"Atlantic Records: The House that Ahmet Built"
One of my fondest childhood memories is my dad playing a Ray Charles album for me, and explaining that the roots of the great American performer's music lay in the blues. Not surprisingly, that album, The Genius of Ray Charles, was released on Atlantic Records, the label founded by Ahmet Ertegun. Ertegun arrived in the United States an immigrant, but fell in love with the blues and jazz, and built one of the most successful record labels in music history.
Narrated by Bette Midler, "Atlantic Records: The House that Ahmet Built" is as much tribute as biography. Ertegun is paired with the artists who recorded for him, his Atlantic compatriots, fellow record company moguls, and their discussions are less interviews and more cheerful reminiscing filled with anecdotes and laughter. These repartees are filled with mutual admiration and respect. From Ray Charles to Phil Collins to Jimmy Page, the artists give credit to Ertegun for giving them free reign to create their art on their own terms. Every artist featured notes Ertegun's outgoing and fun-loving personality, the main force behind Atlantic Records' positive atmosphere. The program does touch on the Alan Freed payola scandal, as well as some royalty disputes (settled by Ertegun himself), but generally centers around Ertegun and his love of music and life.
Ertegun's life story is filled with milestones. He was the first to hold integrated jazz shows in Washington D.C. Atlantic Records was one of the first national labels to record African-American artists playing blues-based music. He signed Led Zeppelin without ever hearing a note from the band, his confidence based on Jimmy Page and Robert Plant's previous bands, and was at the forefront of the 60's British invasion. Later in his career, he was flexible enough to change the label's direction as musical tastes changed, signing ABBA, Foreigner, and others.
Ahmet Ertegun was a truly unique record company mogul. Not only did he have an immense knowledge of music, but he also wrote songs, performed and produced some of his label's releases, and formed personal and positive relationships with his artists. Most importantly, Ahmet Ertegun spent his life doing what he loved, and his enthusiasm never waned until his untimely death at age 83 after a fall backstage at a Rolling Stone concert (Hollywood couldn't write a more fitting ending).