I didn't link any of the obits I found online because they're all so wrong. It would be nice if we
could amass some FACTS here and maybe present them to AP, UPI and the Los Angeles Times (the most
commonly linked and used obits).
Here are a few.
1. Mercury was sold to Philips in 1961 or early 1962, not "sold to Polygram in the mid-70's" as the
LA Times obit says.
2. As I understand it (fact check needed), Green disengaged from Mercury by the mid-60's and got
into real estate development (shopping centers in the Midwest, housing in Iran and other places), so
he was nowhere near the place when late 60's rock acts like the NY Dolls were signed, as the LA
Times obit states.
3. Mercury was cited as being very progressive in their hiring, which is true. My mother was one of
the first female vice presidents of a major record label. Quincy Jones was also among the first
black vice presidents of a major label. Norman Granz was responsible for many of Mercury's early
jazz efforts in one way or another, so his attitudes were influential from early on. What was very
progressive about Mercury was that the attitude was, whatever works. If it sold well and sounded
good, the attitude was they didn't care who was doing it and people were rewarded in a meritocracy.
I do not think one could say all labels, especially the majors, worked this way.
4. Green also gave his producers free reign about how they wanted to do things technically. He had
good A&R people from the start, made wise acquisitions in the consolidation wave of the late 40's,
got into LPs early and encouraged technical excellence in the hifi era. Reading the engineering
credits on Mercury pop and jazz records is a who's who of the "golden era" best-of-breed.
5. I think it was wise to sell to Philips when they did. Capitol had sold to EMI several years
earlier, the payola scandals had made promotion harder, many of the post-WWII guys didn't
necessarily understand what the rock era meant and there were successful rock and roll upstarts
nibbling hard at the edges. So the time to get out was good. Plus there was an economic downturn
that led to serious discounting (ie Mercury Wing series).
6. By the 70's, Mercury was a pretty dormant label. It was absorbed into Polygram at some point
before the late 70s. It was combined with Verve's catalog sometime in the late 70's or 1980's. There
were actually some very fine reissues of Mercury and Verve jazz records in that timeframe, just
before CD's came along. Those double-LP Verve/Polygram reissues, which go out of sequence (pet
peeve) but are very well mastered and pressed on nice vinyl, are good and especially good are the
Japanese reissues that stay in sequence most of the time, contain original art most of the time,
sound good and are pressed on exceptional vinyl.
7. Philips reissued some Mercury Living Presence titles in the ill-fated Golden Imports series. In
the early CD era, some titles were issued under the Philips label as part of compilations. The
Mercury Living Presence imprint was revived when my mother did the CD reissues in the 1990's. For
all the changing of hands since she had retired in 1964, many tapes were still around and many were
in good shape. Where they weren't, effective remedies could be taken with the titles that were
issued over that period (100+ CD's).
8. This is pure opinion -- Mercury usually gets overshadowed in record-industry histories by larger
and flashier Capitol and smaller and more-focused Verve/Blue Note/Chess/Sun. Mercury was a true
path-breaker in many ways. Irving Green was a different kind of record executive and a very
innovative and interesting man. Because it was more wide-angle than many small companies, Mercury's
influence is perhaps more diffuse, but it touches many corners of the music business. The legacy
catalog has made money time after time after time and a surprising number of old recordings remain
in print to this day. Philips and now Universal were able to release money-making reissues every
year they have owned that catalog. That's quite a legacy in and of itself.
-- Tom Fine