Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s of Rock’n’Roll – V is For Virgin (And Other Assorted Labels)


Everyone always has something to say about record labels. The majors suck, how come indie labels get so much money from Factor, OMDC, Radio Starmaker (insert government funds here), you’re better off not being with a label. Actual labels, attached to a piece of vinyl, were once a beautiful thing.

Ticket to Ride

StillWho can forget the orange and yellow swirl of the Capitol label as your “Ticket to Ride” single spun around your turntable or when the arm of the jukebox grabbed that old blue and silver Motown label and served up your next selection? There was a time you could trust a label to deliver the goods even if you didn’t know the artist, for a while you knew if it was a Stiff it was worth a f*ck, if it was on Def Jam you knew it had beats and if it said Dischord it was going to be punk.

Nick Lowe Loved his label

Graham Parker did not.

When I was thinking of songs and artists with the letter V in mind it dawned on me that there were a lot of record labels that began with the letter V, so, before everyone forgets what a label is, let’s take a look at a few.

Vertigo Records

Although a lot of the bands on the label appeared on different labels in North America they had their beginnings on Vertigo Records in the UK. The label was founded in 1969 as the “progressive” arm of Philips/Phonogram (it is now part of the Universal family – as are most labels). They were the first home of Black Sabbath and released the band’s first four records (the height of their recording career), Gentle Giant recorded for them as did Def Leppard. Hit makers included Rod Stewart, Jim Croce and Canada’s very own Lighthouse.

Vee-Jay Records

If you’re a Beatles collector you know the value of their early releases on the Vee-Jay label. When Capitol Records in the U.S. declined to release the first few Beatles singles their rights were up for grabs and the little label that was started by the husband and wife team of Vivian Carter and James Bracken in Gary, Indiana picked up some of the releases. The label was hot at the time with the success of Franki Valli and The Four Seasons and coupled with The Beatles invasion they should have been rolling in the dough but mismanagement and gamble debts forced the label to temporarily shut down in late 1963 and soon The Four Seasons sued for owed royalties and Capitol Records realised their mistake and started to release The Beatles recordings.

Virgin Records

The humble beginnings of Sir Richard Branson which started as an offshoot of his Notting Hill record store. It seems somewhat fitting as Halloween quickly approaches that the label’s first release was “Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield (perhaps better known as the scary music from the film “The Exorcist”). With Roger Dean designing the original label logo it soon became known as the home for left field bands such as Tangerine Dream, Faust and Gong. When they became the third label to sign The Sex Pistols the label soon immersed itself in the new British sound and signed the likes of XTC, Culture Club, The Human League, The Motors, Simple Minds and Magazine. Canadian artist Martha & The Muffins and Nash the Slash called Virgin home for a spell and of course so did The Rolling Stones and The Spice Girls.


This was the second label that Richard Branson founded, after he sold Virgin Records to EMI. The first band signed to the label back in 1996 was The Stereophonics. The label was known for great A&R and soon had Elbow, Moby, The White Stripes, The Black Keys and Brendan Benson recording for them. Much like Virgin Records the label did set-up shop in various countries around the world (including Canada) but for the most part they now have been absorbed by their distributor.

ViK Recordings

This was a label that began when I was with BMG Canada and it was basically the domestic home to all of our Canadian artists at the time. Treble Charger and Jacksoul were on the label as were dance artists Shawn Desman and Keisha Chante and west coast hip-hop artists Rascalz. Lisa Zbitnew was the company President at the time and felt that we needed a label to call our own. The origin of the name was from an obscure RCA label in the fifties.


This label was a big part of our annual revenue when I started at Quality Records. The label had deep roots in jazz, folk and classical and it had a huge catalog that constantly made money. From Joan Baez, Ian & Sylvia, The Weavers to Lawrence Welk to Buddy Guy and John Hammond there was something for everyone at the label.

Vocalion Pop

One of the oldest record labels I first became aware of the label in the early seventies when I bought the 45 “Liza Jane” by Davie Jones with The Kingbees. The single was the first recording by David Bowie. Long before Bowie they released music from Pinetop Smith in the 1920’s, and in the thirties really hit their stride releasing recordings by Robert Johnson, Glenn Miller and Billie Holiday.


If you’re into modern gospel this is the label for you. Formed in 1994 I think I first became aware of them when working for BMG. Now, much to the chagrin of WJ, gospel is one of the forms of music that I never have, and never will, appreciate. Can’t say why, I know there is talent there, but it just doesn’t move me. Some of the big names from Verity include Kirk Franklin, Hezekiah Walker and Marvin Sapp.

Varese Sarabande

This is a label that specializes in soundtracks, original cast recordings and the re-issue of long out of print artists. The label came to prominence in the early eighties when the original wave of CD sales started to happen and their connection with young avant-garde film composers was a perfect audio fit. From Tangerine Dream to Danny Elfman, if a name has been involved in the scoring of a film in the past 35 years they have probably released a record on Varese Sarabande.


In the late nineties Vagrant was the label you wanted to be on if you considered yourself a “Warped Tour” artists. Beginning with artists such as Dashboard Confessional, Saves The Day, The Get Up Kids and Alkaline Trio the label soon expanded their sound and began to sign artists such as The Eels, Paul Westerberg, The Hold Steady, Black Rebel Motorcycle, Justin Townes Earl and Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros. They have also distributed Canadian bands Alexisonfire, Protest the Hero and Stars.


There was a good turnout last Saturday night at The Horseshoe Tavern for DBAWIS faves XPrime, Gloryhound and Secret Broadcast, as well as The Luke Austin Band. Amongst a slew of strong original material from every band there were a few Beatles covers and a Cars cover thrown in for good measure.

The Kensington Lodge

Looks like I may change my DJ night at The Kensington Lodge over to Friday nights for the fall and the winter which will void the excuse of people not dropping by as they have to work the next morning. Here is a Spotify playlist of twenty songs that have been making it into regular rotation over the course of the last 12 weeks. If you have any long distance requests send them my way on Twitter @CC59 or @kensingtonlodge.


Cam’s column appears every Thursday.

Follow Cam on Twitter @CC59.

Contact us at:

Cam likes to plant his butt on the roof of the Bovine and soak up a few rays.

The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll are proud to be presented by The Bovine Tiki Bar and The Bovine. The Tiki Bar welcomes the mild to hot weather and The Bovine presents great bands downstairs at the legendary rock bar. Fill up next store at The Rock Lobster and then get your rocks off at The Bovine. 

DBAWIS ButtonCameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener, The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, The Daily XY, New Canadian


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: