Did any label impact the taste of record-buyers in the United Kingdom in the early rock-and-roll era than that of London? Ace Records has been chronicling the activities of the London American label on a series of definitive releases culling the best of the label’s 45s from one given year. Previous volumes have covered every year between 1957 and 1963, and for the most recent addition to the series, Ace has turned the clock back to 1956. In that year, London’s output included American singles first issued on Dot, Atlantic, Liberty, Imperial, Cadence, Sun, ABC-Paramount, Chess and Specialty, meaning that one label alone introduced the U.K. to classics from Little Richard, The Drifters, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry and Andy Williams. All of those artists and many more are represented on The London American Label: Year by Year 1956.
Compilers Peter Gibbon and Tony Rounce have taken pains throughout this ongoing series to showcase every facet of the London American label. For those readers not yet up-to-date on its story, The London label first appeared in America in 1934 representing British Decca’s operations in America. Back in Britain, the London logo made its debut in 1949 releasing material from its American counterpart, but also from early U.S. independent labels. It was in 1954 that a new prefix (HL) and numbering system (8001) was introduced, and it’s this series that is the focus of the Ace compilations. Some American hit records appeared on EMI’s Columbia, Parlophone and HMV labels, but the cream of the crop was usually on London.
In 1956, London American issued 139 singles, which the fine liner notes inform us was 33 more than in 1955 but far short of the 242 in 1958. Of those 139 releases, 23 made the U.K. Top 40 and 10 made the Top 10, not a bad percentage at all! Rock and roll and R&B were starting to take hold in 1956, and this volume opens with Little Richard’s searing admonishment to “Rip It Up.” Then there’s Chuck Berry’s atypically haunting “Down Bound Train,” Carl Perkins’ Beatle-influencing “Honey Don’t,” and Bobby Charles’ original version of his rockin’ New Orleans sing-along, “See You Later, Alligator,” more famously recorded by Bill Haley and the Comets. The “white R&B” of Pat Boone, later to prove controversial, was still going strong in 1956. The compilers here have chosen a comparative rarity: Boone’s recording of the Five Keys’ “Gee, Whittakers.” Boone actually scored London its very first chart-topper of the rock-and-roll age with his 45 of The Flamingos’ “I’ll Be Home,” also the best-selling record in the U.K. in all of 1956. Both The Drifters and original lead singer Clyde McPhatter received their first U.K. releases in 1956 on London; the group is included here via “Soldier of Fortune” and McPhatter with “Seven Days,” both originally on Atlantic in the United States. Blues great “Big” Joe Turner appears here with another Atlantic platter, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s “The Chicken and the Hawk,” a song also covered by artists as unlikely as Steve Lawrence!
There’s plenty more after the jump, including a full track-listing and order link!
Traditional vocalists were appearing alongside their rocking-and-rolling compatriots, and The London American Label 1956 finds room for Julie London’s smoky rendition of Bobby (“Route 66”) Troup’s “Baby, Baby, All the Time.” The young Andy Williams, still discovering his own sound and flirting with both classic pop and rock-and-roll, had a success with the romantic “Canadian Sunset,” a vocal version of Norman Gimbel and Eddie Heywood’s instrumental hit, recorded by Williams at Archie Bleyer’s Cadence Records. One of the more unusual hits of the year came from Bill Hayes and Walt Disney Productions courtesy Tom Blackburn and George Bruns’ “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.” Though the streets of London are a long way from the mountaintops of Tennessee, British listeners cottoned to the song and the character depicted on American television by Fess Parker. Hayes’ Cadence recording of “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” went all the way to No. 2, bolstered by the success of the theatrical version of the TV show as released in the United Kingdom. Far stranger, though, is the comic “break-in record” by Dave Barry and Sara Berner, “Out of this World with Flying Saucers Pts. 1 & 2” with its excerpts taken from the Modern Records roster.
Another fun rediscovery is Billy Vaughn and His Orchestra’s take on Kurt Weill’s “Mack the Knife,” known in this recording by its original title of “Moritat,” or “Theme from The Threepenny Opera.” Vaughn’s version of the 1928 tune isn’t as well-known as that of Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald or Louis Armstrong, but it reached No. 12 in the U.K. and No. 37 in the U.S., proving the adaptability of Weill’s distinct melody. (Vaughn’s recording would have been inspired by the 1954 off-Broadway staging of The Threepenny Opera that introduced Marc Blitzstein’s famous translation of the Bertolt Brecht lyric and rekindled interest in the musical.)
Ace’s The London American Label: Year by Year 1956 features every track in its original mono, fully licensed from the original rights holders. The deluxe 22-page booklet includes track-by-track notes from Tony Rounce, an introduction from Ace founder Ted Carroll, and plenty of 45 labels. It’s in stores now, and can be ordered below!
Various Artists, The London American Label: Year by Year 1956 (Ace CDCHD 1347, 2012)
- Rip It Up – Little Richard (HLO 8336)
- Soldier of Fortune – The Drifters (HLE 8344)
- All the Time – Werly Fairburn and the Delta Boys (HLC 8349)
- The Chicken and the Hawk – Joe Turner (HLE 8332)
- Down Bound Train – Chuck Berry (HLU 8275)
- See You Later Alligator – Bobby Charles (HLU 8247)
- One Night – Smiley Lewis (HLU 8312)
- Theme from ‘The Threepenny Opera’ (Moritat) – Billy Vaughn and His Orchestra (HLD 8238)
- The Ballad of Davy Crockett – Bill Hayes (HLA 8220)
- I’ll Be True – Faye Adams (HLU 8339)
- Seven Days – Clyde McPhatter (HLE 8250)
- From the Bottom of My Heart – The Clovers (HLE 8334)
- Chain Gang – Bobby Scott (HL 8254)
- Daddy-O – The Fontane Sisters (HLD 8225)
- Honey Don’t – Carl Perkins (HLU 8271)
- The Wilder Your Heart Beats, The Sweeter Your Love (HLU 8351)
- Baby, Baby, All the Time – Julie London (HLU 8279)
- Gee Whittakers – Pat Boone (HLU 8233)
- Walking the Blues – Willie Dixon and the All-Stars (HLU 8297)
- Fireball Mail – Mac Wiseman (HLU 8259)
- Trying – The Hilltoppers (HLD 8298)
- When My Dream Boat Comes Home – Fats Domino (HLU 8309)
- Get Up! Get Up! (You Sleepy Head) – Lavern Baker and the Gliders (HLE 8260)
- Underway – Tom Tall (HLU 8231)
- Ivory Tower – Cathy Carr (HLH 8274)
- Hen Pecked – Larry Evans (HLU 8269)
- Canadian Sunset – Andy Williams (HLA 8315)
- Out of this World with Flying Saucers Pts. 1 & 2 – Dave Barry and Sara Bener (HLU 8234)
All tracks released in 1956 on the London American label.