Fontana Records was a subsidiary of the Dutch music and electronics giant Philips that became a prominent label in its own right.
Fontana was launched in Europe in The '50s, and much of its early output came from Columbia Records and its sublabels Epic and Okeh, who then licensed their recordings to Philips outside the US and Canada. (Artists who appeared on Fontana under this arrangement included Frank Sinatra, Marty Robbins and Screamin' Jay Hawkins, among others.) When the deal ended in 1962, Philips bought Mercury Records to get direct access to US talent; in return, Mercury introduced the Philips and Fontana labels to American audiences. In the US, Fontana was originally dedicated to the genre later known as World Music, with a roster of indigenous performers from various countries; few of these records charted, although Greek folk singer Nana Mouskouri gained a following.
Then came the company's most successful era — The British Invasion, which Fontana joined by signing acts such as The Pretty Things, Manfred Mann, The Spencer Davis Group (licensed from the then-tiny Island Records), The Troggs, and Quentin Tarantino favorite Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich. Folk Rock band The Silkie released a hit Cover Version of The Beatles' "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" that was produced by John Lennon and Paul McCartney themselves. The New Vaudeville Band had a worldwide novelty smash with their Roaring '20s pastiche "Winchester Cathedral". Another popular artist was Wayne Fontana, who took his Stage Name from Elvis Presley's drummer D.J. Fontana before signing with the label; his backing band the Mindbenders, who later had hits on their own, included future 10cc singer Eric Stewart. Several other budding stars had brief encounters with Fontana in The '60s, including The Who (when they were known as The High Numbers), Jimmy Page (who released a solo single on Fontana before joining The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin), Elton John (as a member of Bluesology), Peter Frampton (as a member of The Herd), and Ted Nugent (whose early Psychedelic Rock band The Amboy Dukes released their first album on Fontana in England). There was also controversy; Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin's sexy, successful single "Je T'Aime" was withdrawn in the UK due to objections from label execs, only to hit #1 when reissued by another label.
As The '70s dawned, Fontana was wound down by Philips (which had become Phonogram, part of the music Mega-Corp PolyGram), and a few of its acts switched to Philips' new "underground" imprint Vertigo Records. Still, the label had some notable releases in its waning years; American pop band Steam became a One-Hit Wonder with "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye", while Slade (then known as Ambrose Slade) and Black Sabbath released early recordings on Fontana.
By the mid-70s, Fontana became a catchall reissue label in Germany and Japan, sometimes known as Fontana International, specializing in the "Attention!" series of artists from various Phonogram labels. New recordings slowed to a trickle, although a brief revival at the beginning of The '80s resulted in releases by Tom Robinson's Sector 27 and Dennis Bovell. A second, longer-lasting resurrection began in 1987, courtesy of UK Phonogram executive David Bates. Bates' worldwide signings included Tears for Fears (and their discovery Oleta Adams), Catherine Wheel, James, Cocteau Twins, Adult Net, The Lilac Time, Swing Out Sister, The House of Love, Pere Ubu, and The Fall. Fontana also had the European rights to several American performers who were signed to other labels in the US, including Was (Not Was), Tom Tom Club, Jerry Harrison: Casual Gods, and Tom Verlaine. This incarnation of Fontana lasted well into The '90s, shutting down just as PolyGram was acquired by Universal Music Group.
During the Turn of the Millennium and The New '10s, Universal revived the company yet again, this time as a new version of Fontana International, which specialized in co-releases with smaller labels that were in UMG's orbit. There was also Fontana Distribution, which handled semi-independent labels until 2012, when it was absorbed into Ingrooves Music Group.
The Fontana trademark is still occasionally used in Europe, both for catalog reissues and a handful of new releases (such as albums by French Chanson singer Gauvain Sers).
Fontana performers with TV Tropes pages
- Ambrose Slade (an early version of Slade)
- Joan Baez (UK releases of her Vanguard recordings through 1967)
- Black Sabbath
- James Brown (one UK single in 1960)
- The Fugs (UK releases of their ESP Disk albums)
- Serge Gainsbourg
- The High Numbers (an early version of The Who)
- Jethro Tull (South African releases of their first two albums and a few singles)
- Gordon Lightfoot (UK releases of two early singles as Gordie Lightfoot)
- Little Richard (European releases of his Vee Jay recordings)
- Manfred Mann
- The Pretty Things
- Ravi Shankar (UK releases of his World Pacific recordings)
- Rod Stewart (Australian release of An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down)
- The Yardbirds (A Live Album where they backed Sonny Boy Williamson)