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1950-1959

At this time, EMI was the licensee for the major record companies RCA Victor and Columbia Records (the US-based descendant of the original parent company of Columbia Graphophone) outside of North and South America. Among the artists on RCA was a young singer from Mississippi called Elvis Presley. His first records outside the Americas, starting with ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ in 1956, were released by EMI on its HMV Pop label. Over the next two years EMI released a dozen or so of the first Elvis hits including ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, ‘Love Me Tender’, ‘Hound Dog’ and his first UK number one, ‘All Shook Up’. However the license agreement between EMI and RCA ended in 1957.

Columbia had similarly decided to end its agreement with EMI in 1952. Together Columbia and RCA were supplying most of EMI’s US music, so EMI went looking for American artists of its own. In 1955 it bought one of the largest US record companies, Capitol Records. Capitol, based on the West Coast of America, had an impressive roster of artists including Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, Dean Martin, Les Paul and Gene Vincent.

As well as developing its roster of American artists, EMI increased its investment in UK talent such that within a decade EMI releases accounted for about 40 per cent of the UK pop music chart. Artists signed to EMI in the 1950s included Adam Faith, Shirley Bassey, Frankie Vaughan, Max Bygraves and Alma Cogan, all of whom enjoyed considerable success and were leaders of a British pop explosion.

Alongside these UK artists on EMI’s roster was the most successful of them all, Cliff Richard. After his first record, ‘Move It‘, was released by EMI in 1958, Cliff would go on to become one of the most successful and enduring artists in British pop music history and to this day is still releasing new recordings with EMI.

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