The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

23 August 2003

Handed down through degenerations

Mercury, as a record label, dates back to 1945. Based in Chicago, it quickly became a major player, scoring hits with pop, jazz, country, rock, and classical releases. (The Living Presence classical series, begun in the Fifties, enjoys a colossal reputation among audiophiles to this day.) Acquired by Philips in the Sixties, Mercury became part of the giant Polygram combine, which itself was absorbed by Universal a couple years ago.

Given the sheer enormity of its back catalog, it's hard for me to grasp the idea that Mercury, as a record company, simply doesn't exist anymore; a few things still slip out of Nashville under its imprint — the last one I bought was Shania Twain's Up! — but basically, it's just another Universal brand name. This point was hammered home while I was perusing the fine print on Hard to Find Orchestral Instrumentals II, another in a series of nifty reissues from the Eric label, and discovered this note on Sil Austin's version of "Danny Boy", released in 1959 on Mercury 71442:

Courtesy of The Island Def Jam Music Group under license from Universal Music Enterprises

Island? Def Jam? A couple of tails wagging the family dog? Ain't that a kick in the London derrière?

Posted at 1:15 PM to Tongue and Groove


I must tell you--I have only ever owned one Mercury Living Presence recording: Balalaika Favorites. Laugh if you will, it's an amazingly wonderful recording--an entire classical orchestra made up mostly of balalaikas, by the way. The music is awesome, and the recording quality is simply incredible. It's hard tdo believe it was recorded in the mid-1950s.

Posted by: Dean Esmay at 7:48 AM on 24 August 2003

In the Fifties, two- and three-track recorders were the state of the studio art; there wasn't any of the fancy-schmancy stuff we have today. The emphasis, therefore, was on getting it right the first time, rather than "Aw, we'll fix it in the mix."

There's a Mercury (Dorati conducting, I think) 1812 Overture recorded in those days that I used to have on an actual 7-inch reel. Tape hiss or no, it would knock your socks off.

Posted by: CGHill at 9:41 AM on 24 August 2003