Sunday, October 20, 2013

Asylum Records: Jesus Was A Cross Maker

David Geffen and Elliot Roberts became frustrated in their unsuccessful attempts to sign Jackson Browne, one of their management artists, to a major record label. Because of this, they decided to form Asylum Records in 1971. The label was initially distributed by Atlantic Records, but in 1972 Warner Communications bought the label and merged its operations with Elektra Records and Elektra/Asylum became the “E” in the rechristened Warner Music Group’s identity of WEA (Warner-Elektra/Asylum-Atlantic) Records.

By the 1990s, Asylum took a backseat to Elektra and was repurposed as a country music label. By 2004, Asylum was reformatted as an urban music vehicle. During its early years, Asylum was primarily a folk/rock outlet and became known for artists like the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Warren Zevon, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, and of course Jackson Browne.

Although Asylum was formed to promote Browne, his first single on the label was actually Asylum’s fifth single release. “Doctor My Eyes” was preceded by two singles by Judee Sill and one each by David Blue and Jo Jo Gunne. Today, we begin a week-long look at the Asylum Record label, and what better place to start than its first single – Judee Sill’s “Jesus was a Cross Maker.”

Although not a religious song, “Jesus was a Cross Maker” may have been neglected by radio because of its title. I have never seen a US commercial version of this single and am not sure if it ever made it beyond the promotional stage. It was the only song on Sill’s self titled debut album that was produced by Graham William Nash.

Sill’s album, the first released on Asylum, was issued on September 15, 1971 and the single, “Jesus was a Cross Maker,” followed 16 days later. Coincidentally, Nash’s former band The Hollies revived the song in 1972 as single from their “Romany” LP. Their version, which has a more lush production, failed also to chart.

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