Tuesday, 30 January 2018

$tateside, London American and Pye International - the record labels that brought us great American music in the early '60s

I experience a warm glow at the very thought of those labels - far more than I do when I'm reminded of, say, Parlophone, EMI, Top Rank, Pye or Decca. That's because $tateside, London American and Pye International's main function was to release singles and EPs of American material which UK labels had licensed from  labels in the States. Not every record released via these subsidiaries was brilliant - but a fair proportion of the great singles released before the British Invasion - i.e between 1956 and 1963 - appeared on one of the three. Even after the British Invasion, the number of brilliant American tracks released here remained high: British beat combos were recording cover versions of formerly obscure American hits (primarily R&B) - and British companies realised they'd already licensed many of the originals. I'm going to switch to full train-spotter mode and take a look at what each label was offering the 'Oi'll geeve eet foive" generation, starting with $tateside...

...which was launched by EMI in 1962 as a replacement for Top Rank, which had folded.
$tateside's ready-made supply of singles came from EMI's existing deals with a whole range of notable US labels, including Swan, Amy, Bell, 20th Century Fox, Scepter, Vee-Jay, A&M, and - later - Tamla-Motown. Its first UK chart hit was Freddie Cannon's "Palisades Park" (which I bought at the time and still own).  That was followed by a whole slew of '60s classics - here are 20 of the greatest (I'll limit myself to one record per artist, even though the label released most of their other recordings during this period):

"Twist and Shout", The Isley Brothers
"Any Day Now", Chuck Jackson
"Sherry", The Four Seasons
"He's So Fine", The Chiffons
"Memphis", Lonnie Mack
"A Lover's Concerto", The Toys
"Sally Go Round the Roses", The Jaynetts
"GTO", Ronny and the Daytonas
"Shame, Shame, Shame", Jimmy Reed
"Jack the Ripper", Link Wray
"It's in His Kiss", Betty Everett
"My Guy", Mary Wells
"Where Did Our Love Go", The Supremes
"Dancing in the Street", Martha and the Vandellas
"How Sweet It Is to Be Loved By You", Marvin Gaye
"Ride Your Pony", Lee Dorsey
"Shake Your Hips", Slim Harpo
"Dimples", John Lee Hooker
"He Was Really Sayin' Something", The Velvelettes
"Keep Searchin'", Del Shannon

A complete list of singles released by $tateside can be found here.

Now to Pye International, which Pye established in 1958 - again, to distribute American records in the UK. In time, they would handle recordings from Chess, A&M, Kama Sutra, Colpix, Warner Bros., Buddah, Cameo, 20th Century, and King,  From 1964 onwards, the company started leasing records by its British artists (e.g. The Searchers, Petula Clark, The Kinks, David Bowie, Donovan and  Status Quo) to the American labels whose product they handled in the UK; and, in the same year, with the British Blues boom ramping up, they added the legend "R&B" to the central spindle of some records on the Pye International label, in particular Chess and Checker numbers by the likes of  Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. Pye International's first release was Ritchie Valens's brilliant 'Come on Let's Go" - many other US classics followed, including:

"Sleep Walk", Santo & Johnny
"At Last", Etta James
"Blue Moon", The Marcels
"Pony Time", Don Covay
"Party Lights", Claudine Clark
"Louie Louie", The Kingsmen
"If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody", James Ray
"Peanut Butter", Marathons
"You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover/I Can Tell", Bo Diddley
"Smokestack Lightnin'", Howlin' Wolf
"California Sun", The Rivieras
"My Babe", Little Walter
"Hi-Heel Sneakers", Tommy Tucker
"The Jerk", The Larks
"Laugh Laugh", The Beau Brummels
"Do You Belive in Magic?", The Lovin' Spoonful
"Treat Her Right", Roy Head
"It's a Man's Man's Man's Man's World", James Brown
"The More I See You", Chris Montez
"Anyone Who Had a Heart", Dionne Warwick

A complete list of singles issued on the Pye International label can be found here.

I've left Decca's London American label until last, because the range of US labels it had deals with - and the fact that it got a healthy head start on its rivals - meant that its Rock 'n' Roll, R&B and Pop output was second to none in terms of quality and quantity. The labels it distributed included (at various times) Imperial, Chess, Dot, Atlantic, Specialty, Sun, Big Top, Monument, Parrot, Philles, and Hi. Wowsers! It would be impossible to do justice to the label's glorious discography with a list of my all-time favourite Top 20 releases, so I'll choose 20 from each of two years. Here's my Top 20 London  American singles from 1957:

"Blue Monday", Fats Domino
"Great Balls of Fire", Jerry Lee Lewis
"Lucille", Little Richard
"Twenty Flight Rock", Eddie Cochran
"Rock the Joint", Bill Haley
"I Walk the Line",  Johnny Cash
"Rock and Roll Music", Chuck Berry
"Matchbox", Carl Perkins
"Bye Bye Love", The Everly Borhters
"C.C. Rider", Chuck Willis
"Searchin'", The Coasters
"Susie Q",  Dale Hawkins
"Little Darlin'", The Gladiolas
"You Send Me", Sam Cooke
"Raunchy", Bill Justice
"Saturday Night", Roy Brown
"Feelin' Low", Ernie Chaffin
"Come Go with Me", The Del-Vikings
"Mr. Lee", The Bobbettes
"Shame, Shame, Shame", Smiley Lewis

That is one hell of a list - well nigh unmatchable, especially as (let me remind you) many of those artists had multiple recordings released on London American during the year - I haven't even included "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" or "Roll Over Beethoven"! But then I randomly chose 1961 - and the label's offering for that year was almost as good:

"Shop Around", The Miracles
"Stick Shift", The Duals
"It's Gonna Work Out Fine", Ike and Tina Turner
"Hurt", Timmy Yuro
"The Mountain's High", Dick and Deedee
"Tower of Strength", Gene McDaniels
"Stand By Me", Ben E. King
"Nature Boy", Bobby Darin
"Sweets for My Sweet", The Drifters
"Let the Four Winds Blow", Fats Domino
"Let There Be Drums", Sandy Nelson
"Mother-in-Law", Ernie K. Doe
"Runaway", Del Shannon
"Hello Mary Lou", Ricky Nelson
"I Like It Like That", Chris Kenner
"Chills and Fever", Ronnie Love
"Little Egypt", The Coasters
"Will You Love Me Tomorrow", The Shirelles
"Love Hurts", Roy Orbison
"Speedy Gonalez", Pat Boone

Speechless, I tell you - speechless. In the unlikely event you're as much of a pop train-spotter as I am, Discogs has a complete list of London American releases going all the way back to 1952, here.

I know the companies that owned these these three rebadging labels didn't produce any of the music that appeared on them: but I nevertheless feel they deserve a huge round of applause and a deluge of gratitude for acting as a conduit for the greatest popular music being created anywhere in the world - especially at a time when 99.99% of British pop was absolute crap.


  1. London American was clearly top dog.
    Collectively I had more Coral, RCA, and Liberty.
    The thing is what to do with all this vinyl. Pass them on in one's Will - you may not be thanked, trade them on line, or buy an old record player?

    1. I'd recommend buying a new turntable that works with your current state-of-the-art digital equipment - bit pricey, and you really have to check that it's compatible with your current amplifier, but the sound's great. Pro-Ject seem to be top dogs in the field (I bought one about ten years ago, which came in handy when my son started buying vinyl).

      About seven or eight years ago I bought one of those cheap turntables that allow you transfer all your old records into digital formats. Sort of worked okay, and it retained all the nostalgia-inducing hisses and pops - oddly, lots of the old '50s rock'n' roll singles sounded more authentic and exciting than pristine versions bought from iTunes or downloaded from YouTube.

      I was happy to ditch all my old cassettes after transferring them to MP3 - nasty little format - but I didn't have the heart to get rid of any vinyl. If you can, I'd hold onto what you've got.

  2. And if any one needs validation of your point about the dire state of British pop at the time, the Talking Pictures feature film Live It Up, starring David Hemmings, is a painful reminder of nights spent covertly tuned into Radio Luxembourg in the hope of picking up at least something worth listening to.

    1. Worth watching just to see Heinz sing the title song - weak voice and a demented expression obviously meant to appeal to soppy teenage girls. A singularly unprepossessing-looking individual, who, one suspects, spent a lot of his time being beaten up. Deservedly.

      I also enjoyed watching heavy metal guitar god Ritchie Blackmore as one of The Outlaws, dancing like a complete twassock while miming to an appalling Shadows rip-off number. Then, suddenly, there were The Beatles, The Stones and The Animals, and the nightmare of early British pop was well and truly over.

      If you get a chance, take a gander at the 1962 Acker Bilk masterpiece, Band of Thieves. Priceless.

  3. Heinz was a "protegé" of Joe Meek, who discovered him working as a bacon slicer in a local grocery and spotted a musical talent not discernible to neutral observers. He persuaded Heinz to go peroxide but Joe's disposition did not give him much of an insight into what would appeal to teenage girls. That, together with the realisation that no amount of overdubbing and studio trickery couldn't disguise the fact he couldn't sing, brought Heinz's pop career to a mercifully quick conclusion. Joe's limped on until he shot his landlady and then himself.

    I rarely listen to the Beatles these days but like them or not, we all owe them an enormous debt.

    1. The odd thing is that, whereas a number of really atrocious early '60s acts survive via films and TV shows, no footage exists of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates - a great singer, a great band, oodles of stage presence, and a stack of wonderful singles. We can watch Jess Conrad singing "Rag Doll" - but not Mr.Kidd and his colleagues performing "Shakin' All Over". Outrageous, I call it.

  4. They were hedging their bets weren't they, the producers of 60s British musicals? They weren't sure that beat groups would last so they insisted that the ones they used were reasonably photogenic, with added David Hemmings, but counterbalanced them with tried and tested family entertainers like Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen. Likewise, what little there was of rock and roll interest in Cliff was surgically removed for the films and replaced with the Norrie Paramor Orchestra.

    A great shame about Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, some of whom turned briefly into the Tornados. The Joe Moretti solo in Shakin' All Over still sounds as fresh as the day it was made.

    1. As does his wonderful guitar work on Vince Taylor's Brand New Cadillac - and we mustn't forget his role as a member of Nero & The Gladiators (especially "In the Hall of the Mountain King"). I enjoyed this snippet about Moretti from a 2012 Independent obituary:

      'Moretti did not tour with the Pirates as he was working in the Beat Boys with Gene Vincent. Vincent's agent, Larry Parnes gave Moretti £7 to go to Italy for a TV date, not appreciating that he needed the same amount to return. Moretti had to sell his guitar to get home. He borrowed a Fender Telecaster for a UK tour with Vincent, but almost immediately Vincent crashed into him on stage and broke the guitar. He said of his time with Vincent, "He didn't have a set list. Every song began with the word 'Well-ll-ll-ll" and we had to guess what it was going to be."'