Friday, April 03, 2009

Labels of love

Anyone collecting vinyl 45s issued in the fifties and sixties will have a soft spot for the record labels of the era. Beatles fans will no doubt regard the Parlophone label as the most ground breaking, while Stones collectors will feel the same way about Decca. For me, and for most rock and roll collectors, THE label of choice was London American, which issued classic tracks by Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino and literally hundreds of others.

As I've mentioned before I kept a record of my personal top tens for nearly six years from early 1960 to the end of 1965 and London stands out as the label with the most entries (243) - three times more than the next most prolific - Stateside with 85. Following along behind are RCA (77), Pye International (57), Columbia (47), HMV (44), Top Rank and Warner Brothers (both 28), Capitol and Liberty (27), Coral (23) and Brunswick, Mercury and MGM (all 22). Primarily UK issue labels such as Parlophone, Decca, Pye and Philips/Fontana lagged behind, demonstrating my strong preference for American recordings.

The peak years for the London label were from 1960 to 1963 and by 1965 it had shrunk to just a handful of top ten entries. By then the key labels - for me at least - were Atlantic, Tamla Motown, Chess, and, to a lesser extent, Cameo Parkway and United Artists. The era of a small number of EMI, Decca group and Pye labels issuing nearly every American record that came out in the UK was over and these US giants had established their rightful place as UK labels in their own right. Some less well known UK labels such as Vocalion and Oriole had their moment in the sun in the early 60s releasing Duke/Peacock and Tamla Motown records for a while, and of course Sue opened up a whole new range of great US soul and blues 45s. But by the end of the sixties, with the establishment of Stax in its own right, plus the Soul City and Action labels, the scene had changed completely and London American was a pale shadow of its former glory.

For collectors like me sifting through a pile of old 45s at a boot sale means looking out for the great 50s and 60s labels, most of which were issued without picture sleeves, but we also have to keep an eye open for the ska labels of the era, such as Bluebeat, Island, Black Swan, Doctor Bird, Ska Beat and Rio. And don't get me started on the great US labels to look out for - maybe some other time...


At 2:44 am , Blogger Private Beach said...

Few record labels have personalities these days. Most great labels - Atlantic, Sun, Island, Elektra, Stax, Charisma - start out by issuing the kind of music their founders love, and reflect their personal taste. Over time they all end up in the hands of big corporations that dilute their essence and may eventually (as with Decca recently) kill them off.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home