Although consistently successful since the early 1960s, the Bell Records story can be divided into three distinct phases. Under the leadership of Larry Uttal, the label—along with subsidiaries such as Mala, Amy, Goldwax (Memphis), and New Voice/ Dynovoice (New York)—and the was best known in the 1960s for Southern soul artists such as Lee Dorsey, James and Bobby Purify, James Carr, early Al Green, Oscar Toney, Jr., and Mighty Sam. However, Bell also produced some of the period’s best blue-eyed soul with the Box Tops and Mitch Ryder in addition to garage bands along the lines of the Syndicate of Sound.
In 1970, Bell was purchased by Columbia Pictures, who changed the label from a dark blue to silver color, and focused on Top Forty singles by adult contemporary acts like the 5th Dimension, Barry Manilow, and Melissa Manchester as well as the more bubblegum-oriented Tony Orlando & Dawn and the Partridge Family. Its U.K. division focused on the glam-rock craze, most notably, Gary Glitter, the Sweet, Suzy Quatro, and the early Bay City Rollers.
Former Columbia Records CEO Clive Davis would take control of the label in 1975 (with Uttal moving on the found Private Stock). Changing the company’s name to Arista, Davis quickly built up a stable of prestige artists such as jazz-poet Gil Scott-Heron, punk high priestess Patti Smith, singer-songwriter Garland Jeffreys, and leading avant-garde jazz figures on the Freedom imprint. Nevertheless, the label’s notable commercial success was largely due MOR fare by the likes of Manilow, Whitney Houston, and Kenny G.
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