Jerry Moss and Herb Alpert, founders of A&M Records

Michael Putland Archive

Frank Marshall, producer of Mr. A and Mr. M: The Story of A&M Records

Fill 1
Fill 1
December 27, 2021
In The Mix

To the Letter

A new EPIX documentary recalls A&M Records, the independent label that soared in the '70s and '80s under its farsighted founders, who put their initials — and much more — on the line.


Steve Futterman

A&M was never the sexiest or the hippest record label of the rock era. It didn't have the artistic and critical clout of Atlantic, Capitol, Columbia or Warner Bros., the labels that had signed Aretha Franklin, the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix, respectively. But A&M must have been doing something right. The '70s found the label reveling in megahit albums like Tapestry by Carole King and Frampton Comes Alive! by Peter Frampton; the '80s saw huge sales with the Go-Go's, the Police, Supertramp, Sting and Janet Jackson.

The story of the little independent label that could is now told in Mr. A and Mr. M: The Story of A&M Records. Produced by Frank Marshall (The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart) and written and directed by Ryan Suffern (McCartney 3, 2, 1), the EPIX documentary airs in two parts, on December 5 and 12.

The A in the name comes from Herb Alpert (who had his own top sellers with his instrumental band, the Tijuana Brass), and the M from his friend and business partner, Jerry Moss. The two founders parlayed Alpert's early hits into a thriving label that by the late '60s and early '70s had achieved success with bestselling albums from Joe Cocker, the Carpenters and Cat Stevens. The film follows the label from its determined start, through its '70s and '80s heyday and to its sale to Polygram Records in 1989.

"I thought it was interesting that A&M's first hit, [1962's] 'The Lonely Bull,' was an instrumental with a jazz trumpeter," Marshall says, remembering his initial awareness of the label in the '60s.

"It was a brilliant time for all kinds of music," he continues, "and I was really impressed at the diversity of artists and albums A&M was producing. I collected a lot of their records. Recently we'd been exploring this rich period in the music business with docs about the Bee Gees and other artists I listened to and admired back then. So, when Jerry mentioned that he had an interview he and Herb did together that had never been seen, it seemed like the perfect time to tell the A&M story."

With Alpert and Moss providing firsthand insights, Mr. A and Mr. M touches on the label's highlights and occasional tragedies (including Karen Carpenter's untimely death in 1983), complete with footage that predates MTV as well as clips that show how the music video channel transformed the entire music industry. With clear-eyed affection, the film recalls a time when gumption, smarts and respect for artistry could shift a dream into high gear.

"A&M was unique," Marshall says. "Herb and Jerry followed their instincts and together they covered all aspects of the music business and created an environment where artists could thrive. It was really a merging of the strengths of them both, the music and their business savvy that elevated A&M above other labels at the time."

This story appeared in Issue #12, 2021, of emmy magazine.

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