Day the Music Died

Tucked away in a corner of this week's Rolling Stone magazine is the following news item: "British private equity firm Terra Firma purchased EMI, home to the Beatles, Radiohead and Coldplay, for US$ 4.9 billion, taking the company off the London Stock Exchange and making it the only one of the four major labels to be privately owned."

While a merger (Warner Music had expressed interest in EMI before backing out) or takeover appeared imminent for a while, given the continued lack-lustre performance of London-based Electrical and Musical Industries Ltd, it is shocking that a tragedy of this magnitude went largely unreported by the media. To have what was once the venerable Gramophone Company pass into private hands, specifically to an investor with a diverse portfolio but no music industry experience, means the consolidation of labels in the interest of profit (Angel, Blue Note, Capitol, GramCo, Harvest, HMV, Hollywood, Odeon, Parlophone, Real World and Virgin are among a handful of EMI labels catering to a wide palette of tastes), and the inevitable loss of patronage for non-mainstream music. Would a music company run by accountants have allowed an unknown beat group from Liverpool to audition, especially when rival Decca had dismissed them as "we don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out"?

My connection with EMI is through GramCo, the stock ticker for Calcutta-based Gramophone Company of India, which (in 1901) became the first overseas operation unit of EMI London. I grew up with Francis Barraud's painting of Nipper on our family records, since the His Master's Voice label monopolised the classical and popular music scene in almost all Indian languages. This poignant picture partly contributed to the love for long-playing records that I maintain to this day. Again, it was an accident of fate that the Parlophone label from the EMI stable was easily available in India and led to my discovering The Beatles-- over the years, I would scour the employee-only inventory at the HMV factory in Dum Dum for rare and lost vinyl recordings. For this and other reasons (including the facts that the company was briefly chaired by the famous statistician, P. C. Mahalanobis; and that their original factory at 139 Beliaghata Road was near our family's old rented house), HMV has always held a very special place in my heart.

Today I mourn the loss of this eminent behemoth, whose early research pioneered stereophonic sound recording and radar equipment, who revolutionized coloured television broadcasting in the 1970s (the Monty Python series was shot using EMI 2001 colour cameras), and most importantly, who touched the lives and hearts of music-lovers everywhere by encouraging artists of all genres in the furthest corners of the world. It is little wonder that one of their smaller labels is called Music For Pleasure.

A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies.
Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
R.E.M., And I Feel Fine

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