We’re celebrating one of the great record labels around, one which consistently and resolutely stood for artistic quality and released some of the greatest music ever heard. It’s A&M, founded by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss in 1962 and home to thousands of classic recordings in pop, rock, soul and jazz history. We’ve put together a list of 20 must-hear A&M albums, covering some of the greatest artists of the past 50 years.
To avoid potential argument, we’ve decided not to include artists who were on A&M in some territories but not others. Those include Cat Stevens and Free (A&M in America, but Island in the UK and elsewhere) and the Human League and Simple Minds, who appeared on Virgin in some countries. Even so, there’s a fantastic catalogue to choose from among the A&M archives, and we’d love you to tell us which of your favourite artists and albums we’ve omitted.
Herb Alpert – Rise (1979)
Way back in 1962, Herb had A&M’s first hit single and album with ‘The Lonely Bull,’ and his easy listening jazz-pop, with its trademark Mexican-flavours courtesy of the Tijuana Brass, went on to sell by the scores of millions throughout the 1960s. But in 1979, Alpert climbed back to global prominence with this album featuring the massive, Grammy-winning US No. 1 single, as his cool trumpet sound updated itself for a new generation.
The Sandpipers – Guantanamera (1966)
Another of A&M’s earliest successes was from the Los Angeles vocal trio the Sandpipers, who took the title song to this 1966 album into the Hot 100’s top 10. When they released the album, it made No.13, spending 37 weeks on the American chart. The single also reached the UK top 10, as the group helped to establish the label’s reputation and get A&M on a sound financial footing.
Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 – Fool On the Hill (1968)
Another early success story for the label was Brazilian jazz pianist Mendes, who produced a string of big-selling albums and singles, including this one from 1968 that made No. 3 on the US album charts and spent 30 weeks on the bestseller list. One of the vocalists on this album is Lani Hall, who married Herb Alpert in 1973 and the couple are still together.
Carole King – Tapestry (1971)
One of the definitive albums of the first singer-songwriter era and a staple on almost every list of the greatest albums of all time. Tapestry saw the rebirth of the great hit songwriter Carole King as an evocative artist in her own right, and every track on it is a classic, from ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ to ‘It’s Too Late.’ Released on Ode, distributed at the time by A&M, its worldwide sales have been estimated at 25 million.
The Carpenters – Close To You (1970)
The second album by the sibling duo of Richard and Karen Carpenter was the one that truly heralded their international arrival. It showed their superb interpretative powers, notably with Burt Bacharach & Hal David’s title track, previously recorded by Dionne Warwick but reinvented by the Carpenters with their trademark lush harmonies and superior arrangements. Richard Carpenter also co-wrote four songs for the LP, which also featured another of their all-time greats, Paul Williams and Roger Nichols’ ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’.
Supertramp – Breakfast In America (1979)
After many years as an inventive British act at the progressive end of the rock spectrum, this was the album that blew Supertramp wide open in America and around the world. Containing major hits with ‘The Logical Song,’ ‘Goodbye Stranger’ and ‘Take The Long Way Home,’ the LP spent six weeks atop the Billboard chart in the spring and summer of ‘79.
Joan Armatrading – Joan Armatrading (1976)
The sensitive singer-writer born in St. Kitts in the West Indies made her album (and A&M) debut in 1972 with Whatever’s For Us, produced by Gus Dudgeon. In 1975, by now signed to the label worldwide, she won good notices but few sales for Back To The Night. But this self-titled 1976 set finally put Armatrading on the world stage, and into the UK singles chart with the timeless ‘Love and Affection’.
The Police – Regatta de Blanc (1979)
Any of the Anglo-American trio’s run of multi-million-selling LPs could have made our list, but this second album showed their reggae-influenced, sophisticated pop style truly establishing itself. It included their first two UK No. 1 singles, ‘Message In A Bottle’ and ‘Walking On The Moon,’ and a host of other memorable compositions by Sting including ‘Bring On The Night’ and ‘The Bed’s Too Big Without You’.
Joe Cocker – Mad Dogs and Englishmen (1970)
Not just one of the great A&M albums but one of the great live albums in rock history, this was recorded by the Sheffield growler and his Grease Band at the Fillmore East in New York City in March 1970. It showcases Cocker’s vocal brilliance on covers of Traffic, The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and more, and demonstrates the impressive cohesion of a 43-piece travelling revue that also boasted the talents of Leon Russell, Rita Coolidge and others.
Sheryl Crow – Tuesday Night Music Club (1993)
The highly gifted singer, writer and guitarist from Kennett, Missouri had had her debut album, recorded with Hugh Padgham, scrapped at the 11th hour in 1992, but had sensational success with what became her debut release the following year. Tuesday Night Music Club became almost a greatest hits album in its own right, with hit single after hit single (‘All I Wanna Do,’ ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ and many others) and led Crow to three Grammy Awards including Best New Artist.
Janet Jackson – Control (1986)
The Jackson brothers’ younger sister had been the A&M signing that no one quite knew what to do with, until her inspired pairing with writer-producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The album sold more than five million copies in the US alone and introduced a sound, and a production relationship, that would bring Jackson fantastic success throughout the rest of the century.
Joe Jackson – Night and Day (1982)
The classically-trained pianist and songwriter emerged in the UK in the new wave era and was soon demonstrating the ability to write contemporary pop, revivalist big band jazz, film soundtracks and more. This 1982 set, including hits like ‘Steppin’ Out’ and ‘Breaking Us In Two’ as well as ‘Real Men’ and the epic ‘A Slow Song,’ was a passionate love letter to the city that became Jackson’s adopted home, New York.
Quincy Jones – The Dude (1981)
This album came out in 1981 and featured some great vocal performances from Patti Austin and James Ingram. It spawned two top 20 singles, ‘Just Once’ and ‘One Hundred Ways’ that helped propel The Dude to No.10 on the US pop album chart, where it spent a staggering 80 weeks and won Q a Grammy.
Styx – Paradise Theatre (1981)
1981 was a great year for A&M, helped in no small measure by Styx’s No.1 album that topped the Billboard 200 for three weeks and spent over a year on the countdown. It was fuelled by two top 10 singles on the Hot 100, ‘The Best Of Times’ and ‘Too Much Time on My Hands’.
Sting – The Dream of The Blue Turtles (1985)
Sting’s debut solo album after leaving The Police is a classic. It went to #3 on the UK album chart, one place higher in America, and in both countries it spent over a year on the bestseller list. Turtles included two US top 10 hits in ‘If You Love Somebody Set Them Free’ and ‘Fortress Around Your Heart,’ and the record set the pattern for Sting’s many A&M albums in being thoughtful, tuneful and constantly interesting rock music.
Peter Frampton – Frampton Comes Alive (1976)
For many, the greatest live album ever, and certainly one of the most successful. It topped the US album chart for 10 weeks, spending just shy of two years on the bestseller list in America. It made No.6 in the singer-writer-guitarist’s native UK, and was the first album to sell a million copies on cassette. Comes Alive was certified for eight million US shipments in 2011.
Burt Bacharach – Burt Bacharach (1971)
Burt’s success as a songwriter is almost unrivalled in the modern era, but his preeminence as a performer and recording artist has also been considerable. This 1971 album made No. 18 on the American sales chart and spent over half the year on the survey. It included Bacharach’s interpretations of some of his most popular co-writes of the era, including ‘(They Long To Be) Close to You’ and ‘One Less Bell to Answer’.
Rick Wakeman – Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1974)
This live recording of Rick’s opus topped the UK album chart and made No. 3 in America, turning gold there in its year of release. It’s a work of audacious proportions and helped to establish A&M as one of the most successful labels of the 1970s (and beyond).
The Brothers Johnson – Right On Time (1977)
A vintage example of brothers George and Louis Johnson in their Quincy Jones-produced heyday. Right On Time includes the brilliant ‘Strawberry Letter 23’ and the album made No. 13 on the American pop chart, proving that there’s always a place in the pop mainstream for top quality funk.
The Captain & Tennille – Love Will Keep Us Together (1975)
We just couldn’t leave out the Captain and Tennille, Daryl Dragon and his wife Toni, who were another mainstay of A&M’s domination of the soft rock arena in the 1970s. Their first album spent exactly two years on the US chart and made No.2 in the process. The Neil Sedaka-composed title track topped the US Hot 100 and the album saw the former Beach Boys keyboard player Dragon (aka The Captain) and his partner covering ‘God Only Knows,’ ‘Disney Girls’ and Bruce Johnston’s classic ‘I Write the Songs.’ Their version preceded Barry Manilow’s hit single interpretation.