Polydor was originally an independent branch of the Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft. Its name was first used as an export label in 1924, the British and German branches of the Gramophone Company having severed their ties during World War I. Deutsche Grammophon claimed the rights to the His Master's Voice trademark for Germany, where HMV recordings were released under the Electrola trademark.
1920s vintage Polydor export label with its double-horn gramophone logoIn turn, DGG records exported out of Germany were released on the Polydor label.
Polydor became a popular music label in 1946 while Deutsche Grammophon became a classical music label. The German rights to the His Master's Voice trademark was sold by Deutsche Grammophon to the Electrola Records unit of EMI in 1949. Polydor remained Deutsche Grammophon's export label, including classical music, in France and the Spanish-speaking world for the remainder of the long-playing era, as a result of language and cultural concerns.
In the early 1960s orchestra leader Bert Kaempfert signed unknowns Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers - who would later become famous as The Beatles - to Polydor. Popular German entertainers such as James Last, Bert Kaempfert, Kurt Edelhagen, Caterina Valente and the Kessler Twins appeared on the Polydor label, as well as many French, Spanish and Latin-American figures. Polydor had opened a US division in 1969, but did not become a real presence in the US record industry until its purchase of the recording contract and back catalog of R&B superstar James Brown in 1971 and its absorption of the MGM Records label by parent company PolyGram in 1972.
In 1954 Polydor Records introduced their distinctive orange label.In 1972, Polydor merged with giant Philips-owned Phonogram Records to create PolyGram in the US. The Polydor label continued to run as a subsidiary label under the new company. The name PolyGram is a portmanteau of Polydor and PhonoGram. Throughout the 1970s, Polydor became a major rock label, and also championed disco, being home to such platinum-selling disco acts as the Bee Gees and Gloria Gaynor.
Into the 1980s, Polydor continued to do respectable business, in spite of becoming increasingly overshadowed by its PolyGram sister label Mercury Records. Polydor took over management of British Decca's pop catalog. A&R manager Frank Neilson was able to score a major top ten hit in March 1981 for the label with "Do The Hucklebuck" by Coast to Coast as well as signing Ian Dury and Billy Fury to the company. In 1984, the company name was parodied in the rockumentary film This Is Spinal Tap (whose soundtrack album was distributed by Polydor), where 'Polymer Records' was the band's record company.
By the early 1990s, Polydor had begun to underperform. PolyGram subsequently trimmed most of Polydor's staff and roster, and shifted it to operate under the umbrella of PolyGram Label Group (PLG), a newly constructed 'super label' specifically designed to oversee the operations of PolyGram's lesser performing imprints (which included Island Records, London Records, Atlas Records and Verve Records) at the time.
In 1994, as Island Records recovered from its sales slump, PolyGram dissolved most of PLG into it. Meanwhile, Polydor Records and Atlas Records merged, briefly called "Polydor/Atlas," and began operating through A&M Records, another PolyGram subsidiary. In 1995, Polydor/Atlas became simply Polydor Records again.
Twilight years in USOver the next few years, Polydor tried to keep itself afloat with new artist signings, new releases, and reissues, while still becoming more and more dormant. In 1998, PolyGram was purchased by Seagram and absorbed into its Universal Music Group. During the consolidation of these two music giants, Polydor's US operations were dismantled into Interscope-Geffen-A&M, while its overseas branch remained intact with its records continuing to be distributed domestically through Interscope and A&M. However, North American re-issues of pre-1998 Polydor pop/rock releases are handled through Mercury Records. Today, in America, the Polydor Records name and logo is mostly used on reissues of older material from its 1960s and 1970s heyday.