Virgin Records

Last updated

Virgin Records Ltd
Parent company
  • Virgin Records Ltd.
    1972;52 years ago (1972)
  • Virgin Records America, Inc.
    1986;38 years ago (1986)
Country of originUnited Kingdom

Virgin Records is a British record label owned by Universal Music Group. It was originally founded as a British independent record label in 1972 by entrepreneurs Richard Branson, Simon Draper, Nik Powell, and musician Tom Newman. It grew to be a worldwide success over time, with the success of platinum performers Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson, Devo, Tangerine Dream, Genesis, Phil Collins, OMD, the Human League, Culture Club, Simple Minds, Lenny Kravitz, the Sex Pistols, and Mike Oldfield among others, meaning that by the time it was sold, it was regarded as a major label, alongside other large international independents such as A&M and Island Records. [1]


Virgin Records was sold to Thorn EMI in 1992. EMI was in turn taken over by Universal Music Group (UMG) in 2012 with UMG creating the Virgin EMI Records division. [2] The Virgin Records name continues to be used by UMG in certain markets such as Germany and Japan. [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

Virgin Records America

Virgin Records America, Inc. was the company's North American operations founded in 1986. [8] They are no longer active and were headquartered in Hollywood, California, and operated under the Capitol Music Group imprint, now also owned by UMG, since 2012. The US operations had also taken on the name Virgin Records. [9] A minor number of artists remained on Virgin Records America's roster, which was mostly occupied with European artists such as Bastille, Barbara Pravi, Circa Waves, Corinne Bailey Rae, Ella Eyre, Grizfolk, Walking on Cars, Seinabo Sey, and Prides; American artists include Knox Hamilton, L'Tric, Loren Gray, and Rise Against.

Virgin Classics

Virgin Classics was founded in 1988 as part of Virgin Records. Along with EMI Classics, it too was acquired by UMG in 2012 as part of the takeover of the EMI Group. But the terms of the European Commission's approval of the takeover required divestment of the two classical labels. Accordingly, both were sold in February the following year to Warner Music Group, and this transaction was approved by the European Union that May. Warner placed the Virgin Classics artist roster and catalogue in its Erato Records division, and the "Virgin Classics" name, along with "EMI Classics," disappeared.


Virgin logo designed by Roger Dean for the fledgling Virgin Records label Virginrecordlogo.jpg
Virgin logo designed by Roger Dean for the fledgling Virgin Records label

Branson and Powell had initially run a small record shop called Virgin Records and Tapes on Notting Hill Gate, London, specializing in krautrock imports, and offering bean bags and free vegetarian food for the benefit of customers listening to the music on offer. [10] The first real store was above a shoe shop at the Tottenham Court Road end of Oxford Street.

After making the shop into a success, they turned their business into a fully fledged record label. The name Virgin, according to Branson (in his autobiography), arose from Tessa Watts, a colleague of his, when they were brainstorming business ideas. She suggested Virgin – as they were all new to business – like "virgins". [11] The original Virgin logo (known to fans as the "Gemini" or "Twins" logo) was designed by English artist and illustrator Roger Dean: a young naked woman in mirror image with a large long-tailed lizard and the word "Virgin" in Dean's familiar script. A variation on the logo was used for the spin-off Caroline Records label. [12]

The first release on the label was the progressive rock album Tubular Bells by multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield, who was discovered by Tom Newman and brought to Simon Draper – who eventually persuaded Richard and Nik to present it as their first release in 1973, produced by Tom Newman, for which the fledgling label garnered unprecedented acclaim. [13] This was soon followed by some notable krautrock releases, including electronic breakthrough album Phaedra by Tangerine Dream (which went Top 20), and The Faust Tapes and Faust IV by Faust. The Faust Tapes album retailed for 49p (the price of a 7" single) and as a result allowed this relatively unknown band a massive audience as the album sold over 60,000 copies [14] and also reached number 12 in the charts, though it was later redacted its spot on the grounds of the cover price. [15] [16] Other early albums include Gong's Flying Teapot (Radio Gnome Invisible, Pt. 1) , which Daevid Allen has been quoted as having never been paid for.[ citation needed ]

The first single release for the label was Kevin Coyne's "Marlene" (b/w "Everybody Says"), taken from his album Marjory Razorblade and released in August 1973. [17] Coyne was the second artist signed to the label after Oldfield. [18]


Although Virgin was initially one of the key labels of English and European progressive rock, the 1977 signing of the Sex Pistols (who had already been signed and then dropped by both EMI and A&M) reinvented the label PM in a new-wave outpost, a move that plunged the record company into the mainstream of the punk rock era. [13] Under the guidance of Tessa Watts, Virgin's Head of Publicity (and later, also Director of Production), the Pistols rocketed the label to success. [19] Shortly afterwards, the Nottingham record shop was raided by police for having a window display of the Sex Pistols' album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols in the window. Afterwards they signed other new wave groups: Public Image Ltd, Boxer, Culture Club, Fingerprintz, Gillan, Holly and the Italians, Human League (whose "Don't You Want Me" was the label's first chart-topping single, in 1981), Magazine, Skids, the Motors, Penetration, the Ruts, Shooting Star, Simple Minds, and XTC.

After modified versions of the twins label came the red, white and blue design introduced in 1975, which coincided with the height of punk and new wave. [20] The current Virgin logo (known informally as "the scrawl") was created in 1978, commissioned by Simon Draper, then managing director of Virgin Records Limited. Brian Cooke of Cooke Key Associates commissioned a graphic designer to produce a stylised signature. The logo was first used on Mike Oldfield's Incantations album in 1978 and by the Virgin Records label exclusively until gradually other parts of the Virgin Group adopted it, including Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Money.

Purchase by Thorn EMI

Virgin Records was sold by Branson to Thorn EMI in June 1992 for a reported US$1 billion (around £560 million) (equivalent to $2,085,368,746in 2022), [21] [22] with a special non-competition clause that would prevent Branson from founding another recording company during the five years following the agreement (see the final paragraph in EU Merger Decision IV/M202 of 27 April 1992). It now faces competition from Branson's new label: V2 Records. Branson sold Virgin Records to fund Virgin Atlantic which at that time was coming under intense anti-competitive pressure from British Airways. In 1993, BA settled a libel action brought by Branson over BA's "dirty tricks" campaign, giving him £500,000 and a further £110,000 to his airline.

After being acquired by Thorn EMI, Virgin launched several subsidiaries like Realworld Records, Innocent Records, blues speciality label Point Blank Records, and indie music label Hut Recordings, and continued signing new and established artists like Korn, A Fine Frenzy, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Tina Turner, Beenie Man, The Rolling Stones, Spice Girls, The Smashing Pumpkins, We Are Scientists, The Kooks, dcTalk (mainstream releases, contract ended in 2000), Belinda Carlisle, Meat Loaf, Placebo, Janet Jackson (contract ended in 2006), Daft Punk (contract ended in 2008), My Favorite Highway, Does It Offend You, Yeah?, The Future Sound of London, The Chemical Brothers, Brooke Allison, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, The Almost, Mariah Carey (contract ended in 2002), N.E.R.D, Laura Marling, Swami, RBD, Thalía and Priscilla Renea.

Because business models increasingly diverged, Thorn EMI shareholders voted in favour of demerger proposals on 16 August 1996. The resulting media company became the EMI Group. [23] In 1997, Virgin absorbed the remainder of EMI USA, which earlier consolidated EMI America Records and Manhattan Records, with Capitol Records acquiring EMI's other American operations, and in 1998, opened a country music division called Virgin Records Nashville, of which record producer Scott Hendricks was president. [24] The label's signees comprised Julie Reeves, Jerry Kilgore, Roy D. Mercer, Tom Mabe, Chris Cagle, Clay Davidson, and River Road. In 2001, Virgin Nashville closed and its roster was folded into Capitol Records' Nashville division. [25]

Further mergers

Capitol Records and Virgin Records America merged in 2007 to form Capitol Music Group after a massive restructuring of EMI Group Ltd. [26] Stepping down as chief executive of Capitol Records was Andy Slater, with Jason Flom, former executive of Virgin, taking the reins as chairman and CEO of the newly created company.

Universal Music Group (UMG) purchased EMI in 2012, thus acquiring Virgin. UMG absorbed Virgin's UK operations to create Virgin EMI Records in March 2013. [27]

On 16 June 2020, Universal rebranded Virgin EMI Records as EMI Records and named Rebecca Allen (former president of UMG's Decca label) as the label's president, with Virgin Records now operating as an imprint of latter label. [28]

In February 2021, the Universal Music Group announced that it will rebrand the Caroline Music Group as Virgin Music Label & Artist Services, the name change was "inspired and influenced by the spirit and ethos of the iconic Virgin Records label". [5] [29] In September 2022, UMG consolidated Virgin Music Label & Artist Services, Ingrooves Music Group, and the recently acquired mtheory Artist Partnerships as part of the newly launched division Virgin Music Group. [30] UMG also appointed mtheory founders JT Myers and Nat Pastor as Co-CEOs of the new division.

American editions

The Virgin label was distributed in the US by Atlantic from 1973 to 1975. During this period, 14 albums were issued. All had been previously issued in the UK on Virgin, although one album, Marjory Razorblade by Kevin Coyne, was truncated from a 20-song double album to an 11-song single album.

Beginning with Mike Oldfield's Ommadawn album in 1975, American distribution switched to CBS Records/Columbia Records. CBS/Columbia was unwilling to release all Virgin artists, and so many were licensed to other labels:

Some of these records had a small Virgin logo added to the regular company design on the label. One of Virgin's and Epic's biggest acts of the 1980s was Culture Club.

In 1978, Virgin set up US operations first in New York on Perry Street, with distribution from Atlantic Records. Virgin Records soon moved operations to New Jersey along with a short-lived subdivision called Virgin International, handled by independent New Jersey-based distributor Jem Records. Virgin International was used mainly for progressive rock artists and reissues of earlier Virgin / Atlantic albums such as Hergest Ridge by Mike Oldfield, and Fish Rising by Steve Hillage, which Columbia chose not to reissue. Virgin International also issued albums by some of Virgin's reggae artists, including Gregory Isaacs. At the same time, Virgin releases distributed by Columbia continued, distribution returning to Atlantic (later WEA) in 1980, at which time Virgin International ceased operations.

In 1986, Virgin Records opened up another American division, Virgin Records America. Its first release was the debut album by Cutting Crew which included the hit single "(I Just) Died in Your Arms". Other Virgin America signings included Camper Van Beethoven, Bob Mould, Warren Zevon, Paula Abdul, T'pau, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, Redhead Kingpin & The F.B.I., Neneh Cherry, Steve Winwood, Hindsight and, after her MCA contract ran out in 1991, Belinda Carlisle. Virgin Records America's releases were distributed through WEA again by Atlantic Records until 1992. The label was then acquired by EMI-Capitol Special Markets. In 1996, Virgin Records offered Janet Jackson one of the best and highest deals at the time estimating an $80 million dollar deal. The agreement also required Virgin to allocate about $25 million in video production, marketing and promotion costs – a much larger sum than most deals. [31] Virgin Records America was founded by the executive team of Jordan Harris, Jeff Ayeroff and Phil Quartararo.

Another American company called Caroline Records co-existed during this time. Caroline records rarely mentioned a connection with Virgin, and some UK and European Virgin albums that were distributed internationally (instead of being manufactured in each country) named Caroline as their American distributor. Some Caroline records bore the label name Caroline Blue Plate, which was mainly used for reissuing on CD many early progressive rock albums and artists from Virgin and Caroline's UK branches.

Canadian editions

The first Canadian editions were distributed by WEA, and were parallel issues of the same early 14 albums issued in the US by Virgin/Atlantic.

In 1975, distribution transferred to Columbia (as it had in the US), but the following year distribution was transferred again to Polydor Records (which changed its name to PolyGram by 1980), and issued a different and larger selection of records from what was being issued in the US. Canadian editions of the Dindisc label were issued as Dindisc/Virgin. Virgin's Canadian division arranged to have Canadian artists Martha & the Muffins and Nash the Slash signed to Dindisc in the UK as well; both artists had releases in Canada and the UK on Dindisc.

In 1983, an independent Virgin Records Canada Inc. company was created, three years before a similar move occurred in the US. From this time onward, Virgin Canada used unique label designs not seen in other countries: a red label with five horizontal bars across the top and an extra-large "scrawl" logo from 1983 to 1985, followed by a purple label with round logo up to 1992 when Virgin was acquired internationally.

Virgin Music Publishers

Soon after Virgin Records was founded, the label created a music publisher for its artists, who also served as songwriters. Starting in the 1980s, Virgin Music signed songwriters from other record labels. After Virgin was acquired by EMI, the publisher was folded into EMI Music Publishing as EMI Virgin Music.

In 2012, a consortium led by Sony/ATV Music Publishing acquired EMI Music Publishing for $2.2 billion. [32] However, the European Union ruled that Sony/ATV would represent over half of all the charting hits in the United Kingdom, and required the company to auction off Virgin Music and Famous Music UK, as well as twelve unrelated authors. [33]

In December 2012, BMG Rights Management acquired the Virgin and Famous publishers, [34] and concluded the deal in May 2013. [35] Virgin Music was renamed BMG VM Music, while Famous Music became BMG FM Music.

Before its demise, Virgin Music's songwriters included Iggy Pop, Texas, Ozzy Osbourne, Cannibal Corpse, Nirvana, Winger, Wax, Tears for Fears, The Prodigy, Goo Goo Dolls, Tool, The Crystal Method, Terence Trent D'Arby, Lenny Kravitz, Ben Harper, Warrant, Mark Ronson, Devo, Culture Club, Take That, Bullet for My Valentine, Robbie Williams, Wayne Hector, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and XTC.

Subsidiary labels

Virgin Music international companies

See also

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