Mercury Records

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Mercury Records was a record label founded in Chicago, Illinois in 1945 by Irving Green, Berle Adams and Arthur Talmadge. They were a major force in jazz and blues, classical music, rock and roll, and country music recordings.

Early in their history, Mercury opened two pressing plants, one in Chicago and the other in St. Louis, Missouri. With the use of automatic presses and providing 24-hour turnaround, they went into direct competition with major recording labels such as Columbia, Decca, and RCA Victor.

By hiring two promoters, Tiny Hill and Jimmy Hilliard, they penetrated the pop market with names such as Frankie Laine, Vic Damone and Patti Page.

In 1947 Jack Rael, a musician and publicist/manager, persuaded Mercury to let Patti Page (whom he managed) record a song that had been planned to be done by Vic Damone, "Confess." The budget was too small for them to hire a second singer to provide the "answer" parts to Page, so at Rael's suggestion she did both voices. This became the first documented example of "overdubbing," and Patti Page became one of the artists best known for the use of this technique.

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Mercury Record sleeve artwork, c.1950

The company released an enormous number of recordings under the Mercury label as well as its subsidiaries (Blue Rock Records, Cumberland Records, Emarcy Records, Fontana, Limelight Records, Philips Records, Smash Records and Wing Records). In addition, they leased and purchased material by independent labels and redistributed them.

Under their own label, Mercury released all kinds of recordings from classical music to psychedelic rock. However, its subsidiaries focused on their own specialized categories of music.

In 1961 the Dutch company, Philips, signed an exchange agreement with Mercury, and Philips subsequently bought Mercury and its subsidiary labels to expand its US base. In 1962 Philips merged its record operations with Deutsche Grammophon to become PolyGram in the early 1970s.

Under PolyGram, Mercury absorbed Casablanca Records, home of Kiss and Village People, in 1982 and primarily became a rock/pop label with KISS, The Scorpions, Tears For Fears and Def Leppard. In the late 1990's PolyGram merged with Universal Music, under the reorganization, Mercury became split into an imprint of the "new" Island Def Jam Music Group (combining Island and Def Jam) for pop releases and a stand-alone country label, Mercury Nashville Records. The "pop" division of Mercury under Island Def Jam and its artists were later absorbed complely into Island Def Jam Records, with the logo being used for reissued material only.

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