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EMI, SBK, Vanilla Ice, Wilson Philips and Jon Secada

David Kronemyer “Deconstructing Pop Culture” columns are quite an interesting thing. He really know these stories (and seems to have lived them) but his take is very personal. More music opinions than music facts, so I can only recommend them with a (larger-than-usual) grain of salt.

In this particular column, “Capitol-EMI in the Late 1980s – Early 1990s” (link) we find a few more details of the real mess that has been EMI in the past few decades. The article mentions two interesting sources: Bruce Haring’s book “Off the Charts: Ruthless Days and Reckless Nights Inside the Music Industry” and Hollywood Records’ Peter Marino infamous 1991 memo. (I will post about it later).

For now, I want to highlight this fantastic tale of a nine-digit deal fueled by Wilson Philips and Vanilla Ice hits from Haring’s book:

SBK Records had out-of-the-box success with releases from Wilson Phillips and the white rapper Vanilla Ice. In view of this early success, and notwithstanding the five-year time frame, Capitol accelerated its right to buy out SBK’s portion of the joint venture, and did so in 1991 for a reported $26 million, plus the return of SBK’s initial $10 million investment (incorrectly reported by Haring, p. 118, as $5 million). The sell-buy mechanism of the original joint venture agreement was abandoned; SBK essentially was able to establish its own price. Capitol also committed to pay additional amounts, depending on the label’s sales and profitability. The value of this additional consideration was reported to be $100 million, Haring p. 118, although this figure is hard to believe in light of SBK’s actual sales and profits history. Almost inevitably, the early success of Wilson Philips and Vanilla Ice never was replicated.

… In many ways, SBK Records became the record industry equivalent of a Ponzi scheme.” Its approach was to “build up the company to enormous heights, give the impression of success, however fleeting, pump up the sales volume, and damn the costs. So what if long-term value isn’t there?”, p. 104. EMI Records Group – the successor to SBK – did no better. Artists such as Jon Secada and Joshua Kadison were “costly and high-profile failures. Down the hatch went Slaughter and Jesus Jones, to be followed by albums by Sinead O’Connor, Queensryche, Billy Idol, and Pat Benatar,” p. 139. Even the old SBK “magic acts,” such as Wilson Phillips “couldn’t be revived,” p. 140. Even considering the generally polemical tone of Mr. Haring’s book, these are serious allegations

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