For a time in the mid-1960s, Herb Alpert’s records were outselling those of the Beatles; during the week of May 21, 1966, he had five albums in the Top Twenty of the Billboard Top LP’s chart (including three of the top eight positions). However, he also made a significant impact with the record industry as a businessman, writing and producing many hits as well as forming A&M Records—one of the most successful artist-owned labels ever established—with Jerry Moss.
Born in Los Angeles, Alpert began his recording career with RCA as Dore Alpert shortly after a stint in the Army. He would then sign with Dot Records in 1959, again with no real success. Teaming up with future music business mogul Lou Adler, he help write such best-selling recordings as Sam Cooke’s "Wonderful World" () and "Only Sixteen" (). The duo adopted the moniker Dante and the Evergreens to record a cover of the Hollywood Argyles’ "Alley Oop" (1960). He would produce tracks for the likes of Jan and Dean.
In 1962, Alpert combined with Moss to found A&M Records; his group, the Tijuana Brass, recorded the firm’s first hit for only sixty-five dollars, "The Lonely Bull" (A&M 703; 1962). A&M would go on to be recognized as the largest independent label worldwide; by the early 1970s its roster would include such artists as Joe Cocker, the Carpenters, Free, Spooky Tooth, and Sergio Mendes.
It took a few years for Alpert’s own recordings with the TJB to peak commercially. His debut release, The Lonely Bull (A&M 101; 1962; #24), established the group’s trademark sound, a light, punchy blend of mariachi music, mainstream easy listening pop, and pre-smooth jazz. Follow-up albums—Herb Alpert’s Tiajuna Brass, Volume 2 (A&M 103; 1963; #17), South of the Border (A&M 108; 1965; #6), and Whipped Cream & Ither Delights (A&M 110; 1965; #1)—garnered increasingly greater sales. The latter LP, on the strength of the hit single, "A Taste of Honey" (A&M 775; 1965; #7), and an eye-catching cover featuring model Dolores Erickson covered only with shaving cream, elevated Alpert to the top of the pop scene. "A Taste of Honey"—with its catchy stop-and-start bass drum figure—would go on to win 1995 Grammy awards for record of the year, best non-jazz instrumental performance, best instrumental arrangement, and best-engineered record.
For the remainder of the 1960s, the TJB remained a hot commercial property, doing well with Going Places (A&M 112; 1966; #1), What Now My Love (A&M 4114; 1966; #1), S.R.O. (A&M 4119; 1966; #2), Sounds Like (A&M 4124; 1967; #1), Herb Alpert’s Ninth (A&M 4134; 1967; #4), and The Beat of the Brass (A&M 4146; 1968; #1). Although public expectations limited the extent of his musical explorations, Alpert attempted some incremental variations on the group’s formula, most notably the vocal ballad, "This Guy’s in Love with You" (A&M 929; 1969; #1). By the late 1960s, however, his music was deemed out of step with the more serious tone of the times, and TJB albums gradually fell out of favor.
During the 1970s Alpert attempted a number of approaches to re-tool his sound, including an Afro-jazz fusion collaboration with Hugh Masekela (Herb Alpert/Hugh Masekela; Horizon 728; 1978; #65). After aborting a try at recording TJB hits disco style, he used the remaining studio time to explore material a jazz-pop mode more suited to his personal tastes. One of these takes, a slow-down dance song co-written by his cousin, "Rise" (A&M 2151; 1979), reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100.
Alpert’s subsequent releases have met with mixed success, his biggest success coming with "Diamonds" (A&M 2929; 1987; #5), which featured a guest vocal by then-emerging star Janet Jackson. Since selling A&M to PolyGram in 1990 for more than $500 million, he has turned his attention to a wide range of projects. In addition to forming a new label with Moss, Almo Sounds, in 1994, he has exhibited his expressionist paintings, co-produced Broadway musicals such as Angels in America and Jelly’s Last Jam, and established a philanthropic organization, the Herb Alpert Foundation.
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