Beserkley Records
July 1st, 2010 by NumberSix

The Beserkley Records logo

The Beserkley Records logo

Matthew “King” Kaufman got his start in the music industry as manager of the San Francisco-based rock band Earth Quake, whom he helped secure a two album contract with A&M Records. Frustrated at what he saw as A&M’s inability to promote a hard rock band, Kaufman founded Beserkley Records in 1973 with $3400 in working capital and signed Earth Quake to the label, as well as Jonathan Richman. For the first two years, Beserkley only issued singles; many of these early singles were collected on the “Beserkley Chartbusters, Volume One” album, released in 1975. By this time, Kaufman had added Greg Kihn, a singer-songwriter from Baltimore, and The Rubinoos, a power-pop band from the Berkeley, to the roster. Soon, the label enjoyed success: Earth Quake’s second album, “8.5” (1976), made the lower rungs of the Billboard album chart; Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers didn’t chart in the U.S., but both “Roadrunner” and “Egyptian Reggae” made the Top 20 in the U.K. The Rubinoos provided the label with its first charting single in 1977 with “I Think We’re Alone Now” (U.S. #45).

The label’s biggest success story, however, was Greg Kihn, who sang backup for Earth Quake and Jonathan Richman before starting his own band. “Next of Kihn” was the first Kihn album to chart and all subsequent Beserkley releases charted as well. “Rockihnroll” (1981), “Kihntinued” (1982), and “Kihnspiracy” (1983) all made the Top 40 of the U.S. album chart. “The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em)” became Kihn’s first Top 40 single, and “Jeopardy” reached #2 in the U.S. and reached #1 in some countries. By 1980, Kihn was the only artist signed to the label.

When the next Greg Kihn Band album, “Kintagious” (1984), failed to get much traction (peaking at #121), Beserkley started to have money problems. Kaufman decided to dissolve the label, allowing Greg Kihn to sign with EMI (Kaufman would continue to act as Kihn’s producer). In 1986, the Beserkley catalog was licensed to Rhino Records.

Tonight on “Six of One” (9:00 PM EDT), I will devote the first portion of the show to a retrospective on Beserkley Records, featuring music from Earth Quake, Jonathan Richman, Greg Kihn, The Rubinoos, and Tyla Gang. Also featured in this week’s show will be a special Fourth of July OTR segment, and tributes to Peter Quaife and Bill Aucoin.

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