The Columbia Graphophone Company was one of the earliest gramophone companies in the United Kingdom. As Columbia Records, it became a successful label in the 1950s and 1960s, but was eventually replaced by the newly created EMI Records, as part of an EMI label consolidation. This in turn was absorbed by the Parlophone Records unit of Warner Music Group in 2013.
In 1922, Columbia Phonograph, as the American Columbia Records was then known, sold its UK subsidiary Columbia Graphophone. However, in 1925 Columbia Graphophone bought its former parent for $2.5 million. In 1926, both Odeon Records and Parlophone Records were acquired. On 21 April 1931, the Gramophone Company and the Columbia Graphophone Company merged and formed a new company, Electric and Musical Industries (EMI). American anti-trust laws forced EMI to sell its American Columbia operations.
EMI continued to operate the Columbia record label in the UK until the early 1970s, and everywhere else except for the US, Canada, Mexico, Spain and Japan, until it sold its remaining interest in the Columbia trademark to Sony Music Entertainment in 1990.
Under EMI, English Columbia's output was mainly licenced recordings from American Columbia until 1951 when American Columbia switched British distribution to Philips Records. English Columbia continued to distribute American Columbia sister labels Okeh and Epic until 1968 when American Columbia's then parent CBS moved distribution of all its labels to the new CBS Records created from the purchase of Oriole Records (UK) in late 1964. The loss of American Columbia product had forced English Columbia to groom its own talent such as Russ Conway, Acker Bilk, John Barry, Cliff Richard, the Shadows, Helen Shapiro, Frank Ifield, Rolf Harris, Freddie and the Dreamers, the Dave Clark Five, Shirley Bassey, Frankie Vaughan, Des O'Connor, Ken Dodd, the Animals, Herman's Hermits, Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Seekers, the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck, and Pink Floyd. Led by avuncular A&R man Norrie Paramor, the label was arguably the most successful in Britain in the rock era prior to the beat boom.
In the mid 1960s, English Columbia added an audiophile imprint called Studio 2 Stereo. During that time, the Columbia Graphophone Company was absorbed into the Gramophone Company with the label maintaining its identity.
EMI has engaged in litigation with CBS regarding the importing of American records bearing the Columbia imprint into areas where EMI owned the Columbia name.
EMI decided to reserve the HMV label for classical repertoire and had transferred HMV's remaining pop acts to Columbia and Parlophone by 1967. EMI began to replace the Columbia label with the eponymous EMI Records in January 1973. The last Columbia single was issued in 1989. EMI sold its remaining interest in the Columbia name in 1990 to Sony Music Entertainment (formerly CBS Records), which already owned Columbia Records in the U.S. and Canada. The formal reassignment of British registered trade marks from EMI, including the "magic notes" logo, took place in 1993.
For the Columbia Records trade mark in the UK and elsewhere, Sony Music now prefers the "walking eye" logo previously used by the old CBS Records, which is based on the Columbia Records logo introduced in the US and Canada in 1955. However, the "magic notes" logo is occasionally used, usually to give a 'retro' feel (such as on the 2016 vinyl reissues of Pink Floyd's Piper at the Gates of Dawn and A Saucerful of Secrets).
The Columbia name was still on some EMI releases between 1973 and 1990 (such as Baltimora's "Tarzan Boy" in 1985, Jeanne Mas and the 1987 Kiki Dee album Angel Eyes), but it had ceased acting as a fully functioning label.
In Australia and Germany, EMI continued using the Columbia label throughout the 1970s and to at least 1980, but added the EMI label in 1973.
Through its ownership of the former Columbia/EMI catalogue, Parlophone Records' new owner Warner Music Group assumed Columbia's artist roster and catalogue. New reissues bear the Parlophone imprint.