Mike Curb has led a long and varied career in and out of music. Born in 1945, he was a college dropout who managed to found his own record label in his early twenties, sell it for a six-figure sum, and parlay his reputation in the music industry into the job of running MGM Records. He simultaneously established himself as one of the earlier and more visible "cultural conservatives" in American popular culture. When Curb took over MGM Records at the end of the 1960s, while he was in his mid-twenties, he began a very public "clean up" of the label by dropping all of the supposed "drug-oriented" acts from the label's roster. This resulted in the departure of the Velvet Underground to the greener pastures of Atlantic Records (for which they recorded what was arguably their best album, Loaded), and the elimination of most of the psychedelic acts on the label. In their stead, MGM (which already had the Cowsills on board) became known as the home of the Osmonds — the singing Mormon siblings were Curb's crowning glory at the time, and were followed onto the roster a couple of years later by the DeFranco Family of Canada. These safe, squeaky clean, wholesome acts, built around family units, all stood in sharp contrast to the image that most rock was presenting at the time.
Curb's regime was also marked by some strange attempts to exploit the cast recording and soundtrack categories. Soundtracks, in particular, had always been something of a mainstay for the label, as an offshoot of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the biggest of the Hollywood studios, with such hit soundtrack LPs as Ben-Hur (which yielded a second volume of music from its massive score), Doctor Zhivago, and 2001: A Space Odyssey to its credit, the latter two multi-million sellers. But the MGM studios had fallen on hard times in the second half of the 1960s, and 2001 would be their last big-budget hit or hit soundtrack (the studios would yield one huge film music hit in 1971, with the movie Shaft, but its soundtrack was owned by Stax Records). The fact that the MGM studios were sinking fast, and that better-financed and stronger labels were grabbing the best of whatever choice cast albums there were, didn't stop Curb from trying to reinvigorate that side of the business. The most bizarre of the efforts under his regime was Marcel Marceau in Concert, a record of a performance by the legendary French mime consisting of 30-some minutes of silence and two minutes of applause. On the soundtrack front, MGM released 2001: A Space Odyssey, Vol. 2, which depicted the "star child" from the movie's final shot on the cover, but which wasn't really a soundtrack at all; seeking to follow up one of the biggest-selling soundtrack LPs of all time (2001: A Space Odyssey), MGM assembled an album of music that allegedly had been considered for use in the movie but rejected. It was ordered in profusion and even sold pretty well, thanks in part to the re-release of the original movie at the time, and it was an interesting way to exploit the label's classical library, but it also seriously pissed off a lot of people who bought it and discovered that the cover art and title were its only real connection to the movie.
Curb also created and began recording a singing group of his own, the Mike Curb Congregation, sort of a late-'60s variant on the kind of vocal ensembles epitomized in an earlier time by the Ray Conniff Singers. Though they incorporated country and soul elements in their singing, the Mike Curb Congregation was something of a joke among rock musicians of the time. They did generate one hit, however, in "Burning Bridges," which was used in the 1971 movie Kelly's Heroes, and scored the coup, for the mid-twenties Curb, of singing at the Nixon White House (so did the Ray Conniff Singers; however, one of whose members showed the courage to tell the president, politely and respectfully, to his face of her disagreement and distress over his Vietnam policy).
None of Curb's signings lasted too long at the top of the charts, however, and by the mid-'70s, MGM was nearly as inactive as the studio that spawned it (which was generating just a handful of movies a year, few of them even slightly distinguished). Curb's efforts at cleaning up the label didn't prevent it from being sold to Polydor. By that time, however, Curb had moved into a new arena, politics. Entering the fray in California, he managed to get elected lieutenant governor in 1978 (at age 34), in the same election that put Jerry Brown in the governor's mansion (California has separate ballots for the two jobs). Curb, a conservative Republican in the mold of Ronald Reagan, spent most of his term in office sparring with Brown, a liberal Democrat, using the governor's absences from the state in pursuit of his presidential ambitions to make appointments of Republicans to certain jobs, against the governor's wishes, and also to attack environmental legislation — in one instance, Brown flew back into California airspace (thus nullifying Curb's power as acting governor) just two minutes before Curb was to sign a bill rushed through the legislature by the Republicans intended to relax smog standards in the state. Although he generated some fireworks and headlines with his conduct in office and these games of one-upmanship, Curb may have failed to impress the party members of his seriousness, because in 1982 he ran for governor and was defeated in a primary by George Deukmejian.
Curb, not yet 40, returned to the music business and began producing records by Marie Osmond and Hank Williams Jr., and his biggest act of all, the Judds, all the while working as finance director of the national Republican Party. The Mike Curb Congregation even recorded the Reagan campaign theme "Together, a New Beginning." After proving his fundraising acumen, generating $100 million in contributions to the Republican Party, Curb left politics as a profession and headed for Nashville, where he plunged back into country music as well as indulging another pet area of interest, auto racing, specifically NASCAR. He is most visible in music through his Curb Records label which, in addition to releasing lots of good country music, also features a line of mid-priced reissues of classic recording acts from the 1950s and 1960s in simple best-of collections that are perfect for middle-class middle-brow sensibilities. Though Curb Records has issued an interesting Righteous Brothers CD, it has yet to release a best-of devoted to the Velvet Underground. He has also devoted some of his activities to fundraising with the latest Bush administration, and is involved in education in the fields of music and the music business. His biggest successes in recent years have, ironically enough, come from soundtrack-related activities, on movies such as Coyote Ugly (whose music reportedly generated more money than the movie did), and Christian music, which has proved to be one of his more enduring investments. ~ Bruce Eder