EMI (SBK, EMI, Chrysalis): They laughed when we predicted last year that EMI would merge with SBK--but that's what happened. The big winner in all this is SBK's big-spending boss Charles Koppelman, who lost money but put his new label on the map. He'll run the whole show now, with crack promotion wiz Daniel Glass as his right-hand man and music lawyer Fred Davis (yes, Clive's son) overseeing the labels' A&R departments. Thanks to massive layoffs, the merger will make EMI lean 'n' mean, but it's too early to say whether it'll be a hit-making machine. SBK gets credit for launching rock faves Jesus Jones while EMI had a huge hit with Queensryche and a big break with EMF. Chrysalis was quiet this year, but has Slaughter and possibly Sinead O'Connor coming next year.
* Artist to Watch in 1992: Blur.
Geffen (DGC): The label's A&R stars keep shining. First John Kalodner scored with Aerosmith, then Tom Zutaut with Guns N' Roses and now Gary Gersh with Nirvana, the surprise rock hit of the year. Couple Nirvana's success with a strong showing from the label's one-two Guns N' Roses punch and you have a good year. It certainly makes up for a string of duds, led by Robbie Robertson, Edie Brickell and Rickie Lee Jones (and a disappointing Tesla album). The label's prestige took a beating over ex-DGC chief Marko Babineau's role in the industry's sexual-harassment scandal, but it's positioned to remain a rock powerhouse for years to come.
* Artist to Watch in '92: Teenage Fan Club.
MCA: Even without a Bobby Brown album, the label's black music division was hot. Guy and Ralph Tresvant went platinum with Heavy D and Jodeci not far behind. Thanks to Tony Brown, its Nashville wing scored too, delivering four platinum albums. MCA also flexed its distribution system's muscles, silencing critics (like Pop Eye) who prematurely dismissed UNI as a lightweight operation. What MCA lacks, industry execs say, is leadership. The label has been limping along with weak promotion and A&R departments (its one pop surprise, "The Commitments" soundtrack, came from MCA Group chief Al Teller himself). MCA badly needs to trim the fat from its bloated artist roster, which is loaded with CBS Records rejects like the Outfield, Colin Hay, Adam Ant and Patti Smyth. It did go gold with two hard-rock hair bands, Trixster and Steel Heart, but there's no guarantee that either is a career artist. For now, the label's best hope for growth is from its new overseas companies in Japan and Germany.
* Artist to Watch in '92: Lyle Lovett.
Motown: Despite an ugly legal battle with MCA, which found Motown switching its distribution ties to PolyGram, Motown didn't miss a beat. It had huge records from Boyz II Men and Another Bad Creation, plus another strong showing from Johnny Gill. No wonder one insider dubbed Motown chief Jheryl Busby the black Bob Krasnow. He has savvy commercial instincts, carefully picking hits that are hard enough to reach the New Jack street hipsters, but smooth enough to attract a mainstream audience.
* Artist to Watch in '92: Shanice.
Polygram (PLG, Mercury, Polydor, Island, Delicious Vinyl): Industry vets describe this as a company plagued by a dearth of leadership. Turmoil reigned at Mercury, which started the year with a dual presidency, then abruptly fired co-chief Mike Bone, installing Ed Eckstine as president, and then just as suddenly named A&M's Al Cafaro to a new exec post that makes him look like he's waiting in the wings if Eckstine fails. Mercury did have a big hit with Scorpions and kept selling Cinderella albums, but had slow going with its John Mellencamp album--and completely lost its Richie Sambora solo outing. Over at PLG, Island bounced back with its U2 album and a suprise hit from P.M. Dawn, while Polydor finally went gold with its Cathy Dennis album (after four Top 10 singles). Mercury is looking forward to '92 releases from Def Leppard and Bon Jovi, but PLG needs to develop a new generation of artists to prove it can be a formidable player.
* Artist to Watch in 1992: James.