As a talent manager, concert promoter, songwriter, producer, record label executive, and motion picture entrepreneur, Lou Adler was a notable tastemaker in popular music during the 1960s and 1970s. He remains best known as a major instigator of the West Coast Sound, a soft rock cutting across folk rock, surf and car songs, and the singer/songwriter tradition.
Born in Chicago, Adler grew up in the hard-scrabble Boyle Heights District of East Los Angeles. He broke into the music business as co-manager (with trumpeter Herb Alpert) of the surf-comedy duo, Jan and Dean. He and Alpert went on to form a songwriting/studio production team, working for such labels as Colpix and Dimension. Their compositions included "Only Sixteen," a hit for Sam Cooke in 1961 (Keen 2022; 1959; #28).
On his own, Adler formed Dunhill Records in 1964. The controversial protest song, Barry McGuire’s "Eve of Destruction" (Dunhill 4009; 1965; #1)—penned by in-house songwriters P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri—was the label’s first hit. Dunhill’s long-term success was assured when the Mamas and the Papas placed a string of singles high on the charts, including "California Dreamin’" (Dunhill 4020; 1966; #4), "Monday Monday" (Dunhill 4026; 1966; #1), "I Saw Her Again" (Dunhill 4031; 1966; #5), "Words of Love" (Dunhill 4057; 1966; #5), "Dedicated to the One I Love" (Dunhill 4077; 1967; #2), and ""Creeque Alley" (Dunhill 4083; 1967; #5). He also continued work as an independent producer; his biggest success in the mid-1960s was with Johnny Rivers. He also co-wrote the number one hit, "Poor Side of Town" (Imperial 66205; 1966) with Rivers.
Selling the company to ABC-Paramount for a substantial profit, Adler was a prime mover in arranging the Monterey Pop Festival. Considered perhaps the greatest rock festival ever, from the musical standpoint, it launched the careers of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and the Who stateside, and spurred planning for future extravaganzas. Adler’s showed considerable business acumen in securing film and recording rights for the event; the profits derived from these avenues exceeded all expectations.
In the meantime, Adler founded Ode Records, which clicked immediately with Scott McKenzie’s "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" (Ode 103; 1967; #4). Later successes included progressive rock group Spirit and Brill Building songwriter Carole King. King’s Tapestry (Ode 77009; 1971; #1 15 weeks), produced by Adler, became one of the top-selling albums of all-time, while elevating the singer/songwriter trend to a major genre.
Beginning in the 1970s, Adler shifted his emphasis to filmmaking, helping the British production, Rocky Horror Picture Show, become an American cult staple in the mid-1970s. He also signed Cheech and Chong to a series of comedy films. As with the Monterey Pop Festival, he placed considerable emphasis on the production of soundtrack LPs.
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