Seymour Stein, legendary co-founder of Sire Records who signed Madonna, The Ramones and Talking Heads, dies at 80

Credit: Vivien Killilea
Seymour Stein

Seymour Stein, co-founder of Sire Records and former Vice President at Warner Bros. Records, has died at age 80 in Los Angeles, his family confirmed in a statement on Sunday (April 2).

Stein, widely regarded as a pioneering figure in the music business, died Sunday morning following a battle with cancer.

The music industry veteran is best known for signing artists like Madonna (while he was at the hospital), The Ramones, and Talking Heads while at Sire Records, an independent label he co-founded with music producer Richard Gottehrer in 1966.

Recollecting the first time he saw the Ramones in 1975, Stein said: “It was like sticking my hand in a live electric light socket.”

Sire released The Ramones’ first album in 1976 and following its success, Sire formed a distribution deal with Warner Bros. Records, and in 1980, Warner Music Group fully acquired Sire.

“I grew up surrounded by music. I didn’t have the most conventional upbringing, but I wouldn’t change my life and my relationship with my dad for anything.”

Mandy Stein, Seymour Stein’s daughter

The label is also known for signing the Pretenders, The Smiths, Depeche Mode, The Cure, k.d. lang, The Cult, The Replacements, Ice-T, and more, making Stein a key figure in the new wave era of the 1970s and 1980s.

Stein is often credited for coining the term “new wave” music and for putting the genre on the mainstream map with bands like Talking Heads and the Pretenders, his family said.

Sire dropped classic pop tracks like M’s Pop Muzik, Soft Cell’s Tainted Love, and Modern English’s I Melt with You.

In the years that followed, Sire’s roster grew to include The Cult, The Undertones, Madness, The Replacements, Ice-T, k.d. lang, Seal, Everything But The Girl, Aztec Camera, Dinosaur Jr., Wilco, My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream, Aphex Twin, Spacehog, Regina Spektor, Tegan & Sara, and more.

Stein was inducted in 2005 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an organization that he co-founded in 1983. In 2016, he was honored by the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 2018, he released his autobiography, Siren Song: My Life in Music, around the same time when he left Warner Music after four decades in order to pursue “the next phase” of his career.

Stein is survived by his daughter, Mandy, his sister, Ann Wiederkehr, and three grandchildren.

“I grew up surrounded by music. I didn’t have the most conventional upbringing, but I wouldn’t change my life and my relationship with my dad for anything, and he was a loving and caring grandfather who took pleasure in every moment with his three granddaughters,” said Mandy Stein.

“He gave me the ultimate soundtrack, as well as his wicked sense of humor. I am beyond grateful for every minute our family spent with him, and that the music he brought to the world impacted so many people’s lives in a positive way.”

Warner Music Group relaunched Sire Records in 2017 as the label celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Music Business Worldwide

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