Once upon a time, there was CBS/Columbia Records, and it was a relatively big label with history dating to the beginnings of the recording industry. Alongside it was RCA Records, another big label and sometimes rival. (Has there ever really been competition in the recording industry, though? Like, the “competition” that is supposed to drive the free market?) Later on, one of CBS’s children, Clive Davis, ran off and created Arista Records, the latter of which became good friends with RCA as the years went by. Then the 80s happened, in which kaiju-sized conglomerates that made Japanese zaibatsus look like men in rubber suits ran around and swallowed up as much “property” as they could.
All these labels were taken over by the Axis powers in a somewhat demented plan to retake Europe and the Americas through radio subterfuge CBS/Columbia would be taken over by the (ostensibly) American branch of Sony — creating Sony Music Entertainment — while RCA and Arista (among others) would be eaten by Bertelsmann, creating the new monstrosity Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG). After this vore consolidation era, there was quiet.
Then, BMG and Sony Music decided to get married in 2004, in the wake of the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision. When they realized how much of a bureaucratic nightmare it would be, and their form of marriage would have no pre-nups available to bypass this, they settled on a civil union. The resulting Sony-BMG joint venture lasted for about five years, upon which Bertelsmann decided to vomit up the record labels, hand them over to Sony, and live out its days as a publisher.
Fast forward to today. With EMI still slowly eroding like that statue of God at the end of ActRaiser 2, Universal’s purchase of the recording side of EMI has made it run afoul of European (and only European) antitrust regulators, requiring the sale of some assets. The primary asset that needs to be sold is EMI’s crown jewel, Parlophone Records (though not the Hope Diamond within that crown jewel, The Beatles). Home to a wicket’s worth of the most profitable acts ever to grace the Home Islands, including Mansun, Duffy Power, and Bat For Lashes, Parlophone served as the primary reason EMI survived as long as it did. Now, there exist several contenders for adopting Parlophone into their family, including Warner Music Group and the effervescent Ronald Perelman.
With all this in play, Sony and BMG looked wistfully back on their civil union while having drinks at some trashy bar, and thought to give it another go. They are now planning another civil union, this time to get Parlophone for themselves. However, their intent seems malevolent: rather than keep Parlophone whole if they gained the winning bid, Sony-BMG 2.0 would make a quick separation, and then dismember Parlophone into several small pieces, taking only the parts (or bands) they want and leaving the rest of the body to the dogs. Of course, for BMG, these small parts and organs may in fact be necessary for steppin’ out and making a label comeback, if the recent purchase of the Mute Records catalogue means anything. But who knows. All will be made clearer in the next two weeks, as bids will be finalized for the Parlophone adoption.
That said, if Parlophone does get dismembered, I call dibs on the right pinkie toe. That contains all the good records from Duran Duran’s career!