Thursday, April 27, 2006

Brief Colgems History

Colpix Records was born in 1958, headquartered in New York City. The label was a division of Columbia Pictures Corporation and much of their output consisted of soundtracks from Columbia Pictures movies and television shows.

Colpix also became the outlet from which several younger stars from the top television shows of the day recorded. Among them were Donna Reed Show teen stars Shelley Fabares and Paul Peterson, who had some mild success while at the label. Future Monkees David Jones and Michael Nesmith also recorded for Colpix, with Jones releasing an album and a few singles on the label. Nesmith recorded under the name Michael Blessing.

This Monkees connection was further cemented when Don Kirschner entered the scene. In 1965, Columbia Pictures purchased Don Kirschner's publishing company, Aldon Music, and their in-house label, Dimension. Colpix eventually ceased activity in 1966. Screen Gems, which was Columbia Pictures' television production arm, formed an association with RCA and started the Colgems label in fall 1966.

The Colgems label (the name is a contraction of Columbia and Screen Gems) basically replaced Colpix, and followed the same path: releasing both soundtrack albums from Columbia motion pictures and singles and albums from some of the most popular teen stars of the era.

The difference was that Colgems actually created its own star attraction, The Monkees. With Kirschner at the helm, Nesmith, Jones, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz were shaped into a musical group, appearing on their own TV show on NBC from 1966 to 1968. Colgems released both albums and singles from the "Pre-Fab Four," and sold millions of records, starting with "Last Train to Clarksville" and the first Monkees album.

Using this clout, the label expanded its reach. With The Monkees as its backbone, Colgems handled recordings from a diverse number of acts, including Hoyt Axton, Sally Field, Sajid Khan, The Lewis and Clarke Expedition, Rich Little, and several other performers. It continued to release soundtracks, hitting paydirt with the Oliver soundtrack in 1969.

Although The Monkees TV show went off the air in 1968, a Monkees unit (less Tork and later Nesmith) continued to release albums and singles into 1969 and 1970. When The Monkees basically petered out, the label did too.

For all intents and purposes, Colgems Records shut down for good in late 1970/early 1971 or thereabouts. Colgems, or what was left of it, morphed into Bell Records, which itself was absorbed into Arista Records in the late 1970s.

Even though the Colpix/Colgems/Bell/Arista affiliation is a good one, few of the original Colgems releases-excluding The Monkees catalog, one or two Lewis and Clarke Expedition tunes and a few soundtracks-have been rereleased, first on vinyl and now on compact disk. This makes the label even more fascinating, as most of the music on Colgems has not been heard in more than 30 years.


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