FEATURE MUSIC 100
For the record
The record company behind The Beatles, EMI is celebrating its 100th birthday with a huge exhibition launching in Edinburgh and charting the century in sound. To whet your appetite, Alastair Mabbott and Jonathan Trew take you on a journey through the hits and'misses that have carved EMI a place in recording history.
The Beatles are. of course. EMl’s ultimate source of pride. even if their first demo (of Q cover versions) was X " turned down by the
record company as a
pallid imitation of The Shadows and it was
only by fluke that the Fabs
had a second bite at the
cherry. Distinguished competitor Decca in turn rejected the band on the grounds that ‘electric guitars are old hat’ and a disconsolate Brian Epstein schlepped a batch of original songs to be transferred to disc at the recording department in EMl’s Oxford Street store. The engineer was impressed enough to refer them back to the parent company. Next stop was George Martin and the history books.
EMl have neverjust been responsible for the labels they themselves owned. Beyond those. they began licensing records from the USA in 1946. So we have them to thank for releasing Elvis’s earliest sides in the UK (which they did just before their contract with RCA Victor in
the US ended in 1957).
The music-loving public also owes EMl a debt of gratitude for its part in bringing the sounds of Motown to Britain. Such life- enhancing platters as The Supremes’ ‘Baby Love’. Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ and Smokey Robinson’s ‘Tears Of A Clown‘ all entered this country under EMl’s auspices. and were all smash hits. Oh. and they licensed The Beach Boys too.
Bohemian Rhapsody‘. in all its six-minute glory. kept Queen at Number One for a startling nine weeks and is widely acknowledged to mark the beginning of the video age.
On the albums front. Pink Floyd’s awesomely accomplished ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ stayed in the American charts for more than a
decade. Move over Meatloaf. the Brits did it first. Now as we head towards the end of the century. even the coolest and smallest labels can make an impact on the charts. But when is an indie not an indie? Most of the time. when the trendy names to throw about are actually backed by the majors. That said. EMl can be proud of the performance
of the Food label. and the
rejuvenated Blur. who have just
delivered the company’s latest
Number One single. The fact that
it’s called ‘Beetlebum’ just shows
that history has a nice way of tying things up neatly.
16 The List 7-20 Feb 1997
The name’s Cliff . . . Sir Cliff. Once
upon a time. he rocked harder
Mind you. without the Queen Mother of Pop. we might never have been exposed to the sublime genius of Hank Marvin. an inﬂuence on musicians as diverse as Neil Young and Richard Thompson. so keep doffing those caps. And don‘t forget that unfashionable as Sir Richard may be it's only seven years since he had his last Number One.
The saga of The Sex Pistols will always be something of a blot on EMl’s record book. Rightly adjudged to be a hot new group. they were signed to EMl in October 1976. with ‘Anarchy In The UK’ following shortly after. Then the band’s unique method of promoting it. by swearing at Bill Grundy on Thames A! Six. threw the wholesome company into a panic. The Fabs were never like this!
As gigs were being pulled off The Sex Pistols’ tour left. right and centre. EMI cancelled the band’s contract. After a dalliance with A&M lasting. ooh. several hours. the group ended up releasing the album Never Mind The Bollocks on Virgin and included a sneering attack on EMl to round off side two. EMl had the last laugh with their purchase of Virgin in 1992 - it now owns the recording of this blistering swipe at their august selves and is still making money from it.
Other clunkers which we can remember with a certain embarrassed glow include The Wurzels’ ‘Combine Harvester‘ with its cringing lyrics based on hayseed chat-up lines. Fair enough. it was a novelty record but the novelty wore off rather quickly.
Benny Hill’s ‘Ernie (Fastest Milkman In The West)‘ stayed at Number One for five weeks in 197]. A measure of improving standards in public taste is the fact that it peaked at Number 24 before mercifully vanishing for good when it was re-released in I992.
Olive Dunn’s ‘Grandad’ and St Winifred’s School Chair’s ‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’ must have blighted many an OAP‘s twilight years with an overdose of mawkish sentimentality when they pitched up in their Christmas stockings.
And ﬁnally. let’sjust say one word and let it speak for itself. It neatly encapsulates all that was wrong with the Eighties music scene and shows that EMl did drop the occasional clanger: Kaiagoogoo.