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If the 1950s saw British pop music grow, in the 1960s it exploded. And EMI was right at the forefront, not least due to a new band that had just signed to the company’s Parlophone label.
When Brian Epstein met with Parlophone head George Martin in 1962 to play him a tape of a new band, he didn’t mention that every other record company had heard the band and rejected them. Fortunately for the band, their fans, EMI, and indeed anyone who has ever had anything to do with music, Martin was intrigued and agreed to sign the band. Four months later, The Beatles released their first single, Love Me Do. It only reached number 17 in the UK charts but it didn’t take British record buyers long to realise what they were missing. The follow-up, Please, Please Me, went to number two and the world of popular music has never been the same since.
Please, Please Me was released in January 1963. Before the year was out The Beatles released From Me To You, She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand. All three went to number one – the first of their 17 UK number ones. The following year it was America’s turn to experience ‘Beatlemania’. Within three months of their chart debut in the US, The Beatles held the top five places on the singles chart, with another 11 songs further down the chart, and had the two best selling albums in the country.
In less than eight years, The Beatles recorded and released albums such as Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, Rubber Soul, Abbey Road and The Beatles (which became known as The White Album). Estimates for the total number of records sold by the band worldwide during the course of their career top one billion.
Epstein didn’t just bring The Beatles to EMI but a whole host of talented Liverpudlian musicians including Gerry and the Pacemakers, Cilla Black and Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas who all became leading lights in what was known as ‘Merseybeat’. With the success of The Beatles and other EMI artists, the company became the label of first choice for any ambitious British artist and the EMI roster soon contained the cream of UK talent. In one year, 1963, EMI releases accounted for 15 out of the 19 number one singles. The following year eight EMI artists held the number one position in the British singles chart for a total of 41 weeks.
It wasn’t just British talent that found a home at EMI. Across the Atlantic, Capitol Records signed The Beach Boys in 1962. The Californian quintet became one of the most successful American bands of all time thanks to hits including Surfin’ USA, I Get Around, California Girls and, their biggest, Good Vibrations, which was taken from the band’s groundbreaking 1966 album Pet Sounds – the name refers to the songs on the album, The Beach Boys’ ‘pet sounds’.
Meanwhile on the other side of the USA, EMI concluded a license deal with a new record label in Detroit – Tamla Motown. The agreement meant that EMI would market and distribute Motown releases outside the US. The company’s roster during the 1960s and 1970s was simply incredible – Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Jackson Five, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson,… the list goes on. By the 1970s, EMI could rely on two out of every three Motown releases being a hit, an unheard of success ratio in the music business.
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