Band walks away from EMI, signs with Polydor

The Rolling Stones have packed up their recordings from the last 37 years and moved to Universal Music’s Polydor label, which will handle the catalog along with any new recordings.

Agreement gives Universal the rights to the Stones catalog, which, at various times, has been in the hands of Atlantic, Columbia and Virgin Records. Most significant in the collection are the band’s classics from the 1970s, “Sticky Fingers,” “Exile on Main Street” and “Some Girls” plus hits such as “Start Me Up” and “Emotional Rescue.”

Company said that its first step is launching a long-term campaign to reposition the band’s catalog in the digital marketplace.

The Stones are one of the most popular live acts in the world, but sales of their new studio albums have been steadily declining over the last 14 years. The 1994 release “Voodoo Lounge” has sold 1.9 million copies in the U.S., and “Bridges to Babylon” has moved 1.2 million copies in the 11 years since its release, according to Nielsen Soundscan. Band’s last studio effort, 2005’s “A Bigger Bang,” has sold 545,000 copies.

ABKCO controls their recordings issued between 1964 and 1970; ironically, those recordings were made for labels that Universal now owns. “Forty Licks,” the two-CD compilation of hits controlled by ABKCO and Virgin, has a cume of 300,000 but has sold only 200 copies this year. In the last 17 years, the Stones have sold 24 million albums. “The Rolling Stones’ musical style and off-stage swagger have been emulated by countless others,” said Doug Morris, chairman-CEO of Universal Music Group. “Having worked closely with them during my days at Atlantic Records, I am thrilled to be reunited with these seminal musicians who have set the bar for all rock bands.”

In April, Universal released the soundtrack to the Martin Scorsese-directed Stones concert film “Shine a Light.” That album has sold 106,000 copies.

“Universal are forward-thinking, creative and hands-on music people,” Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ron Wood said in a statement.

News of the signing had little shock value as the band’s departure from EMI was expected. The Rolling Stones were among the acts said to have doubts about the management team being assembled by new owner Guy Hands. Their longtime connection with Toronto-based promoter Michael Cohl prompted rumors that they would be joining Madonna and Jay-Z in Live Nation’s artist division. Cohl no longer runs the department for Live Nation.

EMI Group bid a fond farewell to the Stones, noting that it “looks forward to a continuing relationship with the band through their long-term agreement with EMI Music Publishing.”

Company said it was only interested in “mutually beneficial agreements with its artists.”

In an interesting Stones-related twist, ABKCO sued Universal Music, EMI Music Publishing and Warner/Chappell on Thursday, alleging that Lil Wayne had not secured the rights to use a sample of “Play With Fire” on his song “Playing With Fire,” which appears on “Tha Carter III.”

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