Virgin Records, Ltd. is a record label first founded by English entrepreneur Richard Branson, Simon Draper, Nik Powell and musician Tom Newman in 1972. The company grew to be a worldwide phenomenon over time with the success of its platinum performers such as Janet Jackson, Roy Orbison, Devo, Genesis, Keith Richards, the Human League, Culture Club, Simple Minds, Lenny Kravitz, dc Talk, the Smashing Pumpkins, Mike Oldfield, Spice Girls and more on their list of artists. It was later sold to Thorn EMI in 1992.
Currently wholly owned by Universal Music Group after its purchase of EMI in 2012, UMG absorbed Virgin's British operations to create Virgin EMI Records in March 2013, which in turn absorbed Mercury Records' UK operations.
Today, the operations of Virgin Records America, Inc. (a unit of Virgin Records, Ltd.) are still active and headquartered in Hollywood, California, as it operates exclusively under the Capitol Music Group since 2007. A heavily minor amount of artists remain on Virgin Records America's roster, which today is mostly occupied with European artists such as Bastille, Circa Waves, Corinne Bailey Rae, Ella Eyre, Grizfolk, Walking on Cars, Seinabo Sey, and Prides. US artists include Knox Hamilton, L'Tric and Rise Against.
Branson and Powell had initially run a small record shop called Virgin Records and Tapes on Notting Hill Gate, London, specialising particularly in "krautrock" imports, and offering bean bags and free vegetarian food for the benefit of customers listening to the music on offer. In fact 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". 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 serpent and the word "Virgin" in Dean's familiar script. A variation on the logo was used for the spin-off Caroline Records label.
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. 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 to reach number 12 in the album charts. 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.
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 as a new-wave outpost, a move that plunged the record company into the mainstream of the punk rock era. Under the guidance of Tessa Watts, Virgin's Head of Publicity (and later, also Director of Production), the Pistols rocketed the label to success. Shortly afterwards, the Notting Hill record shop (above which the label's office was located) 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: 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. 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 .
- In 1983 Virgin purchased Charisma Records, renaming it Charisma/Virgin, then later Virgin/Charisma, before folding the label in 1986 and transferring its remaining artists to Virgin. In the process they acquired Genesis and comedy group Monty Python. The Charisma label was reactivated in the US in 1990 and enjoyed success with signings such as Maxi Priest, Right Said Fred, 38 Special and Enigma. When this Charisma label was retired in 1992, all of its artists were, as before, transferred to Virgin.
- In 1987, Venture Records was created for new age and modern classical artists including Klaus Schulze, who had been associated with Virgin since the early 1970s. (Virgin had distributed UK editions of his German albums since 1974, and he had almost been signed as a Virgin artist in 1976, but the deal was cancelled after a conflict between Virgin and his German label.)
- 10 Records
- Immortal Records
- Delabel (France)
- Caroline Records was a budget label used from 1973 to 1977. The name and logo were later used for some American editions of Virgin records in the 1980s and 1990s. Caroline was primarily used for independent distribution until the label was reactivated in 2013. Today, Caroline Records acts as an independent label taking the place of EMI Label Services, after Virgin's former parent company EMI was purchased by Universal Music Group.
- Front Line Records (or Virgin's Front Line) was a label for issuing Jamaican and English reggae music from 1978 to approximately 1987. It became an actual label name in 1978 when it succeeded a category of Virgin albums and singles marketed as "The Front line Series" which went back to 1976, when a reggae compilation album titled The Front Line was issued on Virgin. Front Line artists included U-Roy, U Brown, The Mighty Diamonds, Keith Hudson, Althea and Donna, Jah Lloyd, Johnny Clarke, The Gladiators, Peter Tosh, I Roy, Tappa Zukie, Sly Dunbar, The Twinkle Brothers, Prince Far I, Big Youth, The Abyssinians, Culture, Gregory Isaacs and Linton Kwesi Johnson.
- A short-lived associated label, Dindisc, had Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and The Monochrome Set during its brief existence (1980–1981), after which its recordings became part of Virgin's catalogue.
- Noo Trybe Records was a hip hop record label that existed from 1994 to 1999. The label consisted of mostly West Coast hip hop artists such as the Luniz. The label also became the distributor for releases under Rap-A-Lot Records after they switched distribution from Virgin's sister label under EMI, Priority Records in 1994. Noo Trybe also became the home of East Coast rappers AZ and Gang Starr after their respective labels EMI and Chrysalis were folded in early 1997.
The Virgin label was distributed in the USA 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 Columbia Records. Columbia was unwilling to release all Virgin artists, and so many were licensed to other labels: Epic (the sister company of Columbia) (Mike Oldfield (in the 1980s), Culture Club, Holly and the Italians and Shooting Star), Atlantic (Julian Lennon), A&M (UB40, Human League, Simple Minds, Breathe), Warner Bros. (Sex Pistols, Scritti Politti, DEVO), and Geffen (XTC). 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 under Atlantic distribution, and then 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 used mainly for progressive rock artists with a smaller following in the USA, including 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 & The Melody Makers, Redhead Kingpin & The F.B.I., Neneh Cherry, Steve Winwood and Hindsight. Virgin Records America's releases were distributed through WEA again by Atlantic Records until 1992. Virgin Records America was founded by the executive team of , 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.
The first Canadian editions were distributed by WEA, and were parallel issues of the same early 14 albums issued in the USA by Virgin/Atlantic.
In 1975, distribution transferred to Columbia (as it had in the USA), 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 USA. Canadian editions of the Dindisc label were issued as Dindisc/Virgin. Virgin's Canadian division arranged to have Canadian artists Martha and 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 USA. 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.
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), 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 ). It now faces competition from Branson's new label: V2 Records. Branson sold Virgin Records to fund Virgin Atlantic Airways which at that time was coming under intense anti-competitive pressure from British Airways. (In 1993 BA settled a libel action brought by Branson, 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 Hut Records, and continued signing new and established artists like Korn, A Fine Frenzy, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Tina Turner, Depeche Mode, Beenie Man, The Rolling Stones, Spice Girls, The Smashing Pumpkins, We Are Scientists, Darren Hayes, The Kooks, Lenny Kravitz, dcTalk (mainstream releases, contract ended in 2000), Captain Beefheart, Meat Loaf, Placebo, Janet Jackson (contract ended in 2006), Daft Punk, My Favorite Highway, Does It Offend You, Yeah?, Massive Attack, The Future Sound of London, Blur (US), The Chemical Brothers, Gorillaz, Paula Abdul (contract ended in 1999), Brooke Allison, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, The Almost, Mariah Carey (contract ended in 2001), N.E.R.D., Laura Marling, Swami, RBD, Thalía and Priscilla Renea.
In 1997, Virgin absorbed EMI Records USA (distinct from EMI America Records which was absorbed by Manhattan Records) and in 1998, opened a country music division called Virgin Records Nashville, of which record producer Scott Hendricks was president. 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.
Capitol Records and Virgin Records America were merged in 2007 to create Capitol Music Group after a massive restructuring of EMI Group Ltd. 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.
Virgin Music international companies
- Virgin EMI Records is Universal's main label in the United Kingdom after Mercury Records UK has been reduced to a local Universal imprint and its artist moved to the new Virgin EMI label.
- Virgin Schallplatten GmbH was the German subsidiary of Virgin Records. It was consolidated into EMI Germany (which is now part of Universal Music Germany).
- Virgin France was consolidated into EMI France, which has been renamed Parlophone and sold to Warner Music Group, just like the divisions in Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Slovakia and Sweden.
- Virgin Japan has had three incarnations:
- The first was founded by Pony Canyon in 1987 as a distributor for Virgin's artists in the country when Virgin was still independent. After EMI's purchase of Virgin in 1992, this incarnation of Virgin Japan was renamed Media Remoras, and it closed in 1997.
- The second incarnation was part of Toshiba-EMI, and had three sublabels: Virgin Domestic, Virgin Tokyo, and Virgin DCT (exclusive to releases from the band Dreams Come True). All three were folded in 2004 into the label Virgin Music, which was folded into EMI Records Japan in 2013 after its merger with Universal.
- The third incarnation, Virgin Music Japan, was founded in 2014 by Universal Music Japan as a sublabel under EMI Records Japan. It was formed after the merger of EMI R, which was renamed Virgin Records, and Delicious Deli Records.