Music Article

Columbia Records Turns 125

In many ways, the story of Columbia Records is the story of popular music. Since its founding in 1888, the label has been home to everyone from Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday to Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Beyoncé. A new book, ''360 Sound,'' celebrates that rich history with 300-plus pages of archival photos and insiders' stories. Here are some highlights.

Thomas Edison and the Phonograph

It was the famed inventor's personal favorite creation, but he sold his patent rights shortly after establishing them. That left the door open for Columbia founder Edward Easton, who acquired the rights to the technology and began making dictation machines — Columbia Phonograph's first product.

Columbia Record Club

Founded in 1955, the mail-order Club (later known as Columbia House) accounted for 10 percent of all recorded-music sales by 1963, and had 10 million members at its peak. The Internet eventually made the service obsolete; it shipped its last CD in June 2009.

Frank Sinatra

Before the rise of Elvis and Beatlemania, there was Frank — the press dubbed his effect on swooning bobbysoxers ''Sinatrauma.'' And while critics dismissed his popularity as a fad, his live appearances often caused near riots. (Though it's true that canny promoters also paid young women to pretend to faint in his presence.)

West Side Story

Soundtracks were seriously big business for Columbia: My Fair Lady's Broadway cast recording spent 480 weeks on the chart, including 15 in the top spot. But even that was peanuts compared with West Side Story. The album by the 1957 Broadway cast (above) was a best-seller, and the 1961 movie version spent an astonishing 54 weeks at No. 1 — a Billboard record that still stands.

Bruce Springsteen

The Boss, who has spent four decades at the label, often describes the '90s as his ''lost'' years. But even at that relative low ebb, he managed to score several hits, five Grammys — and an Oscar, for ''Streets of Philadelphia.''

Barbra Streisand

Streisand's beginnings with the label were rocky; then-president Goddard Lieberson thought her voice was interesting but ''too large,'' and her insistence on singing Broadway tunes didn't line up with shifting tastes in 1962. Still, she was able to impress Lieberson live, and had her first hit with ''People'' in 1964.

Mariah Carey

One of the reasons Carey performed on MTV Unplugged so early in her career was to disprove the skeptics who were convinced that the vocals on her second album, Emotions, were manipulated. It worked — and the resulting live set became a multiplatinum smash.

Bob Dylan

The talent that first got Dylan noticed? According to legend, he was signed to Columbia after an A&R executive heard him sitting in on a 1961 session for folksinger Carolyn Hester — on the strength of his impressive harmonica playing.

Adele

Like Beyoncé before her, Adele was courted by the label when she was only 16, the same year she wrote her first song, ''Hometown Glory.'' Her debut, 19, would go on to win her two Grammys, and its blockbuster 2011 follow-up, 21, six.

Originally posted Oct 26, 2012 Published in issue #1231 Nov 02, 2012 Order article reprints