Labels overview … 80s

1982 is the chosen year for the next look at record labels. It’s the year in which Compact Disc was launched, initially by Sony and Philips jointly. It comes just a few years after punk, with an explosion of new independent labels. It’s also a particularly strong year for singles sales.

Two of our 1960s majors have effectively gone down the tube: Pye (1980) and Decca (1981).

Virgin is now a major player, though sub-labels like Siren and Circa are a few years away. New indies like Stiff are gaining in importance.

EMI uses the group name for its main label. The EMI International brand was dropped in 1980. EMI America continues, as does Capitol. Harvest soldiers on.  Parlophone is not due for resuscitation until 1983. Odd vanity projects allow artists to use old names over the next decade. Morrissey revives HMV. Thomas Dolby revives Odeon.

With RCA, we’ll cheat by a year to 1983 when RCA / Ariola International was formed by a merger with Bertelsmann. The lot became BMG in 1986. Planet had just been bought by RCA in 1982, moving from WEA … change partners was the theme of this period.

CBS is huge, but persists with a limited number of brands: CBS and Epic. Portrait, its ‘riskier’ label, is sometimes called Epic-Portrait.

A&M is independent, but pressed by CBS.

Warner have the puzzling distinction between Warner Bros and WEA releases. Tommy Boy has complex associations but is not part of WEA.

Island are growing fast, though reggae labels are dropping, and the world-oriented Mango begins in 1985, and urban-oriented Fourth & Broadway doesn’t start until 1986. I include ZTT and Tuff Gong, both distributed from 1983.

Phonogram had dropped Fontana (revived in 1987) and Philips, and were concentrating most on Mercury and Polydor as brands, but the uniform Phonogram sleeves shrouded dozens of small distributed labels. Decca had been absorbed, and the name used for reissues of back catalogue. Any new material was put on a revived London, which is a British label, NOT London-American anymore. In 1989, Polygram re-used Decca’s ffrr logo as a new label.

PRT, Spartan, Pinnacle, Prism and Selecta all pressed and distributed minor labels.