It was the end of The '60s. Rock & Roll had turned into Rock, and the British record industry responded with several new labels dedicated to the "underground" genres that the counterculture listened to, such as Progressive Rock, Hard Rock and Folk Rock. Some were independents like Island, Charisma, and Chrysalis, while others were major label imprints like Decca's Deram and EMI's Harvest. Olav Wyper of Philips Records wanted his company to enter this lucrative market, so he spearheaded the formation of Philips' own "hippie label", Vertigo, which was launched in November 1969.
Many Vertigo signings were cult heroes or commercial non-starters who are remembered only by collectors, but several of their performers did well, with some even gaining iconic status. Manfred Mann switched from pop music to Jazz and Space Rock with his new band, Chapter Three. Gentle Giant gained a cult following for their complex prog rock. Rod Stewart put out his first two solo albums on Vertigo before switching to its corporate stablemate Mercury Records. The hard rock of Uriah Heep and Status Quo sold consistently. Kraftwerk managed an unlikely American hit single with its synth-driven Kraut Rock. However, Vertigo's most popular and influential act was Black Sabbath, who helped forge the destiny of Heavy Metal for decades to come.
Another notable aspect of Vertigo is the emphasis that the label, which billed itself as "The Sight and Sound of Contemporary Music", put on eye-catching graphics and packaging. Vertigo's logo, designed by Philips art director Linda Glover, has come to be known as the "Vertigo swirl"; it's a series of concentric black and white circles that originally took up the entirety of a record's A side label, creating a hypnotic spinning effect as the record played. (All the credits and info appeared on the B side.) Most Vertigo albums from the classic late 60s/early 70s era have gatefold covers, with a few even sporting elaborate die-cut or poster-sized sleeves.
As The '70s became The '80s, the music industry changed, with Punk Rock, New Wave Music and later Alternative Rock becoming the hip new genres; Vertigo failed to keep pace, although signings like Thin Lizzy and Dire Straits kept them on the charts. The label's Canadian arm did manage to snag hip alternative artists like the Cocteau Twins and The Pixies. By the mid-80s, the label had become the European home for Heavy Metal and Hair Metal bands like Def Leppard, KISS, Scorpions and Bon Jovi, with Metallica as its most prominent act. Since the Turn of the Millennium, Vertigo (now a part of Universal Music Group thanks to corporate mergers) has undergone a resurgence with new signings like The Killers, Soundgarden, and Dirty Pretty Things; even Black Sabbath, who left Vertigo in 1987, returned for the band's final albums. Vertigo is also still active in Germany, having merged with Capitol Records.
Compare Harvest Records, a former Vertigo competitor which is also owned by UMG.
Vertigo performers, past and present, with TV Tropes pages:
- Black Sabbath
- Bon Jovi
- Cocteau Twins (Canada only)
- Russell Brand (a one-off excursion into Recorded and Stand-Up Comedy)
- Def Leppard
- Dire Straits
- Fairport Convention
- Genesis (South America only)
- Gentle Giant
- The Killers
- King Crimson (New Zealand only)
- Manfred Mann's Chapter Three
- Metallica (outside North America)
- The Pixies (Canada only)
- Status Quo
- Rod Stewart
- Thin Lizzy
- Uriah Heep
- Van Der Graaf Generator (Italy only)