The Elektra Records Albums You Should Absolutely Own

When the doors light my fire crashed at No. 1 in 1967, it was a remarkable, seemingly idiosyncratic achievement for Elektra Records. Yet Elektra was not the “little independent folk label” that so many Doors stories would have us believe.

Love had cracked the Top 40 the previous year, and initially The Doors wanted little more than to be as big as Love. But The Doors took Elektra to another level, light years away from the label founded in 1950 by 19-year-old student Jac Holzman.

From humble beginnings, Elektra has grown into one of America’s leading folk labels, releasing albums by Jean Ritchie, Josh White and Bob Gibson alongside world music titles, folk anthologies and two hit series of songs. bawdy boys from Ed McCurdy and Oscar Brand who kept the label afloat. . In the 1960s, New York’s Greenwich Village-based Elektra was in pole position to sign many of the topical blues singer-songwriters and stylists who gravitated there.

Elektra trapped Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Judy Collins, Fred Neil and Tom Rush. But the band that most facilitated Elektra’s turn to rock was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, whose ferocious 1965 debut album was the label’s first attempt at recording all-electric music. Significantly, it was produced by Paul Rothchild, soon to be dubbed the “fifth member” of The Doors.

It was above all Jac Holzman who guided and nurtured Elektra, his taste and ingenuity often allowing the label to bet on highly improbable projects. In 1964 he launched the Authentic Sounds Effects series and couldn’t squeeze them fast enough. With no publishing or artist royalties to pay, it was a license to print money.

Holzman also launched Nonesuch that year, initially a low-budget classical label, it revolutionized the classical market and grossed millions – enough to fund Elektra’s second home in California, where Holzman immediately found Love and The Doors.

By 1970, Elektra was part of the Warner Music Group, enjoying success with Bread, Carly Simon and Judy Collins, among others. Holzman moved in 1973. In 2020 Elektra celebrated its 70th anniversary. But it’s Holzman’s era – albeit the tip of the iceberg – that we explore here.

Mick Houghton’s book Becoming Elektra: The True Story of Jac Holzman’s Visionary Label is available for purchase online.