A masterful R&B singer whose sultry, sensuous tones defined romance in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Peabo Bryson is one of the quintessential voices of urban contemporary music. The Greenville, South Carolina-born singer first enjoyed success with a string of top 10 R&B hits in the late 1970s. In 1983, he scored his first major crossover hit with “Tonight I Celebrate” (alongside Roberta Flack) before making his Elektra debut the following year with his tenth studio album, entitled Straight From The Heart. The album included the #1 Adult Contemporary classic, “If Ever You’re In My Arms Again” – Bryson’s first-ever top 10 single on the Billboard “Hot 100.”
In 1992, Bryson topped the “Hot 100” with “A Whole New World,” the Grammy Award-winning theme song from Walt Disney Pictures’ Aladdin, performed with his longtime collaborator Regina Belle. Bryson’s rich, soulful vocal style had long made him a consummate duet partner, resulting in his harmonizing on songs with such leading ladies as Roberta Flack, Minnie Riperton, Melissa Manchester, Deborah Gibson, Celine Dion, and fellow Elektra recording artist Natalie Cole.
Peabo’s sophisticated slow jams also saw him become an icon of smooth jazz, including a 1993 hit single with “By The Time This Night Is Over,” a collaboration with Kenny G. A two-time Grammy Award-winner, Bryson continues to perform as vocalist, songwriter, producer, and theatrical performer.
Paul Seibel recorded two exceptional albums for Elektra in the early 70’s. Born and raised in Buffalo, Siebel was a contemporary of Eric Andersen on the local village folk scene. He would wait until 1969, before a collection of demos he recorded with David Bromberg won him the opportunity to record Woodsmoke & Oranges for Elektra. Using a small, intimate group, including Bromberg and pedal steel player Weldon Myrick, the record was a hybrid of country-folk blessed by Siebel's exquisitely crafted songs including “Any Day Woman,” covered by Bonnie Raitt and “Then Came The Children,” inspired by the Incredible String Band.
Woodsmoke & Oranges and the equally impeccable Jack- Knife Gypsy were both highly regarded. Ian Matthews, Waylon Jennings and Linda Ronstadt covered Siebel’s songs, but apart from a live album in 1981, Live At McCabe's, Siebel’s two Elektra albums are all that exist and they are terrific.
Siebel’s flawless storytelling and stark yet melodic songs make him a precursor to Bruce Cockburn or Townes van Zandt and today’s Americana. Siebel himself gave up both writing and performing during the 80’s rendering his Elektra work an even greater treasure.
Hall left the band in 1978 to concentrate on both his solo career as well as his burgeoning interest in anti-nuclear activism. Not long after 1979’s Three Mile Island nuclear accident, Hall teamed with Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, and Bonnie Raitt to co-found MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy), a group advocating against the use of nuclear power. In September 1979, MUSE organized a series of five benefit shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden known as “No Nukes: The MUSE Concerts For A Non-Nuclear Future.” The event – documented by Asylum on an RIAA gold-certified triple album – saw performances from an array of top stars, including Hall, Browne, Nash, and Raitt as well as The Doobie Brothers, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Poco, James Taylor, Carly Simon, and famously, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. A full-length film of the concerts, also entitled No Nukes, was released in 1980.
Hall reunited briefly with Orleans after the 1984 death of drummer/percussionist Wells Kelly and still continues to perform occasionally with his former bandmates. In November 2006, the longtime local activist was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democratic congressman for New York’s 19th congressional district. He was re-elected in 2008.
Along with Hall’s post-Orleans success, drummer Jerry Marotta went on to enjoy a long career as a sought-after session drummer, with notable stints alongside Peter Gabriel, Hall & Oates, and The Indigo Girls.
By 1992, 10,000 Maniacs had been with the Elektra family for some eight years, and had recorded four highly successful albums for the label (preceded by two indie releases). Vocalist/songwriter Natalie Merchant, who had co-founded the band when she was 17, was about to turn 30, and she decided the time had come to set off on her own. Although the band enjoyed their greatest sales success with 1993’s triple-platinum MTV Unplugged, Merchant had already announced she was leaving the group.
Two years later, Merchant re-emerged with her acclaimed solo debut. She was carrying on a long Elektra tradition of independent, socially conscious, boundary-defying women whose folk-based music inspired their own and subsequent generations – among them Judy Collins, Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, and Tracy Chapman. Tigerlily was an artistic triumph and a commercial smash, surpassing 10,000 Maniacs on the sales front and certified 5-times platinum. The album, whose first single was “Carnival,” was entirely written and produced by Merchant, a clear break from her band identity that found one of modern music’s most distinctive voices expressing a need to “project further,” as she said at the time.
Tigerlily was followed in 1998 by Ophelia, which coincided with her participation in the second Lilith Fair tour. Upon the album’s release, Merchant noted that “I have fifty-six minutes every four years, and I want to say something honest to people.” She released a live album in 1999, and concluded her Elektra contract with 2001’s Motherland. Merchant returned to the indie label world with the 2003 release of The House Carpenter’s Daughter on her own Myth America label, and rejoined the Warner Music Group family in 2010 with the release of her first album for Nonesuch, Leave Your Sleep.
The hugely successful album featured Cole’s vocal arrangements of 22 songs from her legendary father’s catalog, with piano accompaniment by her uncle Ike Cole. Among the Nat “King” Cole hits included were “The Very Thought of You,” “Mona Lisa,” and the title song, performed, with a little help from technology, as a duet with her father, using his original recording. Unforgettable…With Love reached #1 on the Billboard 200 and earned seven-times platinum certification from the RIAA. What’s more, the album received the 1992 Grammy Award for “Album of the Year,” with “Unforgettable” also honored as “Record of the Year” and “Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance.”
1993 saw the release of the gold-certified Take A look, which earned Cole a “Best Jazz Vocal Performance” Grammy. Three years later, another collection of pop standards, entitled Stardust, was released. The RIAA platinum-certified album included guest appearances from jazz icons like Wynton Marsalis and John Pizzarelli, as well as a new “duet” with her dad on the Grammy Award-winning “When I Fall In Love.” 1999’s Snowfall On The Sahara – featuring songs by modern pop tunesmiths like Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, and Judy Collins – would be Cole’s penultimate Elektra release, followed only by The Magic of Christmas, a holiday-themed collection with accompaniment from the London Symphony Orchestra.
Since leaving Elektra, Cole has released a number of acclaimed albums spanning jazz, pop, and contemporary urban soul. In 2009, she released Still Unforgettable, with songs made famous by stars like Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, and Lena Horne. Highlighted by another virtual “duet” with her father on “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home,” the album received the Grammy for “Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.”
Joining Griffith on their own compositions were Bob Dylan and John Prine, while other special guests on the album included such like-minded artists as Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Arlo Guthrie, and Guy Clark. One of 1993’s best-reviewed releases, Other Voices, Other Rooms received the Grammy Award as the year’s “Best Contemporary Folk Album” and firmly placed Griffith among the top ranks of modern American folk artists.
Flyer followed in 1994, this time featuring songs written largely by Griffith herself. Produced by Peter Collins (Rush, Indigo Girls) and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, the album showcased Griffith’s soaring vocals and included musical cameos from Buck, Mark Knopfler, Emmylou Harris, and U2’s Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. 1997’s Blue Roses From The Moons featured live studio takes recorded with her band, The Blue Moon Orchestra, with additional contributions from three surviving members of Buddy Holly’s original Crickets.
A second collection of covers, entitled Other Voices, Too (A Trip Back To Bountiful), was released in 1998. Griffith was again joined by an array of stars, including Prine, Lucinda Williams, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Gillian Welch, Lyle Lovett, and Richard Thompson. Griffith unveiled her most adventurous work to date the following year with The Dust Bowl Symphony. The album featured some of Griffith’s finest songs recorded at London’s Abbey Road Studios with accompaniment from the London Symphony Orchestra. Griffith’s final Elektra release would be 2001’s Clock Without Hands, marking the singer/songwriter’s first collection of original material in close to five years.
Beginning with 1983’s Shout At The Devil (featuring “Red Hot”), the Crüe unleashed a chain of Tom Werman-produced albums, each of which received four-times platinum certification from the RIAA. 1985’s Theatre of Pain broke the band further with a hugely popular video for their first Top 40 pop hit, a cover of Brownsville Station’s “Smokin’ In The Boys’ Room.” Girls, Girls, Girls, which followed in 1987, peaked at #2 on the Billboard 200, although it clearly appeared to be the week’s biggest seller – a turn of events allegedly due to industry insiders who weighed the scales in favor of allowing Whitney Houston’s Whitney to continue its 11-week run at the top.
Mötley Crüe got their revenge in 1989 by conquering the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 with the Bob Rock-produced Dr. Feelgood. The six-times platinum-certified collection – featuring “Kickstart My Heart” and the Top 10 title track – would prove the Crüe’s last with Neil at the microphone until the band reunited in 1996 for what would be their final Elektra release, Generation Swine.
The band has carried on, in one form or another, ever since. Their rock ‘n’ roll tales of excess – featured in the Crüe’s best-selling 2001 memoir, The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band – have made them legends whose influence can be heard in every generation of metal that’s followed.
One of the most influential producers/musicians/composers/dj’s of the ‘90s, Moby (born Richard Melville Hall) broke out of the usual confines of the dance/house music field to embrace a diversity of styles – from pop to hard rock to gospel. When he joined the Elektra roster in 1995, Moby had already scored a major pop/dance hit with “Go” (incorporating the theme from the David Lynch TV series Twin Peaks) and released two highly regarded indie albums of techno/ambient music.
Moby’s acclaimed major label/Elektra debut, Everything Is Wrong, marked a high point of the decade, and was acclaimed by Spin magazine as the #1 album of the year. Created as a unified whole rather than a mere collection of club tracks, the album included such anthemic songs as the jungle-driven “Feeling So Real,” the pop workout of “Everytime You Touch Me,” and the entrancing “God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters.” In contrast to his peers, Moby was an identifiable personality in the often anonymous world of electronica. His creative innovation was enhanced by an intriguing persona that actively embraced veganism and Christianity, and he struck a truly unique figure in the dance/club scene.
With his eclectic background and interests, Moby refused to be pigeon-holed, following Everything Is Wrong with a left turn into alternative/punk rock on 1996’s Animal Rights. He returned to electronica on the 1997 set, I Like To Score, reflecting his love of movie soundtracks with a collection of his music that had appeared in various films (including his reworking of the “James Bond Theme,” used in Tomorrow Never Dies). While Moby left the Elektra fold before the decade was out, his work on the label laid the foundation for his major breakthrough pop success, 1999’s Play.
After Missy made a name as featured rapper on tracks by New Edition and MC Lyte, Elektra Chairman Sylvia Rhone signed a deal to distribute Elliott’s label, The Goldmind, Inc. The imprint’s first release was her own hugely successful debut, 1997’s Supa Dupa Fly. Produced by Timbaland, the album was an RIAA platinum-certified blockbuster, fueled by the hit singles, “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” and the gold-certified “Sock It 2 Me,” as well as a string of innovative videos.
A seemingly endless flow of hits followed, shepherded by Elektra A&R man Merlin Bobb. “Get Ur Freak On, “ featured on 2001’s Miss E…So Addictive, was a bhangra-based Top 10 smash, earning Elliott her first Grammy Award as a solo artist. Another single, “Scratch a.k.a. Itchin,” received the Grammy for “Best Female Rap Solo Performance” at the next year’s ceremonies.
In 2003, Elliot won another Grammy in the same category for her #1 Rap hit, “Work It,” featured on 2002’s multi-platinum Under Construction, while the surreal companion video clip received the “Video of the Year” prize at 2003’s MTV Video Music Awards. Missy’s fifth album, This Is Not A Test!, was released in 2003, followed two years later by The Cookbook, her first release through Goldmind/Atlantic.
Not merely a visionary recording artist and performer, Elliott is a prolific songwriter and producer, with credits that include Janet Jackson, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Destiny’s Child, and others, while also finding time for innumerable collaborations and featured raps. Missy Elliott is truly in a league of her own.
Newbury had previously recorded for both RCA and Mercury, eventually joining Elektra in 1970. He was known primarily as a songwriter who had been covered by Willie Nelson, Eddy Arnold, Don Gibson, Kenny Rodgers, and Roy Orbison. Newbury’s career as a singer took hold on Elektra where, as much as Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings or Kris Kristofferson, he helped change the perception and trajectory of country music.
Newbury’s Elektra debut, Frisco Mabel Joy revels in a sublime, haunting orchestral sound that was a blend of pedal steel and some electric guitar, even though it sounds like strings and horns. Many of the songs on Frisco Mabel Joy were written when Newbury was living on a barge in Nashville, listening to the sound of the rain on the roof mingling with his wind chimes. He regularly used atmospheric sound effects to good effect, enhancing the sense of mild despair in some of Mickey’s richest writing.
All Newbury’s Elektra albums - a cycle, which ended with 1975’s Lovers - follow this pattern, but it’s for Frisco Mabel Joy’s “An American Trilogy” that he is best remembered. A medley of three Civil War songs, it became synonymous with Elvis Presley although Newbury’s own version was a far bigger hit. Newbury’s songs are spiritual, meditative works that defy categorization, comfortably bridging folk, country, and soul.