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Warner Bros. Records (1958)

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Warner Bros. Records Inc. is an American record label. It was the foundation label of the present-day Warner Music Group, and now operates as a wholly owned subsidiary of that corporation. It maintains a close relationship with its former parent, Warner Bros. Pictures, although the two companies are independently owned. Rob Cavallo currently serves as Chairman of the company.
Warner Bros. Records was originally established in 1958 as the recorded music division of the American movie studio Warner Bros. Pictures. For most of its existence it was one of a group of labels owned and operated by larger parent corporations. The sequence of companies that controlled Warner Bros. and its allied labels evolved through a convoluted series of corporate mergers and acquisitions from the early 1960s to the early 2000s. Over this period, Warner Bros. Records grew from a struggling minor player in the industry to become one of the top recording labels in the world.

In 2003 these music assets were divested by their then owner Time Warner and purchased by a private equity group. This independent company currently trades as the Warner Music Group , of which Warner Bros. Records is still an active label. WMG is currently the third-largest of the four major international music conglomerates and the world's only publicly traded major music company. The group's extensive publishing assets, which include over one million song copyrights by more than 65,000 songwriters, currently make it the world's largest music publisher.


At the end of the silent movie era Warner Bros. Pictures decided to expand into publishing and recording so that it could access low-cost music content for its films. In 1928 the studio acquired several smaller music publishing firms—including M. Witmark & Sons, Remick Music Corp., Harms Inc. and a partial interest in New World Music Corp., and merged them to form the Music Publishers Holding Company. This new group controlled valuable copyrights on standards by George and Ira Gershwin and Jerome Kern and the new division was soon earning solid profits of up to US$2 million annually.

In 1930 MPHC paid US$28 million to acquire Brunswick Records, whose roster included Duke Ellington, Red Nichols, Al Jolson, Earl Burtnett, Abe Lyman, Leroy Carr, Tampa Red and Memphis Minnie, and soon after the sale to Warner Bros., the label signed rising radio and recording stars Bing Crosby, Mills Brothers, and Boswell Sisters. Unfortunately for Warner Bros., the dual impact of the Great Depression and the introduction of broadcast radio decimated the recording industry—sales crashed, dropping by around 90% from more than 100 million units in 1927 to less than 10 million by 1932 and major companies were forced to halve the price of records from 75c to 35c. In December 1931, Warner Bros. offloaded Brunswick to the American Record Corporation for a fraction of its former value, in a lease arrangement which did not include Brunswick's pressing plants. Technically Warner maintained actual ownership of Brunswick, which with the sale of ARC to CBS in 1939 and their decision to discontinue Brunswick in favor of reviving the Columbia label, reverted back to Warner Bros. Warner Bros. sold Brunswick (along with Brunswick's back catalog up to 1931) to Decca along with the old Brunswick pressing plants Warner owned to Decca Records in exchange for a financial interest in Decca. Mainly due to Starr's considerable influence over Jack Warner, the studio stayed out of the record business for more than 25 years, and during this period it licensed its film music to other companies for release as soundtrack albums.

 1958-1963: formation and early years
Warner Bros. re-entered the record business in 1958 with the establishment of its own recording division, Warner Bros. Records. By this time the established Hollywood studios were reeling from multiple challenges to their former dominance, the most notable being the introduction of television in the late 1940s. Legal changes also had a major impact on their business—lawsuits brought by major stars had effectively overthrown the old studio contract system by the late 1940s; Warner Bros. Pictures sold off much of its movie library in 1948 (although, ironically, Time Warner's 1996 takeover of Turner Broadcasting returned most of the Warner archive to the company) and, beginning in 1949, anti-trust suits brought by the US government forced the five major studios to divest their cinema chains.

In 1956 Harry Warner and Albert Warner sold their interest in the studio and the board was joined by new members who favoured a renewed expansion into the music business—Charles Allen of the investment bank Charles Allen & Company, Serge Semenenko of the First National Bank of Boston and investor David Baird. Semenenko in particular had a strong professional interest in the entertainment business and he began to push Jack Warner on the issue of setting up an 'in-house' record label. With the record business booming—sales had topped US$500 million by 1958—Semenenko argued that it was foolish for Warner Bros. to make deals with other companies to release its soundtracks when, for less than the cost of one motion picture, they could establish their own label, creating a new income stream that could continue indefinitely and provide an additional means of exploiting and promoting its contract actors.

Another impetus for the label's creation was the brief music career of Warner Bros. actor Tab Hunter. Although Hunter was signed to an exclusive acting contract with the studio, it did not prevent him from signing a recording contract, which he did with Dot Records, since Warner Bros. had no label of its own at the time. Hunter scored several hits for Dot, including the U.S. #1 single "Young Love" , and to Warner Bros.' chagrin, reporters were primarily asking about the hit record, rather than Hunter's latest Warner movie. In 1958 the studio signed Hunter to its newly formed record division, although his subsequent recordings for the label failed to duplicate his success with Dot.

Warner Bros. agreed to buy Imperial Records in 1956 and although the deal fell apart it marked the breaking of a psychological barrier: if the company was willing to buy another label, why not start its own? To establish the label the company hired former Columbia Records president James B. Conkling; its founding directors of A&R were Harris Ashburn, George Avakian and Bob Prince. Conkling was an able administrator with extensive experience in the industry—he had been instrumental in launching the LP format at Columbia and had played a key role in establishing the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences the previous year. However, Conkling had decidedly middle-of-the-road musical tastes and was thus rather out of step with emerging trends in the industry, especially the fast-growing market for rock'n'roll music.

Warner Bros. Records opened for business on 19 March 1958; its original office was located above the film studio's machine shop at 3701 Warner Boulevard in Burbank, California. Its early album releases (1958–1960) were aimed at the upscale end of the mainstream audience, and Warner Bros. took an early lead in recording stereo LPs that targeted the new "hi-fi" market. The catalogue in this period included:

  • vocal albums by Warner contract players such as Tab Hunter, Edd Byrnes, Connie Stevens, Jack Webb and William Holden
  • novelty/comedy albums by artists such as Spike Jones and Bob Newhart
  • film soundtracks and collections of film and TV themes
  • 'middle of the road' instrumental albums by artists including Matty Matlock, Buddy Cole, Henry Mancini, George Greeley, Warren Barker and "Ira Ironstrings" (a pseudonym for guitarist Alvino Rey, Conkling's brother-in-law, who was in fact under contract to Columbia Records at the time).

Some albums featured jokey or self-deprecating titles such as:
  • Music for People with $3.98 ,
  • Terribly Sophisticated Songs: A Collection of Unpopular Songs for Popular People,
  • Songs the Kids Brought Home from Camp
  • Don't Put Your Empties on the Piano and
  • But You've Never Heard Gershwin With Bongos.

Almost all were commercial failures; and the only charting album in Warner Bros.' first two years was Warren Barker's 'soundtrack' album for the studio's hit series 77 Sunset Strip, which reached #3 in 1959. Tab Hunter's "Jealous Heart" , which reached #62, was Warner Bros. only charting single during its first year.

Early Warner Bros. singles had distinctive red labels, with the WB logo to the side and a number of different-colored arrows surrounding and pointing at the center hole. The first hit was the novelty record "Kookie, Kookie ", which reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was nominally performed by Warner contract actor Edd Byrnes, who played the wisecracking hipster character Gerald Lloyd "Kookie" Kookson III on Warner's TV detective series 77 Sunset Strip. The story behind the recording illustrates the sharp practices often employed by major recording companies. Actress and singer Connie Stevens sang the song's chorus, but although her record contract entitled her to a 5 percent royalty rate, the label arbitrarily defined her contribution to be a favour to Byrnes and assigned her just 1% royalty on the song, despite the fact that, as she soon discovered, her name was being prominently displayed on the single's label. Warner Bros. also charged her for a share of the recording costs, which was to be recouped from her drastically reduced royalty. When Stevens scored her own hit single with "Sixteen Reasons" in 1960, Warner Bros. refused to allow her to perform it on Hawaiian Eye because it was not published by MPHC, and they also prevented her from singing it on The Ed Sullivan Show, thereby robbing her of nationwide promotion (and a $5000 appearance fee).

With only two hits to its credit in two years, the label was in serious financial trouble by 1960, having lost at least US$3 million and music historian Frederick Dannen reports that the only reason it was not closed down was because the Warner board was reluctant to write off the additional $2 million the label was owed in outstanding receivables and inventory. After a restructure, Conkling was obliged to report to Herman Starr, who still loathed the record business; he rejected a buyout offer by Conkling and a group of other record company employees but agreed to keep the label running in exchange for heavy cost-cutting—the staff was reduced from 100 to 30 and Conkling voluntarily cut his own pay from $1000 to $500.

Warner Bros. now turned to rock'n'roll acts in hopes of advancing its sales but their first signing, Bill Haley, was by then past his prime and failed to score any hits. The label was more fortunate with its next signing, The Everly Brothers, whom Warner Bros. secured after the end of their previous contract with Cadence Records. In an uncharacteristically bold move, Herman Starr effectively gambled the future of the company by approving what was reputed to be the first million-dollar contract in music history, which guaranteed the Everly Brothers $525,000 against an escalating royalty rate of up to 7 percent, well above the industry standard of the day. Luckily the Everlys' first Warner Bros. single, "Cathy's Clown" was a smash hit, going to #1 in the U.S. and selling more than eight million copies, and their debut Warner Bros. album It's Everly Time reached #9 on the album chart.

In 1959 Warner Bros. had signed rising standup comedian Bob Newhart, marking the beginning of the label's continuing involvement with comedy. Newhart provided the label's next major commercial breakthrough—in May 1960, three months after the success of "Cathy's Clown", Newhart's debut album The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart went straight to #1 in the U.S., staying at the top for fourteen weeks, charting for more than two years and selling more than 600,000 copies. Capping this commercial success, Newhart scored historic wins in three major categories at the 1961 1961 Grammy Awards -- he won Album of the Year for Button-Down Mind, his quickly released follow-up album, The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back won the Best Comedy Performance - Spoken Word category and Newhart himself won Best New Artist -- the first time in Grammy history that a comedy album had won 'Album of the Year', and the only time a comedian has won 'Best New Artist'.

New staff joined the label in late 1961—Jim Conkling retired in the fall of that year, selecting as his successor John K. Maitland, a former Capitol executive, with Joe Smith appointed as head of promotions. Warner Bros. made another prescient signing in folk group Peter, Paul & Mary. The trio had been on the verge of signing with Atlantic Records, but before the deal could be completed they were poached by Warner Bros.. Artie Mogull (who worked for one of Warner Bros.' publishing companies, Witmark Music) had introduced their manager Albert Grossman to Herman Starr, and as a result the group signed a recording and publishing deal with Warner Bros.. Grossman's deal for the group broke new ground for recording artists—it included a substantial advance of $30,000 and, most significantly, it set a new benchmark for recording contracts by stipulating that the trio would have complete creative control over the recording and packaging of their music.

Soon after, Grossman and Mogull signed a publishing deal that gave Witmark one of its most lucrative clients -- Bob Dylan. Grossman bought out Dylan's previous contract with Leeds Music and signed the then unknown singer-songwriter to Witmark for an advance of $5000. Two years later in 1963, Peter, Paul and Mary scored two consecutive Top 10 hits with Dylan songs, launching Dylan's career, and this was followed by many more hits by artists covering Dylan's songs, alongside the growing commercial success of Dylan himself. Grossman benefited enormously from both deals, because he took a 25% commission as Dylan's manager, and he structured Dylan's publishing deal so that he received 50% of Witmark's share of Dylan's publishing income -- a tactic that was later emulated by other leading artist managers such as David Geffen.

Meanwhile, the label enjoyed further success with comedy recordings. Allan Sherman's LP My Son, the Folk Singer, which satirised the folk boom, became a huge hit, selling over a million copies. Bill Cosby broke through soon after and he continued the label's dream run with comedy LPs into the late 1960s, releasing a string of highly successful albums on Warner Bros. over the next six years, alongside his groundbreaking career as a TV actor.

The label's fortunes had finally turned around by 1962 thanks to the Everly Brothers, Newhart, Peter, Paul & Mary and Allan Sherman, and Warner Bros. Records ended the financial year 1961-62 in the black for the first time since its foundation.

 Warner/Reprise 1963-67
In August 1963 Warner Bros. made a "rescue takeover" of Frank Sinatra's ailing Reprise Records as part of a deal to acquire Sinatra's services as a recording artist and as an actor for Warner Bros. Pictures. The total deal was valued at around US$10 million and it gave Sinatra a one-third share in the combined record company and a seat on the Warner-Reprise board; Warner Bros. records head Mike Maitland became the president of the new combine and Mo Ostin was retained as manager of the Reprise label.

Reprise was heavily in debt at the time of the takeover, and the Warner Records management team was reportedly dismayed at their balance sheet being pushed back into the red by the acquisition, but they were given no choice in the matter—Ben Kalmenson, a Warner Bros. company director and close aide to Jack Warner, summoned the label's directors to a meeting in New York and explicitly told them that both he and Warner wanted the deal and that they expected them to vote in favor of it.

Despite these misgivings, the purchase ultimately proved very beneficial to the Warner group. Reprise flourished in the late 1960s thanks to Sinatra's famous "comeback" and the hits by Sinatra and his daughter Nancy, and the label also secured the U.S. distribution rights to the recordings of Jimi Hendrix. Most importantly for the future of the company, the merger brought Reprise manager Mo Ostin into the Warner fold and "his ultimate value to Warner Bros. would dwarf Sinatra's". Ostin's business and musical instincts and his rapport with artists were to prove crucial to the success of the Warner labels over the next two decades.

In 1964, Warner Bros. would start Loma Records, which was meant to focus on R&B acts. The label, run by former King Records promotion man Bob Krasnow, would release over 100 singles and five albums, but saw only limited success and was wound down in 1968.

An important addition to the Warner Bros. staff in this period was Ed Thrasher who moved from Columbia Records in 1964 to become Warner-Reprise head art director. Among his credits for the Warner family of labels were the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Are You Experienced, Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, the Grateful Dead’s Anthem of the Sun, the Doobie Brothers’ Toulouse Street, Tiny Tim’s God Bless Tiny Tim and Joni Mitchell's Clouds, which started a trend for musicians to create the art for their own records. In 1973, when Frank Sinatra emerged from retirement with his comeback album, Thrasher shot candid photographs for the cover and also devised the album title Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back, which was widely used to promote Sinatra’s return to recording and touring. Besides his work on album covers, Thrasher art-directed many of Warner Bros. ads and posters from 1964 to 1979.

In 1964, Warner Bros. successfully negotiated with French label Disques Vogue and Warner Bros.' British distributor Pye Records for the rights to distribute Petula Clark's recordings in the US. Clark soon scored a #1 US hit with "Downtown" and she enjoyed consistent chart success in the USA over the next four years with hits such as "My Love", "I Know A Place", "I Couldn't Live Without Your Love", "This Is My Song" and "Don't Sleep In The Subway". Warner also released other Pye artists in the U.S. market such as The Kinks.

Another significant development in the label's history came in 1966 when Ostin hired young independent producer Lenny Waronker as an A&R manager, beginning a strong and enduring mentor/protege relationship between the two. Waronker, the son of Liberty Records founder Simon Waronker, had previously worked as an assistant to Liberty producer Snuff Garrett. Later he worked with the small Los Angeles label Autumn Records, founded by disc jockeys Tom Donahue, Bobby Mitchell and Sylvester Stewart . Waronker had been hired as a freelance producer for some of Autumn's acts including The Tikis , The Beau Brummels and The Mojo Men and for these recording sessions he brought in several musician friends who were then becoming established on the L.A. music scene—pianists Randy Newman , Leon Russell and Van Dyke Parks. Together they became the foundation of the creative circle that centred on Waronker at Warner Bros. and which, with Ostin's continuing support, became the catalyst for Warner Records' subsequent success as a rock music label. Initially, Waronker looked after the acts that Warner Bros. took over when they bought Autumn Records for $10,000, but during the year he also avidly pursued rising Los Angeles band Buffalo Springfield although, much to his and Ostin's chagrin, the band was ultimately signed by Atlantic Records, which was soon to be purchased by Warner Bros. Records.

In 1967 Warner Bros. took over Valiant Records, and this added harmony pop group The Association to the Warner roster. During the year the label also took its first tentative step into the burgeoning rock market, signing leading San Francisco psychedelic rock group The Grateful Dead. Warner Bros. threw the band a release party at the Fugazi Hall in San Francisco's North Beach. During the concert Warner A&R manager Joe Smith took the stage and announced "I just want to say what an honor it is to be able to introduce The Grateful Dead and its music and its music to the world", which prompted a cynical Jerry Garcia to quip in reply: "I just want to say what an honor it is for The Grateful Dead to introduce Warner Bros. Records to the world."

Also in 1967, Warner/Reprise established its Canadian operation Warner Reprise Canada Ltd replacing its distribution deal with the Compo Company. This was the origin of Warner Music Canada.

 1967-1969: Warner-Seven Arts
In November 1966 the entire Warner group was taken over by and merged with Seven Arts Productions, a New York-based company owned by Elliot Hyman. Seven Arts specialized in syndicating old movies and cartoons to TV and had independently produced a number of significant feature films for other studios, including Stanley Kubrick's Lolita, as well as forging a successful production partnership with noted British studio Hammer Films. Hyman's purchase of Jack Warner's controlling share of the Warner group for US$32 million stunned the film world—Warner Records executive Joe Smith later quipped that it was

... as if the Pasadena News bought The New York Times. As ludicrous as that."

The newly merged group was renamed Warner Bros.-Seven Arts (often referred to in the trade press by the abbreviation it adopted for its new logo, "W7"). Although Warner Bros. Pictures was faltering, the purchase coincided with a period of tremendous growth in the music industry and Warner-Reprise was now on its way to becoming a major player in the industry. Hyman's investment banker Alan Hirshfeld, of Charles Allen and Company, urged him to expand the company's record holdings and arranged a meeting with Jerry Wexler and Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, co-owners of leading independent label Atlantic Records, which eventually resulted in the purchase of Atlantic in 1968.

In June 1967 Mo Ostin attended the historic Monterey International Pop Festival, where The Association performed the opening set. Ostin had already acquired the US rights to the Jimi Hendrix Experience recordings, sight unseen, but he was reportedly unimpressed by Hendrix's now-famous performance. During his visit he met Andy Wickham, who had come to Monterey as an assistant to festival promoter Lou Adler. Wickham had worked as a commercial artist in London, followed by a stint with Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate Records before moving to Los Angeles to work for Adler's Dunhill label. Ostin initially hired Wickham as Warner's "house hippie" on a generous retainer of $200 per week. Hanging out around Laurel Canyon, Wickham scouted for new talent and established a rapport with the young musicians WBR was seeking to sign. Like Lenny Waronker, Wickham's youth, intelligence and hip attitude allowed him to bridge the 'generation gap between these young performers and the older Warner 'establishment'. He played a major role in signing Eric Andersen, Jethro Tull and Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell , whom Wickham successfully recommended to Ostin in his first week with the company. Over the next thirty years Wickham became one of WBR's most influential A&R managers, signing such notable acts as Emmylou Harris, Buck Owens and Norwegian pop trio a-ha.

During this formative period WBR made several other notable new signings including Randy Newman and Van Dyke Parks. Newman would not make his commercial breakthrough until the mid-1970s but he achieved a high profile in the industry thanks to songs he wrote that were covered by other acts like Three Dog Night and Alan Price. Although Warner Bros. spent large sums on albums that sold poorly, and there were some missteps in its promotion strategy, the presence of unorthodox acts like the Dead and critically acclaimed 'cult' performers like Newman and Parks, combined with the artistic freedom that the label afforded them, proved significant in building Warner Bros' reputation and credibility. Bob Krasnow, who briefly headed Warner Bros.' short-lived 'black' label Loma Records later commented that the Dead " .... were really the springboard. People said 'Wow, if they'll sign the Dead, they must be going in the right direction.'"

Although not widely known to the general public at that time, Van Dyke Parks was a figure of high repute on the L.A. music scene thanks to his work as a session musician and songwriter (notably with The Byrds and Harper's Bizarre) and especially because of his renowned collaboration with Brian Wilson on the legendary unreleased Beach Boys album Smile. In 1967 Lenny Waronker produced Parks' Warner debut album Song Cycle, which reportedly cost more than $35,000 to record, making it one of the most expensive 'pop' albums ever made up to that time. It sold very poorly despite rave critical reviews, so publicist Stan Cornyn wrote an infamous tongue-in-cheek advertisement to promote it. The ad cheekily declared that the label had "lost $35,509 on 'the album of the year' ", suggested that those who had purchased the album had probably worn their copies out by playing it over and over, and made the offer that listeners could send these supposedly worn-out copies back to Warner Bros, who would exchange it for two new copies, including one "to educate a friend with". Incensed by the tactic, Parks accused Cornyn of trying to kill his career. Cornyn encountered similar problems with Joni Mitchell—he penned an advertisement that was meant to convey the message that Mitchell was yet to achieve significant market penetration, but the tag-line -- "Joni Mitchell is 90% Virgin" -- reportedly reduced Mitchell to tears and Cornyn had to withdraw it from publication.

Warner Bros. also struggled with their flagship rock act The Grateful Dead who, like Peter, Paul & Mary, had negotiated complete artistic control over the recording and packaging of their music. Their debut album had been recorded in just four days, and although it was not a major hit, it cracked the US Top 50 album chart and sold steadily, eventually going gold in 1971. For their second album, the Dead took a far more experimental approach, embarking on a marathon series of recording sessions lasting seven months, from September 1967 to March 1968. They started the album with David Hassinger, who had produced their first album, but he quit the project in frustration in December 1967 while they were recording in New York City (although he is co-credited with band on the album). The group and their concert sound engineer Dan Healy then took over production of the album themselves, taking the unusual step of intermixing studio material with multitrack recordings of their concerts. Anthem of the Sun proved to be the least successful of the Grateful Dead's 1960s albums—it sold poorly, the extended sessions put the band more than $100,000 in debt to the label, and Warner Bros. executive Joe Smith later described it as "the most unreasonable project with which we have ever involved ourselves".

The Dead's relationship with Warner Bros. Records was stretched even further by the making of their third album Aoxomoxoa , which also took around seven months to record and cost $180,000, almost twice as much as its predecessor. It sold poorly and took almost thirty years to be accredited with Gold Record status. There were further difficulties in 1969 when the band presented Warner Bros. with a planned live double-album that they wanted to call Skull Fuck, but Ostin handled the matter diplomatically. Rather than refusing point-blank to release it, he reminded the Dead that they were heavily in debt to WBR and would not see any royalties until this had been repaid; he also pointed out that the provocative title would inevitably hurt sales because major retailers like Sears would refuse to stock it. Realizing that this would reduce their income, the band voluntarily changed the title to Live/Dead.

Some of Warner Bros.' biggest commercial successes during this period were with "Sunshine Pop" acts. Harpers Bizarre scored a #13 Billboard hit in April 1967 with their version of Simon & Garfunkel's "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)" and a month later The Association scored a US #1 with "Windy" and they reached #8 on the album chart with their first WBR album Insight Out. Their next single "Never My Love" also topped the charts in autumn 1967 (#2 Billboard, #1 Cashbox) and now ranks as one of the most successful of all Warner Bros. recordings—it became a radio staple and is now accredited by BMI as the second most-played song on US radio in the 20th century, surpassing both "Yesterday" by The Beatles and "Stand by Me" by Ben E. King. The group's 1968 Greatest Hits album was also a major hit, reaching #4 on the US album chart. In 1968 Mason Williams' instrumental composition "Classical Gas" reached #2 on the Billboard chart, selling more than a million copies, and Williams won three Grammys that year.

Another notable Warner release from this period was Astral Weeks, the second solo album by Van Morrison , who signed with the label in 1968. Although it sold relatively poorly on its first release it has been widely acclaimed by musicians and critics worldwide, has featured prominently on many "Best Albums of All Time" lists and has remained in release almost continuously since 1968.

During 1968, using the profits from Warner/Reprise, W7 purchased Atlantic Records for $17.5 million, including the label's valuable archive, its growing roster of new artists and the services of its three renowned executives, Jerry Wexler, Nesuhi Ertegun and Ahmet Ertegun. However, the purchase again caused rancour among the Warner/Reprise management, who were upset that their hard-won profits had been co-opted to buy Atlantic, and that Atlantic's executives were made large shareholders in Warner-Seven Arts—the deal gave the Ertegun brothers and Wexler between them 66,000 shares of Warner Bros.' common stock.

On 1 June 1968 Billboard announced that WBR's star comedy performer Bill Cosby had turned down a five-year, US$3.5 million contract renewal offer and would leave the label in August that year to record for his own Tetragrammaton Records label. Just over one month later Billboard reported on a major re-organization of the entire Warner-Seven Arts music division. Mike Maitland was promoted to Executive Vice-President of both the recorded music and publishing operations, and George Lee took over from Victor Blau as operational head of the recording division. The restructure also reversed the reporting arrangement put in place in 1960 and from this point the Warner publishing arm reported to the record division under Maitland. The Billboard article also noted the enormous growth and vital significance of W7's music operations, which were by then providing most of Warner-Seven Arts' revenue—during the first nine months of that fiscal year, the recording and publishing divisions generated 74% of the corporation's total profit, with the publishing division alone accounting for over US$2 million of ASCAPs collections from music users.

 1969-71: Kinney takeover
In 1969 Warner-Seven Arts was taken over by the Kinney National Company, headed by New York businessman Steve J. Ross, who would successfully lead the Warner group of companies until his death in 1992. The US$400 million deal created a new conglomerate that combined the Warner film, recording and music publishing divisions with Kinney's multi-faceted holdings. Ross had started the company in the late 1950s while working in his family's funeral business—seeing the opportunity to use the company's cars, which were idle at night, he founded a successful hire car operation, which he later merged with the Kinney parking garage company. Ross took the company public in 1962 and from this base it expanded rapidly between 1966 and 1968, merging with National Cleaning Services in 1966 to form the Kinney National Company, and then acquiring a string of companies that would prove of enormous value to the Warner group in the years ahead -- National Periodical Publications , the Ashley-Famous talent agency and Panavision.

In the summer of 1969 Atlantic Records agreed to assist Warner Bros. Records in establishing overseas divisions but when Warner executive Phil Rose arrived in Australia to begin setting up an Australian subsidiary, he discovered that just one week earlier Atlantic had signed a new four-year production and distribution deal with local label Festival Records, without informing WBR.

During 1969 the rivalry between Mike Maitland and Ahmet Ertegun quickly escalated into an all-out executive battle, but Steve Ross favoured Ertegun and the conflict culminated in Maitland being dismissed from his position on 25 January 1970. He declined an offer of a job with Warner Bros. Pictures and left the company, subsequently becoming president of MCA Records. Mo Ostin was appointed as president of Warner Bros. Records with Joe Smith as executive vice-president.

 1970-1979: The Ostin Era
By 1970, "Seven Arts" was dropped from the company name and the WB shield became the Warner Bros. Records logo again. During 1971 a financial scandal in its parking operations forced Kinney National to spin off its non-entertainment assets, and the Warner recording, publishing and film divisions then became part of a new umbrella company, Warner Communications Inc..

In July 1970 the Warner recording group acquired another prestige asset with the purchase of Jac Holzman's Elektra Records for US$10 million. With three co-owned record companies, the next step was formation of the group's in-house distribution arm, initially called Kinney Records Distributing Corporation, to better control distribution of product and make sure records by breaking new acts are available.

Beginning in 1967 with the signing of The Grateful Dead, Warner Bros. Records steadily built up a diverse and prestigious lineup of rock and pop artists through the 1970s. Under the guidance of Edward West, Vice-President of Warner Bros. Records Inc in 1973 and its executives, A&R managers and staff producers, including Mo Ostin, Stan Cornyn, Lenny Waronker, Andy Wickham, Russ Titelman and ex-Warner Bros. recording artist Ted Templeman, sales grew streadily throughout the 1970s and by the end of the decade it had become one of the world's leading rock labels, with a star-studded roster that included Curved Air, Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor, Van Morrison, America, Alice Cooper, Van Halen, The Doobie Brothers, Little Feat, Bonnie Raitt, Seals & Crofts, Labelle and Rickie Lee Jones. This was augmented by lucrative licencing deals with American and international labels including Sire, Vertigo and Island Records (1975–1982) that gave WBR the American distribution rights for leading British and European rock acts including Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath, Roxy Music, King Crimson and Kraftwerk. Aided by the growth of FM radio and the album oriented rock format, LPs became the primary vehicle of Warner Bros. sales successes throughout the 1970s, although artists such as the Doobie Brothers and America also scored many major US and international hit singles.

One of the first Warner Bros. albums to achieve both critical and commercial success in the early 1970s was Van Morrison's third solo LP Moondance which consolidated his distinctive blend of rock, jazz and R&B, earned glowing critical praise and sold well—it made the Top 40 album chart in both the US and the UK, the single "Come Running" was a US Top 40 hit (#39, Billboard) and the title track became a radio perennial. Like Astral Weeks, the LP still features prominently in many "Best Albums of All Time" listings and 40 years after its release it still ranks in the Top 20 in three major album sales categories on Amazon.com.

British group Black Sabbath were signed to Philips Records' progressive subsidiary Vertigo, which Warner Bros. Records distributed in the USA; Deep Purple were originally signed in the USA to the independent Tetragrammaton Records, which was distributed by Warner Bros., who acquired the label after it folded in 1970. Black Sabbath's eponymous debut album reached #8 on the UK album chart, and #23 on the Billboard 200, where it remained for over a year, selling strongly despite some negative reviews. It has since been certified platinum in the US by the Recording Industry Association of America and in the UK by British Phonographic Industry . Sabbath's second album was to have been called War Pigs, but Warner Bros. Records changed the title to Paranoid fearing a backlash by consumers. It was a Top 10 hit on the US album chart in 1971, and went on to sell four million copies in the US alone with virtually no radio airplay.

In 1971 UK-based pop rock trio America were signed to the recently established British division of Warner Bros. Their debut album, released late in the year, at first enjoyed only moderate success, but in early 1972 their single "A Horse With No Name" became a major international hit, reaching #1 in the US. Warner hastily reissued the album with the song included and it too became a huge hit, reaching #1 on the US album chart and eventually earning a platinum record award. Although criticised for their similarity to Neil Young , America scored five more US Top 10 singles over the next three years, including a second US #1 with "Sister Golden Hair" in 1975. Their albums performed very strongly in the charts—each of their first seven LPs were US Top 40 albums, five of these made the Top 10 and all but one achieved either gold or platinum status. Their 1975 Greatest Hits album became a perennial seller and is now accredited at 4x platinum.

In 1972, Dionne Warwick was signed to Warner Bros. Records after leaving Scepter Records in what was the biggest contract at the time for a female recording artist, although her five years at Warner Bros. were relatively unsuccessful in comparison to her spectacular hit-making tenure at Scepter.

After a slow start The Doobie Brothers proved to be one of Warner Bros.' most successful signings. Their debut album made little impact but their second album Toulouse Street reached #21 and spawned two US Top 40 singles, "Listen to the Music" and "Jesus is Just Alright", inaugurating a string of hit albums and singles over the next five years. Their third album The Captain and Me was even more successful, reaching #7 in the US and producing two more hit singles, "China Grove" (#15) and "Long Train Runnin'" (#8); it became a consistent seller and is now accredited 2x Platinum by the RIAA. What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits reached #4 and produced two more hits including their first US #1 single "Black Water" . Stampede also reached #4, and producing another hit single with the Motown cover "Take Me in Your Arms " (US #11).

Warner Bros. Records' reputation for nurturing new artists was demonstrated by the career of Alice Cooper . The Alice Cooper band recorded two unsuccessful albums for Frank Zappa's Warner-distributed label Straight Records before teaming with producer Bob Ezrin, who became a longtime collaborator. Their third LP Love it to Death reached #35 on the Billboard album chart and produced the hit single "I'm Eighteen", which reached #21. Following the runaway success of their 1971 European tour Warner Bros. Records offered the band a multi-album contract; their first Warner Bros. album Killer sold well, with the single "Halo of Flies" making the Top 10 in the Netherlands, but it was their next album School's Out that really put them on the map. The title song was a Top 10 hit in the US, reached #1 in the UK and became a radio staple, and the album went to #2 in the USA and sold more than a million copies. Billion Dollar Babies became their biggest success, going to #1 in both the US and the UK. The follow-up Muscle of Love was less successful, although the single "Teenage Lament '74" was a Top 20 hit in the UK. Furnier split from the band in 1974 and signed to Warner Bros.' sister label Atlantic as a solo artist, scoring further success with his solo albums and singles.

In 1973 Frank Zappa and manager Herb Cohen closed the Straight and Bizarre labels and established a new imprint, DiscReet Records, retaining their distribution deal with Warner Bros. Zappa's next album Apostrophe (') became the biggest commercial success of his career, reaching #10 on the Billboard album chart, and the single "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow" was a minor hit and his only single to make the Hot 100 chart. Zappa also enjoyed moderate commercial success with the live double LP Roxy and Elsewhere and his next studio LP One Size Fits All , both of which reached the Top 30 on the Billboard album chart.

WBR introduced a new label design for its LPs and singles in mid-1973. This design, which WBR would use until mid-1978, featured a multi-coloured, idealised view of a Burbank street lined by palms and eucalypts, and titled with the slogan "Burbank, Home of Warner Bros. Records".

After several years as a 'cult' artist, Randy Newman achieved his first significant commercial success as a solo artist with his 1974 album Good Old Boys which made the Top 40. His controversial 1977 single "Short People" was one of the surprise hits of the year, reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. On October 12, 1974 WBR and Phil Spector established Warner-Spector Records, but the label was short-lived and folded in 1977; most of its releases were reissues Philles Records recordings from the 1960s and the only new material released was two singles by the disco group Calhoon and a single by Cher.

In 1975 Joe Smith was promoted to become President of the combined Elektra/Asylum label. At this time Warner Bros. began to wind down the Reprise label. In 1976-77 almost all Reprise acts, including Fleetwood Mac, Gordon Lightfoot, Ry Cooder and Michael Franks were transferred to Warner Bros, leaving only Neil Young and founder Frank Sinatra. Apart from these artists and some reissues, the Reprise label was dormant until it was reactivated in 1988.

By far the most successful of the Reprise acts who moved to Warner Bros. was Fleetwood Mac, whose massive success firmly established Warner Bros. in the front rank of major labels—although few would have predicted it from the band's tumultuous history. Between 1970 and 1975 there were multiple lineup changes , their album sales declined drastically, and a legal battle over the group's name kept them off the road for over a year. However, just as Fleetwood Mac was switching labels in 1975, it was re-invigorated by the recruitment of new members Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. The 'new' Fleetwood Mac scored a string of US and international hits and their self-titled Warner Bros. debut album was a huge success, reaching #1 in the US, charting for more than 30 weeks and selling more than 5 million copies. In 1977 their now-legendary Rumours took both group and label to even greater heights—it generated a string of international hit singles and became the most successful album in the label's history; it is currently ranked the 11th biggest selling album of all time and as of 2009 was estimated to have sold than 40 million copies.

After a string of albums with The Faces and as a solo artist for Mercury Records in the early 1970s, British singer Rod Stewart signed with Warner Bros. in 1974, applied for American citizenship and moved to the USA. Launching a sustained run of success, his Warner debut album Atlantic Crossing was a major international success, reaching #9 on the Billboard album chart and #1 in Australia, and the single "I Don't Want to Talk About It" went to #1 in the UK. His second WBR album A Night on the Town went to #2 in the USA and #1 in Australia and produced three US Top 40 singles, including his first US #1 "Tonight's the Night". Foot Loose & Fancy Free reached #2 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart and #1 in Australia and again produced three US Top 40 singles, including "You're In My Heart", which reached #4. Blondes Have More Fun went to #1 in the USA and Australia, and produced two more Top 40 singles including his second US #1, "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" (although Stewart and co-writer Carmine Appice were later successfully sued for plagiarizing the song's catchy melody hook from "Taj Mahal" by Brazilian songwriter Jorge Ben). Stewart's Greatest Hits collection went to #1 in the UK and Australia, giving the singer a record-breaking five consecutive #1 albums in the latter country.

Warner Bros. Records also had unexpected success in the mid-70s with another 'heritage' act, veteran vocal group The Four Seasons. In early 1975 they signed with Curb Records just as lead singer Frankie Valli scored a surprise hit with his independently released solo single "My Eyes Adored You". Soon after, Valli and the Four Seasons burst back onto the charts with the disco-styled "Who Loves You", which reached #3 in the US and sold more than a million copies, and the album Who Loves You sold more than 1 million copies. Their next single "December, 1963 " topped the charts in both Britain and the US in early 1976, becoming the group's first US #1 since 1967. A remixed version was a hit again in 1994 and its total of 54 weeks in charts gives it the longest tenure of any song on the Billboard Hot 100.

By the time of The Doobie Brothers 1976 album Takin' It to the Streets founding member Tom Johnston had effectively left the band and he was replaced by former Steely Dan session man Michael McDonald, whose distinctive voice helped to propel the group to even greater success. The new album sold strongly, reaching #8 in the US, and the title track reached #13 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming a perennial on radio playlists. Warner Bros. also released the massively successful Best of the Doobies , which has become one of the biggest-selling albums of all time and is currently accredited at 10x Platinum status. 1978's Minute by Minute marked the peak of their career—both the album and its lead single "What A Fool Believes" went to #1 in the US and the album's title track also made the US Top 20, although it was their last album with founding drummer John Hartman and longserving guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter.

During the late 1970s Warner Bros.' reputation as the "artists first" label was challenged by a bitter and long-running dispute with Frank Zappa. In 1976 Zappa split from manager Herb Cohen and started legal proceedings against him, but this stopped him from getting access to recordings he had made immediately prior to the suit, so for his new album Zoot Allures he by-passed DiscReet and took his own copy of the master directly to Warner Bros., who released it on the Warner Bros. label. Zappa's relationship with Warner soon turned sour, however; he was contracted to deliver four more albums to Discreet/Warner and to fulfil this obligation he sequenced four new releases but Warner Bros. rejected the tapes and refused to reimburse Zappa for his production costs. Zappa then re-sequenced the material into an ambitious multi-LP set entitled Läther (pronounced 'leather') which encapsulated all the facets of his music, ranging from straight-ahead rock songs to challenging avant garde orchestral pieces. Believing that Warner Bros. had breached their contract, he made an independent deal with Mercury-Phonogram for a Halloween 1977 release, but Warner Bros. then took legal action to prevent it. Infuriated, Zappa then made a special appearance on radio station KROQ-FM in Pasadena, California, and hosted a broadcast of the entire album in sequence, during which he repeatedly criticized Warner Bros. and openly encouraged listeners to record the broadcast, resulting in numerous bootlegs. Warner Bros. then took further legal action against him, preventing him from issuing any new material for over a year. During the late 1970s, and against Zappa's wishes, Warner Bros. issued the disputed material as the albums Zappa in New York , Studio Tan, Sleep Dirt and Orchestral Favorites. Ultimately though, Zappa emerged as the victor, winning back the rights to both his MGM-Verve recordings from the '60s and all the Straight/Bizarre/DiscReet/Warner Bros. material from the 1970s, but he remained trenchantly critical of his treatment by Warner Bros. for the rest of his life. All of Zappa's recordings were subsequently reissued through his own label Barking Pumpkin, including Läther, which was posthumously released as a 3-CD set in 1996.

Ry Cooder's first Warner Bros. release was the 1977 live album Showtime and he remained with the label until his contract expired in the late 1980s. His 1979 album Bop 'Til You Drop is notable the first major-label rock recording to be digitally recorded and it became the best-selling album of his career.

Thanks to its distribution deal with Curb Records, WBR scored the biggest hit single in the company's history in 1977. The ballad "You Light Up My Life" was originally recorded by the late Kasey Cisyk for the soundtrack to the film of the same name, in which actress Didi Conn lip-synched to Cisyk's recording. Teenager Debby Boone (daughter of actor-singer Pat Boone) was recruited to record a new version for single release, and this became a massive success, topping the Billboard Hot 100 for a record-setting ten consecutive weeks and earning a Platinum certification from the RIAA. It became the most successful single of the 1970s in the United States, setting what was then a new record for longest run at #1 in the US and surpassing Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog". Boone's success also earned her Grammy nominations for "Best Pop Vocal Performance Female" and "Record of the Year" and won her the 1977 Grammy for "Best New Artist" and the 1977 American Music Award for "Favorite Pop Single". The song also earned Joe Brooks the 1977 "Song of the Year" Grammy (tied with "Love Theme from "A Star Is Born" ") as well as "Best Original Song" at both the 1977 Golden Globe and Academy Awards. The single currently ranks at #7 on the Billboard All Time Hot 100.

Throughout the 1970s Warner Bros. also benefited from its US/Canada distribution deals with independent labels such as Straight Records, DiscReet Records, UK labels Chrysalis (1972–1976) and Island (1974–1982), Bizarre Records, Bearsville Records (1970–1984) and Geffen Records .

Although primarily associated with mainstream 'white' acts in the Seventies, Warner Bros.' distribution deals with smaller labels also brought it some success in the disco, soul and funk genres in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Among the imprints it distributed that were notable in these fields were Seymour Stein's Sire Records , Curtis Mayfield's Curtom, Norman Whitfield's Whitfield Records, Quincy Jones' Qwest, Prince's Paisley Park, RFC Records (formed in December 1978 when Ray Caviano became the executive director of Warner's disco division), Tom Silverman's Tommy Boy Records .

Until the late 1970s Warner Bros. itself still had very few African American music artists on its roster, but this began to change during with the singing of artists such as George Benson and Prince. Benson had risen to prominence in jazz in the 1960s but was still relatively little-known by the general public. However, his move to Warner Bros. in 1976 and the teaming with producer Tommy LiPuma enabled him to straddle genres and made him a popular and highly successful mainstream R&B and pop artist. His first Warner Bros. LP Breezin became one of the most successful jazz albums of the decade and a major 'crossover' hit—it topped the American Pop, R&B and Jazz album charts and produced two hit singles, the title track and "This Masquerade," which was a Top 10 pop and R&B hit. Benson enjoyed enormous success with his subsequent Warner albums. All of his Warner LPs made the Top 20 on the US jazz album chart and beginning with Breezin, he scored seven consecutive US #1 jazz albums; the first five of these were also Top 20 hits on both the Pop and R&B charts. His live version of Leiber & Stoller's "On Broadway" outcharted the original version by The Drifters, reaching #7 on the Billboard Hot 100, and gained further exposure thanks to its memorable use in the famous audition sequence in Bob Fosse's 1979 film All That Jazz. Benson's most successful single "Give Me The Night" became his first US #1 R&B hit, reached #4 on the Pop chart and also reached #2 on the Hot Disco Singles chart.

Precocious young Minneapolis-based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Prince signed to Warner Bros. in 1977. His first album For You made little impact, although the single "Soft and Wet" reached #12 on the Billboard R&B chart. However, his second (self-titled) album fared considerably better, reaching #3 on the R&B album chart and earning a gold record award; the first single lifted from the album, "I Wanna Be Your Lover" became Prince's first crossover hit, reaching #1 on the R&B chart and #11 on the main pop chart, while the follow-up single "Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?" reached #13 on the R&B chart. Although he was still little known outside the USA at this stage, this early success set the stage for his major commercial breakthrough in the 1980s.

Another valuable late '70s discovery was metal-pop band Van Halen, who were spotted at a Hollywood club by Mo Ostin and Ted Templeman in 1977. Their self-titled debut album was a notable success, reaching #19 on the Billboard album chart, and their second album Van Halen II reached #6 and produced their first hit single "Dance the Night Away" (#19).

Warner Bros. also began to tentatively embrace the burgeoning New Wave movement in the late 1970s, signing cult alternative bands Devo and The B-52s. A crucial acquisition in this field—and one which would soon proved to be of enormous importance to the company—was the New York-based Sire Records, founded in 1966 by Seymour Stein and Richard Gottehrer. Warner Bros. took over Sire's distribution from ABC Records in 1977 and bought the label in 1978, retaining Stein as its president. The addition of the Sire roster gave Warner Bros. an important foothold in this area (indeed, Stein is often credited with naming the genre to replace the term "punk", which he disliked); its American signings included The Ramones, The Dead Boys, and Talking Heads and most importantly of all, Madonna, who soon became the most successful female artist in music history, earning billions for Warner. Sire's distribution deals with British independent labels including Mute, Rough Trade, Korova and Fiction gave WEA the American rights to important UK-based New Wave bands including Depeche Mode, The Smiths, The Beat, Madness, Echo & the Bunnymen and The Cure. Into the 1990s, the label had continued success with Seal, k.d. lang, Tommy Page, Ice-T and Ministry.

In the late '70s Warner Bros. also scored mainstream pop hits with singer/actor Shaun Cassidy -- his version of "Da Doo Ron Ron" went to #1 in the US in 1977, his next two singles were US Top 10 hits and Cassidy was nominated for a Grammy award. As the decade drew to a close there were more breakthroughs with new acts. Rickie Lee Jones' self-titled debut album went to #3 in the US, #1 in Australia and #18 in the UK and produced two hit singles, "Chuck E's in Love" (US #4) and "Young Blood" (US #40). Thanks to its American distribution deal with Vertigo, British group Dire Straits provided another sustained run of hit albums and singles in the late 1970s and 1980s. Their eponymous debut album was a surprise international hit, going to #2 in the USA and earning a gold record award from the RIAA, while the single "Sultans of Swing" went to #4 in the US. Their second album Communiqué made the Top 20 in many countries and earned another gold record award in the U.S. WBR also enjoyed renewed success with comedy recordings in this period, transferring Richard Pryor from Reprise and signing rising star Steve Martin, whose second Warner album A Wild and Crazy Guy became one of the label's biggest comedy hits—it reached #2 on the pop album chart, won the 1979 Grammy for 'Best Comedy Album', and Martin's novelty single "King Tut" was a US Top 20 hit.

The 1980s was a period of unprecedented success for Warner Bros. Records. The golden decade began with the success of singer-songwriter Christopher Cross, whose self-titled debut album went to #6 in the US and produced four charting singles, including the #1 hit "Sailing". He also won five major categories at the 1981 Grammy Awards, becoming the only solo artist to date to win the "Big Four" awards in one year while his performance of "Arthur's Theme" from the Dudley Moore film Arthur, which also went to #1, won both the Oscar and the Golden Globe award for Best Original Song.

Warner Bros. scored an apparent coup in 1980 by luring Paul Simon away from Columbia Records. His first Warner album was One Trick Pony , which accompanied the movie of the same name, which Simon wrote and starred in. The single "Late in the Evening" was a major hit (#6) but the album was not a big seller. His next album Hearts and Bones was well received by critics but neither it nor the lead single "Allergies" made the chart and Simon's career took a nosedive and it was several more years before the label's patience eventually paid off.

After two moderate-selling albums that established them as one of the most original American New Wave bands of the period, DEVO broke through to mainstream success in 1980 with their third album Freedom of Choice which reached #22 in the US. Thanks to its quirky music video, which was put on high rotation on MTV, the single "Whip It" reached #14 on the Billboard pop chart, becoming the group's biggest American hit. Their follow-up EP DEV-O Live was a surprise hit in Australia, topping the singles chart there for three weeks, but their subsequent albums and singles suffered from declining sales and the group was eventually dropped by the label after their 1984 album Shout.

Prince's 1980 album Dirty Mind was widely praised by critics, earning a gold record award, but his 1982 double-LP 1999 became his first major hit album, selling over three million copies and spawning three hit singles. The title track reached #12 in the US and provided his first international hit (#25 UK) and his next two singles, "Little Red Corvette" and "Delirious", were both US Top 10 hits.

Chicago were picked up by Warner Bros. in 1981 after being dropped by their former label Columbia, who believed the band was no longer commercially viable. After teaming with producer David Foster, they shot back into the charts in 1982 with the album Chicago 16, which reached #9 and produced two hit singles including the US #1 hit "Hard To Say I'm Sorry". Their second Warner album, Chicago 17, became the biggest seller of their career—it reached #4 in the US and produced four US Top 20 singles including the Top 5 hits "Hard Habit to Break" (#3) and "You're the Inspiration" (#3) and is currently accredited at 6× Platinum. Lead singer Peter Cetera left the group after this album but had continued success as a solo artist for Warner, scoring a #1 hit in 1986 with "The Glory of Love" , which also won a Grammy Award. His second solo album sold more than a million copies and produced another #1 hit, "The Next Time I Fall". His third solo album produced the Top 5 hit "One Good Woman" and "After All" reached #6.

After the end of his contract with RSO Records and Polydor, Eric Clapton signed to Warner Bros. in 1982. His first WBR album, Money and Cigarettes , reached #16 on the Billboard album chart, and the single "I've Got A Rock'N'Roll Heart" reached #18 on the Billboard Hot 100. His next album Behind the Sun also fared well, reaching #34 and the hit single "Forever Man" went to #26, but he transferred to Reprise for his next release.

Another resurgent 1970s act who scored major success with Warner Bros. in this period was ZZ Top, who had previously been signed to London Records. During an extended break in the late '70s the group gained ownership of their London recordings and signed with Warner Bros, who also re-issued their back-catalogue. Their first two Warner albums Deguello and El Loco were moderately successful, but Eliminator became a major hit thanks to strong support for their music videos on MTV. They scored three US hit singles including "Legs" (US #8), while the album reached #9 on the Billboard 200 and sold in huge numbers, earning a Diamond record award in 1996. Afterburner went to #4 and produced seven hit singles, including "Sleeping Bag" (#8).

Sire artist Madonna shot to international prominence with her 1983 self-titled debut album and her first mainstream hit single "Holiday", which reached #16 in the US and became a hit in many other countries, including Australia and the UK, where it was Top 5. The album made the Top 20 in more than a dozen countries including the USA, where it has been certified at 5× Platinum status. It was quickly followed by Like A Virgin, which became her first US #1 album and was sold more than 21 million copies worldwide. The title track was also a huge international hit, going to #1 in Australia, Canada, Japan and the USA. Boosted by her well-received role in the film Desperately Seeking Susan, "Crazy For You" became her second US #1 hit, and the follow-up Material Girl reached #2 in the USA and was Top 5 in many other countries.

Prince's hugely successful 1984 film and album Purple Rain cemented his stardom, selling more than thirteen million copies in the U.S. and spending twenty-four consecutive weeks at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart, while the Purple Rain film won the Academy Award for "Best Original Song Score" and grossed more than $80 million in the US. Singles from the album became hits on pop charts around the world; "When Doves Cry" and "Let's Go Crazy" both reached #1 and the title track reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, the sexually explicit album track "Darling Nikki" generated a major controversy that had lasting effects—when politician's wife Tipper Gore heard her 12-year-old daughter listening to the song and investigated the lyrics, her outrage led to the formation of the conservative lobby group Parents Music Resource Center. Their stance was vehemently opposed by former Warner Bros. artist Frank Zappa and others, but the PMRC's political clout eventually forced the US recording industry to adopt the compulsory practice of placing a "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics" sticker on records deemed to contain "offensive" content.

1984 also saw Van Halen break into the big league with the single "Jump" (their only US #1 hit) and the album 1984; it was a huge seller and reached #2 in the US, producing two more Top 20 hits. However, escalating friction between guitarist Eddie Van Halen and lead singer David Lee Roth reached breaking point soon after the album's release and Roth left the band, to be replaced by Sammy Hagar; 1984 was also the last time they worked with Ted Templeman, who had produced all their albums up to this point.

In 1985 Dire Straits' single "Money for Nothing" gained massive exposure on MTV thanks to its innovative computer-animated music video, propelling the single to #1 in the US. They scored two more US Top 20 hits with "Walk of Life" and "So Far Away" and the album Brothers in Arms was a phenomenal success—it went to #1 in the USA, Australia and most European countries and sold in colossal numbers—by 1996 it had been certified at 9× platinum in the USA and it is currently ranked at #25 in the list of best-selling albums of all time, with sales of more than 30 million copies worldwide.

The new incarnation of Van Halen bounced back in 1986, releasing the enormously successful 5150 album which went to #1 and produced two hit singles, "Why Can't This Be Love" (US #3) and "Dreams" (#22). Their four subsequent studio albums all reached #1 and the band scored 17 US Top 20 singles, including 1988's "When It's Love" (US #5), but their overall sales gradually declined, with each album selling less than its predecessor.

The same was true of Prince—he scored numerous hit albums and singles through the latter half of the 1980s, but his record sales declined and Warner Bros. executives became increasingly concerned that he was producing far more material than they could release. His image was also tarnished by the failure of his later film ventures, his embarrassing refusal to participate in the recording of "We Are The World" and his sacking of guitarist Wendy Melvoin and long-serving keyboard player Lisa Coleman. The 1985 album Around the World in a Day held the #1 spot on the Billboard 2

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