New Book Tells the Early Story of Arista Records, Home of Kinks, Dead, Aretha



by Best Classic Bands Staff



Trouser Press Books has published Looking for the Magic: New York City, the ’70s & the Rise of Arista Records by Mitchell Cohen. The book is described in a press release as “a cultural-historical remix, a fresh perspective on how one record company, Arista Records, reflected its place and time, New York in the 1970s and early 1980s.”

Through interviews with dozens of artists and executives, the release continues, music journalist Mitchell Cohen “goes inside the business of making and marketing music during this vibrant and diverse period. Under Clive Davis, rock, pop, punk, jazz, R&B, disco, cabaret and Broadway were all represented on Arista. It sounded like the city it was at the geographical center of.”

Related: Our Album Rewind of Graham Parker’s Squeezing Out Sparks, a 1979 Arista release

The book’s title comes from a song by the Dwight Twilley Band

The press release offers a synopsis of the Arista Records story: “From its inception as a new entity built on the pop and soul foundation of Bell Records, to groundbreaking artists like Gil Scott-Heron and Patti Smith, to revitalized legends like the Kinks and Aretha Franklin, up to its launching of its biggest star, Whitney Houston, Arista Records’ story has never been told like this. Looking for the Magic covers the wide scope of the label’s roster: its giant pop successes (Barry Manilow), its dedication to cutting-edge jazz (Anthony Braxton) and its embracing of rock royalty (Lou Reed, the Grateful Dead).”

Looking for the Magic (named after a song by Arista group the Dwight Twilley Band), says the announcement, “takes the reader behind the scenes, to the Kinks’ backstage fights, Lou Reed’s on-stage diatribes, and to CBGB’s, Kenny’s Castaways and the Continental Baths. We find out how ‘Because the Night’ made its way from Bruce Springsteen to Patti Smith; how Barry Manilow went from obscurity to stardom; how MTV ushered in a second British Invasion for bands like the Thompson Twins and Haircut One Hundred; and how Arista formed alliances with adventurous labels like Stiff and Ze Records.”

Listen to the Kinks’ “Sleepwalker,” a 1977 Arista release


Author Mitchell Cohen has written about music and film for Creem, High Fidelity, Film Comment, the Village Voice, and Musician, among others. He began working at Arista in the late ‘70s as a publicity and advertising copywriter and then as one of the label’s A&R executives.

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