Many a baby boomer as well as those who came of age as part of the MTV generation now has an early holiday present in the form of a two-part docuseries that celebrates their careers and digs into the story behind the iconic A&M Records. “Mr. A & Mr. M” just premiered the first part on Epix and will conclude on December 12.
Those initials in the title stand for trumpeter Herb Alpert and music mogul Jerry Moss, who decided to start a record label in Alpert’s garage in 1962. They recorded a modest hit single called “Tell It to the Birds” and invested the money the Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass’ debut album “The Lonely Bull,” inspired by a bullfight Alpert attended in Mexico. But in 1965, Alpert truly hit pay dirt when Moss suggested he record the album “Whipped Cream and Other Delights” that featured songs with food themes. But the tunes were upstaged by the cover art, featuring a sexy come-hither model covered in chiffon and shaving cream while licking whipped cream off her index finger many a boy on the brink of manhood coveted that LP image. Little wonder that the album sold 6 million copies while the suave and talented Alpert was in demand on TV variety shows.
Alpert and Moss decided to buy the campus-like studio lot that was once owned by Charlie Chaplin and began to hire a team of workers. Unlike other company honchos who mostly worry about the bottom line, the pair mainly focused on keeping their artists happy and famously kept their office doors open to the talent. They had a certain knack of allowing their roster of musicians to be themselves. That is how they enticed such one-of-a kind entertainers such as Joe Cocker, their first true rock act who would appear in a big-screen doc of his 1970 U.S tour “Mad Dogs & Englishmen,” produced by A&M films.
Besides rare archival footage and audio-only interviews, you can hear and see performances by such outstanding acts such as Cat Stevens (Yusuf), Styx, The Police, The Carpenters, Supertramp, The Go-Go’s, Janet Jackson and Carole King — whose 1971 album “Tapestry” was released on the A&M offshoot label Ode and remains one of the best-selling albums of all time, with over 25 million copies worldwide. Guitarist and singer Peter Frampton, who started out as part of the English band Humble Pie, decided to go solo and incorporated into his live act a unique talk box that used a peddle to modify his vocals. The effect was popularized by his best-selling live album “Frampton Comes Alive,” which was the top-selling album of 1976, with eight million copies sold.
While it seemed that A&M had the magic touch when it came to judging talent and prided themselves by encouraging diversity in their hires and acts, The Sex Pistols blew their chances when the band beat up a friend of one of the label’s team. That is a far cry from singer Suzanne Vega, who made the company proud with her 1987 hit song “Luka,” about an abused boy.
For the record, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members Alpert and Moss, both 86, sport gray hair these days. But it’s clear that they have both benefited from bringing such joy to the world.
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