Pickwick Records  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Drugstore Records

Pickwick Records was an American record label and distributor known for its releases of sound-alike recordings, bargain bin reissues and repackagings under the brands Design, Bravo (later changing their name to International Award), Hurrah, Grand Prix, and children's records on the Cricket and Happy Times labels. It was most active during the 1970s, when it obtained the rights to reissue recordings by Elvis Presley. It also distributed recordings released on the Hallmark Records label in Britain.

It was founded by Cy Leslie whose first business was a prerecorded greeting card service that in 1946 turned into Voco Records, a label of children's records. In 1950 Leslie founded Pickwick Records and by 1953 Pickwick entered the LP market providing lower priced records.

Singer-songwriter Lou Reed once worked as a staff songwriter for Pickwick Records, and gained experience in their small recording studio. Several of Pickwick's soundalike albums from 1964-65 also feature Reed as an uncredited session musician. Among his first professional tasks as a musician, and as well as prolific songwriting and producing for other Pickwick talents, Lou Reed sung two of his own songs, "The Ostrich" and "Sneaky Pete" (released as the Primitives in the fall of 1964). To promote the single onstage, he then hired classically-trained Welshman altoist John Cale, with whom he soon formed the Velvet Underground. Reed also sung two more of his own compositions for Pickwick, "Cycle Annie" (as The Beachnuts) and "You're Driving Me Insane" (as The Roughnecks), both released on the "Soundsville!" compilation in 1965. Rather unexpectedly, all four recordings turned out to sound like landmark blueprints for later daring Velvet Underground rock classics, an early example of a wild mid-sixties "garage" sound, recordings that show the way of was to become the "punk" sound of the sixties the Velvet Underground personified.

Amos Heilicher and his brother Daniel Heilicher merged their Musicland retail chain with Pickwick International in the late 1960s. This operation was sold in 1977 to American Can Company. Capitol Records had an early interest in Pickwick, but sold its share in the company in 1970.

Pickwick is also known for distributing music by smaller labels like Sonny Lester's Groove Mechant and the Swedish label Sonet Records (for which it distributed late-1960s recordings by Bill Haley & His Comets in Canada and the US).

In the 1970s Pickwick changed its direction and began re-issuing LPs that had been deleted from catalogs of the major record labels, in particular the RCA Records subsidiary RCA Camden, from which it leased the reissue rights for a number of Elvis Presley reissues and compilation albums that had been previously put out by RCA Camden between 1968 and 1975. Besides reissuing the RCA Camden catalog under the Pickwick branding, the company also put out an edited reissue of the Presley soundtrack album, Frankie and Johnny, and a two-LP set of mostly movie songs entitled Double Dynamite. After Presley's death in August 1977, however, the main RCA label took back the rights as it began reissuing Presley's canon under the main label again and Pickwick's Presley series ended.

In addition to its own Pickwick label, the company started their own subsidiary labels , P.I.P & De-Lite, to distribute original material, one of those labels, De-Lite, hit it big in 1974 and 1975 with million selling 45s & LPs by funk band Kool & The Gang. P.I.P had a couple of big dance club hits with "7-6-5-4-3-2-1 (Blow Your Whistle)" and "Drive My Car" by The Gary Toms Empire in 1975.

Around 1978, Pickwick and its operations, including its record labels, were purchased by PolyGram Records. PolyGram maintained only the De-Lite Records label for the releases of Kool and the Gang (who had been hitless for a few years until the addition of new lead singer J.T. Taylor, and began a long streak of hits that began with 1979's "Ladies Night" ) until the mid 80s, when Polygram did away with the De-lite imprint and later releases by Kool & The Gang were issued by PolyGram's Mercury label. What's left of the Pickwick, P.I.P. and De-lite labels (including the entire De-lite/Mercury catalog of Kool & The Gang) are now owned by Universal Music, who merged with PolyGram in 1998.

The Hallmark name have since been revived as a budget record label, now owned by the revived Pickwick Group.

References in popular culture

Pickwick was the record label to which the fictional band Creme Brulee, from British sitcom The League Of Gentlemen, were signed during their 1970s heyday. Pickwick was most likely chosen for it's connotations with the 1970s and with fairly low-budget, bargain-bin records and compilations, which ties into Creme Brulee as a band who were desperately unfashionable and inept even in their prime and have only become more so since.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Pickwick Records" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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