The California-born band was initially signed by the Megaforce label, which released their first two albums. In the fall of ’84, Metallica entered major labeldom when Elektra inked the band and reissued their innovative album, Ride the Lightning, which had been released just four months earlier. In 1986, the group was catapulted from the underground metal scene into the mainstream with the album that metal aficionados consider their masterpiece, Master of Puppets. With intelligent lyrics, deft musicianship, and thundering power, they transcended heavy metal, and their live shows were showcases of performer-audience communication. When bassist Cliff Burton was killed in a tour bus accident, they considered quitting altogether, but singer-guitarist James Hetfield, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, and drummer Lars Ulrich stayed the course with newcomer Jason Newsted finding his own path to replace the revered Burton. Their 1988 concept album, ...And Justice For All, contained the stunning, complex “One,” based on the Dalton Trumbo novel, Johnny Got His Gun, part of an album of song-suites.
Metallica raised the bar for themselves on the landmark Metallica (The Black Album), three years in the making. Released in 1991, it became the metal album that people who thought they didn’t like metal just had to own, and at this writing has been certified 15-times platinum in the U.S. alone. Metallica was highlighted by the unexpected hit single, “Enter Sandman,” which out-grunged the Seattle scene that had broken nationwide the same year. Metallica remained with Elektra until the label went into dormancy in 2004, moving over to sister label Warner Bros. for 2008’s Death Magnetic – continuing to produce electrifying music in a genre that they transcended with exceptional strength, invention, and brilliance.
Purely on the infectious enthusiasm of Elektra PR Man Danny Fields, who saw both MC5 and the Stooges in the space of a Detroit weekend, Jac Holzman snapped up both groups. Uncharacteristically, Jac agreed to the deal on the phone without having heard a single note. He advanced $15,000 to the MC5 and paid the Stooges $5,000 to sign with Elektra. At the end of October 1968, just two months later, Holzman with Doors’ engineer Bruce Botnick recorded the MC5 live over two days at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom. It was a full-pedal-to-the-metal fusion of hollering, high-energy rock-n-roll, with loud blasts of heavy jazz and blues.
The following day, November 1st, MC5 manager John Sinclair founded the White Panthers, with the MC5 inducted as its house band. Sinclair’s inflammatory politicizing and the group’s penchant for attracting troublemakers created enough of a stir, their debut album, Kick Out The Jams, landed in the Top Forty.
If they MC5 were a disaster waiting to happen, it didn’t take long for the disaster to arrive. Shortly after the release of Kick Out, the group took out an ad admonishing Detroit department store, Hudsons, for refusing to stock their album. The ad also implicated Elektra and barely six months after signing the group, Holzman felt compelled to release them from their contract.
The MC5 quickly re-emerged on Atlantic with a more disciplined sound that lacked the thrills and danger of their Elektra debut. The Atlantic release Back In The USA failed commercially. The group was over by 1972, but their notorious reputation helped ignite the punk phenomenon five years later.
Jac Holzman saw Love in 1966 at a performance at Bido Lido’s in Hollywood. Holzman grasped the group’s enormous potential and viewed the flamboyant, wild, mercurial nature of leader Arthur Lee as a performance plus. Love gave Elektra’s its first taste of pop success with “My Little Red Book” from Love’s self- titled debut album and the relentlessly explosive “‘Seven And Seven Is” (produced by Holzman) from the more richly textured Da Capo album. Da Capo only hinted at the imaginative approach and orchestral delights that were to come in their third album Forever Changes.
Now regarded as one of the great classic rock albums, Forever Changes has grown in stature since its release and has been continuously in print for over 40 years. Despite its difficult birth, Forever Changes meticulously marries Arthur Lee’s deep, philosophical songs with David Angel’s superb orchestral arrangements, which grace seven of the eleven tracks. Yet it was guitarist Bryan MacLean’s haunting and exquisite Spanish-tinged “Alone Again Or” which opens the album and invites the listener in. This was Lee‘s swansong with Elektra and his last truly focused work. Forever Changes is now widely regarded as a genuine classic and one of the finest albums Elektra ever issued.
The following year saw Ronstadt’s multi-platinum breakthrough, Heart Like A Wheel, which she quickly followed up with two more platinum-certified albums, making her the first-ever female artist to release three consecutive million-sellers.
The second, 1976’s Hasten Down The Wind, also earned Ronstadt a Grammy Award for “Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female,” a category in which she has been nominated a remarkable seven times. Later that same year, Asylum released Linda Ronstadt’s Greatest Hits, which would eventually become the singer’s biggest seller, earning seven-times platinum certification in the U.S., with more than 20 million sold worldwide.
1977’s Simple Dreams was a three-times platinum-certified country/pop/rock crossover success, spending five consecutive weeks atop the Billboard album chart. What’s more, with “It’s So Easy” and the platinum-certified “Blue Bayou,” Ronstadt became the first-ever female artist – and first artist overall since The Beatles – to have two top 5 singles on Billboard’s “Hot 100” simultaneously. The double platinum Living In The USA topped the album chart one year later, followed in 1980 by Ronstadt’s seventh consecutive million-seller, the New Wave-inspired Mad Love.
Since signing with Asylum a decade earlier, Linda Ronstadt had earned seven consecutive million-selling albums, conquered the charts, and effortlessly crossed the country/rock/pop border. So in 1983, she took a decided left turn, choosing to record a selection of standards by Irving Berlin, George & Ira Gershwin, and other icons of the Great American Songbook, with full orchestral arrangements by the legendary Nelson Riddle. What’s New proved a groundbreaking sensation, catching Elektra by happy surprise. The album spent 81 weeks on the Billboard album chart, with sales now exceeding 3 million
Two platinum-certified sequels followed – including 1984’s Lush Life – before the always-adventurous singer recreated herself once more in 1987 with Canciones de mi Padre, a landmark collection of the traditional mariachi music of Ronstadt’s Mexican family heritage. As with her jazz trilogy, the double platinum-certified, Grammy Award-winning album turned out to be a landmark popular success, the biggest selling non-English language album in American record history.
Ronstadt would follow it up with 1990’s Mas Canciones, but first she decided a collaboration with soul singer Aaron Neville was in order. The resulting Cry Like A Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind – featuring four duets with Neville – was yet another blockbuster, selling 3 million copies in the U.S. alone and bringing Ronstadt and Neville not one but two “Best Pop Vocal Performance By A Duo or Group” Grammys.
After forays into Afro-Cuban jazz, classic ‘60s pop, and children’s music, the final Elektra/Asylum release of Ronstadt’s quarter-century history with the label came in 1998 with We Ran, a return to rock featuring songs by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and John Hiatt. Having more than sealed her place among the pantheon of great interpretive singers, Linda Ronstadt continues to record and perform, ever-changing and always magnificent.
After his disappointing experience in California, Jac Holzman moved back to New York where he immediately discovered the debut album by Koerner, Ray & Glover, Blues Rags And Hollers, originally appearing on the Audiophile label and sold only at gigs. Slightly re-vamped, it was given a full release by Elektra in 1963.
John Koerner, Dave Ray and Tony Glover were young white country blues fanatics, like Dylan, from Minneapolis and it was their album which got Jac Holzman back on track - basic, committed roots music. The Doors’ Robbie Krieger was a huge fan of the trio whose brash seven and 12 string guitars combined with Glover‘s gutsy harmonica. “It had a real beat,” says Krieger, “‘even though they didn‘t use bass or drums.”
Two further albums by the trio - Lots More Blues Rags And Hollers and The Return Of Koerner Ray & Glover plus a handful of albums credited individually to Dave “Snaker” Ray and “Spider” John Koerner (both featuring Glover’s harmonica work) all ploughed the same field - no frills, both originals and blues classics learnt from Leadbelly, Bukka White, and Memphis Minnie.
Keith Sweat is the undisputed King of New Jack Swing, the hugely popular and influential merging of melodic R&B with hip-hop’s rhythms and production techniques. Signed to Elektra in 1987, the Harlem-born singer/songwriter/producer released his debut album, Make It Last Forever, to instant acclaim and RIAA three-times platinum certification. Highlighted by the #1 R&B/Hip-Hop hit, “I Want Her,” the album reached #1 on Billboard’s “Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums” chart – the first of five consecutive albums to do so.
A remarkably prolific artist, Sweat was unstoppable as the ‘90s got underway, dominating the “Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles” chart with such #1 singles as “Make You Sweat,” “I’ll Give All My Love To You,” and “Keep It Comin’.” As if all that weren’t enough, Sweat discovered the Atlanta-based vocal quintet Silk, for whom he co-wrote and co-produced “Freak Me,” which hit #1 on Billboard’s “Hot 100” in May 1993.
1996 proved a banner year, with the release of Sweat’s self-titled, four-times platinum-certified fifth album. Keith Sweat saw the vocalist joined by a number of guests, including soul legend Ron Isley and his great friend Gerald Levert, with whom he’d later form the supergroup LSG alongside Johnny Gill. What’s more, the album featured Sweat’s biggest crossover hits to date in the platinum-certified, R&B/Hip-Hop #1s, “Nobody (Feat. Athena Cage)” and “Twisted (Feat. Pretty Russ & Kut Klose).”
With a seemingly inexhaustible flow of fresh songs, Sweat remains among the most popular and productive superstars in modern R&B, his unique style and smooth sound still setting the gold standard for urban contemporary soul.
Recommended to Elektra producer Paul Rothchild by folk singer/ songwriter Mark Spoelstra - who recorded two albums for Elektra in the mid-60s - Rothchild regards Kathy & Carol among his favorite Elektra productions (alongside those he produced for Doors, Tom Rush and Joseph Spence).
In Paul Rothchild's words, Kathy & Carol “was the sound of not just one Joan Baez, but two;” she had been their initial inspiration. It’s rich in wonderfully angelic voices and exquisite harmonies.
Kathy Larisch and Carol McComb met at high school in Vista, California, Carol describing their approach as creating pictures in sound to unleash the emotion of each song. Carol later pursued a solo career and Kathy concentrated on painting but they left behind a quiet gem of an album. They have performed reunion gigs in recent years with Linda Ronstadt, one of their biggest fans, joining them on stage.
In 1963, Jac Holzman had opened an office in LA as an adjunct to Elektra’s New York operation, but he found very little there that fired his imagination, except for Judy Henske.
On a label that had more than its share of original talents, Judy Henske still stood out. She had honed her act opening for Lenny Bruce at her manager Herb Cohen’s club, Cosmo Alley. Recorded before an audience, Henske’s Elektra debut, Judy Henske, was an odd mix of gutsy blues and jazz tinged cabaret that failed to find a niche.
Her second album for Elektra, High Flying Bird, was stripped down to a simpler ensemble sound that anticipated folk rock at times, notably on it’s title track, later covered by Richie Havens and Jefferson Airplane. “Wade In The Water” is a tour de force, completely suited to her gutsy, bluesy voice, but which belied her kooky image. Described by Herb Cohen as a ‘real force of nature’, Judy Henske was always slightly out of step with the times. Henske was an undoubted influence on both Cass Elliot and Bette Midler, but she was never the star she should have been.
Judy Collins released her debut album, A Maid Of Constant Sorrow, in 1961. Vocally she seemed indebted to Joan Baez, but no one could have predicted the adventurous musical path she would blaze for herself.
Blessed with a crystalline voice and an immaculate instinct for great songs, Judy moved from traditional folk to become a champion of contemporary songwriters including Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Erik Anderson and Gordon Lightfoot. This process began with the pivotal Judy Collins 3. The album cover was a stunner, a full-sized head shot with those piercing, deeply blue eyes. 1966's In My Life embraced Brecht/Weill, the Marat Sade, Jacques Brel, and the first ever recordings of Leonard Cohen songs, “Suzanne” and “Dress Rehearsal Rag.”
Wildflowers, Who Knows Where The Time Goes and Whales And Nightingales are all astonishingly well crafted and brilliantly realized albums. Whales contains her biggest hit single, “Amazing Grace,” performed a cappella with a chorus of friends. It became a million selling single in the U.K. and a hit in America.
Judy continued to enjoy success after Jac Holzman departed Elektra. “Send In The Clowns” was another intelligent re-imagining of a singular song, recorded for the newly combined Elektra/Asylum label now guided by David Geffen.
Josh White’s earliest recordings in the 30’s were “race records” intended for the black, rural population; but White later crossed over to a predominantly white audience. “One Meat Ball,” for the Asch label, was a depression-era song that became the first million-selling record by a black male artist.
More a cabaret singer by the late 40’s, White became a leading voice of black America and a voice that repeatedly reminded America of its social injustices. This led to his being singled out as a communist sympathiser and called before the House Un-American Activities Commission in 1950. It virtually destroyed his American career so White lived and worked predominantly in Europe until the mid-‘50s when Elektra offered him a contract. Jac Holzman signed him despite the communist cloud that hung over him.
Holzman also recorded Josh with an intimacy and presence that had never been heard on his prior records and their collaboration revitalised his career. White’s debut for Elektra in 1955 was, coincidently, the final Elektra ten-inch LP, The Story of John Henry. Josh At Midnight followed as Elektra’s first 12-inch release in 1956 and one of the company’s biggest sellers. It drew on blues material, with fresh versions of “One Meat Ball” and “St James’ Infirmary.”
Elektra would release five additional White albums by 1962, all emphasising blues and gospel material. Many major figures of the 60’s and 70’s acknowledge White as an influence: John Fahey, Ry Cooder, David Crosby, John Fogerty, Richie Havens and Fred Neil. For Jac Holzman: “Having an artist of Josh’s stature was a seal of approval for Elektra.”