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Virgin Records

Virgin EMI Records logo

Virgin Records is a British record label that grew to become a worldwide phenomenon with the success of its roster of artists like Paula Abdul, George Michael, Janet Jackson, Keith Richards, Rolling Stones, Lenny Kravitz, Spice Girls, Smashing Pumpkins, and more. It’s one of the major record labels in the world founded in the United Kingdom and is now active in the United States and the UK.

Company Background

Virgin Records was founded in 1972 by entrepreneurs Richard Branson, Nik Powell, Simon Draper, and Tom Newman. Virgin Records America was then established in 1986. In 1988, Virgin Classics was founded as part of Virgin Records.

In 2012, Virgin Records was acquired by the Universal Music Group through its purchase of EMI. UMG absorbed Virgin’s British operations to form Virgin EMI Records. Today, the operations of Virgin Records America is headquartered in Hollywood, California. It operated exclusively under the Capitol Music Group imprint, owned by UMG.

Virgin Records is a company known by the charisma of its leading founder, Richard Branson. The label is often associated with Branson’s adventures, as his capacity for PR saw Virgin Records got rebirthed across its long history. And even when the company was sold to EMI, Branson was still highly visible.

In June 2020, Universal rebranded Virgin EMI Records as EMI Records, naming Rebbeca Allen as president and bringing back the EMI brand. Allen was a former president of UMG’s Decca label.

These are the subsidiary labels under Virgin Records:

  • Charisma Records
  • Venture Records
  • Immortal Records
  • 10 Records

Company History

Richard Branson wasn’t a music fan, but he saw that there could be money in owning a record label and a recording studio. He was an editor of Student, and he hit upon the idea of selling records by mail order. He and Nick Powell run a small record shop called the Virgin Records and Tapes on Notting Hill Gate. Virgin Records was born then, and the name was chosen because they are virgins in business. The first retail outlet was above a shoe shop on London’s Oxford Street. There were bean bags, and they offered free vegetarian food for the benefit of customers listening to the music on offer.

After the shop became a success, they decided to turn their business into a fully-fledged record label. The original Virgin logo featured a young naked woman in a mirror image with a long-tailed lizard and word “Virgin” on it. The company’s premiere release was an instrumental suite Opus One by Mike Oldfield, who was discovered by Tom Newman. The album Tubular Bells garnered unprecedented acclaim. This was soon followed by some Krautrock releases, including The Faust Tapes. They also released Gong’s The Flying Teapot, and Manor Live. Tubular Bells rolled on and on, and the record stores expanded.

The first single release for Virgin was Kevin Coyne’s “Marlene,” taken from the album Marjory Razorblade in August 1973. Coyne was the label’s second artist to sign after Oldfield.

Tubular Bells became a global phenomenon when its opening theme was used in the film The Exorcist. Branson personally signed Tangerine Dream because of the great performance of their imports, and he also firmly believed they could be as big as Floyd. The album Phaedra by Tangerine Dream went top 20.

The success of Oldfield bankrolled some more extreme acts for the label. In 1977, Sex Pistols signed in, giving the label new credibility among punks. Virgin Records was initially one of the key labels of English and European progressive rock, but the singing of Sex Pistols reinvented the label in a new-wave outpost, plunging the record company to the mainstream punk rock era. Under the guidance of Tessa Watts – head of publicity and later, the director of the production – the Sex Pistols rocketed Virgin Records to success.

Virgin Records also played a key role in distributing labels like Stiff. The label stepped up all the more with the success of The Human League. Phil Collins also signed as a solo artist to Virgin in the UK and enjoyed a successful career.

Virgin set up operations in the United States under Atlantic distribution in 1978 called the Virgin International. New Jersey-based distributor Jem Records handled it. Virgin International was used for progressive rock artists with a smaller following in the US. When distribution returned to Atlantic, which was later known as WEA in 1980, Virgin International ceased its operations.

In 1983, Charisma Records came under Virgin’s wing, adding the catalogs of Genesis and Peter Gabriel to the label. This year was the label’s best to date, with Culture Club releasing Colour by Numbers, which contains the timeless “Karma Chameleon,” and with Oldfield delivering Moonlight Shadow, which was his biggest hit. When the Charisma label was retired in 1992, all of its artists were transferred to Virgin.

In 1986, Virgin Records established another American division named Virgin Records America. Its first release was Cutting Crew’s debut album, which included the hit single “(I Just) Died in Your Arms.” Virgin Records America’s releases were distributed through WEA until 1992. In 1998, Virgin Classics was founded as part of Virgin Records.

Twenty years later, when EMI was sold in 2012, the Virgin label moved across to Universal and was merged with EMI to create Virgin EMI. The operations of Virgin Records America still continues under the Capitol Music Group, which is also owned by UMG. The US operations are also called Virgin Records.

In 2020, Virgin EMI records were rebranded as EMI Records. Former Decca label president Rebecca Allen became the label’s new president.

Popular Artists

Here are some popular artists formerly and currently signed with Virgin Records:

  • 30 Seconds to Mars
  • Aaliyah
  • Alice in Chains
  • Anthony Phillips
  • Atomic Kitten
  • Bastille
  • Belinda Carlisle
  • Blue Man Group
  • Courtney Love
  • David Bedford
  • David Bowie
  • David Guetta
  • DC Talk
  • Depeche Mode
  • Evanescence
  • Ella Eyre
  • Florence + The Machine
  • Genesis
  • Gong
  • Janet Jackson
  • Keith Richards
  • Kevin Ayers
  • Lenny Kravitz
  • Liam O’Connor
  • Maxi Priest
  • Meat Loaf
  • Paula Abdul
  • Phil Collins
  • Queen
  • Robbie Williams
  • SHINee
  • Simple Minds
  • Spice Girls
  • Steve Hackett
  • Swedish House Mafia
  • The Human League
  • The Rolling Stones
  • The Sex Pistols
  • The Smashing Pumpkins
  • Tangerine Dream
  • The Vamps
  • Thalia
  • Tina Turner
  • UB40

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