Monday, October 19, 2009

What do Dean Martin, Tiny Tim, Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, Sammy Davis, Jr., Fleetwood Mac, The Kinks, T. Rex, Jimi Hendrix, Gordon Lightfoot, Trini Lopez, Neil Young, The B-52's, Nancy Sinatra, Dino, Desi and Billy and John Sebastian all have in common?

Incredibly, ALL of these artists recorded for Reprise Records ... the label set up by Frank Sinatra in 1962, after long-time associations with Capitol and Columbia Records. (Sinatra hired the legendary Mo Ostin to run his new company as Executive Vice President. Reportedly, as they were walking down Vine Street in Hollywood, California, one day, Sinatra pointed out The Capitol Records Tower and told Ostin, "You see that? I helped build that. Now I'm going to build one of my own."

Despite recruiting his Rat Pack Buddies Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. to come onboard, the label did NOT get off to a rousing success. In 1962, Davis had a Top 20 Hit with his version of "What Kind Of Fool Am I" and Lou Monte scored a novelty hit with "Pepino, The Italian Mouse" ... but by year's end the label was already two million dollars in debt. Sinatra's attorney, Mickey Rudin, approached Jack Warner (of Warner Brothers) about buying Sinatra's label ... and a deal was struck ... Warner Brothers would buy two-thirds interest in Reprise Records for ten million dollars ... and Sinatra would make three movies for Warner Brothers Pictures.

By the mid-'60's, things started to turn around ... The Kinks scored their first big American Hits on Reprise and in 1964 Dean Martin would top the charts with "Everybody Loves Somebody", a song recently featured in Forgotten Hits (and one first recorded many years earlier by Sinatra.) Nepotism helped to fuel the label in 1965 as Dean's son Dino scored a Top Twenty Hit with his band, Dino, Desi and Billy ... and the following year Frank's daughter Nancy was sitting high on top of the charts with her break-through hit, "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'", a song today considered to be a '60's classic. Frank himself would reach #1 later that same year with his reading of "Strangers In The Night" and a year later Frank and Nancy's duet "Somethin' Stupid" also went all the way to #1.

1967-1968 proved to be an interesting era for the label. Music was changing and Reprise was right there in the thick of it ... hits by artists as diverse as Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, Tiny Tim and Jimi Hendrix kept the label on the charts (and in our record collections) through the end of the decade.

Just how much did Sinatra have to do with the artists that were signed? One has to believe that corporate pretty much pulled the strings in that department. At various times, Sinatra denounced new acts like Elvis Presley (who later appeared on Frank's television show ... reportedly because NANCY liked him) and The Beatles (whose songs Sinatra would later go on to record himself!)

Honestly, you couldn't really place their music style in a box ... in 1965, Reprise scored a Top Ten Hit with Sonny and Cher's "Baby Don't Go" (which bombed the first time it was released) ... and two years later they were back in The Top Ten with The Electric Prunes!!! Meanwhile, old stalwarts Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Frank Sinatra himself continued to regularly hit The Top 40 throughout the decade.

Coming up tomorrow in Forgotten Hits ... some Reprise Records memories from Preston Ritter, original drummer for The Electric Prunes!

(When's the last time you heard THIS one?!?!?)