Currently wholly owned by Universal Music Group after its purchase of EMI in 2012, UMG absorbed Virgin's British operations, Virgin Records, Ltd., to create Virgin EMI Records in March 2013, which in turn absorbed Mercury Records' UK operations.
Today, the operations of Virgin Records America, Inc. (a unit of Virgin Records, Ltd.) are still active and headquartered in Hollywood, California, as they have operated exclusively under the Capitol Music Group since 2007. A minor number of artists remain on Virgin Records America's roster, which today is mostly occupied with European artists such as Bastille, Circa Waves, Corinne Bailey Rae, Ella Eyre, Grizfolk, Walking on Cars, Seinabo Sey, and Prides. US artists include Knox Hamilton, L'Tric and Rise Against.
Branson and Powell had initially run a small record shop called Virgin Records and Tapes on Notting Hill Gate, London, specializing in "krautrock" imports, and offering bean bags and free vegetarian food for the benefit of customers listening to the music on offer. The first real store was above a shoe shop at the Tottenham Court Road end of Oxford Street. After making the shop into a success, they turned their business into a fully fledged record label. The name Virgin, according to Branson (in his autobiography), arose from Tessa Watts, a colleague of his, when they were brainstorming business ideas. She suggested Virgin – as they were all new to business – like "virgins". The original Virgin logo (known to fans as the "Gemini" or "Twins" logo) was designed by English artist and illustrator Roger Dean: a young naked woman in mirror image with a large long-tailed serpent and the word "Virgin" in Dean's familiar script. A variation on the logo was used for the spin-off Caroline Records label.
The first release on the label was the progressive rock album Tubular Bells by multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield, who was discovered by Tom Newman and brought to Simon Draper – who eventually persuaded Richard and Nik to present it as their first release in 1973, produced by Tom Newman, for which the fledgling label garnered unprecedented acclaim. This was soon followed by some notable krautrock releases, including electronic breakthrough album Phaedra by Tangerine Dream (which went Top 20), and The Faust Tapes and Faust IV by Faust. The Faust Tapes album retailed for 49p (the price of a 7" single) and as a result allowed this relatively unknown band to reach number 12 in the album charts. Other early albums include Gong's Flying Teapot (Radio Gnome Invisible, Pt. 1), which Daevid Allen has been quoted as having never been paid for.
Although Virgin was initially one of the key labels of English and European progressive rock, the 1977 signing of the Sex Pistols (who had already been signed and then dropped by both EMI and A&M) reinvented the label as a new-wave outpost, a move that plunged the record company into the mainstream of the punk rock era. Under the guidance of Tessa Watts, Virgin's Head of Publicity (and later, also Director of Production), the Pistols rocketed the label to success. Shortly afterwards, the Notting Hill record shop (above which the label's office was located) was raided by police for having a window display of the Sex Pistols' album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols in the window. Afterwards they signed other new wave groups: Boxer, Culture Club, Fingerprintz, Gillan, Holly and the Italians, Human League (whose "Don't You Want Me" was the label's first chart-topping single, in 1981), Magazine, Skids, the Motors, Penetration, the Ruts, Shooting Star, Simple Minds, and XTC.