The Musicor label was formed in 1960 by Aaron Schroeder, an accomplished songwriter who had
worked as a staff songwriter for Hill and Range, where he had penned several huge hits for Elvis
Presley, including "Stuck on You" and "It's Now or Never." Initially, Shroeder reportedly owned half of the
record label, with United Artists owning the other half. In fact, early Musicor albums were released in
Canada on the United Artists label. Musicor recorded popular, Latin, gospel and country & western
music. Dynamo was an R&B subsidiary and MusicVoice and Music Disc (or "Musico") were budget
Schroeder's first success was a young singer/songwriter named Gene Pitney. Pitney was born in Hartford and grew up in nearby Rockville, Connecticut, where he had a high-school band, Gene Pitney and the Genials. By the time he was out of high school, he was attending electronics school in Hartford while he was singing and writing songs in his "off hours." He recorded some sides backed by Hartford's R&B vocal group the Embers, and in 1959 formed a duo with Ginny Arnell, billing themselves as "Jamie & Jane." By 1960, he was doing solo recordings, for example, as Billy Bryan. Mostly, though, he was down in New York City shopping demos around. Aaron Schroeder saw a lot of potential in Pitney, and signed him to Schroeder's publishing company, January Music, as well as his new Musicor label, and also to a personal management contract. In the fall of 1960, Schroeder and Pitney (under his mother's name as a pseudonym), wrote a song called "Rubber Ball" which Bobby Vee recorded [Liberty 55287] and it went to #6 nationally. Another of Pitney's demos, "Hello Mary Lou," would reach Ricky Nelson, who would likewise make top-10 with the song in the spring of 1961 [Imperial 5741]. Another ("Today's Teardrops") was picked up by Roy Orbison, and recorded as the B-side of his 1960 hit "Blue Angel" [Monument 425]. Still another of Pitney's demos was "(I Wanna) Love My Life Away," with Pitney playing all the instruments and overtracking multiple vocal parts under a ton of reverb. This demo (Pitney didn't have lots of money to hire studio musicians) sounded like an early "Wall of Sound" recording. Although Pitney had considered it just a demo and sent it in to Schroeder, Schroeder decided it was good enough to release as is, and did so as the second single on his new label [Musicor 1002]. It reached #39 on the charts.
This record was possibly one of the influences for Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" concept, since Spector himself was brought in after "Love My Life Away" to work as a producer for Pitney. Nothing that Spector had produced before this had much indication of the future "Wall of Sound" that would become Spector's trademark. This collaboration resulted in at least two chart hits. Spector produced Pitney's next hit, "Every Breath I Take" [Musicor 1011, #42], but Pitney also wrote a song for one of the groups on Spector's own Philles label, the Crystals' "He's A Rebel" [Philles 106, actually recorded by the Blossoms], which reached #1 in 1962. "Every Breath I Take" is often named as the first of Spector's "Wall of Sound" records. It was recorded in a marathon studio session where Pitney's voice was essentially gone by the end, so he had to sing the last few lines in a high falsetto, which ended up on the single. The session reportedly cost some $13,000, and the record made a slightly worse showing on the charts than Pitney's own recording of "(I Wanna) Love My Life Away," which reportedly cost about $30. Schroeder, given the bill for the session, never again used Spector as a producer. Although the Spector/Pitney studio connection was short-lived, Pitney and Spector remained friends, and were heard together playing piano and maracas, respectively, on the Rolling Stones' recording, "Little By Little" in 1964.
Pitney's break as a singer came when he was given a Dimitri Tiomkin-Ned Washington movie theme song to do, "Town Without Pity" [Musicor 1009]. The movie came out well before the song, and fairly bombed. When the song came out and made #13 on the charts, there was renewed interest in the movie, and it did much better. Observing how Gene Pitney's single helped sell the movie, he was next given the theme from a John Ford western, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," starring Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne. Unfortunately, the picture was released early, and there was not enough time to get Gene's song into the movie itself, but the single "(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance" [Musicor 1020] itself shot to #4, the highest showing yet for Pitney and Musicor.
Schroeder was always looking for good songs to supplement Pitney's own songs. He recommended songs by Goffin-King, Mann-Weil, and the then not-that-well-known duo of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. A score of hits followed, including "Only Love Can Break a Heart" (#2), "Half Heaven-Half Heartache" (#12), "Mecca" (#12), "True Love Never Runs Smooth" (#21), "Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa" (#17), "That Girl Belongs to Yesterday" (#49, the first US hit written by Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger and Keith Richards), "It Hurts to Be in Love" (#7), "I'm Gonna Be Strong" (#9), "I Must Be Seeing Things" (#31), "Last Chance to Turn Around" (#13), "Looking Through The Eyes Of Love" (#28), "Princess in Rags" (#37), "Backstage" (#25), "Just One Smile" (#64, but a hit in certain cities), and "She's a Heartbreaker" (#16, written by labelmate Charlie Foxx).
In fact, Gene Pitney was the biggest and best-selling star Musicor ever had. He spent his entire chart career, spanning 1961-1969, with Musicor. It was difficult to categorize his records, which ranged from rock and roll like "(I Wanna) Love My Life Away" to movie themes like "Town Without Pity" to pop like "Only Love Can Break a Heart" to country, like the duet he did with George Jones, "I've Got Five Dollars and It's Saturday Night" [Musicor 1066, #16 country], to the sitar-steeped rocking soul of "Heartbreaker." He also did several albums-worth of his songs in foreign languages, both Italian and Spanish. Gene stopped recording sometime about 1972, which would have been more of a blow to Musicor than it was if he had continued making hits. Gene Pitney died in April, 2006. He will be remembered both as an excellent songwriter and an unusual musical talent.
Back in 1960, before Gene Pitney's debut single on Musicor, Schroeder had released another single, the first single on Musicor, and it sank without a trace. It was "Sick Manny's Gym"/"Plunkin'" by Leo DeLeon and the Musclemen, a word play on the popular "Vic Tanny's" health clubs of the day. Other than the Gene Pitney singles, the rest of the first dozen releases were likewise forgettable. They included singles by Chuckles Finnegan, Ernie Tucker and the Operators, the Darby Sisters, Jesse James, Jennie Lee Lambert, and Paul Greenwood. In fact, Gene Pitney's second single, "Louisiana Mama" [Musicor 1006] didn't chart, either. After "Every Breath I Take" and "Town Without Pity" hit, Musicor finally came up with a non-Gene Pitney chart record in November, 1961, with Long Islander Kenny Dino's "Your Ma Said You Cried in Your Sleep Last Night" [Musicor 1013]. Kenny Dino did his best Elvis imitation as a girl-group sang an infectious "ba-ba-ba-ba-bah" chorus incessantly behind him, and the record made it to #24.
Although there were several tries at followup singles, Kenny Dino failed to repeat his success. More Musicor stiffs ensued, records by Roger Wayne, Jimmy Radcliffe, Bob & Jerry, Bonny Brooks, Candy Cole, the Fabulous Dinos, Reggie and the Remarkables, the Twinkles..., well, you get the idea. By the summer of 1963, Gene Pitney just about WAS the label. Not only were his the only hits, but in late 1963 and early 1964, his were just about the only singles released by Musicor. Of the nine singles released from #1032 in July, 1963, to #1040 in July, 1964, six were by Gene Pitney. Musicor also released five albums during this period [Musicor 2/3004-8], all by Gene Pitney. It was starting to look suspiciously like a one-act label, and United Artists wanted out.
Two of United Artists' employees, A&R men/producers Art Talmadge and Harold "Pappy" Daily, bought the remaining interest from United Artists. It is not clear whether Talmadge and Daily had been minority stockholders from the start, as part of the United Artists shares, but they were nowhere to be seen in the management or production before mid-1964. It is also unclear how much of Aaron Schroeder's stock they bought, but by 1965 Art Talmadge became the controlling partner, as Musicor became "A Division of Art Talmadge Productions," while Pappy Daily pretty much ran the label. The address of Musicor Records changed from 1650 Broadway in New York City to 826 Seventh Avenue in New York, the address of Art Talmadge Productions, Inc. Musicor became an independent label, doing their own distribution (later the label moved to 240 West 55th Street). They also started a small singles label called MusicVoice, also located at 826 Seventh Avenue, and issued four singles in 1964. To get off the "Gene-Pitney-only" idea, Musicor issued a series of albums featuring "51 songs," arranged into a number of medleys. There was 51 Greatest Motion Picture Favorites [Musicor 2/3009], 51 Greatest Broadway Favorites [Musicor 2/3010], 51 Country Club Dance Favorites [Musicor 2/3011], 51 Organ Skating Favorites [Musicor 2/3012], 51 Belly Dancing Favorites [Musicor 2/3021] and 51 Polka Favorites [Musicor 2/3024]. These albums of medleys were later reissued on the MusicVoice label as budget items, with the same cover artwork, but part of the Musicor number blanked out and a MusicVoice logo substituted (and reissued again later on Musicor's MusicDisc/MusicO budget subsidiary).
Then there were some "how to" albums, one on hula dancing [Musicor 2/3013, Hula at Home] and one on isometric exercise [Musicor 2/3014]. And after an Italian-language version of Gene Pitney's hits [Musicor 2/3015], Musicor started releasing Latin American dance albums, starting with Tito Rodriguez' Carnival of the Americas [Musicor 2/3018]. These became a major part of the future Musicor catalog.
Harold "Pappy" Daily and Jack Starnes had founded Starday Records in Texas in 1953, and while there, Daily took a young Texas-born country singer named George Jones under his wing. When Daily and his partners decided to split up in 1958, each retained part of the master tape catalog (Daily got the George Jones masters, among others), and Daily went to work for Mercury Records as a producer and head of country music A&R. George Jones followed him to Mercury. (The Starday label, without Daily, also entered into a distribution agreement with Mercury.) While at Mercury, Daily worked with Art Talmadge, who was doing A&R for Mercury's pop side. Both Talmadge and Daily moved over to United Artists Records around 1960. George Jones followed, as well as another country singer, Melba Montgomery. When Pappy Daily left United Artists to join Musicor in 1964, George Jones and Melba Montgomery again followed. It turned out to be a very good deal, indeed, for Musicor.
George Jones became Musicor's second star. One of the first sessions set up by Pappy Daily was a joint recording session for George Jones with Musicor's pop star, Gene Pitney. The single "I've Got Five Dollars and It's Saturday Night" [Musicor 1066] went to #16 on the country charts and scraped the bottom of the pop charts. Simultaneously, they released a new George Jones single, "Things Have Gone to Pieces" [Musicor 1067], which reached #9 on the country charts. A second George Jones/Gene Pitney single, a remake of Rusty and Doug's "Louisiana Man" [Musicor 1097], made #25 on the country charts, and a third duet, "Big Job" [Musicor 1115] reached #50. By 1966, a fourth Jones/Pitney disc ("That's All It Took", Musicor 1165) made #47.
Meanwhile, Jones posted a slew of country hits on his own, including "Love Bug" (#6), "Take Me" (#8), "I'm a People" (#6), "Old Brush Arbors" (#30), "Four-O-Thirty Three" (#5), "Walk Through This World With Me" (#1), "I Can't Get There from Here" (#5), "If My Heart Had Windows" (#7), "Say It's Not You" (#8), "Small Time Laboring Man" (#35), "As Long As I Live" (#3), "When the Grass Grows Over Me" (#2), "I'll Share My World with You" (#2), "If Not for You" (#6), "She's Mine" (#6), "Where Grass Won't Grow" (#28), "A Good Year for the Roses" (#2), "Sometimes You Just Can't Win" (#10), "Right Won't Touch a Hand" (#7), and "I'll Follow You (To Our Cloud)" (#13). He also teamed with other singers for additional hits. With Melba Montgomery, he charted with "Close Together (As You and Me)" (#70) and "Party Pickin'" (#24), while he hit #12 with "Milwaukee Here I Come" with Brenda Carter. He also recorded with the Jones Boys, who included Johnny Paycheck, and charted with "Tell Me My Lying Eyes Are Wrong" (#13).
In 1969, George Jones married country star Tammy Wynette, who was signed to Epic Records. Jones wanted to record with his wife, but as they were on different labels, this proved infeasible. In 1971, he left Musicor and signed with Epic Records, his wife's label, and they had several hits singing as a duet, as well as Jones himself putting over 60 singles on the country charts for Epic between 1972 and 1989. The loss of George Jones was a huge blow to Musicor and Pappy Daily. At about the same time, Gene Pitney stopped recording. This one-two punch sent Musicor reeling.
There were other artists on Musicor, but nothing of the magnitude of either Pitney or Jones. The Platters signed with Musicor in 1966, long after their heyday with Mercury, probably due to the connection with Art Talmadge. Several of their original members had left, including Tony Williams, the voice of their biggest hits. Still, they were a competent soul vocal group and placed five songs on the national pop charts for Musicor, the biggest being "With This Ring" [Musicor 1229], which reached #14. By the time they recorded for Musicor, the group consisted of lead singer Sonny Turner, Nate Nelson, Sandra Dawn, David Lynch, and Herb Reed, the latter two being original members from the Mercury hit days. They also re-recorded many of their greatest Mercury hits for Musicor, but without Tony Williams, it just wasn't the same. That didn't stop Musicor from forever peddling these remakes as if they were the original hits, though.
Melba Montgomery had several country chart records as a solo artist, and teamed with Gene Pitney for "Baby Ain't That Fine" [Musicor 1135], which reached #15 on the country charts in 1966. Judy Lynn, another country artist who came over from United Artists, recorded several albums and singles for Musicor, but they failed to chart. In 1970, a studio group called the Street People had a couple of songs make the pop charts ("Jennifer Tomkins," Musicor 1365, made #36, and "Thank You Girl," Musicor 1401, made #96). The group included Rupert Holmes, who would gain far better recognition as a solo artist in the late 1970s with his #1 record "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" [Infinity 50,035] and others. Synthesizer artist Stan Free, recording as "Hot Butter," also had a top 10 record with "Popcorn" [Musicor 1458], which reached #9 in 1972. But by the end of 1972, Musicor was in sad shape, reduced to issuing mostly compilations of "Golden Hits" or various artist compilations from days gone by.
According to Billboard, as reported in Country Music People, following George Jones' departure to Epic in 1971, Pappy Daily sold his share in Musicor to Art Talmadge and retired to his other interests in Texas. Jones had already given up his shares in Musicor to Talmadge, as well as his future royalties, to get out of his contract and join Epic. Art Talmadge leased the George Jones session tapes — containing 230 issued and 58 unreleased masters — to RCA in late 1971. RCA re- mixed them and issued 18 albums in four years from 1972 to 1975. RCA actually had a couple of chart singles with the songs ("A Day in the Life of a Fool" [RCA 0625, #30] and "Wrapped Around Her Finger" [RCA 0792, #46]).
In 1975, the rights reverted to Talmadge. He got the RCA artwork and LP pressing masters and reissued most of the RCA albums on Musicor, in a batch of consecutive catalogue numbers, with a Musicor panel stuck over the RCA logo on the artwork. He released them through Springboard Records, as Musicor itself had closed down by then. Talmadge sold off the Musicor master tapes piecemeal, some to Gusto, some to others, which explains why Bear Family of Germany couldn't locate all the George Jones master session tapes when preparing their two brand new box sets of his entire Musicor recordings. They eventually had to use vinyl records for a few titles.
By 1976, it was basically over. Talmadge sold the label to Springboard International, who spent a couple of years reissuing more compilations. Springboard itself went through several ownership hands (including for a time Columbia Special Products in Canada), eventually being subsumed by Gusto Records, who has reissued several CDs on the Musicor/King label.
|The label on early Musicor singles (far left) was an odd-looking black-and-white label with some green and blue blocks around the edge and the label name around the edge of the label on top. This was quickly replaced by a tan label with black print, the only similarity with the first label being the label name at the top. The first label said "DISTRIBUTED BY UNITED ARTISTS RECORDS" around the bottom of the label, while the tan label said "DISTRIBUTED BY UNITED ARTISTS RECORDS INC., NEW YORK, 19, N.Y."|
|The first album label, used for the first two albums, was similar to the tan label used for the 45s. This label was discontinued at the end of 1962 in favor of the first black label (near left). The mono version of this first black label had the "United Artists" wording around the bottom, and had "HIGH FIDELITY" bending around the bottom of the label just above the distribution statement.|
|The stereo version of the first black label also had the "Distributed by United Artists" statement around the bottom. Just above it was "HIGH FIDELITY STEREO." This was very similar to the United Artists labels of the time. After United Artists sold out their interests in mid-1964, the copy around the bottom was changed to "MUSICOR RECORDS, INC., NEW YORK, N.Y. 10019, MADE IN U.S.A." and the "High Fidelity" was dropped before the "Stereo" designation.|
|Mono and stereo Musicor logos used for album covers beginning with the first album and continuing through MM 2026/MS 3026 in 1965. The logo was also used at the top of the black label from 1963 to 1970.|
|Some of the labels used variations of the first logo with stereo designation under the label name instead of around the bottom (far left). In mid 1964, the logo on the front of the albums started changing over to the oval logo (shown at near left), although the logo on top of the labels remained the same.|
|By early 1965, the wording at the bottom of the label changed to "MUSICOR RECORDS, A DIVISION OF TALMADGE PRODUCTIONS, INC., NEW YORK, N.Y., MADE IN USA." This was about the time that Aaron Schroeder exited from the label. Along with the change to indicate Talmadge Productions, the mono and stereo designations changed to red and went back to "HIGH FIDELITY" and "HIGH FIDELITY STEREO."|
|A series of double-LP sets, called the "Prestige Series", used a red label with black print. The Prestige Series used the regular catalog numbering series rather than a special series of its own. In late 1966, the label was modified slightly again, this time to put the stereo designation on the right side of the label in much smaller print.|
|Variations on the black label above include the logo all in red instead of white. In 1970, the label changed to orange with black print, much like the RCA label at the time. These were probably manufactured and distributed by RCA. The logo changed to a large "M" with the Musicor oval inside, and was located on the left side of the label.|
|Deejay or promotional albums during the black label years were white with black print with the same graphics as the regular commercial labels (far left). After 1970, deejay labels were sometimes completely devoid of graphics (near left).|
|Musicor labels during the Springboard years were green. Multiple-disc sets had a record number designation as a large number in shadow in the background. The logo changed back to the Musicor oval logo, but in blue and white.|