It's almost never a good thing when the undead start walking the earth. Nine times out of 10, it only leads to problems. Brain eating, shambling, occasionally turning into bats, awkward trips to the mall. It's a drag. Unlike those horror movie scenarios, however, we're talking about that one good instance of something coming back. When it's record labels, dead is not always better. Below are six great labels that were able to re-emerge after fading away.
Started in 1958, Nashville's Monument label hit the ground running. Its first release, "Gotta Travel On" by Billy Grammer, was an instant smash hit. Building on that success, Monument would later sign such luminaries as Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, and Roy Orbison. Anybody who was anybody in the '60s–'70s Nashville scene wanted to release an album on Monument.
Unfortunately, by 1990 Monument faced financial hardships. Owner Fred Foster was forced to sell the label to Combine Music Group. From there, it changed hands again to CBS and Sony. By the late '90s, the name was discontinued—despite having hits with bands like the Dixie Chicks—and the former powerhouse went dormant.
In 2017, however, Sony decided to bring back the Monument name and once again issue records under the storied banner. The current incarnation is home to acts such as Caitlyn Smith and Walker Hayes, as well as reissues of the label's amazing back catalog.
One of the most important American labels ever to press hits to wax. We've talked about them before, but Stax deserves a large amount of your shelf space. From 1961 until 1972, Stax released hits from Otis Redding, Gary Puckett, Carla Thomas, Booker T. & The M.G.s, and many more.
Stax, along with Sun and Motown, was one of the biggest labels bringing the sound of working-class America to the airwaves. By 1972, however, Stax was sliding downward. Eventually, it slipped beneath the waves of bankruptcy. After a sale to Fantasy Records, the name was brought back for a short time, but was relegated to being a reissue label.
But in the 2010s, the Stax label—now owned by Universal—was reactivated and has once again begun issuing albums by newer artists such as Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats and Ben Harper in addition to reissuing its classic back catalog.
Ashley Khan's The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse is a must-read for any fan of recorded music, jazz, or just history in general. Impulse! might not be as well-known outside of jazz fandom as Blue Note, but is no less influential. Impulse released some of the most adventurous and stunning albums in what many consider to be the jazz's golden age. Coltrane, Oliver Nelson, Max Roach, Charles Mingus, and Yusef Lateef put out some of their most challenging and iconic albums while recording for Impulse. Like Blue Note, Impulse album covers featured striking photos and layouts. That iconic orange spine immediately draws the eye.
By the late '70s jazz's popularity had waned, and parent company ABC had relegated Impulse into being only a reissue label. By the '90s, however, Impulse was once again releasing albums by new artists.
For 15 years, Geffen Records and its subsidiary DGC Records were absolute behemoths, releasing everything from flowing Celtic ballads to chart-topping hair metal. John Lennon released his final album, Double Fantasy, on Geffen in 1980. Guns N' Roses, Cher, Sonic Youth, Elton John, and Aerosmith all called Geffen home at some point.
After the departure of David Geffen in 1995 (who went on to help form DreamWorks), however, the label became more of a controlled entity. Fast-forward through a few mergers and acquisitions and the Geffen Records that we knew was unrecognizable. Unlike the other labels on this list, Geffen Records didn't stop issuing albums, but had become so much more brand than label, I'm calling it temporarily dead.
Geffen was kickstarted back to life in 2011 and again in 2017. Since it is a part of Universal—which is reinvents itself often—who knows what the future brings for Geffen? For now at least, it seems here to stay.
101 years ago, Okeh released its first phonograph record—and they're still at it today. Of course, literally everything has changed since then, but the label that gave us Louis Armstrong, Mississippi Sheiks, Big Bill Broonzy, and Count Basie is not only reissuing the timeless songs of its back catalog, but has returned to releasing new music as part of Sony/Epic.
Given its longevity, Okeh was there for every musical trend—from ragtime to acoustic blues, from soul music to pop—as they emerged, reigned, and gave way to the next. Okeh is not just a label, but an important archive of the history of American music. The label was shuttered in 1970, but was revived in 1993 and has been working ever since.
As Reverb LP doesn't have a shellac section, I'm only including vinyl options for Okeh here. Trust me, though, those old 78s are absolutely worth tracking down. I will mention that the 78 RPM RSD reissues in conjunction with Traffic Entertainment Group are must-haves. They're on vinyl and, unlike originals, will not cost hundreds of dollars. So, keep an eye out for the 2018 release of Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Black Snake Moan / Matchbox Blues."
The venerable Rough Trade label famously began its life in the store of the same name. Founder Geoff Travis' vision of the store was that it served as an extension of the local music community. Soon after, Travis and others formed an independent record distributor known as The Cartel based on these beliefs. The label was a near-instant success critically. The release of the Stiff Little Fingers single "Alternative Ulster" was a significant event for the late-'70s post-punk scene. The Raincoats, Opal, Scritti Politti, and Cabaret Voltaire were soon to join up.
In true collectivist fashion, the employees of the Rough Trade store were able to buy it out, and, by 1982, the store and label were comrades rather than owner/imprint. As is sadly common, the label faced tough times and went underwater during the early-'90s digital revolution.
Original founder Travis and a few other music notables relaunched the label in 2000, but ultimately sold it to BMG. BMG, in turn, sold it to the independent Beggars Group. While not exactly the same label it once was, Rough Trade is bringing bands such as Parquet Courts, Sleaford Mods, and Black Midi to the people.