It’s hard to overstate how much the name EMI means in the UK. The record label of The Beatles — and later, The Rolling Stones — is even immortalized in a song by another EMI artist, The Sex Pistols. Brian Southall, who worked at the label in the 1970s and ’80s, says its glory days were marked by excess as much as success.
“It was an extraordinarily powerful company,” Southall says. “We had a lot of money to spend, and we spent it. We had parties for ludicrous things, as I recall. We even had parties that people didn’t turn up at. I think Pink Floyd famously never turned up at any parties we had to launch their albums.”
EMI can trace its history back to the beginning of the music industry, when Emile Berliner started the Gramophone Company in 1897 to manufacture the first sound recordings on discs. The company renamed Electric and Musical Industries came to dominate classical music, and later popular music sales in the UK.
But that was then. Brian Southall wrote about EMI’s decline in his book, The Rise and Fall of EMI Records. He says the decline had a lot to do with the contraction of the music industry in the last 10 years, but that it began even before that. EMI had merged with the consumer electronics company Thorn. Then the two parted ways in the 1990s — meaning that, unlike its competitors (say, Warner Brothers or CBS), EMI was just a music company.
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