Atlantic Records' Heavies Rock Around the Clock at Its Monster 40th Birthday Bash

updated 05/30/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/30/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

At first Ahmet Ertegun, 64, the erstwhile young Turk who helped found Atlantic Records in 1947 and built it into a label of legend, worried about sparse early attendance at the mammoth 12-hour Madison Square Garden concert he'd organized to celebrate Atlantic's 40th anniversary. Only about 2,000 paying guests were in the audience at 1:30 p.m. when Steve Stills and Graham Nash kicked off what was supposed to be the most humongous rock and roll birthday party ever. They were followed by such Saturday afternoon delights as rhythm and blues greats Ruth Brown and LaVern Baker, the Spinners, rocker Phil Collins and jazzman Bobby Short. But by 5 p.m., when David Crosby joined Stills and Nash for "Wooden Ships," the pacifist anthem was cheered by a filling house (except for Ertegun pal Henry Kissinger, who sat impassively with wife Nancy).

Backed by the MGs, soul stars Ben E. King, Wilson Pickett, Rufus Thomas and Sam & Dave's Sam Moore turned in hot sets. But it was the supergroups of the '60s and '70s—Iron Butterfly, the Rascals, Yes, Genesis, Foreigner and Led Zeppelin, which closed the show with "Stairway to Heaven" at 1:35 a.m. Sunday—who owned the audience.

The concert raised more than $10 million for charities from Amnesty International to a fund for indigent entertainers. Dan Aykroyd said his Blues Brother, John Belushi, would have shown up if he could have. So, undoubtedly, would such other late Atlantic greats as Otis Redding, Duane Allman and Moore's partner Dave Prater, who died recently in a car crash. "We miss them and we love them," Aykroyd said. "This was for them tonight."

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