February 03, 1986 12:00 PM

Various Artists

It could hardly have been predicted that Ahmet Ertegun, son of a former Turkish ambassador to the U.S., and Herb Abramson, an executive with the small National Records, would revolutionize American popular music, let alone do it with mostly black musicians. But that’s certainly what happened when they established Atlantic Records in New York City in 1947, adding the rhythm of gospel music and the blues of jazz to the melodic sense of mainstream pop. This 14-record, 186-track set follows the first 27 years of the label’s operation. It is of major historical interest, but more important, it is of major entertainment value. An astonishing number of these songs sound as vital and contemporary today as they did when first recorded. What popular records are better, for instance, than Ray Charles’ Hallelujah, I Love Her So, the Drifters’ Save the Last Dance for Me, Otis Redding’s (Sitting on) The Dock of the Bay, Wilson Pickett’s Funky Broadway or Aretha Franklin’s Respect? It’s fun to hear the original black version of Shake, Rattle and Roll, sung by Big Joe Turner (who used to call Ertegun “cuz”) and later covered by white rock pioneer Bill Haley, or La Vern Baker’s Jim Dandy and Tweedlee Dee, which Georgia Gibbs turned into a 1955 pop hit just weeks after Baker. There are some amusing novelties: the Coasters’ Charlie Brown, Nat Kendricks and the Swans’ (Do The) Mashed Potatoes and the Ikettes’ I’m Blue (The Gong-Gong Song). There are such marvelous sidemen as saxophonists Frank Culley, King Curtis and Sam “The Man” Taylor, guitarists Phil Spector and Al Caioia, bassist Percy Heath, drummer Connie Kay and pianist Hank Jones. True, a few tracks, such as the Cookies’ In Paradise or Harry Van Walls’ Tee Nah Nah, could have been dispensed with. In fact, the first and seventh of these two-record sets are dispensable, the first because it’s on the primitive side, the last because the R&B sound was diffusing into bland pop. That still leaves hours of exciting music that can be listened to, danced to and appreciated for the product of genius that it often is. (Atlantic; available as a package or in double LPs)

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