Thursday, November 28, 2002

Thank you kindly, EMI and Me

The inspired BBC Business programmes department continues to turn out some cracking ideas; currently applying the "I Love" format to businesses to chart the British public's relationships with major brands.

Last night, James Bolam narrated us through 'EMI and Me', which was a wonderful opportunity to see just how mistakes being made today seem to have been constantly throughout the history of the label.

So, Cliff Richard was given a rubbish song to sing rather than the stuff he was good at; the executives believed that they knew better than Adam Faith how he should pronounce the word "baby", and so on.
Of course, being an EMI facing documentary, Malcolm McLaren had to pop up to tell us how he invented punk and everything. What was interesting this time, though, was the explanation of why the Sex Pistols were dropped - not so much because EMI couldn't handle them, but because the presence of the punks in the music division was causing Americans to pull out of their agreements to purchase the then-innovative CAT scanners from the electronics side of the business - it's apparent that but for that, the label would have been happy to keep the alleged anarchists on their books.

There was a lot that was left out - the humiliating merger with Thorn was covered, but there was no explanation as to how and why EMI became independent again; and although the acquisitiveness of EMI which led to the purchase of Bingo and Cinema chains was given space, no room could be found to explore the HMV shops adventures or the takeover of Waterstones.

But what we take away, mostly, is the image of men who clearly have and had no real understanding of the product they were selling, or the market they were selling to; through a mixture of luck and obstinancy on the part of the talent, they managed to make some profits. Which they then pissed away again and again - on developing medical equipment, on bingo halls, on Mariah Carey. The overriding impression is of a company that never quite got it.

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