Atlantic Records: The House That Ahmet Built

By Adams, Michael | Notes, September 2008 | Go to article overview

Atlantic Records: The House That Ahmet Built


Adams, Michael, Notes


Atlantic Records: The House That Ahmet Built. DVD. Directed by Susan Steinberg. Burbank, CA: Rhino Entertainment Company, 2007. R2 128892. $19.98.

The history of Atlantic Records is traced and its founder, Ahmet Ertegun, is profiled in this look at one of the most important labels in American popular music. Clips from performances by Atlantic artists are interspersed with chats between Ertegun and surviving musicians.

The son of a Turkish diplomat, Ertegun (1923-2006) grew up in embassies in England, France, and Switzerland. Because his greatest passion was American popular culture, especially jazz, he was thrilled when his father was posted to Washington, D.C., allowing the teenager to visit black nightclubs there and in Harlem. Ertegun was expected to follow into a diplomatic career, but after his father died in 1944, he decided to follow his heart, founding Atlantic Records in New York in 1947 with his friend Herb Abramson.

Beginning with Ruth Brown, whom Ertegun told to stop trying to sound like Doris Day, Atlantic specialized in rhythm and blues singers, eventually adding Ray Charles, Big Joe Turner, the Clovers, LaVern Baker, Clyde McPhatter, and Solomon Burke. It became the predominant R&B label by the 1950s, though securing broadcast time for its black artists was a struggle, often requiring payments to disk jockeys. Using the pseudonym Nugetre- his name in reverse-Ertegun wrote many of the songs recorded by his performers, including "Little Mama" by the Clovers and Ray Charles's "Mess Around." He and Jerry Wexler, who became an Atlantic producer in 1953, even sang backup on Big Joe Turner's "Shake Rattle and Roll."

The first half of Atlantic Records: The House That Ahmet Built is the most fascinating, as the company endures highs and lows, seeking new artists and new sounds. More success came in the 1960s as Wexler, a colorful, informative interviewee, molded Aretha Franklin into a soul singer, and Atlantic formed a partnership with Memphis's Stax Records, releasing the songs of Otis Redding and other black performers.

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