Labels overview – early 60s

In the late fifties and early sixties there were just four significant groups in the UK, with EMI and Decca forming the elite top two, and with Philips and Pye competing for third place. 

Move on to the school reunion, fifty years later, let’s go back a little and set it in 2013 (because that’s when I wrote it!).

Poor old Sir Eddie Decca, who was head of the Combined Cadet Force at school, passed away in London long ago. Pye, the snappily-dressed wheeler and dealer in the playground, went bottom up years ago too, and all his assets, domestic and the International offshoot, his wife Dawn, the office in Piccadilly, are now in others’ hands. Good old E.M.I. Nipper, the head prefect at school, soldiers on with the family business. The Jag’s a tad shabby now, and that personalized plate HMV 1 is worth more than the car, and it’s years since he could afford to travel Stateside. The fact that he sells washing machines too is somewhat demeaning. 

But the school nerd, the one with the funny foreign accent, arrives in a helicopter. Hired for the day? No, the registration reads G-PHIL. It’s his. You’d think he’d get vertigo. So what happened to old Philips? A very good marriage to a German heiress, Polly D’Or. Then his mum and dad’s company invented both the compact cassette and the compact disc. A bit of a traitor to vinyl then, but he’s turned out the most successful of the lot of them.

Record companies broadly divide into four; those with a background in electronics hardware, those with a background in film production (Top Rank, MGM, Paramount, Colpix, 20th Century Fox), those from TV and radio broadcast companies (CBS, Pye) and those run by genuine music people, the artist, producer and manager labels, which arrive in the late 60s. All four majors around 1962 were based on electronics companies.

UK Record label groups early 1960s

As a check list, this table shows the major label groupings in the early to mid 1960s. In the early part, the Pye-distributed labels Cameo-Parkway, Chess and Colpix, were on Pye International. Reprise was an exception.

Top Rank (a UK film based one) was bought by EMI then mutated into Stateside in 1962.

Atlantic got its own full label from Decca in 1964. Tamla-Motown moved out of Stateside in 1965, when Chess also moved out from Pye.

Other labels at the time included:
Oriole / Embassy (bought out by CBS in late 1964)
Polydor / DGG (part of a joint venture,  with Philips from 1962,but managed separately)
Independents: Ember, Island, Transatlantic, Topic, DeLyse
From 1964, CBS joined the majors.


Until 1963, Columbia was EMI’s top popular label, with HMV the top classical label. As this snapshot of EMI is 1963, we’ll lead with Parlophone:

From Me To You: The Beatles, Parlophone 1963

EMI labels in 1963 … click to enlarge

Only Capitol eschewed EMI’s black and silver uniform centre design. Only Liberty retained its original US sleeve design rather than joining EMI’s new look.


Come On: The Rolling Stones, Decca 1963

Decca group labels in 1963 … click to enlarge

London and Brunswick, as main Decca labels, carry on the stripy labels theme. Warner Bros retains its bright US centre. That was a deal-breaker when the Decca-Warner Bros distribution deal was originally set up. Warner did not like Decca’s dark and dull labels.


Sugar & Spice: The Searchers, Pye 1963

Pye group labels in 1963 … click to enlarge


Hey Paula: Paul & Paula, Philips, 1963

Philips group labels in 1963 … click to enlarge


Polydor was Germany’s biggest label and established in the UK in the mid-50s. They hadn’t yet united with Philips.

My Bonnie: Tony Sheridan & The Beatles, Polydor. It might say 1961 (recording) but these appeared in tiny numbers in 1962, then in large numbers in 1963

Independents … click to enlarge