By 1953, MGM Records was considered a major label alongside Columbia, Mercury, Decca, Capitol and Coral. It launched the Cub subsidiary in 1956 and expanded into jazz by buying Verve Records from its founder Norman Granz in December 1960. It became the American distributor for Deutsche Grammophon in 1962 (losing those rights when Polydor opened its US branch in 1969), expanded Verve into rock (The Righteous Brothers, the Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa and the Mothers Of Invention) and folk (Janis Ian, Richie Havens, Tim Hardin) music and became the distributor of Kama Sutra Records.
By the late 1960s, the label was beginning to experience many internal and sales problems (the studio's unrealistic sales goals for the label in spite of large numbers of unsold LPs winding up in the cut-out bins; the colossal failure of the Alan Lorber-created 1968-69 "Bosstown Sound" marketing campaign; contracutal problems with unsuccessful producers; MGM's habitual censoring of music, sitting on finished masters and releasing albums without artist approval didn't help matters). MGM Records president Mike Curb infamously dropped eighteen poor-selling acts from the label, citing pro-drug lyrics in their music. This gave the future Lieutenant Govenor of California a commendation from President Richard M. Nixon for his anti-drug stance. In this area, around 1970, the label was distributed and manufactured by Curb's 'Transcontinental Record Corporation', commonly abridged to TRC (2).
Curb righted the label's fortunes by giving it a more family entertainment-oriented focus, with The Osmonds becoming their biggest stars and by signing Petula Clark, Wayne Newton and Sammy Davis, Jr.; it also delved into the era's bubblegum pop (The Cowsills, Daddy Dewdrop), country (Hank Williams, Jr., Jim Stafford, C.W. McCall, Mel Tillis) and soul music (Lou Rawls, Johnny Bristol).
In May 1972, MGM's then owner, hotel and real estate magnate Kirk Kerkorian, sold the label to PolyGram, including a ten-year lease on the MGM logo and perpetual rights to the MGM Records name. In 1975, MGM Records was de-emphasized and all of the acts still signed to the label were transferred to Polydor, which had by then become its parent label; it soon became an outlet for MGM soundtrack album releases and back catalog reissues until the label was shut down for good in 1982. The reissue rights to the MGM film soundtracks were licensed to CBS Special Products in 1982 and were later passed on to MCA Records in 1986, where its releases of roughly 100 of them were the last vinyl LP versions; the rights to the classic MGM film soundtracks now reside with Rhino Records (2) which has been releasing restored and expanded CD versions on its Rhino Movie Music imprint in association with Turner Classic Movies. The MGM pop and country catalogs are currently managed by The Island/Def Jam Music Group via Polydor, Mercury Records, and Mercury Nashville, respectively.
For much of its history, MGM distributed a number of smaller labels, many of which only lasted a couple of releases. A few exceptions include Kama Sutra (which became a sister label to Buddah Records in 1969); Andy Williams' Barnaby Records (a brief interim deal in 1973 as it was changing distribution from CBS to Janus) and Roy Acuff's Hickory Records (which switched distribution to ABC Records after a three-year period).
During its lifetime, MGM used several format prefixes, label designs and tapefaces that - very roughly - allow for a dating of the releases.
"K": 7" 45 rpm singles, from 1949 until February 1974.
"M": 7" 45 rpm singles, from February 1974 until 1976.
"X": 7" 45 rpm EPs.
"SK": Special edition Stereo 7" 45 rpm singles from 1959.
"KGC": Golden Circle 7" 45 rpms.
"E": Mono LPs, since 1953 until about 1958.
"E/SE": Reissues with rechanneled - fake - stereo releases, since 1958 (often using the mono jackets with an attached sticker).
"SE": Stereo LPs, since 1959 and until 1974.
1974 and later LP prefixes were M3, MG, MB.
Children records carry CH (mono) and CHS (stereo) prefixes.
Centre label designs:
From the 1940s and until 1959, the label was yellow with a black lion logo and black lettering.
From 1959 to 1968, a black label with a rainbow coloured "M-G-M" in large letters and the classic "movie" MGM lion logo above that, and silver lettering was used.
In 1968, the label became blue and gold/yellowish with the ("modernized Leo") lion logo in black and "MGM Records" in blue, and black lettering.
Until around October 1960 labels stated at the bottom that MGM was a division of Loew's Incorporated (the original parent company of MGM who had to divorce the company from their holdings in 1959 as the result of a Federal antitrust ruling (United States v. Paramount Pictures) stating that the major film studios could no longer own movie theater chains).
From October 1960 until around 1971, labels read at the bottom "M-G-M Records - A Division Of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc." (later changed to M.G.M Records - A Division Of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. and then MGM Records - A Division Of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.).
In May 1972 (after the PolyGram takover) this became "Manufactured by MGM Records, Inc., 7165 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, Calif. 90046".
From approx. 1976 onwards, the bottom read "Manufactured And Marketed By Polydor Incorporated/810 Seventh Avenue/New York, N.Y. 10019".
All MGM Records Division pressings carry a typeface from Pace Press, NYC. This is mainly identifiable by using surnames only as songwriter credits (e.g. Burdon), and the publishing info and cat# / label matrix numbers are found towards the lower end of the centre hole. Example .
Other typefaces found stem from:
Southern Plastics, Nashville, TN.: They usually printed the publishing info and cat# centrally around the centre hole and used initials for the songwriter (e.g. E. Burdon). Example .
Monarch Record Mfg. Co., LA. with typeset by Alco Research And Engineering, Co., Los Angeles, CA.: They printed the publishing info and cat# centrally around the centre hole on the labels and also used initials with the surname. Example
H.V. Waddell Co., Burbank, CA.: They pressed for MGM until 1966. Waddell printed the credits, publishing info and cat# analogue to Pace Press but they used a different, more fat "bubble-ish" ink and a broader typeface and the centre labels feature a sunken ring around the centre hole. Example
Reverse Producers Corp.: They always stated the origin on the labels. Example
Midwest Record Pressing, Inc., Chicago, IL.: Their typeface is rather narrow and not bold. Example.
It's not unusual that a single release was pressed by several different pressing plants, e.g. MGM's own Bloomfield plant, H.V. Waddell, Midwest Record Pressings and Reverse Producers Corp.
A note about 78 RPM releases: in the late 1940s-1950s MGM used a proprietary vinyl product called "Metrolite". If record labels indicate they were pressed on Metrolite, these should be entered into the database as "Vinyl, 10", 78 RPM" releases. "Metrolite" should be mentioned in the release notes and not in the format free text field. If labels do not state Metrolite, they are probably shellac pressings. In some cases, both shellac and vinyl pressings of the same catalog numbers exist. These should be entered as separate releases within the same master release.