Asylum Records was formed by David Geffen in 1972. Asylum recorded folk-rock and rock music,
the music that is sometimes called the singer/songwriter genre.
David Geffen started as an agent at the William Morris agency. Originally he had no interest in representing singers, he was trying to represent movie stars when someone told him that no movie star was ever going to trust a 24-year-old to represent them, and that he should try to represent rock singers who were more his age. After that, he started representing musicians; his first client was singer Laura Nyro. After meeting Nyro, he was so impressed that he gave up his job as an agent and started managing her. He also started managing Crosby, Stills and Nash, but after a year of this, he decided he didn't like being a manager, so he turned Nyro and Crosby, Stills and Nash over to Elliot Roberts, and Geffen went back to being an agent. Again he became unhappy with the job, so he went back to Elliot Roberts and talked him into going into partnership with him in a management business.
The first artist signed to the new company was Jackson Browne. Geffen went to most of the record companies to get a contract for Browne. After everybody turned him down, he went back to Ahmet Ertegun at Atlantic and told him that Jackson Browne was good, and after all, "I brought you Crosby, Stills and Nash. I'm doing you a favor". Ahmet told him, "Don't do me any favors. If he's so good, start your own record company." And that's what Geffen did. Geffen formed Asylum Records in 1972 and Ahmet agreed that Atlantic Records would handle manufacturing and distribution for Asylum.
Quite naturally, the first artist on Asylum was Jackson Browne. Browne soon came to Geffen and asked him to sign two musicians who were living upstairs from him in a duplex. He told Geffen that they were broke and couldn't pay their rent. As a favor to Browne, Geffen signed John David Souther and Glenn Frey. Geffen encouraged John David Souther to become a solo artist, and encouraged Glenn Frey, who used to play in Linda Ronstadt's backing group with Don Henley and Randy Meisner, to put a group together. Frey got Henley and Meisner together, then they added former Flying Burrito Brothers' guitarist Bernie Leadon. Frey kept bringing the group back to Geffen with a request to make a record, and Geffen kept turning him down, until Geffen finally felt they were good enough. At last, Geffen recorded them as the Eagles, who obviously went on to superstar status. In Asylum's first year, in addition to Browne, Souther and Frey, Geffen also signed Linda Ronstadt (from Capitol Records) and Joni Mitchell (from Reprise Records).
The biggest coup for Geffen was signing Bob Dylan to a recording contract. Dylan had become unhappy with Columbia and was shopping around for a new label. Columbia was trying to pressure Dylan to resign by threatening to issue Dylan material from the vault without his permission. When Columbia issued the dreadful album of Dylan outtakes titled "Dylan", Bob was pushed over the edge and signed with Asylum. He recorded two albums with Asylum, Planet Waves and Before the Flood with the Band as a backing group, both issued in 1974. After his short foray at Asylum, Dylan returned to the Columbia fold.
In the mid and late '70s, Asylum released records by such influential artists as Tom Waits and Warren Zevon (a friend of Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt), as well as albums by former members of the Eagles, the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield (solo and in many possible permutations).
Elektra and Asylum were consolidated in 1974 with albums for both labels using the same numbering series. Geffen later left the company and formed another record label in 1980 which he named Geffen. Today Geffen is one of the partners in Dreamworks with Steven Spielberg and Jeffery Katz, and Asylum is still releasing records, less and less each year and almost exclusively in the country music genre (Emmylou Harris, Bryan White, Bob Gibson, etc).
This story is based on the account given by David Geffen in "Off the Record: An Oral History of Popular Music" by Joe Smith. The discography was compiled using Schwann Catalogs from 1972 to 1982, and information from the record collections of Dave Edwards, Mike Callahan and Patrice Eyries. We have tried to list album tracks in the order they appear on the album; where this is not known, we have indicated with an asterisk (*) that the tracks are in alphabetical order.
We would appreciate any additions or corrections to this discography. Just send them to us via e-mail. Both Sides Now Publications is an information web page. We are not a catalog, nor can we provide the records listed below. We have no association with Elektra Records. Should you be interested in acquiring albums listed in this discography (which are all out of print), we suggest you see our Frequently Asked Questions page and follow the instructions found there. This story and discography are copyright 2000 by Mike Callahan.