EAMONN FORDE – The Final Days of EMI: Selling the Pig

EAMONN FORDE – The Final Days of EMI: Selling the Pig

Author Eamonn Forde recently published this thought-provoking account of the final days of the highly respected EMI Records via the ever-awesome Omnibus Press and this is one of the more interesting literary pieces that yours truly has come across lately. The story of EMI is both long and convoluted, which is not surprising given just how long it actually existed (it was founded back in 1931), but its final few years of existence were riddled with monumental problems and challenges that the once so mighty powerhouse label were unable to overcome. As its title suggests, this book chronicles how and why one of the most prestigious and formidable record labels of all time slowly but steadily lost its foothold and eventually found itself on the brink of total and utter collapse. Many of us undoubtedly associate EMI with such renowned and talented acts as Iron Maiden, Radiohead, Queen, the Rolling Stones, Kate Bush, and many others, but by 2007, the label was in a state of disarray and desperately needed help in order to survive. The private equity firm Terra Firma bought the company with the intention of rebuilding it, but it turned into a disastrous adventure for all parties involved.

Forde presents us with an incredibly well-researched and balanced account of EMI’s gradual move towards extinction and discusses every conceivable factor that led to its demise. As you can probably magine, there was absolutely no shortage of drama present behind the scenes when Terra Firma came into the picture with no idea of how to run a label and yet were expected to somehow co-exist with the employees of EMI who had been with the company for years and years. The author goes deep and penetrates the many layers shrouding the entire catastrophe, analyzing countless interviews and statements by insiders, dissecting leaked documents and e-mails from within the EMI stronghold, and generally attacking the complicated matter from various different angles in order to shed some light on what really went down with the EMI/Terra Firma deal.

Roughly the first half of "The Final Days of EMI" was somewhat difficult to absorb due to the overload of information with respect to names, dates, key players, events, turning points, and so on and so forth, but to my surprise, the latter half of the book was relatively easy to digest due to its pace being slightly faster and the truly dramatic and thought-provoking qualities that course through it. One could therefore argue that the latter half of this well-written account of EMI’s fall and decline is much more fascinating and intriguing compared to the first half, but that simply has to do with chronology of events and the fact that the last days of the record company were significantly more action-packed, tense, and nerve-wrecking than the first few Terra Firma-led years were. Nevertheless, the second half of it flows better and is a bit more captivating compared to the first half.

"The Final Days of EMI" is both an insightful and hugely reflective piece of work in that it manages to present a myriad of different perspectives on what went on behind closed doors and why the iconic label succumbed due to lack of any cohesive strategy and structure on nearly all levels of management. Marred by terrible decisions, constantly hit by bad timing, torn apart by disputes and conflicting agendas, desperately playing catch-up with its competitors with respect to digital sales, and unable to handle the massive debts of Terra Firma, the glory days of EMI were numbered and it all fell apart within a span of a few years. Forde covers all of that and more. For an example, Iron Maiden’s "The Final Frontier" was a massive success for EMI in 2010 and went to number one in 21 countries, which proved that good and promising things did happen, and it was a great endorsement for the label who had worked with the band for 30 years. On the other hand, you had Terra Firma/EMI playing hardball with Queen’s management when the time had come to renegotiate their distribution deal in 2010 and as a result, Queen simply said “Fuck you!” and walked away from the label. EMI and Queen had been closely linked for 37 years and sold 170 million albums together. There were also some quite appalling (not to mention downright horrifying) ideas being thrown around within the hallways and corridors of EMI with respect to how Abbey Road Studios could potentially have been turned into a tourist attraction, but I will spare you any further painful details of that; you simply have to read this book yourself if you want to know more Again, the amount of details that Forde has uncovered is just stunning.

This is probably not the most thrilling or riveting literary output you will come across this year, but it might just be one of the most revelatory and controversial music-related books published recently in the sense that it lays bare the very structures (or lack of structures) that destroyed one of the record industry’s most prestigious and important labels, and it does so in a clear, concise, and non-sentimental manner. For those of you who are interested in history and the cultural climate of today, or modern-day Britain if you will, the book is definitely interesting in relation to how British society has evolved these past 15-20 years.