Saturday, November 12, 2011


Sad to see that the last major UK-owned record company, EMI, has been split up and sold to Universal Music Group and Sony. Electric and Musical Industries was formed in 1931 with the merger of the Gramophone Company - famous for the iconic His Masters Voice label - and Columbia. Its Abbey Road recording studio became world famous when the Beatles named an LP after it. But it was much more than that.
In my early record collecting years in the sixties EMI and Decca were the predominant record companies, with Pye and Philips/ Fontana less so, and smaller labels such as Oriole of relatively minor importance (except during its Motown distribution period) until the emergence of Polydor and its distribution of Atlantic and Stax records later in the decade. As well as HMV and Columbia, EMI also had its own Parlophone label and between them they brought early American acts such as Elvis, Hank Ballard and Huey Smith to British audiences, as well as launching UK acts. EMI also distributed Capitol, MGM, Mercury and, a little later, launched UK labels for other Amercian record companies such as Liberty, United Artists, Verve and Tamla Motown. After taking over and later closing the independent Top Rank label, it launched Stateside, which rivalled Decca's London label as an outlet for many smaller US labels in the UK. Decca also had RCA, Coral, Brunswick, Vocalion and Warner Brothers among its labels and the two companies went head to head. As the sixties wore on Pye became more important with the distribution of Chess records in the UK and Philips launched CBS as a UK label, bringing with it Dylan and Johnny Cash.
Unlike the US, with its many independent labels, record distribution in the UK was very centralised in those days, and it was only later that indies such as Island and Immediate began to change the scene and this evolved into a rash of independent labels in the 70s and 80s. Now, it seems that the record label itself is on the way out and that downloads are taking over. But as a vinyl collector EMI will always remain important to me. Sad to see it go.


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