Menu

MGM Records
By Peter Preuss, Mike Callahan, David Edwards, and Patrice Eyries
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), of course, was a movie industry giant for several decades when MGM Records was founded in late 1946. This was primarily for release of MGM movie soundtracks, but widened to all musical genres in the following years with some accent on country & western. Hank Williams recorded eleven songs which sold more than a million times each between the years of 1949 and 1953. In the early 1950s, MGM Records was considered as one of the "major" record companies (besides Columbia, RCA, Decca, Capitol and Mercury) because it had its own manufacturing facilities. MGM issues thousands of singles, EPs, and albums from it's birth in 1946 until it was subsumed into PolyGram in the mid-1970s. Most successful performers during the 1950s were Connie Francis, Hank Williams and Conway Twitty.

The 1950s were a time of expansion for MGM. The record-buying public was being offered music on a wide array of different formats, from the traditional 78 rpm singles and albums, to the 45 rpm singles and albums, to extended play 45 rpm "EP" records and albums, to 10-inch, 33-1/3 rpm albums, and finally, to the eventual winner in the format sweepstakes, the 12-inch, 33-1/3 rpm album. A look through the discographies shows that in 1954-55, particularly, MGM was releasing the same music in virtually all formats. By late 1955, the 10-inch LP was falling out of favor relative to it's larger counterpart, and was discontinued shortly thereafter. Likewise, the "EP album," made up of several EP records in an album with sleeves for each record, was essentially discontinued in 1956, although a few were issued later. The EP itself followed into extinction in the early 1960s, although a few were issued as late as 1963.

In 1961, MGM bought Norman Granz' highly succesful Verve label, which was one of the first names in jazz. During the 1960s, MGM extended Verve with a rock line featuring such fine names as The Righteous Brothers, The Velvet Underground and The Mothers Of Invention.

Obviously, the rock music of the 1960s always was a serious problem for MGM Records, as most of the performers were said to be very unhappy with the label. MGM allegedly censored their songs, released albums without knowledge of the artists, or suppressed them. MGM was considered to buy performers away from other labels rather than to build up new talents. During the mid-'60s MGM distributed the newly founded Kama Sutra label (most successful with The Lovin' Spoonful).

When "acid rock" hit the scene in 1968, Eric Burdon & The Animals were MGM's sole participation in the genre. In 1968-69, MGM tried to hype groups from Boston ("Bosstown Rock") to repeat the success of Detroit rock groups, but failed. In the fiscal years 1968 and 1969, MGM Records took losses of $18 million, and in 1970 and 1971 they just broke even. The reasons given for such poor showings were the failed Bosstown Campaign ($4 million loss) and contractual difficulties with unsuccessful independent producers. As Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. still planned unrealistic sales figures for their record division, MGM Records had big problems with unsold records from the stores, which led to masses of cutouts.

Under MGM executive Mike Curb (later to be Lieutenant Governor of California), in 1970 MGM fired 18 groups from its roster who had publicized the use of drugs in their songs. Actually, this was an excuse to get rid of some unsuccessful acts, since popular performers like Eric Burdon or Bobby Bloom, who did the same thing, were kept by the label. President Nixon praised Mike Curb because of his unrelenting attitude against drug abuse.

During the early 1970s, MGM filled up its performers with family entertainers and "bubblegum" acts like Sammy Davis, Jr., Petula Clark and The Osmonds, which were extremely successful in domestic and overseas markets, helping the label to right itself financially.

In 1972, the label was sold to the newly-founded Dutch-German conglomerate PolyGram (Polydor and Phonogram), which tried to get a share of the American market by buying US record companies. PolyGram tried to re-establish MGM as a mainstream rock label, but failed. As with most such 1970s takeovers, the new European management didn't understand the US market. As of 1976, the now Polydor-distributed label was only used for the release of soundtrack albums from MGM films. After the merger of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. and United Artists Corporation in 1982, the label was discontinued altogether, although a few soundtrack albums were released in 1983/84 which carried a small MGM/UA Home Entertainment logo on its sleeves and labels.

MGM material has been re-released by several companies. Popular stuff from the '60s was released on Polydor (Eric Burdon, Connie Francis, Hank Williams). Material from the Mike Curb era has also been re-released on his own label, Curb Records (primarily the Osmonds). The popular MGM soundtracks were combined with United Artists soundtracks and sold outright to CBS/Columbia and MCA Records in the '80s and early '90s. In 1986, MCA issued around 100 soundtracks from the combined MGM/UA catalogue, for the last time on vinyl. In recent years, Rhino Records (via its Turner Classic Movies label) re-released classic soundtracks from the MGM vaults on collectable CD issues featuring previously unreleased bonus tracks.

The MGM label design had very few major changes over the thousands of records released. In the 1940s and until 1959, the label was yellow with the famous lion logo in black, with black lettering. This label was used in the UK until the mid-'60s. From 1959 to 1968, MGM used a black label with the classic Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Lion logo and rainbow colored "M-G-M" on top of the label, with additional lettering in silver. In 1968, the label became half blue, half gold (later the gold color was changed to some yellowish beige), with the lion logo (in black) and "MGM Records" (in blue) to its right side, all on gold/beige, rest of the lettering was in black.

Early records noted that MGM was a division of Loewe's, Incorporated. From the early 1960s until approximately 1971, labels read at the bottom "M-G-M Records - A Division Of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.", later this became "Manufactured by MGM Records, Inc., 7165 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, Calif. 90046". From approx. 1976, the bottom lettering read "Manufactured And Marketed By Polydor Incorporated/810 Seventh Avenue/New York/N.Y. 10019".