Bell Records was an American record label founded in 1952 in New York City by Arthur Shimkin, the owner of the children’s record label Golden Records. It was initially a unit of Pocket Books, a paperback publisher. Bell Records also had a British branch, which was active in the 1960s and 1970s.
The Genesis: Arthur Shimkin’s Vision
Arthur Shimkin was no stranger to the world of music. Already the owner of Golden Records, a children’s record label, Shimkin had a vision to expand his musical empire. He founded Bell Records in New York City, initially as a unit of Pocket Books. The name “Bell” was acquired from Benny Bell, who had previously used it to issue risqué novelty records.
At its inception, Bell Records specialized in budget generic pop music, with the slogan “music for the millions.” This style of music was sold on seven-inch 78rpm and 45rpm records for 39 cents (US). However, as rock and roll became more prevalent in the late 1950s, this style of music went out of fashion, so by the 1960s Bell Records began to focus on rock and roll. Some of the label’s most successful rock and roll artists included:
- The Bell Notes
- Dion and the Belmonts
- The Shirelles
- The Drifters
- Ben E. King
- The Isley Brothers
- Little Anthony and the Imperials
The label’s influence was not limited to the United States. A British branch was also active during the 1960s and 1970s, further expanding its reach and reputation. This international presence allowed Bell to tap into the British Invasion, a musical phenomenon that swept America and brought British music to the forefront.
Bell Records was shut down in late 1974, and its assets were transferred to Columbia Pictures’ new label, Arista Records.
Despite its relatively short lifespan, Bell Records was a significant player in the music industry in the 1950s and 1960s. The label released many hit songs and helped to launch the careers of some of the biggest rock and roll stars of the era.