A beginner's guide to tango record labels.

Ever wondered why you never find Alberto Castillo together with Ricardo Tanturi in the Reliquias series ? Or why Juan D'Arienzo is not included there ? Why are there no Pugliese volumes in the RCA Archivo series ? He appears extensively on Reliquias but why did they never include "A Evaristo Carriego" ? Why do some Pedro Laurenz themes appear exclusively on Reliquias, others exclusively in the Colección 78 rpm series, while they do appear together in the El Bandoneón series ?
All these questions are easily answered (or will even vanish) if you gain some insight into the history of tango recording, especially the relation between recording companies, artists and modern CD editions. Some basic knowledge may help in deciding which CDs to buy and how to minimize overlap with the ones you already got.

Tango is not always different from other types of music. As soon as musicians entered the recording studios they became linked to the producers through contracts. Contracts were renewed, broken or simply expired, but always (or nearly so) at some time, an artist was associated with a record label (sello in Spanish). Some artists were very loyal to a company, nearly throughout their whole carreer (Juan D'Arienzo, Francisco Canaro), others moved around a lot (Carlos Di Sarli, Osvaldo Fresedo).

1. The beginnings

Tango recording history begins in the first years of the 20th century. Pioneers like Angel Villoldo and Alfredo Gobbi produced their first recordings  outside of Argentina (New York, Paris). From 1907 on, the first Argentinean records appear : Casa Tagini (Carlos Gardel), Columbia (with Vicente Greco and Juan Maglio Pacho), Atlanta (Francisco Canaro) - later Odeon (Gardel, Canaro, Roberto Firpo), Víctor (Eduardo Arolas), Gath & Chaves...

In the late twenties, 2 more important labels appeared : Electra (Charlo, Juan D'Arienzo...) and Brunswick (Julio De Caro, Donato-Zerrillo, Pedro Maffia) but unfortunately they did not survive the economical crisis of the early thirties.

Note that many of these companies were Argentinian divisions of larger international conglomerates.

In those years it was common that the labels had their own in-house orchestras which never performed in public but were exclusively used for studio recording, as a self-standing orchestra or for accompanying the company's vocalists : Orquesta Típica Víctor (with Adolfo Carabelli and Ciriaco Ortiz), Orquesta Típica Brunswick (with Pedro Maffia and Juan Polito), Quinteto Criollo Atlanta...

2. Odeon and RCA Víctor

In 1916, Max Glückman bought the Atlanta label, converted it into Nacional (1917), which became - through association with the German Odeon - Nacional Odeon (1919).

RCA Víctor was formed in 1929 when RCA (Radio Corporation of America) bought Victor Talking Machines (undoubtedly, you remember their "dog looks at phonograph"-logo with the words "His Master's Voice"). Many years later, the name "Víctor" as well as "RCA Víctor" could be found on their discs.

Odeon and RCA Víctor were already among the most important companies before the thirties, but from 1932 on they will emerge as 2 giants who will virtually dominate the Argentinian tango record production during tango's Golden Age - La Epoca de Oro - roughly from 1935 to 1955 (end of Peronism). All important orchestras recorded for at least one of them, often for both.

3. The fifties

From the fifties on, more record labels appeared. Two of them, Music Hall and T.K., must be mentioned because of a very unfortunate coincidence of circumstances. First, they hosted some very important orchestras : Anibal Troilo, Carlos Di Sarli, Horacio Salgán... Second, they were notable for their low quality discs and the carelessness with which they handled and preserved (if the word applies) their masters (matrices). It is very difficult to find good sources from this period nowadays.

4. Re-editions on CD

With the international revival of tango in the eighties and the available CD-technology, it was obvious to re-edit the old records in the new format (note that already in the sixties, some of the old discos de pasta, or "78 rpm" as we know them, were re-edited on vinyl-LPs).

Among the editors, there are two groups : the owners/inheritors of the original records and the "others" (this is not the place to discuss the copyright problems that may be implied).

Among the first ones, very fortunately, the 2 important tango labels are represented: EMI (or EMI-Odeon) who owns the Odeon catalog and Sony-BMG who owns the RCA-Víctor catalog. Both have extensive re-edition programs. These companies have the advantage that they have sometimes access to the original masters and the financial and technical resources for sound quality improvement. Not all original masters were preserved though. Ricardo Mejía, appointed RCA Víctor artistic [!] manager in 1962, destroyed masters because they were taking up too much space ! The same must have happened, to a lesser degree, in other companies. Nevertheless, when it comes to sound quality, these editions are generally the best you can get.

Among the "others" there are Argentina-based associations like the Buenos Aires Tango Club (BATC) or European labels like Harlequin (U.K.), Danza y Movimiento (DYM - Germany) and, most extensive, Blue Moon (Spain) with the series "El Bandoneón", "Las Grandes Orquestas", "Maestros del Tango Argentino" and "Las Voces Clasicas Del Tango", even private collectioners (like Akihito Baba in Japan). Not counting a few rare cases where licensing may have played a role, most of these editions are derived from 78 rpm records. Sound quality can range from very good to poor, depending on the quality of the sources, dedication and technical competence. The big advantage is that here you will find material that is not covered by the "mayors" (Odeon and RCA Víctor) : editions from Brunswick, Music Hall etc... As these labels are not affiliated with any of the original record companies, you will often find mixes from different labels on a single CD.

The most important re-edition series of EMI is called Reliquias, which covers the Odeon recordings, and also some of the PAMPA label. A description of the contents of this series (1995-2005, now nearly 170 CDs) can be found here. EMI has edited also some other series (less important in volume) like "Serie de Oro", "From Argentina To The World" and "Bailando Tango" [1].
Sony-BMG's main re-edition series is "Tango Argentino" (about 65 CDs). Besides those, there is the "RCA Víctor 100 Años" series and complete editions (Obras completas) of the RCA-Víctor recordings by Anibal Troilo (2 editions), Juan D'Arienzo and Roberto Goyeneche.

Very recently two new series were started by Euro Records (offspring of the Buenos Aires Tango Club), with license from BMG, already renowned for the very good sound quality : Archivo-RCA and Colección 78 rpm.

Even more recently (2006), Euro Records has also reedited other labels : EMI-Odeon and T.K. Now they have 4 series:

EU16xxx : Archivo RCA
EU17xxx : Colección 78 rpm (RCA Víctor - red and green series)
EU19xxx : Archivo Odeon (seems to focus on the sixties and later, logical as the Golden Age recordings were already extensively covered on Reliquias)
EU13xxx : Archivo T.K. (at the time of writing the 86 orchestral recordings of Anibal Troilo for that label)

archivo odeonarchivo tkcolumbia


disco tk
The Archivo-T.K. CD labels mimic the original T.K. records.

Euro Records keeps us busy. They have now also edited a new series of 10 CDs

EU18xxx : Archivo Columbia

with recordings from the fifties by Alfredo Gobbi, Armando Pontier, Julio Sosa, Rodolfo Biagi, Héctor Varela, Juan Sánchez Gorio, Alfredo Belusi and others.
The history of the Columbia label (originally : Columbia Record)  is a complicated one. Ownership changed frequently, made even more complicated by regional differences. E.g. when EMI (who we now associate with Odeon) acquired Columbia Record in the thirties, it had to sell the American division (to CBS) because of anti-trust regulations. Finally, most of the original Columbia label came into the hands of Sony, later owned by BMG (and who we now associate with RCA Víctor).
Columbia Records was a pioneering label for tango music (an old record with the famous "magic notes" logo can be seen at the top of this page). In 1911/12 they edited the recordings by Vicente Greco (the "inventor" of the orquesta típica) and Juan Maglio "Pacho", also Gardel before he started singing tangos. After having hosted Francisco Canaro, Pedro Maffia, Roberto Maida, Tania, Enrique De Cicco and others, the label dissapears from the tango scene in the early thirties.
They reappear in 1950 with Osvaldo Fresedo-Héctor Pacheco and Charlo, recordings made for Columbia Odeon (!), which have now been reedited in the Reliquias series. The Archivo Columbia recordings were made from 1952 on, this time for CBS-Columbia (you see: it is complicated). Some of these recordings (Alfredo Gobbi and Roberto Caló with Enrique Campos) can be found described elsewhere as belonging to the (obscure) Orfeo label, possibly a subsidiary of Columbia at that time [*].
Main sources for the early Columbia recordings (before 1932) seem to be the El Bandoneón series and the Akihito Baba collection. Later recordings (after 1950) have been reedited by Sony and BMG, especially those with Julio Sosa. Some can also be found on the Sony series "Tangos del Sur" (Héctor Varela).

[*] Effectively, as confirmed on the documentation accompanying these CDs, some of the titles were recorded for the Orfeo label, which was acquired by Columbia in 1954.

Addendum-3 (13-04-2007)
Some recent editions...
- A few months ago, Reliquias published its 10th series (13 CD's). Along the lines of other recent series, folclore music becomes more important, at the expense of tango. No more than 4 CD's are tango-related (Miguel Caló, Francisco Canaro, Enrique Rodriguez, Rodolfo Biagi)
- Earlier this month, the Buenos Aires Tango Club has added 11 CD's to their Archivo Odeon series. As usual, music from the 50s and 60s, but this time also from the 40s, even late 30s, among them some interesting early recordings of Miguel Caló.

Addendum-4 (01-07-2007)
Sony BMG Argentina has released a new series "La Resistencia del Tango - Los años 60 y 70". These are "vinyl replicas" (including original artwork) of long play records edited by RCA (Osvaldo Piro, Baffa-Berlingieri, Floreal Ruiz, Roberto Rufino, Sexteto Tango) and CBS Columbia (Horacio Molina, Enrique Mario Francini - at last "Su Sonido del 70" is available again, Quinteto Real, Leopoldo Federico, Antonio Agri). As you can see, a mix of survivors from the Epoca de oro but also musicians who had to make their carreer during the maquis years of tango music. The series was briefly reviewed in a recent Clarín article (in Spanish).

Addendum-5 (29-07-2008)
Just a few days ago, Reliquias released its 11th series. Ten CDs of which 5 are devoted to tango: Mercedes Simone, Carlos Gardel, all the valses recorded by Biagi for the Odeon label ("Al Compás del Vals", all appeared on earlier Reliquias volumes but here you find them together and ordered chronologically) and the part 2 successors to the Canaro/Famá and Canaro/Maida albums.

5. Who - When - Where

An enormous amount of data has been compiled (compressed?) into this simple table, inevitably with some loss of detail. It can be used as a rough guide to find out where to look for recordings of a particular artist and period, or vice versa, which recording period can be expected on a particular edition. Of course, nothing beats the real discographies, many of which can be found at Todotango .
Artist Odeon
(mainly Reliquias, later work now also on Euro Records)
RCA Víctor (and Víctor)
(Tango Argentino, Archivo-RCA or Colección 78 rpm)
Music Hall T.K. Others
(PAMPA now also available on Reliquias)
Alberto Castillo 1943-1958 1941-1943 1959-1960   1960: Microfon
Alfredo Gobbi   1947-1957     1958: Orfeo/CBS
Alfredo De Angelis 1943-1974       1976 and after: Microfon, Columbia
Angel D'Agostino   1940-1959     1962: Svelt
Angel Vargas 1935 1938-1959      
Anibal Troilo 1938
1962 (cuarteto)
  1950-1956 (available from Euro Records)
1953-1955 (cuarteto)
Anselmo Aieta 1953 1926: Electra, 1930-1931: Columbia
Armando Pontier 1973
  1958-1959, 1979: CBS Columbia
1963: Serenata
1964-1965: Polydor
1967, 1976: Embassy
Carlos Di Sarli   1928-1931
1951-1953   1930-1932: Brunswick
1958: Philips
Carlos Gardel 1917-1933 1934-1935 (mostly movie sound tracks)     1912: Columbia Records
1913: Casa Tagini
(note that Gardel started singing tangos in 1917)
Domingo Federico 1944-1960, 1968 1960 and after: Trío, Rosafón, Fuentes, Embassy, Ed. Musical de Rosario 
Edgardo Donato
(incomplete data)
  1932-1945     1929-1931: Brunswick
1950?-1957?: PAMPA
Edmundo Rivero 1945-1946
1947-1954 1954-1956 1956 1959-1957: Philips (Polydor)
1958: Instersdisc
Enrique Mario Francini   1946-1958 1958 (Los Astros del Tango)   1957 and after: CBS-Columbia, Allegro, Disc Jockey, Philips
Enrique Rodriguez 1937-1971       1937: CHILE
Florindo Sassone 1959-1970 1947-1956 1975   1973 and after: CARMUSIC, PAIS, Embassy, Microfon
Francisco Canaro
(incomplete data)
1920-1964       1915-1916: Atlanta
1920: Columbia
Francisco Lomuto 1922-1931 1931-1950      
Francisco Rotundo 1948-1957        
Héctor Varela 1964-1971   1961-1963   1950-1954: PAMPA
1954-1961, 1982, 1986: CBS-Columbia
1973-1981: Embassy
Horacio Salgán 1973 1950-1953   1954-1956 1957: Antar Telefunken
1960, 1987: CBS Columbia (Quinteto Real)
1961-1969: Philips
José Basso
(incomplete data)
1949-1961 1948-1949 1962-1968?   1976: Embassy
1986: Tenessee
Juan D'Arienzo   1935-1975     1928-1929: Electra
Juan Sanchez Gorio 1944-1946 1950 and after: Orfeo, CBS-Columbia, Magenta
Julio De Caro 1935-1942
    1929-1932: Brunswick
Lucio Demare
(Trio Argentino, in Spain and Cuba, not included)
1938-1945   1959 1955 1950-1952: Columbia (incl. piano solos)
1953: PAMPA
1954: ART FONO
1957: Disc Jockey (piano solos)
Mariano Mores 1954-1970       1954: Mercurio
1972: Raff
1977: Microfón
1977: DTA Records
Miguel Caló 1934-1969       1932: Splendid
1972: Embassy
Orq. Típica Víctor   1925-1944      
Osvaldo Fresedo 1925-1928
1917 (bandoneon duos)
1920 (Orq. Típica Select - New York)
    1917: Telephone
1930-1932: Brunswick
1950-1952: Columbia
1957: Orion (the famous Rendez-Vous recordings)
1959-1966, 1975-1980: CBS Columbia
1968: ARTE
Osvaldo Pugliese 1943-1960
      1960: Stentor
1961-1970: Philips
Pedro Laurenz 1943-1944 1925-1926 (bandoneon duos with Pedro Maffia and Armando Blasco)
    1944-1953: PAMPA
1966: Microfon
Pedro Maffia 1936
1946 (Orq. Maffia-Gomez)
1925-1927 (bandoneon duos with Pedro Laurenz and others)
  1959 1929-1930: Brunswick
1930-1931: Columbia
1965: EML (Ed. Musical Literaria)
Ricardo Tanturi 1937-1938 1940-1959     1966: H&R
Roberto Goyeneche 1957-1959 1952-1953
  1954-1956 1960-1961, 1963: Sondor
1966: Antar Telefunken
1986-1989: Melopea and Milán Sur
Roberto Firpo
(incomplete data)
before 1926? (acoustic recordings)
1926-1943 (electric recordings)
1944     Before 1926: ERA, Atlanta, Columbia
Rodolfo Biagi 1938-1956 1927 1962   1956-1961: Columbia

(First 10-2005, reviewed 06-2006,
07-2006, 04-2007, 07-2007)

The answers (but they should be obvious by now - unless you jumped directly here)
1) Alberto Castillo sang with the Tanturi orchestra between 1941 and 1943. In those years Tanturi worked for RCA Víctor and these recordings can be found in the Tango Argentino series. At the end of 1943 Castillo left Tanturi (being replaced by Enrique Campos) and continued as a soloist, recording for Odeon. These are the recordings found on Reliquias.
2) Almost all of the works by Juan D'Arienzo were recorded by RCA Víctor. Nothing to do with Reliquias-EMI-Odeon.
3) Most of Pugliese's work was recorded by Odeon and this part appears in Reliquias. The only studio recording of "A Evaristo Carriego" was made in 1969, when Pugliese was working for Philips. A live recording (Teatro Colón, 1985) was published by EMI-Odeon ("2 en 1" series, 1999), but as far as I know (I have never seen it written) Reliquias is exclusively devoted to studio recordings.
4) Mid 1943, Pedro Laurenz switched from RCA Víctor to Odeon. Therefore, in the Colección 78rpm series you will only find recordings made before July 1943, and on Reliquias only those made since July 1943. El Bandoneón, on the other hand, is not linked to a particular label: on EB n°82 you will find a mix of RCA Víctor and Odeon recordings.

[1] All the EMI-series CDs carry the same indications :

(P) EMI Odeon S.A.I.C.
(C) EMI Odeon S.A.I.C.
Publicado y distribuido por EMI Odeon S.A.I.C.
The "Reliquias" serie is different from the others by also having the DBN-logo (Distribuidora Belgrano Norte) and at their website the "Reliquias" series is presented as their own (Ponemos en circulación....  We have distributed.... logramos reunir en un solo disco... we have succeeded to bring together in a single disc...). The exact relation between EMI-Odeon, DBN and the "Reliquias"-series name is not obvious to me. But there is no doubt: these are the historic Odeon recordings. (back)

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