mercury logo

 

The Chicago-based Mercury Records was founded by Irving Green in 1945. Their repertoire had previously been released through EMI in the UK (who had had the hit 'It's My Party' by Lesley Gore), but by 1964 was wholly owned by Philips worldwide. Initially most of the catalogue was American product but later that year a Julie Rogers recording of 'The Wedding' was issued as a single and reached no. 3 in the UK. A year later, German instrumentalist Horst Jankowski had a hit with 'A Walk In The Black Forest' also reaching no. 3 in the charts.

Mercury in the USA already had a prolific jazz catalogue which included artists such as Oscar Peterson, Erroll Garner, Sarah Vaughan, Brook Benton, Timi Yuro and Dinah Washington and these recordings would now be released/re-released in the UK by the Philips Group. A second Mercury label Limelight was launched in 1965 featuring many more fine jazz instrumentalists such as Chet Baker, Cannonball Adderley, Clifford Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach and Gerry Mulligan.

 

As the Sixties progressed, the Mercury label became known for more popular mainstream repertoire with releases from The Platters, Shangri-Las, Dee Dee Warwick and Miriam Makeba - and again in the Seventies with artists that included Rod Stewart, 10cc, Van Morrison, New York Dolls and the Steve Miller Band. Without any warning... a surprise hit in 1972 was by country singer Faron Young with 'Four In The Morning'. An outstandingly well produced single 'I'm Not In Love' was released by 10cc in 1975 which quickly topped the charts. Another of the label's most memorable acts was The Village People, with two enormous hits, 'Y.M.C.A.' and 'In The Navy' achieving legendary popularity in 1978-1979 and still being played at every disco and dance today.

As a promotional gimmick in March 1978, Mercury issued a square pressing of a 45rpm disc by Richard Myhill, 'It Takes Two To Tango'. This was recorded at his Utopia Studios by Phil Wainman who also co-wrote the song. Harry Nilsson recorded his very last album for the Mercury label in 1979 entitled Flash Harry which included his version of Eric Idle's 'Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life'.

The '80s and '90s were particularly successful for Mercury which had become the parent company Phonogram's prime label (see below). The Boomtown Rats, fronted by Bob Geldof switched to Mercury after initial releases on Nigel Grainge's Ensign label. Canadian rock band Rush recorded on Mercury before switching to Vertigo and maintained a high profile in the charts for a whole decade. American rock group The Steve Miller Band, who had signed with Capitol Records in the States but shrewdly released on Mercury in the U.K, had great album sales in the late 70s/early 80s, with their breakthrough single 'Abracadabra' going to no. 2 in the charts in 1982. Mercury was also the chosen label for Band Aid's massive selling charity single release, 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' in 1984, selling four million copies in Britain and an estimated twelve million worldwide.

Swing Out Sister was another very popular group at Phonogram - their first four hits were on Mercury before switching to the Fontana label. The group started out as a trio: Andy Connell (keyboards), Martin Jackson (drums) and Corinne Drewery on vocals. Their hits include 'Breakout' and 'Surrender', followed by their first album 'It's Better To Travel' which was enthusiastically received and reached the number one spot in the charts. But shortly afterwards, Martin Jackson left the band in the middle of recording Swing Out Sister's second album, 'Kaleidoscope World'.

Between 1986 and 1997 Mercury's most successful act was Australian rock band INXS ('Need You Tonight') selling vast amount of singles and albums. The Swiss electronic duo Yello had a number of chart successes, including one with Shirley Bassey entitled 'The Rhythm Divine' - but their biggest hit was 'The Race' in 1988 which featured in the film, "Nuns On The Run". American group Ugly Kid Joe had success with several releases in the 1990s - as did the American pop rock band Hanson with their first release which became a no. 1 hit in 1997 with 'Mmmbop'. Several other successful singles by Hanson followed.

Other British successful artists who recorded for Mercury during the 1980's and 1990's include: Dexy's Midnight Runners, ('Come On Eileen'), Tears For Fears, Teardrop Explodes, Mission, Big Country, Curiosity Killed The Cat, Texas ('I Don't Want A Lover'), Let Loose ('Crazy for You'), Adventures of Stevie V ('Dirty Cash'), All About Eve and Zodiac Mindwarp.

But one of the best was yet to come in 1998 with the release on Mercury of Canadian country rock singer Shania Twain. Several top ten singles and vast amounts of albums were bought, including more than two million copies sold in the UK of her CD, 'Come On Over'. World-wide sales now exceed 40 million. The album was produced by Robert 'Mutt' Lange and all the songs were composed by Shania Twain and Lange, who had previously produced (among many others) albums by the Boomtown Rats and Def Leppard.

Number one hits in the UK on the Mercury label released by Phonogram (from 1964) were:-

  1. Maggie May... Rod Stewart, October 1971
  2. You Wear It Well... Rod Stewart, September 1972
  3. I'm Not In Love... 10CC, June 1975
  4. Dreadlock Holiday... 10CC, September 1978
  5. Y.M.C.A. ... Village People, January 1979
  6. Come On Eileen... Dexy's Midnight Runners, August 1982
  7. Do They Know It's Christmas? ... Band Aid, December 1984
  8. The First Time... Robin Beck, November 1988 (her only chart record)
  9. MMMBop... Hanson, June 1997

http://www.facebook.com/groups/mercuryrecords

mercury end