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Music Corporation of America was so dubbed by founder Jules Stein, who started out booking big bands in his native Chicago in the ’20s. MCA, the booking agency, was later developed into a multimedia conglomerate, which eventually included a record label, by Lew Wasserman.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF MCA RECORDS
From Stein and Wasserman to Iovine and Schur, a Legendary Label Is Recalled
With last week’s announcement by UMG of MCA Records’ evolution into Geffen Records, will the venerable label be consigned to the dustbin of history? Although it was once known disparagingly as the Music Cemetery of America, MCA, in its relatively short 30-year history, has been the home to superstars like Elton John, The Who, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Neil Diamond, Jimmy Buffett, Olivia Newton-John, Tom Petty, Steely Dan, B.B. King, Bobby Brown, New Edition, Bell Biv Devoe, Fine Young Cannibals, Live, Blink-182, The Roots and Mary J. Blige.

Music Corporation of America was so dubbed by founder Jules Stein, who started out booking big bands in his native Chicago in the ’20s. MCA, the booking agency, was later developed into a multimedia conglomerate, which eventually included a record label, by Lew Wasserman.

The label’s roots go back to 1962, when MCA first acquired Universal Pictures’ parent company, Decca Records. Two years later, MCA purchased the publishing catalogs of Leeds Music and Duchess Music, forming the seeds of MCA Music Publishing, which evolved into Universal Music Publishing Group.

1973: Decca is renamed MCA Records.

Mid-‘70s: Ex-Warner Bros. Records head Mike Maitland is named President of the label and brings in veteran Jimmy Bowen to run a Nashville operation, which would produce such superstars as George Strait, Vince Gill and Trisha Yearwood.

1979: MCA purchases ABC Records for $30 million from the American Broadcasting Co. Its roster includes Petty, Buffett and Steely Dan.

1980: The man who oversaw the acquisition, Gene Froelich, is named President of the MCA Records Group by Wasserman’s #2, Sid Sheinberg. Froehlich, in turn, taps creative services/marketing head Bob Siner as President of the label before being stripped of most of his duties.

1983: Sheinberg brings in Irving Azoff to take over as President of MCA Records Group. He, in turn, hires old crony Myron Roth to oversee the day-to-day operations of the label (later upped to President), Larry Solters as artist development head and Steve Meyer as promotion topper, with Richard Palmese coming aboard six months later. MCA announces a deal to distribute the legendary Motown label.

1985: MCA acquires storied Chicago-based blues label Chess Records, with a roster that includes John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry and Etta James.

1988: MCA acquires Motown in an outright deal with partners Boston Ventures, and longtime exec Jheryl Busby is named President/COO. Teenpop star Tiffany lands the label’s highest-charting record, which becomes one of the Top 10 albums of the year. Roth exits and Palmese is boosted to Exec. VP/GM. Azoff tells HITS: "It was important to promote Richard because he’s the only one left around here whose name ends in a vowel, and we needed a new target for the L.A. Times."

1989: Azoff resigns from MCA Records to form WB-distributed Giant Records, replaced by his hand-picked choice, ex-Columbia Records President Al Teller, who retains Executive VP/GM Palmese as his #2. Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel is the label’s biggest hit of the year. L.A. Times reporter William Knoedelseder’s Stiffed details Azoff’s relationship with alleged gang member Sal Pisello, amid talk of sweetheart cutout deals and illicit breakdance mats. Needless to say, the book stiffs.

1990: MCA acquires Geffen and GRP Records, which join the newly dubbed MCA Music Entertainment Group, with Teller as Chairman. David Geffen will cash in bigtime on his $545 million stock deal when Japanese hardware company Matsushita acquires MCA just a year later. Petty’s Full Moon Fever and the Fine Young Cannibals are the label’s top sellers. Palmese is named President by Teller.

1993: PolyGram acquires Motown from MCA and Boston Ventures. Mary J. Blige’s What’s the 411? is the label’s top album.

1994: Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell II turns into a surprise smash. IRS President Jay Boberg is named President of MCA Music Publishing.

1995: Seagram obtains 80% of MCA Inc. from Matsushita. Edgar Bronfman Jr. brings in Doug MorrisRising Tide label (later renamed Universal Records) in July, naming him Chairman/CEO of the MCA Music Entertainment Group a month later, replacing Teller. Morris taps Boberg as President of the label. The Pulp Fiction soundtrack is MCA’s best-selling album.

1996: MCA Music Entertainment Group acquires the 50% of Interscope Records the label took back from WMG for a cool $200 million. MCA Music Entertainment Group is then renamed Universal Music Group. Within seven years, MCA Records would be absorbed into Interscope, a label begun by Ted Field and Jimmy Iovine, who got his start producing Petty records for MCA. The Dangerous Minds soundtrack is the label’s top album.

1998: Seagram acquires PolyGram, including Island, Def Jam and A&M, among others, for a cool $10.4 billion and integrates it into Universal Music Group. K-Ci & JoJo and Aqua have MCA’s best-selling albums.

2000: French utility company Vivendi suddenly becomes a worldwide media player as ruler Jean-Marie Messier acquires Universal from the Bronfmans for a cool $34 billion. Punk-poppers Blink-182 are MCA’s most successful act.

2003: Jay Boberg steps down as President, Craig Lambert is given interim title. MCA is folded into Interscope Geffen A&M as part of Geffen, which retains its name and President, Jordan Schur.

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