As the 1980s began, the record industry was suffering from a severe sales decline, exacerbated by the end of the disco phenomenon. This left the field wide open for new genres to emerge. Loudly announcing its arrival was one that had evolved out of the ’70s rock of bands like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. Heavy metal.
One of the first heavy metal bands to make an impression on the charts was the EMI-signed Iron Maiden. Their self-titled debut was released in 1980 and ever since then the band have been extremely prolific and regularly tour all over the world. Thirty years on and the band are still recording for EMI, still tour relentlessly, and are leading a new generation of rockers all over the world as shown by their most recent album, 2010′s ‘The Final Frontier’, which debuted at number one in 28 countries.
Other genres of music emerging at this time were electronic and sample-based, such as house and techno and hip-hop. Arguably the most influential band for all these, constantly name-checked by the sounds’ pioneers, is Kraftwerk, a quartet from Dusseldorf in Germany who began experimenting with computers and electronic music in the 1970s.
After signing to EMI in 1978 they released a series of seminal albums with futuristic songs that sounded completely unlike anything else that was being released by anyone, anywhere. Their 1981 single, ‘Computer Love/The Model’, was the first ever German record to top the UK charts.
Other successful artists for EMI at the start of the 1980s included Kate Bush, who had joined EMI in 1977 after being spotted by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, Sheena Easton, Thomas Dolby and Duran Duran who were the leading lights of a new British musical invasion that swept into the US with their hugely successful albums such as ‘Rio‘ and ‘Seven And The Ragged Tiger‘.
The late 1980s and early 1990s were a period of huge change for EMI. Having released its first recordings on the new CD format in 1983, by the start of the 1990s the shiny silver discs accounted for the majority of albums sold by EMI.
Around this time EMI also embarked on a series of business deals that would transform the company. In 1989 SBK Entertainment World, a music publishing company whose catalogue included ‘Singin’ In The Rain’, ‘Wizard of Oz’ and ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town‘, was acquired, making EMI Music Publishing the undisputed world leader.
In the same year, EMI acquired a 50% stake in Chrysalis Records. Formed in 1969, Chrysalis Records was the company behind artists ranging from Jethro Tull to Blondie and Spandau Ballet to Sinead O’Connor.
EMI Music Publishing expanded further in 1990 with the acquisition of the Filmtrax catalogue, extending EMI’s leadership in music publishing. The following year, EMI bought the remaining 50% of Chrysalis Records, taking full ownership of the label.