See also: ColumbiaHarvestHMV, Parlophone

Above, left: the original Australian label design introduced in 1972
Centre:an Australian Crawl single from 1982, featuring the 1980s design in a patriotic green-and-gold combination
Right: a Dear Enemy single
from 1986, in EMI's standard cream-black-red colour scheme.

Category: British-owned multi-national record company

1931 - present

Location: Sydney, NSW (head office)

Wholly-owned subsidiary of EMI (UK)

Subsidiary labels: 
Regal Zonophone (to 1958), Columbia (1931-1972), Harvest, HMV, Parlophone, EMI (1972-)

Distributor for: 
Columbia USA and Epic (until May 1956); Capitol (USA) after March 1956; Tamla Motown (USA) 1965-1970s; Stateside (USA), Chrysalis (UK), EG (UK), Liberty (USA) and others


EMI group history

For most of the 20th century, EMI was the largest recording company in the world, and it dominated the local markets in most Commonwealth countries including Australia and New Zealand for most of the post-WWII era. Today the EMI group comprises over 100 recording labels in all continents, and it is currently also the world's second-largest music publisher. Its catalogue of labels includes famous imprints like Apple, Blue Note, Capitol, Chrysalis, Harvest, HMV, Imperial, Odeon, Parlophone, RAK, Real World, Regal Zonophone, Stateside and Virgin.

EMI traces its history back to 1898, when William Owen of the US National Gramophone Company set up a rival business in the UK under the name The Gramophone Company, offering gramophones and sound recordings (along with typewriters for a few years at the turn of the century) under technical director Fred Gaisberg. In 1920 The Gramophone Company was taken over and became a subsidiary of the US Victor Talking Machine Company. In 1929 Victor merged with the recording arm of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), creating the RCA Victor label.

In 1931 RCA merged several of its labels -- the British-based Gramophone Company, the US-based Columbia Graphophone and the formerly German-owned Parlophone Company -- into a new Anglo-American group which was incorporated as Electric & Music Industries (EMI) Ltd. The deal also brought in the Columbia subsidiary Regal and the Gramophone Co. subsidiary Zonophone, which were combined into the new Regal Zonophone label. On 12 November 1931, Sir Edward Elgar opened the new EMI Recording Studios at Abbey Road, St John's Wood, London.

By the mid-1930s, RCA was being threatened with anti-trust action because of the alleged anti-competitive nature of its business, so in 1935 it sold its controlling stake in EMI, although the company kept the rights to the famous "Nipper" logo, which became the trademark of its RCA Victor label in the Americas and Japan. However EMI retained the rights to the logo in the UK and other countries, where it was used as the trademark of their His Masters Voice (HMV) label.

Early in its history, The Gramophone Company established subsidiary operations in Commonwealth countries including India, Australia and New Zealand. EMI's Australian and New Zealand subsidiaries dominated the music industry in those countries from the 1920s to the 1960s, when other locally-owned labels (such as Festival Records) and subsidiaries of American labels such as Warner, CBS and RCA began to eat into its virtual monopoly.

In the Thirties and Forties EMI diversified, with interests ranging from light bulbs, gramophones and radios to radar systems and broadcast electronics. EMI made many significant electronics advances, including the EMI 2001 colour TV camera, Britain's first transistorised computer and the world's first CAT scanner, but its manufacturing declined and disappeared in the 1970s.

Impresario Walter Legge directed EMI's recording operations after WWII, founding the Philharmonia Orchestra and producing many of the label's most famous classical titles; he also married famed soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, one of EMI's leading classical artists. In 1956, RCA terminated its British distribution agreement with EMI and signed a new deal with Decca Records, prompting EMI to purchase the American Capitol Records label. Capitol then became the distributor for EMI recordings in North and South America and EMI distributed Capitol recordings in the UK and the Commonwealth.

From the 1950s into the 1970s, under the management of Sir Joseph Lockwood, EMI enjoyed unprecedented success in the popular music field, beginning with the hugely influential recordings by Cliff Richard and The Shadows. EMI's dominant international position was cemented by the emergence of The Beatles, who had been signed to Parlophone by A&R manager George Martin after they had been turned down by several other major labels (including Decca). Building on its massive success with The Beatles, EMI signed many other leading British pop artists including The Animals, The Hollies, Cilla Black, The Pretty Things and Pink Floyd, and its ownership of Capitol gave it access to top American stars such like The Four Seasons, The Beach Boys and, later, The Band. EMI also licensed several labels in the US (including the MGM label) and established the Music For Pleasure and World Record Club mail-order operations.

For most of its history, EMI's main subsidiary labels were HMV, Parlophone, Columbia and Regal Zonophone, which was the company's low-priced line and enjoyed huge sales over the years. Prior to the 1960s HMV and Columbia were EMI's main popular music labels but, thanks to The Beatles, Parlophone underwent a remarkable transformation. Parlophone had mainly released jazz, spoken word and comedy recordings, such as Peter Sellers and The Goons, plus a few 'pop' artists, but the massive global success of the Fab Four transformed it into the hippest label in the world. Artists everywhere scrambled to be signed to Parlophone, and the glamour of being signed to The Beatles' label endures to this day.

By the late 1960s the formerly homogeneous "pop" scene was diversifying, as new genres like psychedelia and heavy rock emerged. In 1969 EMI established a new subsidiary label called Harvest Records to market acts in the emerging progressive rock genre, such as Pink Floyd. Although this was mainly used for British based acts, at least one major Australian group -- Spectrum -- was signed to Harvest in the early 1970s.

Columbia (the world's oldest surviving label brand) was operated by EMI in the UK, the Commonwealth and most other countries, but not in the Americas or Japan. After its incorporation in 1931, EMI had been forced to divest its stake in American Columbia, and in 1938 American Columbia was taken over by CBS Records, who then operated the trademark in the USA, Canada and Japan. EMI retained the rights to the name in most territories (including Australia and New Zealand) and continued operating the label until 1972, when it was replaced by the EMI Records imprint. In 1990 EMI sold its remaining rights to the Columbia name the Sony Corporation, which had taken over CBS Records in the late 1980s.

During the 1970s EMI acquired the Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC) and a chain of UK provincial cinemas, making films such as The Deerhunter and Murder on the Orient Express before leaving Hollywood after significant losses. In 1979 EMI merged with electronics manufacturer and leasing group Thorn to form Thorn EMI. Over the next few year other companies were bought and sold, but according to media analysis website ketupa.net, there was little sense of a coherent corporate strategy.

In 1992 Thorn EMI bought the Virgin Music Group from Richard Branson and Japanese conglomerate Fujisankei for £560m. In 1994 it bought David Balfe's Food music group for £475,000. A year later it acquired the Hatchards bookshops and Dillons book selling chain (the second largest UK book retailer) for around £56 million. In 1996 the ailing electronics business was demerged into a separate company, Thorn, and the music recording and retailing arms were renamed EMI Group. In 1998 EMI sold its 271-store HMV retail business, along with the Dillons bookstore chain, to HMV Media for £500m, retaining a 42.5% stake in HMV and receiving around £382m in cash for the controlling block of shares.

In 2004 EMI made the historic announcement that it would cease its in-house manufacture of CDs and DVDs in Europe and the United States; it subsequently transferred its associated assets in the Netherlands to MediaMotion, closed its manufacturing plant in Illinois and sold its Australian CD manufacturing unit (a joint venture with Warner Music) to Summit Technology Australia.

In 2006 EMI and the Warner Music Group engaged in a bizarre and bitter takeover battle, with each rejecting an unwelcome US$4.6 billion bid from the other. EMI announced that it had turned down an offer to be acquired by Warner Music, its smaller rival, calling the proposal "wholly unacceptable" and increasing its own offer for Warner Music, which was in turn rebuffed. EMI and Warner Music had a long history of attempted mergers -- in 1998 Seagram supremo Edgar Bronfman Jr held talks with EMI about merging Seagram's Universal music arm with its London-based rival, but the discussions came to nothing. Bronfman had then led Universal into a takeover by Vivendi and later used some of his (greatly diminished) fortune to buy a stake in Warner Music when that group was sold off by the Time Warner group in 2003). During 2000 the newly merged AOL Time Warner again tried and failed to acquire EMI. Subsequent discussions about a possible takeover by Bertelsmann's BMG stalled, with Bertelsmann eventually offloading its music arm into a joint venture with Sony.

In December 2005, The Beatles' Apple Records launched a suit alleging that EMI had withheld US$50 million in royalties. A legal settlement was announced on 12 April 2007 but the terms were not disclosed. In August 2007 EMI was taken over by the Terra Firma private equity group in a deal worth UK£3.2 billion. The Terra Firma acquisition followed a dramatic decline in sales, a halving of its market share (from 16% to 9%) and a financial loss of UK£260 million in 2006/2007. Following the buyout, several 'flagship' artists left the company, including Radiohead and Sir Paul McCartney. In late 2007 Guy Hands, the new chairman of EMI, announced 'restructuring' plans that would cut 1500–2000 jobs and reduce costs by £200 million a year. In January 2008, EMI's UK chief executive Tony Wadsworth left the company after 25 years.

EMI in Australasia

EMI's Australian branch is the oldest recording company still operating in Australia. In 1925 EMI's ancestor The Gramophone Company opened it's first Australian record plant in Erskineville, Sydney. In 1927 it opened a new plant opened at Homebush, Sydney and this became the company's main manufacturing and distribution centre for the next sixty years. As noted above, The Gramophone Co. and several other major labels were taken over by the American RCA corporation during the 1920s, and in 1931 these were merged to become EMI. However, the Australian division continued to trade as The Gramophone Co. (Australia) and it was was not until 1949 that it was re-incorporated as EMI (Australia) Pty Ltd. At this time it moved to new company headquarters at 301 Castlereagh Street, Sydney. In 1951 the company moved its recording studios to Castlereagh Street, where it remained until 1999.

Through its various house labels -- Columbia, HMV, Parlophone and Regal Zonophone -- and the other labels it distributed locally (including Decca) EMI dominated the Australasian record market from the 1920s to the early 1960s, and this obviously had a significant influence on the development of Australian music in many genres. In the jazz field, the combination of EMI's market dominance, its privileged status as a British-owned company operating in a Commonwealth country and Australia's protectionist trade regulations led to situation in which the vast majority of jazz and dance records released here between the two world wars were by British artists and orchestras. Veteran jazz musician Graham Bell has commented that many influential recordings by American artists were never released in Australia, while others took months or even years to reach the local market.

This trend continued in the "pop" era and Australia's relatively small population meant that companies such as EMI tended to give preference to releases which could be expected to sell strongly. As a result, many titles -- such as those by emerging psychedelic and progressive rock acts -- were not released locally and were only available as imports. Some titles could be specially imported on request, but the many titles that were not given local releases (and the often inferior quality of Australian pressings) created a steady demand for imported British and American albums. Some enterprising retailers imported these albums and singles direct from overseas suppliers, but the major labels predictably took a dim view of this, and shops such as the famed Archie & Jughead's in Melbourne (established by Keith Glass and David "Dr Pepper" Pepperell) were raided on several occasions and had their stock seized.

This situation began to change in the mid-1970s, particularly after the advent of Countdown and Double Jay, who both gave extensive coverage to acts that were largely being ignored by Australian commercial radio. A notable case in point was the 1976 album 801 Live, a one-off recording by an all-star British progressive ensemble which included members of Roxy Music, Curved Air and Random Hold. The LP (produced by Roxy guitarist Phil Manzanera) broke new ground, being one of the first live albums to be recorded using the so-called Direct Injection technique, in which electric instruments were connected directly into the recording console, rather than miking up the various amplifiers. The result was an improvement in fidelity that was far beyond anything previously achieved in live rock recording and this, combined with the excellent material, soon saw the album receiving regular airplay on Double Jay. EMI initially refused to release the album in Australia, but with Double Jay's promotion it became the biggest-selling import record of that year, and EMI were eventually obliged to give it a local release.

EMI's position as the acknowledged market leader in Australasia was strongly reinforced in the 1960s, thanks to its star-studded roster of British and American acts, headed by The Beatles and The Beach Boys, giving it a catalogue that no other company could match. Yet despite EMI's seemingly unassailable dominance, local rival Festival Records was able to make significant gains thanks to its roster of new Australian talent (backed by a strong complement of overseas labels) and on several occasions Festival outsold EMI, thanks in large measure to the deals it struck with Australian independent labels such as Sunshine, Spin and Clarion.

Prior to the 1950 most of EMI's Australian output was sourced from its UK catalogue and its US affiliate labels, but after the breakthrough success of Slim Dusty's "The Pub With No Beer" -- the biggest-selling Australian record ever released up to that time -- EMI  began signing more Australian artists. In the early-mid 1950s many of these were so-called "hillbilly" (i.e. country) performers like Slim, Reg Lindsay and Chad Morgan, and most were signed to EMI's Regal Zonophone label. EMI wound up the Regal Zonophone label in Australia in 1958, a move which coincided with the phasing out of the old 78rpm shellac disc and the changeover to the new vinyl microgroove format. The last Australian Regal Zonophone title was issued on 1 May 1958, and EMI's Australian artists were transferred to the other three labels.

EMI's local roster from the late 1950s to the early 1970s included many of the most prominent Australasian acts of the era. Many (such as Johnny Farnham) recorded for several EMI labels during the course of their career. The list of top Australasian acts who were signed to or released through EMI  include Slim Dusty, Reg Lindsay, Chad Morgan, Frank Ifield, Rolf Harris, The Seekers, The Allen Brothers, Little Pattie, Bryan Davies, Dinah Lee, Jay Justin, Grantley Dee, Buddy England, The Easybeats, The Throb, The Twilights, John Farnham, The Masters Apprentices, The La De Das, The Groove, Russell Morris, Jeannie Lewis, Ross Ryan, Spectrum and Ariel. In this period the company was also home to several prominent Australian producers and engineers including Ron Wills (producer for Slim Dusty and Lionel Long), David McKay, David Woodley-Page and expat New Zealanders Howard Gable and Peter Dawkins.

In 1970 EMI Australia was one of the group of record companies that instigated the controversial Radio Ban, the crisis-point in a contentious dispute between major labels and commercial radio stations. Following changes to Australia's copyright laws in 1968, these labels scrapped a long-standing agreement with the commercial radio sector that had been made in the 1950s, claiming that radio was benefitting unfairly from the free copies of new singles and albums they were being provided with. The labels demanded a new "pay for play" royalty on all records played on air, which would have equalled 1% of the sector's total annual revenue. The commercial radio sector understandably balked at this, arguing that they were providing vast amounts of free advertising and promotion for record company products and artists. It is notable that the major American labels -- CBS, RCA and Warner -- were not affected by the ban.

When talks broke down in May 1970, the major labels placed an embargo on the supply of promotional records to commercial radio, which responded by black-banning major-label records and refusing to include them in their all-important chart surveys. As the largest company operating in Australia, EMI was most affected, and over the five months of the Ban, many songs that had been hits in the UK -- including the last few Beatles releases -- were banned by commercial radio. Enterprising independent labels like Fable, Du Monde and Sparmac leaped into the breach, and Fable in particular scored a string of hits in that brief period with covers of songs that were supposedly banned by commercial radio. A notable example was Liv Maessen's cover of the Mary Hopkin EMI single "Knock, Knock, Who's There?", which became a national hit and earned Liv the first gold record ever awarded to an Australian female artist.

In 1968 EMI Australia ended the separate cataloguing systems used on its house labels and on the labels it distributed, including Capitol, Decca, Deram, London, Stateside and Tamla-Motown. They combined all labels under a single unified numbering system which began at 8301. The '8000' series was presumably chosen because Parlophone's catalogue (the highest range in use at the time) was then numbering in the low 8000 range.

In 1969, EMI UK established a new subsidiary label called Harvest Records to market acts in the emerging progressive rock genre such as Pink Floyd. Although mainly used for British based acts, several Australian groups were signed to Harvest in the early 1970s and Greg Quill released his debut single on the label in 1970. 

In 1978 the EMI Studio in Castlereagh St was completely re-equipped and renamed Studios 301. In 1984 EMI established EDC (Entertainment Distributors Company) as a joint venture with Sony Australia with a custom designed warehouse at Eastern Creek in Sydney, and the new venture took over distribution for both companies. In 1987 EMI Australia finally moved out of its Castlereagh Street office to its present location in Cremorne, Sydney. In 1992 EMI Australia formed DATA (Digital Audio Technologies Australia), a state-of-the-art compact disc plant as a joint venture with Warner Music.

In 1999 EMI shut down its famous Castlereagh St studios and sold all the equipment and the "Studios 301" name to SAE, the international audio training company headed by controversial entrepreneur Tom Misner, and SAE relocated the facility to its present location in Alexandria, Sydney. In 2004 EMI sold DATA to Summit Technology Australia as part of the company's global strategy to outsource its manufacturing, and the same year it began selling its first digital music files.

The EMI label in Australia, 1972-75

In 1972 EMI phased out the venerable Columbia label and the Columbia name and its 'Magic Notes' logo were eventually sold to CBS-Sony, who now control them worldwide. EMI replaced it with the new EMI Records imprint -- the first time the company had used its group trading name as the name of its record label, since all other house labels had been inherited from the ancestor companies that had merged to create EMI in 1931. The new imprint took over much of Columbia's existing Australian roster and continued to sign new acts. Notable Australian performers who recorded for EMI in this period included Ross Ryan, Skylight, Spectrum/Murtceps, The La De Das, Jeannie Lewis, Mike McClellan, John Farnham, Kerrie Biddell and The Foreday Riders.

Under the guidance of A&R manager Peter Dawkins (who took over from Howard Gable, his former boss at HMV in New Zealand), EMI enjoyed considerable success with several of its new discoveries, including singer-songwriters Ross Ryan and Mike McClellan, and Kiwi vocal trio The Moir Sisters. Dawkins also devised and produced The Star Suite, an astrologically-themed instrumental concept album performed by a studio 'supergroup' that included some of Australia's top session players plus Mike McClellan and members of Ariel (although this was released on Harvest). Another notable release from this period was Jim Keays' acclaimed 1974 solo album The Boy From The Stars.

One of the most interesting EMI releases in this period was Sherbet's 1975 single "Summer Love". Sherbet had been signed to Festival's Infinity label since 1970, and they had become one of Australia's top bands over the previous four years. Their original recording contract with Festival expired during 1975 and the band were anxious to gain more autonomy and better conditions in their new contract. To achieve this, Sherbet devised a ruse (doubtless masterminded by manager Roger Davies) that was intended to pressure Festival into giving them what the wanted -- they released a much-publicised "EMI Inks Sherbet" story, accompanied by a photograph that showed the group apparently signing a new contract with Festival's longtime rival EMI. Behind the scenes, the group arranged a one-off deal with EMI to produce and release their next single, and the ploy could hardly have worked better for them -- "Summer Love" rocketed up the charts and became their first national #1 single, a fact that must have had the suits at Festival gnashing their teeth in frustration. Backed by this unimpeachable success, the group then re-signed with Festival on much more favourable terms -- including a deal that allowed them to release their future recordings through Festival on their own Razzle and Sherbet labels. The ironic twist was that the "contract" displayed in the press photograph was actually a blank sheet of paper.

Sometime around 1980 EMI changed the EMI Records label design to a new three-colour layout with the track information in black on a cream background, with the a circumferential copyright notice and the company logo printed in red. An unusual green-and-gold variant on this design, used for Australian Crawl, is pictured at the top of the page


Singles, 1972-1975 (Australian recordings)

Cat. # Date Artist Title Notes
10201 1973 Ross Ryan "I Don't Want To Know About It"
"Making The Same Mistakes"
10218 1973 Indelible Murtceps "Indelible Shuffle"
"Ray's Boogie"
10300 1973 Ross Ryan "I Am Pegasus"
"Country Christine Waltz"
Go-Set national #9
#1, Sydney
10407 1974 The La De Das "The Place"
"No Law (Against Having Fun)"
10499 June 1974 Skylight "Skyhigh"
"Get It Happening"
10611 Sept. 1974 Skylight "Too Many People"
"Give Me Your Love"
10272 1973 John Graham "Monday Sunday Rumble"
"Western Train"
10275 1973 Johnny Farnham "I Can't Dance To Your Music"
"Beautiful City"
10277 1973 Fantasy "Just Another Pretty Face"
"Look Around"
10287 1973 Ariel "Jamaican Farewell"
"Red Hot Mama"
10297 1973 The Coloured Balls "Mess Of The Blues"
"Devil's Disciple"
10322 1973 Johnny Farnham "Shake A Hand"
"If You Would Stay"
10344 1973 The Coloured Balls "Flash"
"Dave The Rave"
10418 1974 Johnny Farnham "Corner Of The Sky"
"Morning Glow"
10440 1974 The Coloured Balls "Love You Babe"
"Shake Me Babe"
10463 1974 Ross Ryan "Orchestral Ladies"
10478 1974 Fox "Who Do"
"Jean Sea" 
10520 1974 The Moir Sisters "Good Morning (How Are You?)"
10532 1974 The New World "Do It Again"
"Guitar Happy"
10560 1974 The Masters Apprentices "Rio De Camero"
"Thyme To Rhyme"
10570 1974 The Coloured Balls "Bama Lama Baby"
"By Your Lover"
10586? 1974 Fox "I Said"
"Ziggy Stardust"
10586 1974 The New World "Sweet Dreams"
"Happiness Is You"
10600 1974 Mike McClellan "Song And Dance Man"
"Another Grey Day"
10601 1974 Johnny Farnham "One Minute Every Hour"
"Baby Don't Get Hooked On Me"
10612 1974 Ariel "Yeah Tonight"
"(I Am The) Laughing Man"
10635 1974 Jim Keays "Kid's Blues"
"Interplanetary Boogie"
10637 1975 Johnny Farnham "Things To Do"
"To Be Or Not To Be"
10649 1975 Mike McClellan "Rock 'n' Roll Lady"
"Catfish Rag"
10651 1975 Ross Ryan "Sedel (Never Smiled At Me)"
"Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On"
10656 1975 Jim Keays "The Boy From The Stars"
"Take It On Easy"
10690 1975 The Moir Sisters "Harmony Blues"
10708 1975 Ross Ryan
"Blue Chevrolet Ballerina
"Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On"
10709 1975 Sherbet "Summer Love"
"You go your way (I'll go mine)"
#1 / 23 weeks
10822 1975 Jim Keays "Give It Up"
"Love Is"
10837 1975 Mike McClellan "Change Your Ways"
"Midnight Fight"
10850 1975 Johnny Farnham "Don't Rock The Boat (You Have To Gently)"
"Running To The Sea" 
10985 1975 Mike McClellan "Carry Me"
"The Gamble"


Cat. # Date Artist Title Notes
SOELP 10081/2 1973 Spectrum/Murtceps Testimonial (2LP) Produced by Peter Dawkins
EMC-2501 1973 Ross Ryan A Poem You Can Keep #22
EMA-301 1974 Ross Ryan My Name Means Horse #3
EMA-302 1973 Skylight Skylight -
EMA-303 1974 The Coloured Balls Heavy Metal Kid -
EMA-304 1974 Fox What The Hell Is Going On? -
EMA-305 1974 Mike McClellan Ask Any Dancer Produced by Peter Dawkins
EMA-307 1974 Jeannie Lewis Looking Backwards to Tomorrow -
EMA-308 1974 Jim Keays The Boy From The Stars -
EMA-310 1975 Johnny Farnham J.P. Farnham Sings
Produced by Peter Dawkins
EMA-311 1975 The Moir Sisters Lost - Somewhere Beyond Harmony #69
EMA-313 1975 Ross Ryan After The Applause #35
EMA-314 1975 Kerrie Biddell Only The Beginning -
EMC-2503 1973 Spectrum / Murtceps Testimonial #17
EMC-2505 1973 Jeannie Lewis Free Fall Through Featherless Flight -
EMC-2507 1973 The Coloured Balls Ball Power #15
EMC-2508 1973 Ariel A Strange Fantastic Dream Produced by Peter Dawkins
EMC-2514 1974 The Foreday Riders Blues Live At French's -
EMC-2517 1974 The Masters Apprentices Now That It's Over (Best Of) -
EMC-2518 1975 Marcus Hook Roll Band Tales of Old Grand-Daddy Produced by Vanda & Young
- 1975 Mark Holden Dawn In Darkness -

References / Links

Thanks to David Tresize for the '80s label images.

ketupa.net - EMI group history

Wikipedia - EMI Records

Genelec Oy - Studios 301

Vernon Joyson
Dreams, Fantasies & Nightmares: Australia (Borderliine Books, 1999)