Book Review: Summertime Blues

Gonna raise a fuss, gonna raise a holler: rock & roll books

Summertime Blues

The Rise & Fall of EMI Records

by Brian Southall
Omnibus Press, 278 pp., $29.95

The computerized axial tomography (CAT) scanner was originally developed in the 1970s by EMI's Central Research Laboratories. That's just one minor footnote in the long, complicated history of EMI Records, the British major label that signed the Beatles, opened Abbey Road Studios, and snubbed the Sex Pistols for the Stones in 1977. The tale of Electric & Musical Industries dates back to the founding of the original Gramophone Company in 1897, but author Brian Southall, a 15-year employee of the label, focuses primarily on the 12-year period after EMI parted ways with Thorn in 1996, a move that – after decades of investments in other realms and mediums – made the company a stand-alone and publicly traded entity. Like the rest of the record industry, EMI stumbled backward blindly into the Digital Age and has yet to recover, packaging and repacking its past in hopes of securing a more profitable future under the leadership of Guy Hands and Terra Firma Capital Partners Ltd., the private-equity firm that now controls EMI. Southall writes with more dollars than sense, relying too heavily on market share figures, chart placement, and financial information when more philosophical debate and insight about the changing nature of record labels is warranted. Ultimately, The Rise & Fall of EMI Records would have made a better documentary, soundtrack provided by Radiohead, Pink Floyd, and David Bowie.

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