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Thomas Edison and the Phonograph
It was the famed inventor's personal favorite creation, but he sold his patent rights shortly after establishing them. That left the door open for Columbia founder Edward Easton, who acquired the rights to the technology and began making dictation machines — Columbia Phonograph's first product.
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Before the rise of Elvis and Beatlemania, there was Frank — the press dubbed his effect on swooning bobbysoxers ''Sinatrauma.'' And while critics dismissed his popularity as a fad, his live appearances often caused near riots. (Though it's true that canny promoters also paid young women to pretend to faint in his presence.)
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West Side Story
Soundtracks were seriously big business for Columbia: My Fair Lady's Broadway cast recording spent 480 weeks on the chart, including 15 in the top spot. But even that was peanuts compared with West Side Story. The album by the 1957 Broadway cast (above) was a best-seller, and the 1961 movie version spent an astonishing 54 weeks at No. 1 — a Billboard record that still stands.
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The talent that first got Dylan noticed? According to legend, he was signed to Columbia after an A&R executive heard him sitting in on a 1961 session for folksinger Carolyn Hester — on the strength of his impressive harmonica playing.
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Streisand's beginnings with the label were rocky; then-president Goddard Lieberson thought her voice was interesting but ''too large,'' and her insistence on singing Broadway tunes didn't line up with shifting tastes in 1962. Still, she was able to impress Lieberson live, and had her first hit with ''People'' in 1964.
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Simon & Garfunkel
Columbia initially missed the boat on the wave of rock and roll acts that landed on American shores during the British Invasion, so they scrambled to find rock acts to catch up. That led them to the signing of Simon & Garfunkel, who put out their first album in 1964. The record flopped, and the duo actually broke up — only to re-form a few months later when the single ''The Sound of Silence'' became a hit in the U.K.
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The Boss, who has spent four decades at the label, often describes the '90s as his ''lost'' years. But even at that relative low ebb, he managed to score several hits, five Grammys — and an Oscar, for ''Streets of Philadelphia.''
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Meat Loaf once requested a meeting with CBS chairman William Paley. (At the time, Columbia was a subsidiary of the network.) Meat Loaf arrived wearing overalls and carrying a box of donuts, and Paley asked him about his new single. Meat told him it was called ''Paradise by the Dashboard Light,'' and Paley asked what the theme was. ''Humping,'' replied Meat.
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Costello camped outside of a hotel in London trying to get the attention of record industry executives, who were at a convention. He played for a few minutes before he was arrested, but not before an A&R man was impressed and signed Costello a few weeks later.
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In 1982, the first compact disc was made commercially available. It was Billy Joel's 1978 album 52nd Street, which contained hits like ''Big Shot'' and ''My Life.''
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In 1984, the Canadian folk icon submitted Various Positions, which the label rejected on the basis that it wasn't commercial enough. (An executive told him, ''Leonard, we know you're great, we just don't know if you're any good.'') Ironically, that album contained ''Hallelujah,'' perhaps Cohen's best-known song thanks to Jeff Buckley and countless American Idol contestants.
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One of the reasons Carey performed on MTV Unplugged so early in her career was to disprove the skeptics who were convinced that the vocals on her second album, Emotions, were manipulated. It worked — and the resulting live set became a multiplatinum smash.
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Nas and Columbia Hip-Hop
Columbia initially had to play catch-up with the rise of hip-hop, but when they did get on board, they made it count. They began a relationship with Def Jam Records in 1985, which brought the likes of LL Cool J and Beastie Boys into the fold. And in 1994, the label released Nas' watershed debut Illmatic, which is considered in some circles to be the greatest single album in the history of rap music.
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Like Beyoncé before her, Adele was courted by the label when she was only 16, the same year she wrote her first song, ''Hometown Glory.'' Her debut, 19, would go on to win her two Grammys, and its blockbuster 2011 follow-up, 21, six.