Thursday, March 19, 2009

Alan Livingston: An Appreciation

"You may not know Alan Livingston by name," writes Tony Sachs in the Huffington Post. "But if you know anything about 20th century popular culture, you know his work. Livingston was doubly blessed, first by being a talented, creative guy with amazing instincts, and second by being in the right place at the right time to put those talents to work."

Starting in 1946, Livingston hit the ground running at Capitol Records by creating the character of Bozo the clown for childrens' books and records. The sales helped to turn Capitol into a major force in the music industry and, after making the transition to TV, Bozo became a pop culture icon.

But his extraordinary success in producing children's records did not prepare for what would happen next:

In 1953, Livingston made a very brave, very ballsy decision: he signed a washed-up crooner --Frank Sinatra -- over the strenuous objections of most of Capitol's corporate brass. Pairing him with arrangers Nelson Riddle, Don Costa and Billy May, Sinatra's recording career was revitalized, resulting in some of the greatest records in pop music history -- In The Wee Small Hours, Songs For Swingin' Lovers and Only The Lonely, to name a few. He would also prove pivotal in signing another important artist to the label, one that reaped similar rewards: Nat King Cole.

After leaving Capitol for a few years to work in television programming for NBC, he returned to Capitol in 1961 where he once again made two more ballsy decisions: He took a chance on a California surf band named the Beach Boys, and he made a similar gamble on a British pop group called...The Beatles.

He saw the direction in which pop music was headed during the 1960's, and responded accordingly by signing acts like the Band and the Steve Miller Band. By the time he finally left Capitol in 1968, his reputation within the music business as a genius was assured.

Unlike a Clive Davis or a Tommy Mottola, Livingston never sought the spotlight. The only times I ever caught glimpses of him was on the Biography channel, where he contributed to the biographical segments of such entertainers as Sinatra, cole, and Judy Garland, whom he signed to the label in the Fifties.

Even though he passed away last Friday in comfortable anonymity at the age of 91, it's difficult to even imagine how much impact and seminal influence one person could even have on popular cultrue. For classic tracks like "Good Vibrations," "Mona Lisa," "I've Got You Under My Skin," and "Hey Jude" would not have been made possible without his insight and vision.

You won't be forgotten, Alan. You will be dearly missed.

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