Seymour Stein | Photo via Mute Records
The death over the weekend of legendary record man Seymour Stein — co-founder of Sire Records and the man who signed Madonna, Talking Heads and Ramones, then helped bring The Smiths, Depeche Mode, Echo & The Bunnymen and The Cure to the U.S. — has unleashed a torrent of heartfelt appreciations from so many of the musicians he championed.
Stein died at home in Los Angeles on Sunday of cancer at the age of 80, his daughter told The New York Times.
Through Stein, Sire Records’ impact on the generation who came of age during the 1980s is immeasurable, as the label became a mark of quality by signing British acts for American audiences — The Pretenders, Erasure, Yazoo, The Normal, The Mighty Lemon Drops all called Sire home — as well as left-of-the-dial American acts like The Replacements, Poster Children, The Ocean Blue and Ministry.
Not to mention the label’s must-have Just Say Yes compilations, a series of CD samplers, launched in 1987 and running through the early ’90s, that collected music by new artists and tracks and mixes that, at the time, were hard to find by the likes of The Smiths, Depeche Mode, Echo & The Bunnymen and more.
In the wake of Stein’s passing, we’ve rounded up some remembrances by key artists:
“Talking Heads are saddened to learn that Seymour Stein has died. He was our champion. He fought bravely for us and he remained loyal to us until the end. Some people can spot a diamond in the rough and Seymour was one of them. He offered us a record deal after seeing us only one time at CBGB, before even we felt we were ready. He waited impatiently for 18 months until we finally said yes to his offer. Seymour’s life was one of great success and also great tragedy, but through it all he remained crazy about music. To hear him sing one of our own songs to us while barreling down Broadway in a Checker cab was one of our life’s great delights. We say this with respect to his beautiful daughter Mandy and to all of the Sire Records family. He was a mensch that we and the music business will never forget.” — Chris, Tina, David and Jerry
“It is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to Seymour Stein and my sympathy goes out to his daughter, Mandy Stein. Seymour was a true original and a remarkable ‘record man.’ Without the backing of a large record company, he had to find artists in the earliest moments of their careers. For decades, his taste was spot on and there are very few who can match his track record. He also had the good sense and confidence to let artists make their own decisions: Talking Heads determined the direction of each album, designed all of our early covers, and directed our own videos. We were lucky to have such a strong ally who had both confidence in us and in his intuition. He will be sorely missed.
“RIP Seymour Stein. Legendary record man. Signed me to Sire Records in 1984 and bought me my Red 355 from 48th Street to seal the deal. Worked with The Drifters, Rolling Stones and Shangri-Las. Discovered Talking Heads, Ramones and Madonna. Well done Seymour and thank you my friend.”
“I am heartbroken today… Seymour was always so funny, and so enthusiastic. Throughout the ’90s he was always on the front row… he bought me some incredible gifts, and we had so many hilarious squabbles on the good and the bad in American music history. His enthusiasm no longer exists in the music industry — does anyone even leave their office anymore? Seymour would follow M tours around the country. He was, like the best of them, irreplaceable, and I am sick to death of death.”
“…While writing this, I received the sad news that Seymour Stein has passed away. Everyone the world over owes a tremendous debt to the man. A true music lover who supported all of us and had an encyclopedic knowledge of every genre of music. Thank you Seymour! Bless you!”
“RIP Seymour Stein. I have a memory of a lovely dinner with him many years ago. A true music man who understood who we were as a band. A little eccentric with it — which meant I liked him immediately.”
“Without Seymour Stein, who knows what would have happened. Thank you Seymour. RIP 1942-2023.”
“It’s hard to imagine our story without Seymour Stein. From our early discovery of The Smiths, The Cure, Echo & The Bunnymen and so so many others on Sire Records; to his signing our baby band to THAT very label; to connecting us and supporting us with all kinds of experienced, creative people, and the might of a major record label. There is no music business person who was more consequential in our music career than Seymour Stein. Thank you and RIP.”
“We are all so very sad to hear about Seymour’s passing. Seymour was a dear friend and mentor, and the most knowledgeable person about music that I ever knew. He seemed to know the lyrics to every song ever written and would often break into song at random moments, maybe over dinner or just walking down the street. Through his legendary and influential label, Sire Records, he released some of the most important music of the last 40 years. He was a huge supporter of Mute and our artists in America. He released my first single, Depeche Mode, Erasure and Fad Gadget and was always a great mouthpiece for British music when nobody else in America was interested. I will miss him greatly. Thank you, Seymour, for everything you did for us, for me and for music in general.”
“Such very sad news about Seymour Stein. He had an incredible encyclopedic knowledge of popular music, was a lot of fun and had an incredible lust for life. I doubt they make them like him anymore. I hope I’m wrong.”
“Seymour Stein and Sire were instrumental in helping to break us in the United States, releasing ‘After the Snow’ and ‘Ricochet Days.’ We’ve heard (and told) many stories about his revered taste and talent as a leader in the music industry. Rest in peace.”
“RIP Seymour Stein. We are very saddened to hear the news about Seymour. He had a pivotal role in Book of Love’s career, signing us to Sire and changing the course of our lives. In the years after the band, his door was always open and he remained a mentor and confidant. We will always remember the times in his office of him telling stories of his experiences in the music business. His passing is such a loss for all who love pop music and it’s history. Sending thoughts and prayers to his family… and Seymour, thank you and Godspeed.” — xox Ted, Susan, Jade and Lauren
“We were on top of the world in 1984 when Seymour signed us to the coolest label in the universe and we were over the moon when he put us on the Depeche Mode ‘Some Great Reward’ tour (with a week to prepare) just a year later! … Seymour was a true original and in our young lives, we had never met anyone quite like him! I remember that he introduced us to his personal fave ‘Shabu Shabu’ at a midtown Japanese restaurant (very grown up). My favorite memory was when he took us to a Spanish restaurant in the Bronx and, on the way home, he sat up in the front seat with the taxi driver so he could control the radio (it was the ’80s). He knew every lyric to every song and he serenaded us, at the top of his lungs, all the way back to Manhattan.”
“Rest in peace, dear Seymour Stein. My friend, true legend and record industry genius. The word genius is bandied about so much, but Seymour was the real deal. 100%. The Ramones, Madonna, Talking Heads and countless others owe their careers to you. Thank you, Seymour, for always being so encouraging to me. I will never forget you.”
“We are so sorry to hear about the passing of legendary U.S. music guru Seymour Stein, who was such a huge part of Erasure’s U.S. success, and of the wonderful Paul O’Grady. Farewell to you both, it was lovely to have known you. We were also sorry to hear about the passing of Ryuichi Sakamoto. who we didn’t know personally but whom we have always admired.”
“Very sad to learn of the passing of Seymour Stein, who signed my band Metro to our first American record deal with his label Sire Records and was one of the first believers in my music. He also launched the careers of Madonna. Talking Heads, the Ramones and many others. A giant of the music industry who was always ahead of the game. RIP Seymour.”
“Sad to hear of the passing of Seymour Stein. He was one of the early U.S. record guys that believed in punk and new wave artists and signed them to his Sire label. Ramones, Madonna, Talking Heads, Pretenders to name just a few. In the early ’80s in NYC he was really an integral guy in getting bands noticed.”
“Safe travels Seymour Stein. Sire was one of those labels that was a sign of great taste and quality. He knew good music. We met him in New York, at The Limelight, when The Charlatans played there, we’d been asked to put him on the guest list — his plus-one was Madonna.”
“God rest your soul, Seymour Stein. Your life was music and I’ve always taken huge inspiration from our chats and +meetings. Your enthusiasm and intimate knowledge of the obscure records my Dad worked on that gave me the courage to make two LPs of his work. Your legacy will live on for ever.”
“RIP Seymour Stein. He signed The The to Sire Records in New York in the early 1980s. Although the relationship was fairly brief, as we soon moved on to CBS, I always had fond memories of him. Quite a character.”
“Sleep well, Seymour Stein. Not every band you signed became as big as Talking Heads, the Ramones and Madonna, but your hit rate was astonishing.”
“Forget about Madonna, Talking Heads, the Ramones etc. Seymour Stein was also man that signed The Undertones. RIP Seymour, it was a honour and privilege to know you and thank you so much for the leg up to a young band from Ireland. Tip of hat, sir.”
“Very sad to hear of the passing of Seymour Stein, boss of Sire Records. He signed B-Movie in 1983 and we were proud to be part of such a legendary label that introduced the world to the Ramones and Talking Heads. Sire was always at the cutting edge of what was going on. He brought his new signing Madonna to our gig at The Embassy in London and she danced through our set. She wanted to dance with us after the show but for some reason we declined! It was before ‘Holiday’ came out. The rest is history. Seymour loved ‘Nowhere Girl,’ and for our first single ‘A Letter from Afar,’ we tried to fuse our melodic English pop sound with New York beats. The track was produced by John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez. What do B-Movie fans think of this track? Seymour once told me that I wasn’t stupid enough to be in a band. We used to have heated discussions over the phone at my parents, house in the village of Cuckney. My dad would be sitting reading the paper with his pipe smoking away while I chatted to one of the biggest legends in the music industry who was trying to get me to sing Rudy Vallee cover versions. It was surreal, but that was the beauty of it. Anything was possible and that’s part of the legacy of Seymour Stein. He saw things others didn’t and that’s a gift.”
“RIP Seymour Stein. The Soup Dragons are very proud to be on Sire Records for a few years with some of our all time favourite bands. Seymour ran a major record label like a fan of a band. Name one major label who does that now.”
“I was lucky enough to meet Seymour Stein once, after Poster Children had signed with Sire. He was sitting behind his desk, wearing a Tintin sweater, drinking a protein shake. He said our band reminded him of the Ramones, which I’m sure he said to all the bands, and I have to admit I was a bit bummed he didn’t say Talking Heads. A few years ago I was going through the ‘archives’ and found a vinyl copy of our record ‘Junior Citizen,’ pulled it out of the sleeve and saw the iconic purple ‘S’ on the yellow label and started weeping. Sire had been such an integral part of my teenage years, helping define me as a person and musician and I’d never taken the time to appreciate what a privilege it had been to put out records on that same label a few years later. Thanks to Seymour Stein for building a home for the musical freaks that changed my life.”
PREVIOUSLY ON SLICING UP EYEBALLS
- Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense” to get 4K theatrical run, expanded vinyl reissue
- The Smiths’ ‘The Queen is Dead’ 3CD/1DVD reissue to include unreleased 1986 live album
- The Replacements’ ‘Pleased To Meet Me’ box set to include 29 unreleased tracks
- Ramones’ ‘Road to Ruin’ 40th anniversary set to include new mix of album, rough cuts, live disc