SEE (FIRST): THE DECCA GROUP
PLUS: DECCA GROUP IDENTITY 45 SLEEVES
SEE (ALSO): DECCA 45 SLEEVES & DESIGNS
So which is your Decca? British rock and roll of the late 50s? British beat groups of the 60s? The Rolling Stones? Or is it The Bachelors, Val Doonican, and Englebert Humperdink (see The Unwanted Ones)?
Decca has its roots in a gramophone manufacturer called Dulciphone, which started using the name Decca in 1914, when it introduced a portable gramophone which sold heavily to troops in World War One. Sir Edward Lewis, the man behind Decca’s success, became involved in 1928 and suggested they produce records as well as gramophones. Decca’s slogan was “Leading artists – lower price”.
The first release on the Decca label in 1929, was ‘an album’ which meant a set of three 78 rpm 10″ shellac discs, totalling 24 minutes. It recorded baritone Roy Henderson singing Walt Whitman’s poem to Delius’s music. SEE the end of this article.
Mahatten Beach / Washington Post: The Westminster Military Band, Decca 78 rpm 1931
Lewis took the helm at the age of 31, and his major innovation was to move into the dance band music of the 1930s, which was then booming. He lured HMV’s two biggest band leaders, Ambrose and Jack Hylton to Decca, and imported American band leader Roy Fox to run the Decca house band.
In 1932, he obtained the rights of the US Brunswick label, adding Bing Crosby, The Mills Brothers and Guy Lombardo. At this point, British sales were more profitable than American, because the rapid spread of radio stations had hit record sales in the way the internet was to repeat seventy years later.
Lewis went to the States, launched American Decca, and undercut the market by selling discs at 35 cents instead of the normal 75 cents. The market followed.
Record sales were decreasing again in the late thirties, and Lewis moved investment into military electronics.
During World War Two, Decca developed the Decca Navigation system and was a radar pioneer, its military connections forming the basis of its later position as a major defence contractor. A side effect was its research into detecting submarines. They had to distinguish British and German submarines by their sound from the air. Existing recording techniques were not capable of producing a wide enough frequency range for reference recordings, and Decca developed a new recording system, ffrr or full frequency range recording. This was about as wide a range as cassette tape thirty years later (80 cps to 15,000), and not as wide as compact disc’s 20-20,000.
It was a startling improvement on existing recording, and Decca and its subsidiary labels carried the ffrr logo through to the the 1970s.
In the late 50s, the logo ffss was added for stereophonic sound.
The superior sound quality enabled Decca to become a major exporter of discs to the USA under the London imprint from 1947, and London was very fast in adopting US Columbia’s new LP format in 1949. Decca produced the first British LPs in 1950.
They had enough sense not to follow EMI into rush-releasing 45s in 1952, but held back until 1954 when enough players were on the market.
Lewis also pioneered low-price (or rather mid-price) LP labels with Decca Ace of Clubs and Ace of Hearts.
As the flagship label of its group, what Decca had in common with HMV, US Columbia and DGG was that it was a major classical label and continued to be so. The name is still used on classical music.
Silent Night: Kathleen Ferrier c.1954 classical, 7 number sequence 71036
O, Mein Papa: Lsy Assia recorded 1949. October 1954 release 10097
Early on Decca singles divided into red label, gold lettering (classical) and blue label, gold lettering (popular). The new seven inch popular singles started with the numbering sequence F10200, but about a dozen earlier 78s were released on the new format, retaining their pre-1954 78 rpm catalogue numbers.
O Mein Papa by Lys Assia was a major European hit and the enduring popularity sees this early Decca 7 inch version in 1954.
Even in 1959, Decca was advertising its stereophonic capabilities for mono recordings. ‘A triumph of British engineering and craftsmanship’ indeed
Decca stereo LPs of the era carry a warning on the inner sleeve:
When held at certain angles the surface of this FFSS record looks different than that of a monaural disc … it may even appear to be worn. Of course this only an illusion caused by the unusual way in which the grooves of this FFSS record are cut.
I’m amazed secondhand vinyl dealers haven’t leapt on this.
If this disc looks worn, it is an illusion.
Kathleen Ferrier EPs
The series was classed as singles. They seem to have stayed in print for five or more years.
There was a UK and European market for classical EPs. Deutsche Grammophon did many. Surprisingly, their mainstay, Herbert von Karajan is on a Decca classical EP of The Planets in 1962. It must have been a license deal at the point where Polydor / DGG’s UK distribution was weak.
Decca’s reputation for quality is demonstrated on the 2015 CD box set Decca Sound – The Mono Years 1955-1956 “Orchestral and Instrumental.” It consists of 53 CDs. so at £102. is something of a bargain. The box notes say:
Today we take high fidelity sound quality for granted, but how did it start? When was the moment when compressed and scratchy sound gave way to natural, realistic sound that captured the whole picture of a performance? Decca Sound ‘Mono Years’ seeks to answer that question and shows how, 70 years ago, amidst war-time privations, a small team at Decca made technological breakthroughs that brought hi-fi to the world.
This latest cube explores Decca’s earliest high-fidelity history, and restores critically acclaimed albums from ensembles such as the Trio di Trieste, Quintetto Chigiano and Griller Quartet which have not been available since their original LP release more than sixty years ago. An equally impressive array of soloists includes pianists Clifford Curzon, Julius Katchen, Friedrich Gulda and Moura Lypmany and violinists Ruggiero Ricci and Alfredo Campoli. Several generations of cellists are represented with recordings by Pierre Fournier, Maurice Gendron and Zara Nelsova
The box follows Decca Sound: The Analogue Years covering 54 CDs from 1954 to 1980 with the stereo classical LPs in Full Frequency Stereophonic Sound.
Classical specialists have told me that the valuable records are early Decca for mono, and the early HMV and EMI Columbia stereo releases. It’s a refined and specialist field which I would not venture into, but Decca’s sound reputation stayed.
Mantovani & The orchestral easy listening
Mantovani was an early Decca mainstay, bridging classical and sugary easy-listening. To his probable chagrin, Mantovani records have blue labels, never the red (singles) or green (EPs) classical labels.
These versions of Waltzing With Mantovani show how Decca used pre-printed colour generic sleeves, and overprinted the disc titles. Colour and design changed with each print pressing run.
Waltzing With Mantovani: three pressings, L to R: October 1954 / November 1954 / June 1956
He soldiered on:
Mantovani Plays Strauss Waltzes Vol. 2: 1954, June 1955 pressing, DFE 6002
|Mantovani||The Song From Moulin Rouge||1953||1|
|Billy Cotton & His Band||In A Golden Coach||1953||3|
|Ted Heath & His Orchestra||Hot Toddy||1953||6|
|Ted Heath & His Orchestra||Dragnet||1953||6|
|Ted Heath & His Orchestra||Skin Deep||1954||9|
|Billy Cotton & His Band||Friends & Neighbours||1954||3|
|Ted Heath & His Orchestra||Swinging Shepherd Blues||1958||3|
|Ted Heath & His Orchestra||Tequila||1958||21|
|Ted Heath & His Orchestra||Tom Hark||1958||24|
Only For You: Dickie Valentine 1956 DFE 6363
Standards (EP): Dickie Valentine 1957 DFE 6429
As subsequent pictures will show, Decca were more keen on the 10″ LP format for “popular” music than any of the other majors. They were still doing 10″ LPs in 1961. Originally Decca called them MP (Medium Play) until someone pointed out that the initials had other connotations.
EPs are are a European speciality, and the UK EPs retain extra collectability because of the sleeves. For some artists France only issued EPs. The illustrations will be EP dominated here.
Decca – early 45s
Instrumentals were popular.
George Shearing Trio Vol 2 (EP): DFE 6030 November 1954
Goodbye Hawaii: Roland Peachey & His Royal Hawaiians DFE 6161 Sept
Robert Farnon and His Orchestra No. 3 (EP) 1955 DFE 6072
Gershwin for Moderns No. 1: Ted Heath His Music DFE 6290 November 1955, generic sleeve
Quick March! (EP): Billy Cotton & His Band 1956 DFE 6365
Make It A Party (EP): Winifred Atwell 1959, DFE 3670
Vera Lynn’s Songs For Children (EP): March 1955 DFE 6248
Vera Lynn’s Party Sing-a-long (EP): Vera Lynn 1955, angular logo, but soft card 6512
Gallery – click to enlarge
|David Whitfield||Answer Me||1953||1|
|Mantovani||The Song From Moulin Rouge||1953||1|
|The Stargazers||Broken Wings||1953||1|
|The Stargazers||I See The Moon||1954||1|
|David Whitfield||Cara Mia||1954||1|
|Joan Regan||Someone Else’s Roses||1954||5|
|Vera Lynn||My Son, My Son||1954||1|
|Dickie Valentine & The Stargazers||Finger of Suspicion||1954||1|
|Jimmy Young||Unchained Melody||1955||1|
|Jimmy Young||The Man from Laramie||1955||1|
|Cyril Stapleton||Blue Star||1955||2|
|Dickie Valentine||Christmas Alphabet||1955||1|
|The Stargazers||Twenty Tiny Fingers||1955||4|
|Dave King||Memories Are Made Of This||1956||5|
|Winifred Atwell||The Poor People of Paris||1956||1|
|Ted Heath Orchestra||Swinging shepherd Blues||1958||3|
|Max Bygraves||You Need Hands /Tulips from Amsterdam||1958||3|
|The Beverley Sisters||Little Drummer Boy||1959||6|
Most of the popular artists ended up doing an EP and / or LP with the Ted Heath Orchestra.
Decca Showcase Gallery: 10″ LPs Click to enlarge
The Decca Showcase series of 10″ LPs started in 1954, as an early compilation designed to sell other albums, and ran to six volumes. They give a good idea of Decca’s self-image as a mid-1950s popular label.
These were EPs in thin paper sleeves in aid of The National Playing Fields Association, and sponsored by The Lords Taverners (cricket club). The examples are 1956 and 1958.
In the 1950s, popular British entertainers on Decca included Vera Lynn, Jimmy Young, Billy Cotton, Max Bygraves and Winifred Atwell. Mantovani was their biggest overall pop seller. The Beverley Sisters became major stars, even having a major US success, capped off when Joy Beverley married England football captain Billy Wright in 1958, attended by twins Babs and Teddie as bridesmaids. They were the Posh and Becks of their day, which meant much, much lower key.
The Tops in Pops EPs ran from 1957 to 1959.
Decca were pioneers of stereo on 45 rpm EPs in the UK, mindful of their sound quality publicity.
Gallery: click to enlarge
Hits I Missed (EP): Ted Heath & His Music 1958, in early stereo, stereo logo STO 103
Swing Session (EP): Ted Heath 1958 STO 109
Hollywood Love Themes (EP): Stanley Black & Orchestra, 1958, new stereo logo STO 111
Tickle The Ivories(EP): Winifred Atwell, December 1958 STO 105
It’s all the easy listening stuff that ends up lying unwanted in charity shops for years. Stanley Black was a very good orchestrator, witness his work with Tommy Steele’s later musical tunes.
Novelty and comedy
EPs and 45s
Six-Five Nothing Special (EP): Morris & Mitch 1958, comedy spoof on the TV series
The Specialist (EP): Wilfred Lawson 1960, spoken voice classic DFE 6662
Kenneth Williams (EP): Kenneth Williams 1961 comedy classic DFE 8548
The Goons (EP) 1959 DFE 6396 All the hits
|The Goons||I’m Walking Backwards for Christmas||1956||4|
|The Goons||Bloodknock’s Rock ‘n’ Roll/ Ying Tong Song||1956||3|
|Tommy Steele||The Little White Bull||1959||6|
|Max Bygraves||Fings Ain’t What They Used To Be||1960||5|
|Tommy Steele||What A Mouth||1960||5|
|The Goons||Ying Tong Song||1973||9|
EMI’s Parlophone is usually said to be the UK’s comedy / novelty specialist, but Decca had just as much comedy and novelty: The Goons (the offshoots were on other labels), Morris and Mitch, Kenneth Williams.
These have picture sleeves, rare for 45 singes in their era in the UK. They are thin paper:
Note how early Decca EPs kept changing sleeve design. The earliest were easy as they were overprinted on base sleeves, and they probably ran one base at a time for different titles. With early jazz, it doesn’t make a lot of difference, but people do seek rock ‘n’ roll variant designs. .
“- And Back to New Orleans” (EP): Ken Colyer ‘s Jazzmen 1955 DFE 6268
The third one came in red, brown, yellow or orange too
At The Royal Festival Hall (EP) Chris Barber 1954 recordings DFE 6252
Decca EPs have a pressing date on the rear sleeve, so:
L to R: December 1955 pressing / July 1956 pressing / September 1956 pressing
Then in 1956 they go photographic, but colour still varies.
Barber’s Best (EP): Chris Barber 1955 DFE 6382 (glossy sleeve)
New Orleans Blues: Chris Barber’s Jazz Band 1959 issue of 1954 tracks DFE 6463
Ken Colyer’s Skiffle Group (EP) 1955 DFE 6286
Walking With The Blues (EP): Ken Colyer’s Jazzmen 1960, new rectangle logo
Decca’s jazz was firmly in the British trad style. Collector guides used to show highly optimistic prices for this sort of EP, but they sat unsold. This is not a popular area currently! The Ken Colyer’s Skiffle Group EP shows how skiffle started.
Some were ‘jazz’ without the ‘trad’:
Ray Ellington Quartet (EP): 1956 DFE 6331
Stephane & Django (EP): Stephane Grappelly & Django Reinhardt 1956 EP, this copy pressed in 1962 DFE6366
Our Kind of Jazz (EP): Ted Heath 1958 DFE 6500 square around logo
Skiffle, Rock ‘n’ Roll
Lonnie Donegan’s first skiffle record with Chris Barber was on Decca (he switched to Pye very soon afterwards). The skiffle originated as an interlude on Chris Barber live shows with either Lonnie Donegan alone, or accompanied by Chris Barber (a trombonist) on double bass. Chris Barber was a Decca artist, so it was natural.
Singing The Blues (EP): Tommy Steele 1956 DFE 6389
The Tommy Steele Story No. 2 (EP): Tommy Steele 1957 DFE 6424 (2 EPs from one LP)
Tommy Steele (EP): Tommy Steele 1959 DFE 6551
|Lonnie Donegan||Rock Island Line||1956||8|
|Tommy Steele||Singing The Blues||1956||1|
|Wee Willie Harris||Rockin’ at the Two I’s||1957||–|
|Terry Dene||Stairway of Love||1958||16|
|The Most Brothers||Whole Lotta Woman||1958||–|
|Joe Brown||Dark Town Strutters Ball||1960||34|
|Screaming Lord Sutch||Jack The Ripper||1963||–|
Both pop-exploitation film soundtracks:
The Golden Disc (EP): Terry Dene 1958 DFE 6459
Tommy The Toreador (EP): Tommy Steele DFE 6607
Decca boasts a large and collectable set of British rock artists, mainly doing cover versions of American hits: Tommy Steele, Anthony Newley, and Terry Dene. Terry Dene’s A White Sport Coat was the first record in our house, when my sister borrowed a friend’s record player and pile of discs. Tommy Steele’s A Little White Bull was my preference, but then again I was ten.
These early rock and roll efforts have been exhumed and carefully restored on a CD series (British Rock & Roll at Decca). Much of it is toe-curlingly coy, where the word “ain’t” is always sung in inverted commas in a polite accent. Anthony Newley sounds like an actor pretending to be a rock idol in the takes from the film Idle on Parade. This was before he started singing in the Cockney (or rather Mockney) accent that David Bowie admired so much. The lyrics of his Saturday Night Rock-A-Boogie have the odour of ageing Tin Pan Alley hacks trying to be hip with mentions of skinny Jim ties and drainpipe trousers. Rip It Up it isn’t. The Four Jones Boys attempting Tutti Frutti in the style of the Ted Heath Orchestra have to be heard to be believed.
Something of Decca’s establishment attitude was revealed when they withdrew the death disc Tell Laura I Love Her by Ray Petersen (US #7), on the Decca-distributed RCA label. They had thousands of pressed copies destroyed. EMI’s cover version by Ricky Valence became a UK number one hit.
The Decca recording of The Band of The Grenadier Guards performing God Save The Queen / Rule Britannia was on catalogue from September 1959 till the company closed. The National Anthem appeared as Short Version, Complete Version – Outdoor and Complete Version – Indoor, and this was the disc played by every cinema and theatre in the country at the end of shows.
Decca – pop before The Beatles
Decca were fond of solo male singers.
Tony’s Hits (EP): Anthony Newley 1960 DFE 6629 old Decca logo
More Hits From Tony (EP): Anthony Newley 1960 new rectangle logo DFE 6655
Decca Boy Singers EPs (click to enlarge)
|Anthony Newley||Do You Mind||1960||2|
|Mark Wynter||Image of A Girl||1960||11|
|Billy Fury||Halfway To Paradise||1961||3|
|Eden Kane||Well I Ask You||1961||1|
|Eden Kane||Forget Me Not||1962||3|
|Billy Fury||Last Night Was Made For Love||1962||4|
|Doug Sheldon||Your Ma Said You Cried In Your Sleep||1962||29|
|Billy Fury||When Will You say I Love You?||1963||3|
|Billy Fury||In Summer||1963||5|
In the pop interlude between rock and roll and Merseybeat, they had Eden Kane, The Tornados and most impressively, Billy Fury. Fury produced a classic 10 inch LP , The Sound of Fury, consisting entirely of original material. His management denied him the chance of building on it and sent him back to the day job covering American stuff and Tin Pan Alley offerings. He had the big Presleyesque voice which meant he was given a series of dramatic ballads like Halfway To Paradise, Jealousy, I’d Never Find Another You, Last Night Was Made For love, When Will You say I Love You.
Two of his LPs (above) were on the mid-price Decca Ace of Clubs imprint. You reduce the price by a third, you reduce the takings by a third. This shows their valuation of him. Billy in 1963 was full price at least.
Decca Beat instrumental
Honkin’ instrumentals were a field Decca cornered with Lord Rockingham’s XI, Nero & The Gladiators and Peter Jay & The Jaywalkers. They had major guitar instrumental success with The Tornados (independently produced by Joe Meek), then with Jet Harris & Tony Meehan, both ex-Shadows.
Telstar was named after the Telstar satellite and produced by Joe Meek. It was a UK #1 for five weeks, and in the chart for six months. It then became the first US #1 by a British group.
Telstar: The Tornados, 1962
Telstar (EP): The Tornados 1962 DFE 8511
Jack Good Presents Lord Rockingham’s XI From ‘Oh, Boy!‘ (EP) 1958 DFE 6555
Jet & Tony (EP): Jet Harris & Tony Meehan 1963 DFE 8528
Tornado Rock (EP): The Tornados 1963 DFE 8533
|Lord Rockingham’s XI||Hoots Mon!||1958||1|
|Lord Rockingham’s XI||Wee Tom||1959||16|
|Nero & The Gladiators||Entry of The Gladiators||1959||37|
|Nero & The Gladiators||In The Hall of the Mountain King||1961||48|
|Peter Jay & The Jaywalkers||Can Can 62||1962||31|
|Jet Harris / Tony Meehan||Diamonds||1963||1|
|Jet Harris / Tony Meehan||Scarlet O’Hara||1963||2|
The Tornados were put together as the backing group for Joe Meek’s productions, then to back Billy Fury, recruiting Clem Cattini and Alan Caddy from Johnny Kidd and The Pirates, because they were the most highly-rated drummer and guitarist at the time, with Heinz Burt on bass because he was blonde and Joe Meek fancied him.
Cattini went on to drum on more charting tracks than any other British drummer, while Caddy was the arranger behind dozens of late 60s / early 70s budget recordings on the Avenue label. The Tornados were considered the most serious rival to The Shadows.
A rare live LP We Want Billy! was recorded before an invited audience of guaranteed screamers in Decca’s Studio 3 in 1963 with The Tornados backing Billy Fury. Live beat group recordings from that era are rare, so it’s a fascinating document, and the cheesey organ was unusual in a band at that time. That Shadows comparison is from EMI, Cliff Richard & The Shadows Live At The ABC Kingston, recorded in 1962, but not released until 2002. Listening to them side by side shows Fury as the more exciting singer, but The Shadows wipe the floor with The Tornados, and the difference is that Jet Harris was a way better bassist than Heinz Burt, and Marvin a more exciting lead guitarist. The screamers are about the same.
Decca – beat group era
Decca rejected The Beatles so Brien Epstein said, because A&R chief Dick Rowe decided that guitar groups were finished. This doesn’t ring true for a company which was about to top both the British and American charts with The Tornados Telstar, and in a year, 1962, when The Shadows Wonderful Land (on direct rival Columbia) would break the record for number of consecutive weeks at number one. It’s been suggested that it was simply a polite let-down. Tony Meehan had produced the session, but attracts none of the notoriety that Dick Rowe had to live with. On Anthology 1 on Apple, five of the fifteen they recorded in a single day appear, and Mike Smith, the engineer gets the credit. Decca rejected The Beatles and promptly signed Brian Poole & The Tremeloes.
Their first release was an LP called Big, Big Hits of 62 consisting of rapid medleys of twenty-two cover versions. As both bands auditioned at the same time, and on their ability to perform lots of cover versions, no doubt Brian Poole & The Tremeloes’ ability to swing from Speedy Gonzales send-up to a rocking Let’s Dance, a soft romantic Roses Are Red and a yodelling Swiss Maid, won them the contract. They were also from the London area, requiring lower travel expenses. I figure that’s what Decca were after in the first place … a good band to compete with cover versions with Woolworths Embassy covers label, who were stealing lots of sales. Brian Poole & The Tremeloes never got credited on the front sleeve, but unusually for a covers LP., did get credited on the rear.
The Big Three were Decca’s Liverpool group, and the label did moderately well with the second wave of British beat groups; Bern Elliot & The Fenmen, The Nashville Teens, The Marauders, The Chucks, Them (featuring Van Morrison), Unit 4 Plus 2, as well as Brian Poole and pals. They secured The Animals for their last couple of singles. But the greatest Decca signing was The Rolling Stones who gave them eight British and five American number one singles. George Harrison suggested The Rolling Stones to Dick Rowe, and no doubt still smarting from rejecting The Beatles, he took a Beatle’s advice. Andrew Loog Oldham negotiated an innovative contract, giving The Rolling Stones the right to use independent studios, full production control and ownership of the masters. They also got three times the standard “new act” rate.
Decca Beat Era EPs (click to enlarge)
|Brian Poole & The Tremeloes||Twist & Shout||1963||4|
|Brian Poole & The Tremeloes||Do You love Me?||1963||1|
|Heinz||Just Like Eddie||1963||3|
|The Marauders||That’s What I Want||1963||48|
|Bern Elliot & His Fenmen||Money||1963||14|
|The Big Three||By The Way||1963||22|
|Brian Poole & The Tremeloes||Candy Man||1964||6|
|Brian Poole & The Tremeloes||Someone, Someone||1964||2|
|Dave Berry||The Crying Game||1964||5|
|The Mojos||Everything’s Alright||1964||9|
|The Poets||Now We’re Thru||1964||31|
|Nashville Teens||Tobacco Road||1964||6|
|The Moody Blues||Go Now||1964||1|
|Nashville Teens||Google Eye||1964||10|
|Unit 4 + 2||Concrete and Clay||1965||1|
|Dave Berry||Little Things||1965||5|
|The Fortunes||You’ve Got Your Troubles||1965||2|
|Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours||Mirror Mirror||1966||9|
|Crispian St Peters||You Were On My Mind||1966||2|
The Nashville Teens were rated as one of the best live bands on the circuit, and their Star Club Hamburg recording with Jerry Lee Lewis is one of the best “American star + British backing guys” efforts ever. Tobacco Road was the big one, but I prefer I Like It like That (the B side) to the Chris Kenner original. Unit 4 Plus 2 are remembered for Concrete & Clay, but were a tight harmony group with their own material.
Decca – female vocals
EPs – click to enlarge
|Lynn Cornell||Never On Sunday||1960||30|
|Louise Cordet||I’m Just A Baby||1962||13|
|Vernons Girls||Lover Please||1962||16|
|Billie Davis||Tell Him||1963||10|
|The Caravelles||You Don’t Have To Be A Baby To Cry||1963||6|
|Kathy Kirby||Secret Love||1963||4|
|Kathy Kirby||Let Me Go Lover||1964||10|
|Lulu & The Luvvers||Shout||1964||7|
|Marianne Faithful||As Tears Go By||1964||6|
|Marianne Faithful||Come & Stay With Me||1965||4|
|Lulu||Leave A Little Love||1965||8|
|Marianne Faithful||This Little Bird||1965||4|
|Goldie & The Gingerbreads||Can’t You Hear My Heart Beat||1965||25|
|Marianne Faithful||Summer Nights||1965||10|
Decca’s female singers included Kathy Kirby, Twinkle, Marianne Faithful, and Billie Davis. It was a sexist old company. Kathy Kirby was introduced to the label by her ‘mentor’ the bandleader Ambrose, who was her manager and boyfriend, a mere forty-six years her senior. Perhaps that’s why she always looked like an elderly man’s dream, or memory of a dream. Marianne Faithful had the Rolling Stones connection. Sixteen year-old Twinkle, with her self-written death disc Terry, was brought to Decca by boyfriend Des McClusky of The Bachelors. Billie Davis was stepping out with Jet Harris, who had a series of Decca hits with Tony Meehan. Lulu was the exception, signed via her female manager at the age of fifteen. She had an unbelievably loud and mature voice which she put to good use on her cover of The Isley Brothers Shout. She could still give it the same power nearly fifty years later.
Decca – blues and R&B
Rolling Stones EPs
The first topped the EP chart for fourteen weeks and remained in the chart for a year. The Rolling Stones are divided between the R&B and rock sections. All arguable. EPs in the R&B section because teen bands could afford them. LPs in rock below.
|The Rolling Stones||Come On||1963||21|
|Dave Berry & The Cruisers||Memphis Tennessee||1963||19|
|The Rolling Stones||Not Fade Away||1964||3|
|The Rolling Stones||It’s All Over Now||1964||1|
|The Rolling Stones||Little Red Rooster||1964||1|
|Otis Spann||Keep Your Hands Out My Pocket||1964||–|
|John Mayall||Crawling Up A Hill||1964||–|
|Zoot Money||The Uncle Willie||1964||–|
|Graham Bond Organization||Long Tall Shorty||1964||–|
|Them||Baby Please Don’t Go||1965||10|
|Alan Price Set||I Put A Spell On You||1966||9|
|Savoy Brown||Walking By Myself||1968||–|
It’s easy to think of Decca as the big boring major compared to the instantly collectable labels like Immediate, Planet and Track. Decca produced a good deal of home-grown British blues and R&B … Alexis Korner, John Mayall, Zoot Money, Graham Bond, Dave Berry, Them, and later on Savoy Brown. The 1964 compilation Rhythm & Blues is an all-British line up of great R&B material. On the downside, a few (Zoot Money, Graham Bond, Alan Price) just did singles and went elsewhere to do albums.
The John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers with Paul Butterfield EP was one of the last Decca EPs in 1967. It was recorded in 1966, and Butterfield was under contract to Elektra who only allowed a British release. The Bluesbreakers line up was Peter Green, John McVie and Aynsley Dunbar making it collectable, but it is a pretty generic blues record.
Them didn’t last long before Van Morrison departed, but produced two heavily reissued LPs.
John Mayall was a Decca stalwart 1965 to 1968, but then he departed for Polydor.
Savoy Brown stayed with Decca right through from 1967 to 1974, recording eleven Decca albums. They stayed on Decca too, while (say) The Keef Hartley Band in a similar area were Deram.
Decca – mainstream rock
SEE ALSO ARTICLES:
The Best Rolling Stones Album?
Their Satanic Majesties Request
|The Rolling Stones||I Wanna Be Your Man||1963||12|
|The Rolling Stones||The Last Time||1965||1|
|Them||Here Comes The Night||1965||2|
|The Moody Blues||Go Now||1965||1|
|The Rolling Stones||(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction||1965||1|
|The Rolling Stones||Get Off My Cloud||1965||1|
|The Rolling Stones||19th Nervous Breakdown||1966||2|
|The Rolling Stones||Paint It Black||1966||1|
|The Animals||Don’t Bring Me Down||1966||6|
|The Rolling Stones||Have You Seen Your Mother, Standing in the Shadow||1966||5|
|The Animals||Help Me Girl||1966||14|
|The Rolling Stones||Let’s Spend The Night Together||1967||1|
|The Rolling Stones||We Love You / Dandelion||1967||8|
|Alan Price Set||Simon Smith & His Amazing Dancing Bear||1967||4|
|The Rolling Stones||Jumping Jack Flash||1968||1|
|The Rolling Stones||Honky Tonk Women||1969||1|
|Mick Jagger||Memo From Turner||1970||32|
Decca was international with labels in many countries. EPs from France and Scandinavia from the main rock era are increasingly sought after, though always difficult to price for shops. France in particular avoided singles and put out 4 track EPs. The EPs rarely had titles so are known after the first track listed of the four.
I Put A Spell On You (EP): Alan Price Set, Decca, France 1966
Decca – mod
The Small Faces LP, 1966
Art Gallery: The Artwoods, LP, 1966
Mods on 45
|The Artwoods||Sweet Mary||1964||–|
|Rockin’ Vicars||I Go Ape||1964||–|
|The Small Faces||Watcha Gonna Do About It||1965||14|
|The Small Faces||Sha-La-La-La-Lee||1966||3|
|The Small Faces||Hey Girl||1966||10|
|The Small Faces||All or Nothing||1966||1|
|The Artwoods||I Feel Good||1966||–|
|The Small Faces||My Mind’s Eye||1966||4|
|Life ‘n’ Soul||Ode To Billie Joe||1966||–|
Likewise, mention of Mod calls to mind either the more exotic labels, or Pye, which signed lots of mod era bands (without much payback). But The Artwoods and The Small Faces were on Decca, as were Life ‘n’ Soul and The Rockin’ Vicars. Decca was so big that you can find a decent sample of tracks in any genre on the label.
The Hits EPs
These came out in 1966 to 1968, and are an oddity it’s that they were using originals to fight the burgeoning EP cover versions market from budget labels. They even echo the cover designs. They are the real thing, but the choice on any particular EP is wildly eclectic for most buyers, I guess. They give an overview of what Decca were pleased with as releases.
Decca did folk on LP, but were inclined to rely on the likes of Karl Denver and The Bachelors for anodyne chart versions. Even so, in 1963, they issued From A London Hootenanny on EP: supervised by Wally Whyton, arranged Karl Denver with Martin Carthy and Davy Graham on guitar. It was heading to be a folk supergroup, but it’s not an avenue Decca explored sufficiently. The Settlers was Liverpool local. Noel Harrison was folk songs on this EP. Probably, Marianne Faithful was as folky as they got.
Decca – right in the middle of the road 45s
Karl Denver EPs
|Karl Denver||Mexicali Rose||1961||8|
|Karl Denver||Never Goodbye||1962||9|
|Val Doonican||Walk Tall||1964||3|
|The Bachelors||I Believe||1964||2|
|Tom Jones||It’s Not Unusual||1965||1|
|Tom Jones||The Green Green Grass of Home||1966||1|
|The Bachelors||The Sound of Silence||1966||3|
|Val Doonican||What Would I Be?||1966||2|
|Tom Jones||Detroit City||1967||6|
|Tom Jones||I’ll Never Fall In Love Again||1967||2|
|Englebert Humperdink||Release Me||1967||1|
|Tom Jones||I’m Coming Home||1967||2|
|Englebert Humperdink||The Last Waltz||1967||1|
|Tom Jones||Help Yourself||1968||5|
|Tom Jones||Daughter of Darkness||1970||5|
|Tom Jones||The Young New Mexican Puppeteer||1972||6|
Lots of shades of Van Doonican (LPs):
Decca had phenomenal success with middle-of-the-road artists wearing cardigans in the mid 60s, with The Bachelors, Val Doonican, Englebert Humperdink and Tom Jones.
To be fair, Tom Jones was equally capable of being placed in the rock section (and near the top) instead of MoR, witness the stuff on Tom Jones on Stage which includes Bama Lama Lama Loo, and Lucille. However, his management steered him towards Vegas, big ballads and pantie-throwing ladies. The Atomic Jones sleeve was another red flag for The Rolling Stones, forbidden to show a toilet on Beggars Banguet sleeve when Decca considered an atomic explosion acceptable.
Tom Jones Decca LPs (Click to enlarge)
Englebert Humperdink, dominated the 1967 charts with overblown ballads, Release Me and The Last Waltz, at the height of flower power and the summer of love. Englebert was truly the anti-Beatle. Some of us have never forgiven him.
I found the title Twelve Great Songs … plus Release Me amusing. It agreed with my opinion that his version of Release Me was awful, so possibly the other twelve were not as bad .
Decca became so identified with MoR that they felt the need to launch Deram in late 1966 in order to attract some modern bands to the stable. The Rolling Stones singles were starting to look incongruous in Decca sleeves.
On chart entries, Decca’s ten most popular artists are:
|1 Billy Fury||2 Tom Jones||3 The Rolling Stones||4 David Whitfield||5 Tommy Steele|
|6 The Bachelors||7 Englebert Humperdink||8 Winifred Atwell||9 Dickie Valentine||10 Anthony Newley|
The chart is on the basis of 20 points for #1, 19 points for #2 etc which is highly unscientific. A Top 20 hit in December probably outsells a Top Five hot in August. The chart still shows that Decca’s years of dominance were in the 1950s. The most successful Decca chart artist, Billy Fury, never had a number one hit.
The flow of Decca artists to other labels was stronger than the reverse direction. The Animals were a rare exception, moving EMI to Decca. Those with strong managers, like Lulu and later The Rolling Stones did not hang around. Lulu went to Columbia. The Tremeloes went to CBS. Both went to greater success.
Keith Richards took a great dislike to Sir Edward Lewis. He describes Allan Klein’s meeting over renegotiating contracts:
Keith Richards: We were just there as intimidation, basically. And it worked. Sir Edward Lewis, the chairman of Decca was behind the desk, and Sir Edward was actually drooling. I mean, not over us, he was just drooling. And then someone would come over and pat him with a handkerchief. He was on his last legs, let’s face it. We just stood there with shades on. It was really the old guard and the new. They crumbled and we walked out with a deal bigger than The Beatles … And Sir Edward Lewis, he might have been drooling and everything, but he wasn’t stupid. He made a lot of money off of that deal himself. It was an incredibly successful deal for both parties … I’m still getting paid off of it; it’s called the Decca balloon.
From Life by Keith Richards, p179
By 1970, cracks had appeared in the edifice. The Rolling Stones, isolated as the only rock band left on Decca (the rest had been shifted to Deram), left in anger, leaving their contractual obligation single behind: Cocksucker Blues. It was not released.
The Rolling Stones were particularly incensed by the discovery that Decca’s profits went into developing their radar branch.
Keith Richards: We found out that all the bread we were making for Decca was going into making little black boxes that go into American Air Force bombers to bomb fucking North Vietnam … That was it. Goddamn. You find out you’ve helped to kill God knows how many thousands of people without even knowing it.
A famous quote, here from ‘Jagger Unauthorized’ by Christopher Andersen
Sir Edward Lewis’s iron grip on the company left them ill-equipped to compete for US labels or younger bands. It was an ageing label, with ageing artists selling to an ageing public. In 1973, releases were switched to the MCA name.
Lewis resisted change and by 1979 the Navigator and Electronics divisions fell into loss, leaving them unable to prop up the ailing record labels any longer.
In February 1980, three weeks after Lewis died, the record labels and name were sold to Polygram. In 1983, the name of the surviving sections was changed to London for popular music.
Decca digital recordings
Decca had been at the forefront of digital recording of classical music. proclaiming ‘Digital Recording’ on LPs from 1979, then being used as a major classical brand by Polygram in the CD era. The early classical CDs seemed Decca dominated. I started collecting the Charles Dutoit / Orchestra Symphonique de Montréal recordings.
In 1996 UMG (Universal Music Group) acquired Poygram.
In 1999, UMG combined Decca with Philips to form the Decca Music Group within UMG. At first Decca was classical, then new artists were given Decca labels. There are two Universal Music label groups now using the Decca name. The Decca Label Group is the US label whereas the London-based Decca Music Group runs the international classical and pop release.
Eventually Decca was the parent ‘name’ for Blue Note, Verve, Philips, Deutsche Grammophon.
Imelda May CD sampler 2010
Decca has been revived as a prestige label in recent years with artists seeing it as a mark of quality: The Lumineers, Imelda May, Robert Plant, Rod Stewart, Rufus Wainwright, Russell Watson, Brian Wilson.
In 2019, Decca issued a 90th Anniversary set of their first ever record, Roy Henderson’s Sea Drift.
Recorded by baritone Roy Henderson, this 24-minute piece is Frederick Delius’ setting of Walt Whitman’s poetry to music, creating a shifting, gentle piece, that has always remained a firm favourite of fans of the composer. This recording is presented twice: a ‘needle drop’ flat transfer of the original 1929 recording on the A sides of the 3 discs, and then a cleaned up as much as possible version on the B sides. Both sides will be available digitally on a download card. ‘Sea Drift’ is housed in a beautiful, gold and black embossed 10-inch circular tin, which replicates the majesty of that early label – a bust of Beethoven presiding over the bold claim ‘The Supreme Record’.
It’s a fascinating exercise – with 33 rpm vinyl you can easily get both sides (and much more) of a 78 rpm shellac disc. You can hear what the original sounded like and how much clean-up is possible. I do think given the fascination with what can be done to the record, a download card may be superfluous.