1992 was a year of huge change for EMI as it was in this year that the company bought the Virgin Music Group, at the time the largest independent music company in the world. Virgin had a major roster of artists including Janet Jackson, Lenny Kravitz, Peter Gabriel, Smashing Pumpkins, Massive Attack and the Rolling Stones, and a significant music publishing business.
Together with the other business deals in the previous years, the acquisition of Virgin Music saw EMI undergo a huge transformation and the company headed into the decade re-energised and with new momentum.
There were a number of key signings at this time as many of today’s best known artists began their careers. Blur released their first album ‘Leisure’ in 1991, while two year’s later Radiohead‘s debut, ‘Pablo Honey‘, came out on Parlophone. Virgin Records meanwhile was on a roll with albums from its many established artists as well as new bands such as The Verve and The Chemical Brothers.
From Cliff Richard onwards, EMI has been the home to the UK’s top music stars. In the 1990s this tradition continued with EMI signing the decade’s most successful British pop band, the Spice Girls, and the country’s biggest male artist, Robbie Williams.
The Spice Girls formed in 1994, signed to Virgin Records in 1995 and released their first single ‘Wannabe‘ in 1996. By the end of that year the band were a cultural phenomenon all over the globe. ‘Wannabe’ reached number one in 31 countries and was the first of nine chart toppers for the Spice Girls in the UK. With sales of 35 million albums and 25 million singles around the world, the Spice Girls completely changed the landscape of pop music, and of female groups in particular.
Robbie Williams joined EMI in 1996 and his first album, ‘Life Thru A Lens‘, came out the following year. It wasn’t until its 28th week of release that it reached number one in the UK, but from then on it took up almost permanent residence in the top 10, ultimately staying there for 40 weeks. Since then he has sold well over 50 million albums globally and played to sell out crowds all around the world.
EMI continued to grow during the 1990s, bringing successful companies and entrepreneurs into the EMI family. Top German independent Intercord became an EMI-owned label in 1994, and two years later 50% of the Jobete music publishing catalogue was acquired by EMI Music Publishing. This catalogue was established by Motown founder Berry Gordy and includes over 15,000 classic Motown songs including ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, ‘My Girl’, ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ and ‘I’ll Be There’. EMI purchased Gordy’s remaining stake in Jobete in 2003 and 2004 and he continues to be involved with this legendary catalogue.
In 1996 Priority Records joined the EMI fold. The Los Angeles-based label is one of the top names in American urban music, releasing records from hugely influential artists such as Snoop Dogg, Cypress Hill, Ice Cube and N.W.A.
To help support future generations of musicians, in 1997 EMI established the EMI Music Sound Foundation, an independent music education charity that has distributed over £3.5 million to schools, students and teachers throughout Britain and is now the single largest sponsor of specialist performing arts colleges in the UK.