Capitol Records was founded by Jonny Mercer (songwriter) in 1942. His business partners were Buddy DeSylva (film producer), and Glenn Wallichs, the owner of the Music City. Music City was opened in 1940 and was the largest music store in LA . It was located on the corner of Sunset and Vine and Capitol Records had a storefront office in the building. Johnny Mercer was committed to give the Capitol artists freedom to grow and expand and this new, fresh and revolutionary approach to recording soon too proved very effective. Glenn Wallichs ran the business while Johnny Mercer found the artists and supervised their artistic output. Buddy DeSylva himself a noted songwriter also headed up production at Paramount Studios and provided the initial funding. At this time RCA-Victor, Columbia and Decca were the giants of the US recording industry and all based in NY whereas Capitol Records provided a competitive alternative centred on the west coast. The first artists to record for Capital were Paul Whitemna and his band, Margaret Whiting, Martha Tilton (The Angels Cried, 1942), and Ella Mae Morse. Paul Whiteman recorded Capitol's first release in 1942 with instrumentals "I Found a New Baby" and "The General Jumped At Dawn." Later lyrics to commemorate the D-Day invasion were written by Larry Orenstein who was the singer with the band. The company produced records in 78 rpm and Ella Mae Morse gave Capitol their first major success with "Cow Cow Boogie."
By 1946 Capitol had sold 42 million records and was established as one of the major record producers in the US. A very successful children’s record library which included stories and music was introduced. The novelty records were issued with full color booklets which children could follow as they listened to the recorded stories. Alan W. Livingston created Bozo the Clown and the recordings were voiced by Pinto Colvig who also was Walt Disney’s Goofy. Other successes came with Sparky’s Magic Piano and Rusty in Orchestrville.
In 1949 Capitol Records released 331/3 format long playing records and the company also expanded to include a second studio in NY and a Canadian branch. To begin with Capitol Records of Canada was run by independent businessman W. Lockwood Miller but Capitol Records broke away five years later to form Capitol Record Distributors of Canada Limited. The company was eventually acquired by EMI when it bought Capitol Records in 1955 and an A&R department independent of the American company was established to promote talent for the Canadian market. Anne Murray proved to be one of the more famous signings.
In the early days Capitol Records also had developed mobile recording equipment and would visit Southern Cities like New Orleans to record local artists. In 1950 Capitol took over the KHJ Studios on Melrose Avenue next to the lot of Paramount Pictures. Meantime in England the Electric and Musical Industries (EMI) company was created in April 1931 when the British Gramophone Company and the Columbia Graphophone Company merged. In the same year it opened state of the art recording studios at 3 Abbey Road, North London.
By the mid fifties Capitol was the fourth largest American record company and EMI acquired 96% share of the company for $8.5 million. Keen to establish a similar resource as Abbey Road studios, EMI commissioned a new studio in Hollywood. The Capitol Records Tower was designed by Welton Becket and was a 13 story earthquake resistant tower made from reinforced concrete. The building was constructed in 1956 and stands on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and 1730 Vine Street and combined offices and recording studios. The rectangular ground floor houses the recording department which includes the famous echo chamber engineered by Les Paul and surrounds the tower. The Capitol Tower recording studios were capable of high fidelity recording and stereophonic sound. Ironically the tower itself resembles a stack of 45s on a turntable with the wide curved awnings over windows on each story and the tall spike emerging from the top of the building. The blinking light atop the tower spelt out the word "Hollywood" in Morse code and was formerly turned on by Lyla Morse. Lyla was the granddaughter of Samuel Morse who invented Morse Code.
Capital had added a number of popular crooners throughout the fifties, including: Les, Baxter, Bing Crosby, Les Paul, Stan Kenton, Les Brown, Tex Williams and Nat King Cole. The Capitol Tower soon became known as "The House That Nat Built" due to the vast amounts of records and merchandise Nat "King" Cole sold for the company.
Other luminaries to sign for Capitol records were: Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, The Andrews Sisters, Jackie Gleason, Jane Froman, Ray Anthony, Peggy Lee, Dean Martin, Andy Griffith, Shirley Bassey, The Kingston Trio, Dean Martin, The Four Freshmen, Al Martino, Dinah Shore and Nancy Wilson. Captitol were keen to harness the new phenomena of rock’n’roll and signed Gene Vincent.
The first album recorded in the tower was Frank Sinatra Conducts Tone Poems of Color. Between 1954-1962, Frank Sinatra made 19 albums with Capitol with arrangers Axel Stordahl and Nelson Riddle. One of his most acclaimed was In the Wee Small Hours.
In 1957 EMI merged their Angel Records (known for classical music) with Capitol in 1957 and continued to record memorable classics by various orchestras including: William Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and Sir Thomas Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, among many others.
Capitol Records also released some of the most notable original cast albums and motion picture soundtrack albums ever made. Between 1955 and 1956, they released the soundtrack albums of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, Oklahoma!, Carousel, and The King and I on mono. Then in 1958 they re-released the three soundtracks in stereo which became best sellers all over again. Another big seller was the original cast album of The Music Man which was released in 1957 and the company continued with musical soundtracks throughout the sixties.
They also specialised in recording the spoken word with an immensely successful recording of the soundtrack of Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet. The album featured not only Nino Rota's score, but large chunks of Shakespeare's dialogue.
In the early sixties after EMI signed The Beatles to their Parlophone label there was some major resistance from executives at Capitol to release their singles in the US. The earliest releases of the Fab Four were on the Vee-Jay label but eventually Capitol took them on. Unsure the original UK recordings were suited to the US market Capitol’s producers significantly altered the content of the Beatles albums adding equalization to brighten the sound, and piping the recordings through the Capitol echo chamber, located underneath the parking lots outside the Capitol Tower. In the UK the Beatles had released With the Beatles but when this was released in the US as Meet the Beatles!, and five of the original tracks were removed and replaced by the band's first American hit single, which consisted of "I Want To Hold Your Hand," "I Saw Her Standing There," and "This Boy".
Capitol also released "duophonic" stereo versions even although the original master was monophonic. Capitol engineers split the single master monaural track into two, boosted the bass on one track, boosted treble on the other track and combined them slightly out of phase to produce a "fake stereo" release. This duophonic process meant that the Beatles' American fans would often hear a slightly different version of the song from that heard by the rest of the world. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band marked the first American album to be released by Capitol in its original form.
In the seventies, Capitol launched two alternative labels: EMI America Records and EMI Manhattan Records. New artists included April Wine, Blondie, Burning Spear, Buzzcocks, David Bowie, Kim Carnes, Rosanne Cash, Natalie Cole, Sammy Hagar, Heart, John Hiatt, The Knack, Maze, The Raspberries, Minnie Riperton, Diana Ross, Bob Seger, The Specials, Ten Wheel Drive, The Stranglers, Tavares, George Thorogood, Wings and The Persuasions.
In 1979, Capitol was made part of the EMI Music Worldwide division. In the following decades Capitol added artists in a variety of genres including popular music groups and singers, punk/hard rock groups, heavy metal bands and eventually rap groups.
Worth a listen:
I Found a New Baby (1942)
Ella Mae Morse
Cow Cow Boogie (1942)
Stan Kenton Orchestra
Eager Beaver (1943)
Nat King Cole
Straighten Up and Fly Right (1943)
I’ll walk alone (1944)
All through the day (1946)
Bozo the Clown
Bozo at the curcus (1946)
Sparky’s Magic Piano (1947)
Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette) (1947)
Les Paul and Mary Ford
Tennessee Waltz (1950)
The Four Freshmen
Mr. B's Blues (1950)
Les Brown with Connee Boswell
I Don't Know (1950)
My Funny Valentine (1952)
Here in my heart (1952)
Ray Anthony Orchestra
The Bunny Hop (1952)
I believe (1953)
After You've Gone (1955)
True Love (1956)
Memories are made of this (1956)
All the way (1957)
The Andrews Sisters
One mistake (1958)
The Kingston Trio
Tom Dooley (1958)
St John’s Infirmary
Guess Who I Saw Today (1960)
I Ain't Down Yet (1960)
Let’s face the music (1962)
This boy (1963)