Company restructured for the 1970s & beyond: Phonogram Records

 

In 1970, the Philips-Polydor partnership switched its warehouse centre from their Croydon base to Ilford and re-named the distribution company Phonodisc. Initially this was a disaster. After the transfer of the entire stock of singles, albums and cassettes from both companies to a new warehouse above the night club Room At The Top in Ilford made over that Easter weekend, stock allocations were planned for a newly installed computerised picking system. It failed on the first day of operation and orders from retailers for product were painstakingly slow to be fulfilled (or lost), as staff had to run from one allocation to another in an attempt to supply record orders - which resulted in no hit records for more than a year. But by the time the Rod Stewart single of 'Maggie May' was released in the autumn of 1971, the picking and fulfillment problem had finally been solved and his disc reached no. 1 in the UK charts. A year later, the Phonodisc warehouse and distribution centre was relocated to bigger premises at Chadwell Heath in Essex.

In 1971, the Philips, Fontana, Mercury and Vertigo record labels were amalgamated into a new company to be called Phonogram Records - The Best Sounds Around. An early licensing agreement with the American label Family Productions in 1972 produced a promising girl-led band Mama Lion and a young unknown singer by the name of Billy Joel with his debut album Cold Spring Harbor. Despite every effort to get this excellent album played on the radio, it failed to sell and it would take another seven years for Joel to have his first hit in Britain. A third album released was by the much admired singer-songwriter Jim Croce whose life would be cut short just a year later when his plane crashed in Louisiana.

Rod Stewart made a total of five albums in his own name for Vertigo/Mercury as well as four compilation albums that Phonogram released. The last of these was "Smiler" in 1975. His breakthrough single in 1971 "Maggie May", was included on his third LP release, "Every Picture Tells A Story". The single's A-side was originally "Reason To Believe" but good radio airplay, especially from John Peel, meant the emphasis was switched to the B-side, "Maggie May" which went on to top the singles charts that autumn. The Faces were Rod's backing group on all these albums, whilst he was also recording concurrently as a member of The Faces for Warner Bros. Records. Most of these albums were given a distinctive adage as a title.

With a new management team initially under another Australian M.D. Fred Marks, but more importantly Tony ("A.J.") Morris who took over in 1973 having been head-hunted by chairman Steve Gottlieb, business picked up. Morris joined the company from Music For Pleasure and assisted by the highly respected A&R chief Roland Rennie, Phonogram quickly made many impressive signings including Status Quo and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. The company also made shrewd and successful label licensing agreements with American companies: All Platinum, Avco, Chess - with the single by Chuck Berry 'My Ding A Ling' reaching no. 1 in the charts in 1972 - and from Barnaby Records in the States (released in the UK on Janus) a number 1 hit for Ray Stevens with 'The Streak' in 1974, followed by his hip country version of 'Misty' a year later. Another very successful act via the Janus/Westbound label in 1973 was The Detroit Emeralds, 'Feel The Need In Me'. These all made Phonogram a major player in soul and disco music and one of the most important of these U.S. label signings was with Avco Records (Hugo & Luigi), which provided the company with arguably their biggest-selling act of the Seventies: the Stylistics - as well as Van McCoy and Limmie & The Family Cookin’. In addition, Kool & The Gang were released on the Mercury and then the De-Lite label and between 1979 and 1985 and had 19 UK hit records.

All the above was overseen by Roland Rennie and Product Manager Nigel Grainge who continued to make a huge impact on disco record sales at Phonogram throughout the 1970s. Nigel left the parent company Phonogram in 1977 to form his own record company, Ensign Records and had immediate success with the Boomtown Rats, who went on to achieve more than a dozen Top 40 hits in the U.K, and three more successful Irish acts: Sinéad O'Connor, World Party and The Waterboys. Nigel died suddenly at the age of 70 in Santa Monica from complications following surgery, in June 2017.

   
(L to R) Brian Shepherd; MD A.J.Morris; Jim Croce; Croce’s guitar colleague Maury Muehleisen; Denny Brown.  Croce was on an extensive promotional visit to Europe which included an appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test and at the Cambridge Folk Festival.  
The original Phonogram singles bag
   
Marketing Manager Ken Maliphant with folk legend Mike Harding
Rod Stewart   Eighties
Rod Stewart examines the sleeve printing on press for "Smiler" with Phonogram Print Manager Mike Keyworth   At the Phonogram Sales Conference in 1979 the Product Marketing Team perform a parody of 'In The Navy' dressing up as The Village People singing the conference theme, 'In The Eighties'

Heavy Metal music became well established at Phonogram throughout the 1970s with releases from the Canadian band Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Rush, New York Dolls, Thin Lizzy and of course the consistent success of Black Sabbath. In the 80's and 90's, Bon Jovi, Kiss and Metallica joined the HM roster.

Phonogram also turned its attention to the ever popular market of MOR acts with artists Nana Mouskouri, Demis Roussos, Peters & Lee, Lena Zavaroni, Syd Lawrence Orchestra, Val Doonican, David Essex, pianist Bobby Crush (recently seen in ITV's successful comedy series 'Benidorm'), Twiggy, Sydney Devine, Lindisfarne, Mike Harding, Peter Skellern and Kamahl, as well as issuing novelty records by media personalities such as Terry Wogan, Ed Stewart, Bruce Forsyth and the DJ, Chris Hill. Television played an important part in the recording careers of Nana Mouskouri and Val Doonican who both had regular BBC shows of their own which were produced by Yvonne Littlewood. Hughie Green's 'Opportunity Knocks' was also a great vehicle for Peters & Lee, Lena Zavaroni, Bobby Crush and Stuart Gillies.

Demis Roussos had not been very well known in the UK, but for many British people holidaying on Greek islands in the early 1970s, his music was both captivating and haunting. His first UK single to chart was in 1975: "Happy To Be On An Island In The Sun" written by an Englishman David Lewis with the record reaching No. 5 in the charts. He was so popular in the rest of Europe that it seemed strange that his music had not penetrated the British market. This observation came to interest a BBC-TV producer in Bristol, John King, who decided to make a documentary which he would call 'The Roussos Phenomenon', in 1976. The programme was aired and Demis' career in the UK now took off with a number one chart selling extended-play record of the same title and with three back catalogue albums entering the charts. His music was also featured in the famous television play 'Abigail's Party' and with this new popularity in the UK, his fame now covered all of Europe. Demis was among many hostages taken by Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad extremists on a TWA flight in 1985, but was finally released and taken back to Athens. After an extensive and successful career, Demis later suffered illness and depression and sadly died in January 2015.

For a short while, two newly recorded albums by Tony Bennett were also released on the Philips label.

A successful mid-price catalogue that included Philips International, Spotlight On (a double-album series) and the Sonic label was also built up with re-issues and compilations from the Phonogram vaults, managed by Leon Campadelli. In fact Leon was employed at Philips Records & Phonogram longer than anyone else - for a total of 27 years. He died at the age of 89 in January 2015.

http://www.discogs.com/artist/1475976-Leon-Campadelli

     

After she left for America to record Dusty In Memphis, several attempts were made by Phonogram during the 1970's to re-launch Dusty Springfield's career in Britain. In late 1972, Dusty came back to the UK and appeared at the Talk Of The Town restaurant/night club in London. Obviously suffering from high anxiety, she wanted to pull out after finishing the first number but soldiered on completing the show, but then cancelled the rest of the engagement. Frankie Vaughan stepped in and fulfilled the two week engagement instead. But a little later she went on to headline at the Batley Variety Club near Leeds with great success, with a capacity audience at the famous Night Club. But she was quite unhappy with the way her career was progressing at that time and was critical of her producer John Franz, despite Franz producing 14 chart hits for her in the '60s. Then again in 1978, Phonogram flew her back to London to launch her new album It Begins Again with a press reception held at the Savoy Hotel. The following year Dusty performed her successful one woman show at the Albert Hall, with Princess Margaret in attendance (26 years later it would be released on DVD). Unfortunately none of these promotions provided the record sales hoped for and Dusty's career faded yet again. It wasn't until she was invited to team up with the Pet Shop Boys in 1987, when their single 'What Have I Done To Deserve This?' on the Parlophone label, catapulted her into the charts once more. Two more releases written by the Pet Shop Boys would provide Dusty with further hits a year or so later.

For more information on all Dusty Springfield's record releases: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dusty_Springfield_discography

Dusty 1970s
     

In 1977 Phonogram moved their offices to 129 Park Street in London and then in 1980, moved again and took over the floors above what had been Chappells Music Publishing and its record retail shop at 50 New Bond Street. In 1978, Phonogram began a long and fruitful association in a pressing, distribution and marketing deal with Elton John’s Rocket Records label. As well as Elton’s own product there were early successes with Judie Tzuke's ’Stay With Me Till Dawn' and The Lambrettas, ‘Poison Ivy'

Ken Maliphant, originally from Kilmarnock, had joined Phonogram from Philips Electrical in the early 1970s. He became the company's Tape Marketing Manager (cassettes) and later Pop Product Marketing Manager, eventually taking over as Managing Director from 'A.J.' Morris in 1977, who in turn left to take charge of Polydor Records down the road at Stratford Place, W1.

Phonogram became the outlet for Sire Records from America and distributed a number of punk and new wave bands, Talking Heads, Plastic Bertrand and the Ramones. Formed in 1976, Dire Straits recorded a demo tape with a handful of songs and gave it to Charlie Gillett at Radio London. Gillett was impressed and played 'Sultans of Swing' which he particularly liked regularly on his radio show. Towards the end of 1977 Phonogram had signed Dire Straits to their Vertigo label and then had to set about finding a manager for them. Ed Bicknell at the NEMS agency was Phonogram's first choice for their manager and having seen and heard them, he took over the management of the band. Their first album was recorded in February 1978, produced by Muff Winwood. But it wasn't until the spring of 1979 that the single of 'Sultans of Swing' made the UK charts. They then went on to sell a huge amount of product all over Europe (more than 120 million albums) and were later chosen to promote the initial release of CDs in Britain in 1985 with a nationwide road tour, co-promoted with Philips and Sony Industries. The band split up in 1993, each member then carving a successful solo career of their own.

DS Brooch

In 1980, Brian Shepherd took control of Phonogram as M.D. Shepherd had first joined Philips Records in 1963 but after a number of years left the company to concentrate on producing, but returned in 1972 to take over the running of the Vertigo label. He later moved to EMI/Capitol in the late 1970s as a producer, worked in America before returning to Phonogram again in 1980. He remained in charge of Phonogram through many changes until Jerry Moss offered him the appointment of M.D. of A&M Records in 1985 - a position he held for four years - before deciding to leave and become a fully-fledged commercial pilot. He was replaced at Phonogram by David Simone who came over from Arista Records and held the post until 1988.

http://www.discogs.com/artist/1127162-Brian-Shepherd

In December 1984, Phonogram rush released one of the fastest selling singles of all time. Selling a million copies in the first week of its release, Band Aid’s charity record  'Do They Know It’s Christmas?' shot straight to number one in the UK charts. The concept and recording was the brainchild of Bob Geldof and Midge Ure who were appalled at people's indifference of the famine in Ethiopia, with help urgently needed. The record went on to sell 3.7 million copies with royalties given over to the Ethiopian charity for famine relief. Mariella Frostrup worked as Press and Public Relations executive for Phonogram Records between 1980 and 1990 and organised the PR for the Live Aid concert at Wembley in 1985.

Phonogram’s most successful artists in the 1980s and ‘90s were: ABC; Bon Jovi; Def Leppard; Dexy’s Midnight Runners; Dire Straits; David Essex; Gap Band; Kiss; Kool and the Gang; Metallica; Rush; Soft Cell; Steve Miller Band; Swing Out Sister; Teardrop Explodes; Tears For Fears; Wet, Wet, Wet (on the Precious label), plus the never ceasing popularity of Status Quo. From Australia came INXS who sold huge amounts of discs and CDs right up to 1994. By the end of the century, American country rock singer Shania Twain was to take the music business by storm. In 1990, Phonogram moved yet again to Chancellors Road in Hammersmith much the same time as Polydor and EMI moved to that part of town as well. This move enabled a greater unification with Polydor and London Records.

By now, Polygram Classics handled the classical music labels of Philips, Mercury, Decca and Deutsche Grammophon - and the Verve Music Group handled the jazz back catalogue of Verve, Mercury, etc., plus later jazz releases. Howard Berman was appointed to the position of M.D. at Phonogram, replacing David Simone. Berman had previously been M.D. at A&M Records in London after Brian Shepherd had left in November 1989. In January 1994, Howard Berman was appointed to the position of M.D. at Phonogram and by 1998, Phonogram and Polydor had been merged with the Universal Music Group.

 

mercury end