidiary label, SGC Records (distributed by Atco/Atlantic), whose best known acts were Neil Sedaka and Todd Rundgren's early band The Nazz. But as the fortunes of the Monkees waned, Columbia decided that it would be better served by purchasing an existing label, so it bought Bell Records in 1969. Colgems was phased out, and Bell became the studio's label.

By 1974, though, Bell was ailing. Its British branch was doing okay with Glam Rock-based acts like the Bay City Rollers, but in America its biggest assets were fading pop acts The Partridge Family (whose show had been canceled) and Tony Orlando and Dawn (who had switched labels to Elektra). Bell had also released some Monkees compilation albums. Clive Davis, who had run Columbia Recordsnote  throughout The '60s, had recently been ousted and was looking for a new job. Davis was appointed head of Bell, changed its name to Aristanote , and got to work. Davis and his staff dropped most of Bell's acts but helped turn three they did keep, Barry Manilow, Melissa Manchester, and the aforementioned Bay City Rollers, into hitmakers. Meanwhile, Arista established its credibility quickly; one of Davis' first signings was Patti Smith, and well-known acts like The Kinks, The Alan Parsons Project, Lou Reed and Gil Scott-Heron soon joined the label.

A financially troubled Columbia sold off Arista to the German label Ariola Records in 1979. However, Arista continued successfully; Davis and company rejuvenated Aretha Franklin's career, helped The Grateful Dead get their only Top 10 single, and turned Whitney Houston into a superstar. Arista also began a Country Music branch, Arista Nashville, in 1989, with Alan Jackson as the first signing. However, the company's reputation took a hit with the revelation that the alleged vocalists of Milli Vanilli, one of Arista's best-selling acts, had been lip synching to the real singers all along. Embarrassed, Arista immediately dropped the band and deleted their releases.

A gradual decline began in 2000 when Arista's then-current owner, Bertelsmann Music Group, deposed Davis, who formed J Records. His replacement L. A. Reid signed some successful acts (Avril Lavigne, P!nk), but exceeded his budgets; his tenure only lasted until 2004. Meanwhile, BMG merged with Sony Music Entertainment (bringing Arista back under common ownership with Columbia Pictures, which Sony bought in 1989) and Davis was put back in charge, but things were never the same.

In 2011, RCA Music Group, the Sony division that oversaw Arista, eliminated the label after a corporate restructuring and moved its roster to RCA, which was being run by none other than Clive Davis. While the name was still used by Arista Nashville and the French division, Arista France, that was the end of Arista as an American rock/pop label... until July 2018, when the Arista brand was revived under the leadership of former Mercury and Island head David Massey. Clive Davis, still running RCA at 86, gave Massey his blessing. Currently, the label is focused on signing Bedroom Pop and other alternative artists of that ilk, alongside reissues of their back catalog. In March 2023, Sony shut down Arista Nashville and transferred its artists to their other country music divisions.

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