RECORD COLLECTOR NEWS
SERVING RECORD COLLECTORS WORLDWIDE AND BEYOND



Music History

February 6, 2020

When Worlds Collide

The building that housed the Elektra Records label is slated  for the wrecking ball. Photo by Larry Jaffee

Former Manhattan Home of Elektra Records Faces Demolition.

The Doors’ Heyday Coincided With Label Being at 1855 Broadway

IN THE THIRD WEEK OF OCTOBER, I was covering for my friend Tim’s store, Record Reserve in Northport, NY (one-time home of Jack Kerouac), which I do about once a month. When I was a teenager I always wanted to work in a record store, and I had to wait until near my sixth decade to make that goal a reality.

Since I get to play the store’s DJ, one Sunday morning in late October, I was in the mood for The Doors, and I realized I never heard Morrison Hotel. Pulling out the vinyl, my eyes fell to the bottom of the inner sleeve, stating: Elektra Records, 1855 Broadway, New York, NY 10023.

I said to myself, “Well that address sounds familiar.” It’s where I’ve taught college-level courses since January 2013 for the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) for its communication arts department. (Full disclosure: my first class that first semester was in 1855 Broadway, but the second week my course was moved to a building leased by the university on 61st Street.)

In mid-July, a real estate publication announced that 1855 Broadway, which the university has occupied since 1975, was up for sale. Nobody bothered to tell the faculty — or students — what was happening behind the scenes. Apparently the president and board of trustees over the previous 18 months planned the divestiture of 1855 Broadway, the only building NYIT owns outright. We have since learned that the purchase price is reportedly $90 million in this neighborhood known as Columbus Circle, but colloquially thought of as “Billionaire’s Row.” NYIT has been gentrified out of the hood, along with all the other storefronts to the physical (not political) left of NYIT that vacated Broadway from 60th Street this past summer.

I immediately pulled out from the record store bin other records by The Doors and found the address on the January 1967 self-titled debut album, as well as Strange Days and Soft Parade. I then punched up Google and found on a fan website “1855 Broadway” printed on the inner labels of a bunch of 7-inch, 45 rpm Doors singles, including “Love Me Two Times” and “The Unknown Soldier.”

I then ordered from Amazon a copy of Elektra founder Jac Holzman’s 1998 book, Follow the Music, which I figured would contain some insight about the building. Meanwhile, I mused whether the fact that The Doors worked in the same space as NYIT faculty and staff could merit “landmark” status, probably not.

After all, The Doors were arguably the most popular, critically acclaimed American rock band of the late 1960s, during which Elektra’s strong artist roster also included Judy Collins, Tim Buckley, Butterfield Blues Band, and Love, among them. Well, at least The Doors revelation also impressed my girlfriend, whose teenage bedroom in the early 1980s was adorned with a poster of Jim Morrison on the wall.

My pal Lenny Kaye (who curated Elektra’s Nuggets of garage-band singles in 1972) put me in touch via email with the now 88-year-old Holzman, who confirmed that Elektra from late 1966 until 1970 to the best of his recollection rented several floors in 1855 Broadway, which also contained the label’s mixing room,” but cared not to discuss further. Drummer John Densmore, in a subsequent email to Record Collector News (RCN), remembered mixing the first album there.

“The Doors were in the office frequently,” confirms former Elektra publicist Danny Fields, in an exclusive interview with RCN. Fields was the label’s first press agent and had an office in 1855 Broadway for about 18 months. Although The Doors’ debut album was recorded at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles and released the first week of 1967, and critically acclaimed, its first single “Break On Through” didn’t.

Brought in on a freelance assignment to drum up some publicity for the Doors, Fields suggested in June 1967 to Holzman that Elektra consider releasing “the song about fire” as a single, despite its over 7-minute length. Others within the label also thought it would be a hit. Despite objections from the band an edited version under 3 minutes was released. “They hired me to start a publicity department,” Fields explains, the week “Light My Fire” debuted at No. 3 on the Top 40 Billboard singles chart. “I started working full-time there, and [Elektra radio promotion executive] Steve Harris told me it will be No. 1 next week and it was.”

Founded in Greenwich Village in the late 1950s, Elektra moved in 1963 to Manhattan’s midtown at the Sperry-Rand building at 51 W. 51st. This neighborhood became something of a mecca for the record industry with Columbia Records, as a subsidiary of CBS, located around the corner in the “Black Rock” skyscraper.

The Doors’ launch in January 1967 catapulted Elektra, as well as its esoteric Nonesuch imprint, including classical, world music and sound effects, from what previously considered mostly a folk label into a major rock indie in need of a bigger office. Ten blocks north was Atlantic Records at 1841 Broadway, while Morris Levy’s Roulette Records was around the corner on 60th St.

Elektra’s expansion strat-egy included placing the creative side of the business on the West Coast. In 1966, Holzman purchased a West Hollywood building on La Cienega Blvd. But he decided to keep the business aspects of the company in his native New York, serving as Elektra’s operational center, including legal, financing, production, and manufacturing, while the LA unit focused on A&R (artists and repertoire) and having an in-house recording studio.

A&M, COLOSSUS RECORDS, AND NARCS

HOLZMAN’S PUBLISHED ORAL history, including dozens of firsthand memories of individuals who orbited Elektra, provided additional valuable fodder about the “plentiful space” found at 1855 Broadway, which was built originally in 1905.

Elektra wasn’t alone among record companies setting up shop there during the tail end of the hippie era. A&M Records had a “tiny office” on the building’s second floor, confirms Fields, further proven by the announcement of a Fairport Convention press party on Dec. 29, 1970, promoting its then latest album, Full House, according to a poster for sale on the Internet. For A&M, Manhattan represented clearly a satellite office of the label’s Beverly Hills headquarters, where co-founders Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss were based.

Coincidentally, another music biz exec also named Jerry Moss in late 1969 based his Colossus Records at 1855 Broadway’s suite 702. Colossus’ big success came from two Dutch imports that made the U.S. single charts: Shocking Blue’s “Venus” (No. 1) in December 1969 and Tee-Set’s “Ma Belle Amie” (No. 5) in February 1970. Earlier in his career, Ross, who died in 2017, announced for Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. He also mentored the Philadelphia-based R&B songwriters/producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, and co-wrote with them the song “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” a 1968 hit recorded as a duet by Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Temptations.

Meanwhile on the 12th floor of 1855 Broadway, the “odd geometry of the exterior wall gave [Jac Holzman’s] office an interest angularity,” he recalls in his book. (The office of NYIT’s current president is located in probably the same physical space.) Other Elektra executives’ offices provided picturesque, aerial views of Columbus Circle and the southwestern tip of Central Park. Also situated in the building was the label’s art department headed by Bill Harvey, who designed so many iconic covers for The Doors and other artists, as well as Elektra’s butterfly logo. Indian fabrics adorned the walls while muted lighting made it clear this was no squares’ office building. Fittingly, incense and “other aromas” wafted through the air, Holzman coyly notes in his memoir.

DANNY FIELDS REMEMBERS

“NO MARIJUANA, NO HASH, no LSD,” the now 80-year-old Fields was lectured by then Elektra lawyer Larry Harris. That tidbit is especially interesting considering the record labels’ co-tenant on floors 2, 3 and 4 was none other than the New York State Bureau of Narcotic Addiction Control. The anti-drug unit’s presence in 1855 Broadway was confirmed by various documents found on the Internet. “There was a great deal of pot,” admits Fields, who hadn’t realized law enforcement were under their nose, until this interview. “Maybe that’s why Larry was concerned,” he surmises.

Visiting musicians went “absolutely bonkers,” reminisces Keith Holzman (Jac’s brother, an Elektra exec) in Follow the Music, after recognizing names of narcs on the building directory.

Fields explains that Elektra at this stage only had about 20 or 30 people working there. “It wasn’t a big company,” he says, remembering that the elevator doors opened
to Elektra.

In his job as publicity director, musicians, including Morrison, would occasionally conduct “phoners” with journalists in 1855 Broadway, although in-person interviews would happen elsewhere, not the office. “These were the really early days of the rock press. People wouldn’t even want to talk to musicians,” notes Fields, often described as the coolest person in the room circa the 1960s and 1970s and the “company freak,” designating his role as a liaison to the label and vice versa. (Check out the documentary Danny Says — available on Netflix — at http://www.magpictures.com/dannysays/.

The future Ramones co-manager takes a little umbrage to being described as a freak. ”“I like to see myself then as cooler than the accountants,” says Fields, who made his mark by urging Holzman to sign non-mainstream tastes, such as punk progenitors the MC5, The Stooges and David Peel, all controversial signings within Elektra during his fairly brief tenure.

ELEKTRA PASSED ON
JONI MITCHELL

“JAC KNEW THAT PEOPLE didn’t like my taste,” acknowledges Fields, whose perhaps signing suggestion that perhaps made the most sense, given Elektra’s folk history and potential upside, was rejected for perhaps the wrongest of reasons.

“I brought Joni Mitchell in to meet Jac [at 1855 Broadway]. She was ready to release her first album. Judy Collins had a hit with Joni’s ‘Both Sides Now.’ Jac told Joni, ‘We’d love to work for you.’”

Mitchell then requested that her painting go on the cover of the album, which turned out to be a deal-breaker.

Fields recalls, “Jac explained to Joni, ‘Anything to do with covers is up to William S. Harvey because his role is creating the visual look of Elektra.” Holzman then called Harvey into his office to meet the singer/songwriter. The art director complimented Mitchell on writing a great song. Holzman then explained the situation and her request.

“Harvey said, ‘No way,’ walked out and closed the door. Jac just shrugged and said that’s Bill’s word. Joni said, ‘Well, I’ll phone Warner Bros.’ head Mo Ostin.’”

Fields apologized and walked Mitchell to the elevator.

Reprise released in March 1968 Mitchell’s debut album, with her painting on the cover. Her second album Clouds, was released in May 1969, and adorned with a Mitchell self-portrait. On the inside gatefold were two butterflies (perhaps a comment to Elektra, considering the label’s iconic logo designed by Harvey).

To this day, Fields doesn’t blame Holzman. “Jac and I are still fond of each other.” Harvey ultimately fired the publicity director on Jan. 21, 1969 at 1855 Broadway, punching him repeatedly in the head. Fields remembers the day vividly because Richard Nixon was inaugurated on this date when his parents’ plane was hijacked to Cuba.

In Mick Stoughton’s excellent 2016 book Becoming Elektra, Holzman elaborates on the animosity between the two. “Harvey said: ‘I can’t stand Danny Fields, he’s wrecking the label, either he goes or I go.’ And I said, ‘Ok, you have to fire him.’ I now deeply regret having allowed it. Danny Fields was smart, with excellent taste: highly outspoken, frequently outrageous. And if you were the record company, you also had to respond to your staff, your distributors.”

THE END FOR 1855 BROADWAY

BY 1970, APPARENTLY 1855 Broadway couldn’t handle all of the label’s activity. Despite its West Coast beachhead, New York would remain its headquarters, albeit across the street at 15 Columbus Circle, where the then-new Gulf & Western skyscraper was getting refurbished to also be the New York home of Paramount Pictures. It’s incidentally, now a Trump hotel.

The move to 15 Columbus Circle’s swankier offices, also announced on the aforementioned Morrison Hotel inner sleeve, coincided with Elektra’s impending merger with Warner and Atlantic. They would soon combine to create WEA, now known as the Warner Music Group.

David Geffen, whose Asylum Records was also merged with Elektra in 1973, leaving Geffen in charge of the joint operation. Geffen fired Bill Harvey, who died in the early 1990s.

Holzman left Elektra in 1973, and became chairman and CEO of Panavision, as well as developed the Steadicam, for the motion picture business. He came back to the music business in 1991.

On the ground floor where NYIT’s library now sits was a branch of Chock Full o’Nuts — the Dunkin Donuts of its day. Grammy-winning designer Craig Braun recalls being in and out of 1855 Broadway often and grabbing a coffee there. “Chock Full o’Nuts had great coffee cake,” he remembers.

Most likely, this is the end — sorry I couldn’t resist — for NYIT’s time at 1855 Broadway, slated to be demolished within two years, as the wrecking ball is slated in late 2021 or 2022 to “break on through” the reportedly asbestos-laden structure.






One Comment


  1. Great story. Thanks LJ for investigating your serendipitous address.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *