See also PYE-NIXA. This follows on.
Then see PYE – SLEEVES AND CENTRES
Galleries (2 or more pictures) throughout … click to enlarge
In 1959, Louis Benjamin became the Pye label boss. His background was theatre management (rising from office boy), and he was managing director of the London Palladium, and organized the Royal Variety Show. He is credited with the move into budget labels with Golden Guinea. Then cheaper with Marble Arch. Then cheaper again with Hallmark.
Pye’s studio at Marble Arch was up for hire to other labels, and they filled in time early on with budget covers like the Top Six series of six track EPs sold in sweet shops. In 1964 Pye started distributing these ultra-budget EPs and continued right into the 70s with the Avenue label. Benjamin believed in piling it high and selling it cheap.
He was in the job as Lew Grade’s right-hand man.
I moved him from job to job, sometimes over unfair opposition within the companies, because I recognised his talents. At the time when I would interview my top people every morning, between 7am and 9am, five days a week, Louis would always be one of the first in the office, and we worked well together.
Louis Benjamin, the Managing Director, ran a very tight ship. He was a human dynamo, small in stature with unbelievable energy. The first time you met him you knew he WAS Pye Records. His almost obsessive policy, probably due to pressure from those above, namely ATV and Sir Lew Grade was ‘Money Money Money.’ That meant making lots of it as quickly as possible. Cash register and quick turnover – that was the name of the game and all that mattered,
John Schroeder, Head of A&R of Pye’s Piccadilly and Dawn labels.
Talk about sharks…a guy named Louie Benjamin was the head of Pye at that time. He made Phil Solomon look like a prince. He may be, and still is, my most unfavorite person in the whole record business. A lot of people who recorded for Pye felt the same way. They were supposed to be the most backward of the big British labels. [Pye] were the smallest, they were certainly the most backward, and from my point of view they were the easiest to get into. Their sessions didn’t cost a whole lot, they had their own studios, so it wasn’t a bad deal for Benjamin to give me a sort of deal. I brought in an artist, recorded, and nobody was going to spend a lot of money. It was a trying time–Benjamin was not a wonderful person, but we marched on.
Shel Talmy, interviewed by Richie Unterberger, 2006
(Benjamin’s) idea of pop was girl singers, like Petula Clark and Sandie Shaw. He hated groups and refused to let his A&R people subsidise them with equipment. … Peter Prince, an A&R man at Pye recalled: “We signed a couple of groups and like all groups they came to the record company for help to buy equipment for touring. Louis Benjamin had never heard of such a thing. He was incensed. He banged the table, and screamed ‘NO AMPS!’
Simon Napier-Bell, Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay, 2014
Pye were an old-fashioned mainstream record company that liked working with acts that made hit singles.
Francis Rossi, Status Quo
The Pye-Nixa name was replaced by Pye on its own in 1958. These early releases may not excite!
Petula Clark soldiered on and Lonnie Donegan introduced the duo, Miki and Griff. She (Miki) was Scottish, Griff was Welsh and they had both been in the George Mitchell Singers back in 1947. They’d been going as a married couple since 1950 before Lonnie Donegan spotted them on a variety show. They specialized in country-lite cover versions and had a series of minor hits in spite of Griff’s offensive moustache.
Gallery: early EPs
Lonnie Donegan gallery … click to enlarge
Lonnie Donegan remained the best-selling Pye artist into the early 60s.
The Viscounts were 1960 hitmakers with Shortnin’ Bread (UK #16), in retrospect a surprisingly credible cover version. Their 1961 cover of Who Put The Bomp (In The Bomp Bomp Bomp) was a UK #16 hit. They sound good now … and were centred around Gordon Mills, destined to be a hit songwriter with It’s Not unusual.
Emile Ford Gallery … click to enlarge
Emile Ford was Pye’s other great hope. He was born in St. Lucia in the West Indies. He formed Emile Ford and The Checkmates in 1959. After winning a talent contest, they were offered an EMI contract, but Ford insisted he would have to produce himself. EMI declined, and Pye agreed. He produced What Do You want to Make These Eyes At Me For and sailed to #1, becoming the first black British artist to sell a million singles. Emile Ford Hit Parade was a #1 EP. He stopped recording in 1963 but as a recording engineer perfected the use of a recorded backing track for stage shows, especially useful when a singer couldn’t hit the note. Hmm. Not such a good thing.
Jimmy Justice had three Top twenty hits in 1962, and he was an Emile Ford discovery. He used The Checkmates as backing, with a name shift to The Jury (Jimmy Justice and The Jury). Albert Lee was briefly in the band. Justice also had the nerve to cover The Drifters on When My Little Girl Is Smiling and Spanish Harlem. Pye must have been doing something right with promotion. His version of When My Little Girl is Smiling was UK#9, tying with Craig Douglas’s offering from EMI’s Top Rank label, also #9. The Drifters original, on Decca’s London-American label, only made #31. I did a straw poll on this … in the UK, the Jimmy Justice version is easily the best-known. Ain’t That Funny was #9, and Spanish Harlem got to #20. The Drifters vastly superior original (US #10) did not chart in the UK. He stymied his own career by spending most of his hit year in Sweden, where he was very popular … and had several EP releases that were never issued in the UK. In 1963 he had yet another go at The Drifters with a cover of Save The Last Dance For Me, but his brief candle of fame had passed.
From the design point of view, Pye ditched the logo on front sleeves . The policy persisted. None of their rival labels did this.
The Brook Brothers were a wannabe Everly Bros imitating duo, who moved from Top Rank to Pye and had a couple of decent hits with Warpaint (UK #5) and Ain’t Gonna Wash For A Week (UK #13). Pye’s promo department must have had trouble thinking of EP titles – this was yet another case of Hit Parade Vol 1 and Hit Parade Vol II. Warpaint was a Howard Greenfield / Barry Mann song. The lyric would not have done a lad much good:
With your lipstick, powder and paint
You’re all dressed up like a-what-a-you ain’t
You spray your hair a different shade
We’re goin’ to a movie, not a masquerade
Warpaint, warpaint, you don’t need-a warpaint, warpaint
Can’t you see you’re not goin’ to fight a war
You’re only goin’ out with the boy next doorWhen you put your head on my chest
You get lipstick on my vest
You may think that you look cute
I don’t think it’s funny when you ruin my suit
It was sung with an unpleasant sneer. The girls my my youth club derided the song and the brothers along with it, though none of us could have spelled misogyny. They really were brothers, rather than shirts. The shirt company is BrookS Brothers.
Pye’s secret was having Tony Hatch doing the production. He moved to Pye when Top Rank was folded by EMI (along with The Brook Brothers), and he had his first Pye success with Petula Clark’s Sailor. It was swiftly followed by Romeo and My Friend The Sea. Both the EPs were issued in 1962, and both contain Ya Ya Twist. Ooh-la-la! is en français. The only one I bought at the time was Jumble Sale for my sister’s birthday, and she returned it to me when she got married. It’s a guilty pleasure.
Petula Clark’s hits for Pye span 34 years, moving from child star to pop pap (try Jumble Sale) to acclaimed middle-of-the road singer (Downtown etc) to chanteuse in French to an obligatory “album in Memphis” to the highest rank of Mature Established Star (1st class with honours). Petula Clark had started singing on radio in 1942, aged ten, and her dad’s label was one of the foundations of Pye Nixa. She just misses matching Donegan’s thirty-one hits, but in her case the time span is 1954 to 1988 with two or three number ones, depending on which chart you use. Sailor and This Is My Song feature in all the charts, but Downtown only got to #2 in the Record Retailer chart used by the BBC. But why worry? It got to #1 in America and sold three million copies. After that her next fourteen consecutive singles made the American Top Forty.
Most Pye hits of the next three years stemmed from Hatch, and he stayed working closely with Petula Clark. While Tony Hatch was doing this he found time to play piano with Davy Jones and The Lower Third (i.e. David Bowie) in a talent contest which they failed. Their Pye sessions are legendary and sought after.
Back to the boys: Mark Wynter successfully got the hit with Venus In Blue Jeans (UK #4) beating Jimmy Clanton’s US #7 original, and swiftly followed by taking Steve Lawrence’s US #1 American hit Go Away Little Girl and getting it to UK #6. Pye were proving as adept as EMI and Decca in ‘knicking the hit’ with British cover versions. They tried again with Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme’s I Just Want To Stay Here but justice (the abstract kind, not Jimmy) prevailed, the original got to #3 and Miki and Griff’s Pye cover floundered in its wake.
The early 60s on Pye were pretty keen on boys and cover versions (Mark Wynter, Jimmy Justice, The Brook Brothers). They put them all on Bye Bye Birdie in 1961, like Pye’s Sound of Music they rounded up their stars to do one each from a popular musical.
Mark Wynter’s version of Vote For Me on the Just for Fun soundtrack EP in 1963 might be the worst pop song ever. Version? No one else was ever dumb enough to cover it.
Julie Grant launched herself with another Drifters cover, Up On The Roof (US #5). Julie only managed a #33 chart placing with a more upbeat version. Kenny Lynch on EMI’s HMV label stole the hit though … UK #10. Tony Hatch produced Julie Grant’s version, just as he had Jimmy Justice’s Drifters covers. When he wrote Downtown he envisaged it being suing by The Drifters and hoped to place it with them. Julie Grant ‘s next record Count On Me made it to #24.
The “not Hotel California” Eagles
The obligatory instrumental group was The Eagles (who won the Duke of Edinburgh Award as “rhythm group of the year”). They played on the Some People soundtrack EP with Valerie Mountain. Some People is reviewed on my main blog here.
There was a separate EP chart in 1962 and Some People EP reached #2 or #1 depending on the chart, and was in the chart for 21 weeks. The EP also entered the main singles chart (which was allowed then), entering at #26, and reaching #22 in August 1962. The EP is not hard to find, so must have sold well. Its EP chart position and a further singles chart entry would have delighted Elvis or Cliff. Valerie Mountain was from Bristol, and had been a member of The Cliff Adams Singers, and recorded sixteen songs for a TV religious drama series (pre-Jesus Christ Superstar) called A Man Dies (1963). She didn’t follow up on the EP’s success and maintained her Bristol job as a punch card operator. The main theme, Some People was covered by Carol Deene and by Jet Harris. The sheet music was #11 in the sheet music chart.
Instrumental groups were hot … The Shadows and The Tornados were dominating the charts. Pye quickly followed with Newsound TV Themes, utilising the same cover drawing. According to their subsequent EP on the Pye label, Newsound TV Themes, The Eagles had been chosen for the Some People soundtrack after winning the Duke of Edinburgh Award as “Best Rhythm Group” at the Royal Festival Hall. This sounds odd as all other sources say they were awarded a Duke of Edinburgh Award Trophy because of their work on the film. Maybe they got both … I’d trust Bill Harry’s website which says Ron Grainer first saw them at the Royal Festival Hall. All sources agree they were discovered and promoted by Ron Grainer. They were all just eighteen at the time. Newsound TV Themes includes a guitar instrumental version of Steptoe & Son for a link to Harry H. Corbett and all four tracks are guitar versions of Ron Grainer tunes. The Eagles went on to do an LP The Eagles- Smash Hits which were guitar versions of current hits, They now have to be annotated as “The Eagles” (UK 60s).
Gallery- click to enlarge
In the early sixties, Pye had great success with comedy. The Best of Max Miller was released in 1958. Note he’s holding the “white book” and the “blue book.” Then there’s the American The Worst of Nancy Spain from 1960.
Tony Hancock’s The Blood Donor LP (on Golden Guinea) is one of the most common secondhand albums of all. It had a progress of decreasing price from Pye to Golden Guinea to Marble Arch to Hallmark.
As Golden Guinea were an LP label, the Highlights EP was on Pye, as were Tony Hancock & Kenneth Williams joint comedy routines. Benny Hill was popular with comedy songs, but they also did well with spoken voice. Benny Hill had three hit singles on Pye in 1961-62.
Steptoe and Son were also on Pye LPs and EPs from 1963. Both comedies were written by Galton & Simpson, and originally on BBC television. In those pre-videotape days a record was the only way to preserve a favourite programme. Why BBC allowed, or chose, a rival, ATV, who owned Pye, to issue its series is unknown. But significantly some BBC material went on Parlophone, and some on Decca, so maybe they wanted to be seen to be sharing it around. Philips, being foreigners, didn’t get any!
The Steptoe and Son theme, Old Ned, was recorded by Ron Grainer in 1962. In those days the BBC would run six one-off half hour sitcoms as ‘Comedy Playhouse’ to see which was popular enough to turn into a series. Old Ned was relegated to the B-side of Happy Joe, and credited “From the BBC Production Comedy Playhouse.” It soon became one of the most recognizable TV themes in Britain.
So in 1966, the BBC’s most popular programme hd an LP version on Pye:
Music for ballroom dancing was a major area, and EMI had Joe Loss and Victor Silvester as their stars. But there were also half a dozen specialist strict tempo labels, who could put “Official tempo recognised by the Official Board of Ballroom Dancing” and Pye joined them, adding the note and a Strictempo logo.
By 1962, the Pye group was reorganized with Piccadilly splitting off from Pye, and then a host of licensed labels appearing. Piccadilly was (in theory) newer artistes, relegating Pye for a while to more Middle of The Road acts, though the division was very soon confused.
Beat group era arrives …
The Searchers … the first two albums … click to enlarge
Pye’s major Merseybeat catch was The Searchers, another band of extreme longitivity, who were still doing shows fifty years on, and I saw them twice and they were brilliant. They’re the second most successful Merseybeat band in chart terms. Pye were lucky … EMI had hoovered up most Brian Epstein acts in the wake of The Beatles … Gerry & The Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas, Cilla Black, plus Manchester’s Freddie & The Dreamers.
They were produced by Tony Hatch for Pye … so inevitably they started off with Sweets For My Sweet, yet another Hatch produced Drifters cover. This time though they were covering a 1961 song in 1963 rather than trying to ‘knick the hit.’ They went to #1. The follow up, Sugar and Spice was a Tony hatch composition under the pseudonym Fred Nightingale. He fibbed and failed to tell The Searchers he was the composer, and they hated the song, feeling it was an obvious clone of Sweets for My Sweet. However, it was a UK #2. The LP Meet The Searchers was a UK #2 album. My youth club band bought it between us and learned six tracks. OK, Where Have All The Flowers Gone was done by everyone in those days, with the rule that you sat on the edge of the stage to play it. They did both Twist and Shout and Money, and we learned Da Doo Ron Ron, Farmer John and Love Potion #9 from their versions rather than the originals (or The Beatles). Their Love Potion #9 was a US single and reached #3 in America.
Tony Jackson erroneously saw himself as the star (was it the McCartney violin bass?) and left to form Tony Jackson & The Vibrations. His first single Bye Bye Baby merely got to UK #38. So Jackson was wrong, and the rest went ahead with Needles and Pins, Don’t Throw Your Love Away and When You Walk In The Room. Frank Allen joined them from Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers. It seems they’d originally heard Needles & Pins played by Cliff Bennett in Hamburg. Bennett’s band was reckoned to be one of the best on the circuit, and Frank Allen was a highly rated bass player. So The Searchers covered Needles and Pins, first recorded by Jackie DeShannon in 1963. They later switched lead vocals to Mike Pender, but most importantly John McNally added the 12 string jangling guitar part. That guitar part was noticed by The Byrds, who credit it as the inspiration for their version of Mr Tambourine Man. (Though Roger McGuinn also said their sound was “21% Beatles, 11% Zombies, 8% Dillards, 18% Dylan, 14% Pete Seeger, 16% Searchers, and 12% trial and error/ignorance/accident/originality.” The jangling ringing guitar is also on Jackie DeShannon’s original recording, though perhaps The Searchers brought more emphasis to it.
The Searchers EPs … click to enlarge
Pye also picked up The Undertakers from Liverpool, featuring Jackie Lomax on vocals. The Undertakers had declined a management offer from Brian Epstein, and were one of the earliest Liverpool beat groups (as Bob Evans and The Five Shillings).
Epstein’s protegé, Tommy Quickly, appeared on Pye (Parlophone and Columbia had their limits on ability even for Epstein) for his only hit, the wildly inappropriate Hank Williams classic, The Wild Side of Life. He was backed by veteran Mersey band the Remo Four. His earlier singles had been on Piccadilly, demonstrating the fuzzy line between the labels once more.
Pye had a good A&R talent spotting patch in 1964 to 1966, turning up hits for The Migil Five (Mocking Bird Hill, UK #10), The Overlanders (Michelle UK #1 in 1966) and The Honeycombs.
The Honeycombs had that unique sales pitch … Honey Lantree, a singing female drummer. Their major #1 hit Have I The Right was written by Howard and Blaikely and recorded by Joe Meek. The drumming was mixed high and enhanced by all five members stamping on Joe Meek’s wooden staircase with a microphone placed next to each of them, while Honey banged it out on the bass drum. Pye boss Louis Benjamin named the band (previously The Sheratons) based on Honey’s name and the fact that she had been a hairdresser. Honey, comb! (geddit). Have I The Right was an international hit, #1 in several countries and #5 in the USA. That’s The Way was also a decent #12 hit.
The follow up to Have I The Right was another Howard-Blaikely song, Is it Because.
Louis Benjamin predicted that their follow-up single, Is It Because, would climb to number one. Everybody believed that The Honeycombs could do no wrong. But pop fans can be fickle creatures and following a dramatic reversal of fortune, the group found themselves with a follow up that failed to register in the Top 30. They were the only chart topping act of the year that could not exploit their number one success … the group seemed relatively unconcerned about their status in the pop world … their lack of ambition was also reflected in lacklustre live performances which often ended in jeers from over-expectant members of the audience.
Johnny Rogan Starmakers & Svengalis, 1988
In fact, The Honeycombs were coining it abroad, and were popular in Europe and Japan, and paid too little attention to the UK.
Petula Clark & Jackie Trent
Petula Clark was invariably produced by Tony Hatch who wrote Downtown and I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love. The latter was based on his relationship with singer Jackie Trent and they co-wrote Jackie Trent’s #1 Where Are You Now.
The one collectors seek is from 1970 … Memphis by Petula Clark. Dusty Springfield did it. Lulu did it. Cher did … go to an iconic US studio and make an album.
So to The Kinks
Kinks on EP … click to enlarge
Shel Talmy, an American producer working in London, took The Kinks to Pye.
Everybody was scared to death of Louis Benjamin. He had no musical background, he was a theatre manager, but he issued orders and that’s why (The Kinks) did ‘Long Tall Sally’. It was not my choice. We did a hasty session of four songs that I had no hand in picking, and none of them were memorable … I was charged for the studio time by Louis Benjamin. He was one of the biggest assholes of all time.I really despised that son-of-a bitch. It wasn’t a usual situation so I did the first stuff in mono because it cost me less. I thought, if you’re not going to play the game, screw you. I’ll do it in mono.
Shel Talmy, Kinks producer, God Save The Kinks by Rob Jovanovich
The reason that Benjamin wanted Long Tall Sally is that The Beatles had covered it on EP, and he was aware that Brian Poole & The Tremeloes had cashed in by covering Twist & Shout from the previous EP. Little Richard? Elvis? No, Benjamin wouldn’t have known that. it was aimed as a Beatles cover.
When they got to You Really Got Me and Talmy and The Kinks were unhappy with the first session, they had to pay themselves to re-record it.
The Kinks, to the rock snob, were the jewels in Pye’s crown. I concur with those who place Ray Davies in the very top echelon of songwriters. The Kinks justly claim to have invented both heavy metal AND punk, with their early singles.
Pye were the quintessential singles label. They were incapable of thinking album for very long. Kinks EPs are highly collectable, which is odd because the 2 x A sides / 2 x B sides format eschewed rarities. Dedicated Kinks (£120 mint in Rare Record Guide 2022) and 1968’s The Kinks (£275 mint) are in three-figure territory mint. Pye also received many more EPs in Europe which are also collectible.
As soon as You Got Me had started climbing the UK and US charts, a month apart … Pye asked Ray to pen a follow up. They made it clear that they didn’t want a stop-gap single, but a second hit. Ray was also required to write an album’s worth of material to go with it. The bandwas only given four days of studio time for the record, and Ray had barely anything written. Partly because of the workload, he told the label he wanted to include some cover versions as well.
God Save The Kinks by Rob Jovanovich
On Kinda Kinks we still have Pye’s focus on 45s:
Such was the turnaround of albums in the mid-60s, the sessions were completed on 18 February and the record was in the shops less than three weeks later. Few bands are capable of sustaining high quality across an entire album and back then, when the industry’s chief output and focus remained the 7 inch, albums were simply made too quickly, the best songs omitted, reserved to be released as singles.
God Save The Kinks by Rob Jovanovich
Waterloo Sunset is a perennial Top Ten Singles of All Time contestant. Pye had no comprehension of what they had, and while Ray Davies struggled with a series of concept albums like The Village Green Preservation Society, Pye merrily chucked together random collections of Kinks singles for the budget Marble Arch label.
Kinks selections relegated to Marble Arch
The Kinks Pye LPs … click to enlarge
After the first couple of cover-laden albums, every Kinks LP was important. The thing was that The Kinks WERE an albums band. In the last few years there have been elaborate box set versions of The Village Green Preservation Society (SEE PAGE HERE) , Arthur or The decline and Fall of The British Empire and Lola versus Powerman and The Moneygoround, and there will be more.
Sandie Shaw EPs … click to enlarge
Sandie Shaw was discovered by Adam Faith, and managed by his manager, Eve Taylor, who named her and teamed her with songwriter Chris Andrews, who wrote most of her songs. Sandie Shaw shuffled barefoot through a series of hits … three #1 singles. Always Something There To Remind Me, Long Live Love and Puppet On A String. Girl Don’t Come got to #3. One of her secrets of success was re-recording her songs in French, German, Italian and Spanish and releasing specific versions in each market.
She did a very good album, The Sandie Shaw Supplement based on her TV series, won the Eurovision Song Contest with Puppet On A String by Phil Coulter and Bill Martin. It was her least favourite of the five songs (see the EP Tell The Boys) she sang for the contest preliminary selection. She later said:
Sandie Shaw: I hated (Puppet On A String) from the very first oomphah to the final bang on the bass drum. I was repelled by its sexist drivel and cuckoo clock tune … it was a horrible song… but it was really nice to win and represent Britain.
Phil Coulter: A lot of (the other) writers made the mistake of writing for Sandie Shaw, while we wrote for Europe. The song was geared to Europe, even down to using a bassoon on the intro. Right away you are in a fairground and we don’t waste any time. You have three minutes for a Eurovision song and the meter’s running. That long note at the beginning from Sandie is a rip-off from Volare.
She followed The Sandie Shaw Supplement with Reviewing The Situation an album which confounded those who liked to smile at her barefoot on Top Of The Pops, with covers of Dr John The Night Tripper’s Mama Roux and The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil. It’s a classic of the urge for rock credibility when you’ve been manipulated by producers. Her version of Love Me Do is an outstanding Beatles cover seven years on from the original.
She says she never got round to signing any of her recording contracts, so unlike any of her contemporaries she fully owns her own back catalogue.
Sandie Shaw: I never really worked with Pye. I used to do everything myself and licence them to Pye. I would give them the tracks, I would give them the photographs and we would do the press ourselves. So they were really just like a distribution outlet. Pye would have the most terrible contracts – and some artists are still stuck with those contracts today. When Pye was sold on, the lawyers were maintained (retained?) by the new proprietors to keep the continuity and knowledge, so no one could break those contracts. You should see these deals; they are all just so unfair. I think Donovan was on one, and The Kinks.But i was lucky because I only licenced my stuff to them, I owned it. But they still used to argue with me, saying I didn’t own it. I had those arguments for many years.
Record Collector #414, May 2013
Sandie Shaw albums … click to enlarge
The budget label Marble Arch version of The Sandie Shaw Supplement is as sought after as the original. See above. I wonder why.
Petula Clark, post Downtown was an international superstar.
In the CD era, albums focussing on girl singers at various UK labels are legion. Ace has done a particuarly comprehensive set of CDs, and Pye is a label that is prominent. Then there’s the budget Here Come The Girls series which have at least four Pye “Girls” compilations.
There’s some really excellent mid-60s beat group (+ girl singer) material on the Ace CDs. These were not hits, mainly stuff that fell by the wayside, and Ace treat Pye and Piccadilly as one label. Jan Panter’s Scratch My Back from 1966 is a fuzz guitar classic produced by Mark Wirtz, presumably with the usual session guys. It was written by Les Vandyke. Rare Record Price Guide 2022 rates an original copy at £250 mint. Two websites suggest copies have gone for £500.
Other highly collectable singers include Sharon Tandy and Dana Gillespie. The Breakaways were the standard UK backing singers and got to do their own thing on Pye in 1964. Even Pet Clark gets to rock out on Heart. It was a 1965 B-side and a translation of a song she wrote herself in French. Then Glenda Collins released Joe Meek’s nuclear war protest song It’s Hard To Believe It in 1966 which should have been a post Eve of Destruction hit, but it was banned from airplay. A mint copy will set you back £75.
Pye-related CD compilations:
It’s been said elsewhere that Louis Benjamin was particularly keen on female vocalists. John Schroeder’s autobiography gives a strong clue as to why:
Benjie was a bit of an ogre but I was to discover that even he and his management buddies were as wickedly normal as everyone else. I had by accident caught them discussing in detail behind locked doors at the end of a working day, the attributes and availability of certain young ladies within the company. “Would she be up for it?” I heard that question more than once.
John Schroeder, Sex and Violins, 2009
Yes, the Sixties were incredibly sexist in every industry in the land. “As normal everyone else” says Schroeder, i.e.he means as “sleazy as me.” People may find it hard to believe how extensive it was, but from universities to offices to factories to shops, sleazy blokes tried to profit from positions of power.
Scratch My Back is an outstanding compilation.
Jimmy Nicol and Shubdubs produced some obscure but worthy 1964 singles. Humpty Dumpty is ska. Jimmy Nicol was dubbed the “5th Beatle” when he replaced Ringo Starr for an Australian tour while Ringo was ill. He later replaced Dave Clark in the Dave Clark Five for a full season at Blackpool. The Shubdubs were very similar to Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames with a similar ska interest – Nicol also played with The Blue Flames. Shubdubs organist Roger Coulam later formed Blue Mink.
The border between also-ran and success for Pye is indicated by whether you got as far as an EP release, let alone an LP. Most groups never went beyond 45s. It’s informative to look at the October 1964 advert for seven Pye releases (one Piccadilly, one Hickory). Only one was a significant success.
Some Pye beat group singles are worth a lot of money from this era: Alan Bown, The Uglys, The Truth, The Riot Squad, The Soul Agents, The Wolves. When The Wolves pitched At The Club they were on to a winner with Tony Hatch … yet another Drifters cover. The Soul Agents briefly had Rod Stewart as lead singer.
The most expensive are David Bowie’s three Pye singles, hugely collectable, especially the demos.
The Truth have overwrought A-sides and great stomping B-sides. Their one chart success was a cover of The Beatles’ Girl. Pye really could sign the popular live circuit bands without getting much from it.
The Alan Bown Set with Headline News and Emergency 999 on Pye were one of the biggest live draws in the country, but inexplicably couldn’t drum up record sales. They didn’t need to worry, as they could command the same as, or more money than The Kinks or The Who in the ballrooms … but there were more of them. They shared a Live LP with Jimmy James and The Vagabonds on Pye, before moving off to MGM’s Music Factory, then to Deram, still without much luck. Alan Bown says they found Headline News as an LP track on an Edwin Starr album, and that as soon as it got airplay, Polydor rushed out the original as a 45. They split airtime and neither was a hit.
EPs … click to enlarge
With their skiffle heritage, Pye should have been good at folk, and they turned up Donovan. In the Dylan 1965 documentary Don’t Look Back, it’s obvious to all but the adoring Donovan that he’s having the piss taken out of him. But when you show the writer of Mr Tambourine Man a song that starts Hey darling, Tangerine Eyes you’re asking for it. You feel sorry for Donovan in the end, but then you read the lines on the rear of the EP Universal Soldier:
I’ve seen bewildered rambling streams of blood on black skin
I’ve seen V-Bombers growing in a field of insulated grass
and then you think, yes, indeed, it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.
Catch The Wind and Colours were mighty hits, deservedly so. Casting off the imitation Dylan tag, Donovan went and got stoned, wrote Season of The Witch, and went on to creditable psychedelia with Mellow Yellow and Sunshine Superman.
The trouble is Donovan’s own quotes. He was off to see the Maharishi with The Beatles and while there taught John Lennon a bit of guitar and helped write a few of their songs.
Like The Searchers and The Kinks, Donovan found his work rapidly shovelled onto budget compilations. They must have sold well, because they turn up far more often than the full-price releases.
Donovan in Concert in 1968 went the Music From Big Pink route. No writing on the front sleeve whatsoever, nor a picture of the artist.
What happened in 1968 with the notoriously stingy Pye management and From A Flower To A Garden? It comes in a heavy classical card box (for just 2 LPs) and each lyric is printed on a separate illustrated card. The cover photo is an infra-red photo, going for novelty like Their Satanic Majesties Request. The inner liner proclaims Phonograph Record: The First.
Donovan was signed to Epic in the USA who were doing better with his records than Pye, and there was some dispute about release schedules and what went on which album. My copy is Epic (bought in the UK). Epic had released both albums separately in 1967 before combining them in the box set, possibly the first ever. The Maharishi is pictured on the reverse with his disciple, and Donovan’s notes denounce the use of drugs (having got TM instead).
1967 on …
Long John Baldry gave up his mantle as leader of one of the best and most popular live R&B bands in the country to become a ballad singer to rival Englebert Humperdink. Let The Heartaches Begin soared to #1 at the end of 1967. He had more hits in the style in 1968 … When the Sun Comes Shining Through (#29), Mexico (#15) then in 1969 It’s Too Late Now (#21). Pye shouldn’t be forgiven for that sorry transformation. As late as 2010, ex-bandmates Rod Stewart and Elton John were still saying what a shock it was. I still rate Steampacket, where Long John Baldry was flanked either side by Julie Driscoll and Rod Stewart, while Brian Auger played keyboards, as one of the best live bands I ever saw.
The Foundations had a #1 hit with Baby Now That I’ve Found You. The story goes that BBC having just launched Radio One, wanted to avoid seeming to promote records that had had heavy (paid) airplay on the pirate stations. They discovered Baby Now That I’ve Found You which the pirates had missed altogether, and it fitted in with the current soul boom. These 60s soul groups are like a jar of Japanese pickles or a vat of port wine. They’re never actually emptied but diluted on a regular basis by adding new vegetables or wine or personnel so some element of the original is there. Clem Curtis and Colin Young sang on their first two biggest hits, and the band ceased in 1970. Most of the hits were co-written by Tony Macaulay, and hailed by some as the British effort at emulating (or imitating) Motown, and the band was proto-Two Tone, not that there’s any Two-Tone sound, just a mixed race band, like The Equals or Hot Chocolate. By 2014 there were two bands working as The Foundations.
From 1967, Geno Washington & The Ram Jam Band were shifted from Piccadilly to Pye boosting Pye’s soul credentials. All their hits were on Piccadilly.
Val Doonican had switched to Pye. May we skip him? Joe Dolan had a series of 1969 to 1970 hits, and as I used to switch off the radio when they came on, I’ll skip him too.
(The) Status Quo were on Pye in their psychedelic phase before they became stadium rockers and dropped the “The”. They had two Top Ten hits in 1968 Pictures of Matchstick Men (UK #7) and Ice in The Sun (UK #8). Then Down The Dustpipe got to #12 in 1970. In My Chair was #21 in 1970.
Francis Rossi: I wrote Matchstick Men in the toilet to get away from the wife and mother-in-law … when it first came out we thought it was marvellous. With a hit single and a place on Top of The Pops, we believed everything was going to change and life was going to be wonderful from there on. It takes a few weeks before you realize that you still wake up every morning, and one hit record doesn’t constitute a career. We were on half a per cent retail with the record company so we didn’t earn much compared to what we’d get now for a hit like that.
Status Quo: Just For The Record, Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt, 1993
At least Status Quo were allowed to get albums out on Pye, doing four in their four years on the label. They were produced by John Schroeder who had been the chief Piccadilly label producer. As they began to work out that a harder rock image was doing better for them, they found the relationship failing.
Rick Parfitt: Dog of Two Head was the album much more in keeping with what we wanted to do – heavier stuff. The feeling was good and relaxed, and we thought, Hey, this is where we want to be. The pumping rhythm turned me on, it made your hips sway and you felt sort of horny playing it … (We) realized Pye wasn’t behind us to the extent they should have been. John Schroeder, the producer at Pye, was a lovely guy, but he wasn’t into hard rock. He was Medallion Man: the barnet was permed, he was beautifully pressed, he had high-heeled Beatle boots and a chain around his neck- everything was perfect. So he wasn’t going to be right for us when we got into our jeans and T-shirts.
Status Quo: Just For The Record, Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt, 1993
John Schroeder took great exception to this description quoting it in his own autobiography. He also said:
(Colin Johnson)strongly believed that Pye Records were no longer the right record company for them … according to him, Pye did not know how to promote this kind of product. The band unfortunately supported this evaluation 100% which led to them deliberately breaking Pye’s record contract and signing a deal with Vertigo. I couldn’t believe they had done this, and rather cowardly behind everyone’s back. Benjie (Louis Benjamin) rightly was not about to tolerate this and subsequently issued a writ with a court case pending.
John Schroeder, Sex and Violins, 2009
Francis Rossi: The most important decision (our new manager) Colin Johnson made early on was to get us out of our contract with Pye. After four dud albums and countless flop singles, I don’t think he had to fight Pye very hard to get us out of our deal with them. They still insisted on getting a small cut from our first handful of records we made without them, but that was standard practice. What wasn’t standard was the slavishly minute royalty rate we had been on with them.
In XS All Areas: Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt with Mick Wall, 2004
In 1972 they indeed left Pye for Vertigo and far greater success. Schroeder was a company man right down to his high-heeled Beatle boots. So often in the music industry (and publishing) people pay the smallest pittance they can get away with then are amazed at “disloyalty” when the artist leaves. However, he seems a victim as well:
John Schroeder: Louis Benjamin kept a tight control on what Tony Hatch and I did and he would insist we had all our songwriting copyrights with him. That was really unfair.
Interview, Record Collector 389, September 2010
In 2008 Status Quo released an album with the tongue-in-cheek title: In Search of the Fourth Chord.
In My Chair: Status Quo, 1970. The picture sleeve version is worth £50 mint. Without the picture sleeve it drops to £20
Patriotic Pye 1966, 1968 and 1970
Pye were nothing is not patriotic. Lonnie Donegan sang the official theme World Cup Willie in 1966 and we won 4-2. Sales in Germany may have been poor though. We were too polite to mention that Donegan was born in Scotland, but, hey, he had a Cockney accent having been brought up in England..
They issued Bruce Forsyth’s I’m Backing Britain in 1968, part of Harold Wilson’s ill-fated campaign to persuade people to buy British crap, supported by Robert Maxwell and The Duke of Edinburgh. It was written by Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent and sold only 7319 copies, being a prime example of British crap in itself. The campaign foundered when it was revealed that the I’m Backing Britain T-shirts were made in Portugal … fast forward to our blue Brexit passports, made in France.
In 1970 they issued The England World Cup Squad “70” on Back Home in an attempt to stir the nation for the Mexico finals. It went to number one and stayed there for three weeks. We didn’t win.
In the seventies, Brotherhood of Man were their best sellers, with some disco from The Real Thing and some “This could have been recorded anytime in the last forty years” material, such as Lena Martell’s 1979 bestseller.
Brotherhood of Man – singles in picture sleeves … click to enlarge
Brotherhood of Man was a group of songwriters and session singers finally cashing in. They’d started with Decca’s Deram label, usually thought of as prog, though Brotherhood of Man couldn’t be further way. They switched to Pye’s prog label, Dawn for their 1974 Good Things Happening LP. Then someone realised they were totally mainstream pop, and switched them to Pye, and they won the 1976 Eurovision song contest with Save Your Kisses For Me. Their Love and Kisses LP was a moderate LP chart hit (UK #20). My Sweet Rosalie is their best Pye picture sleeve: they don’t appear on it.
50 hits in 15 months
1976 was a key year for chart success with The Real Thing, Sheer Elegance (Pye International), Brian & Michael and Brotherhood of Man. Brian & Michael followed The Honeycombs by scoring a #1 and failing to follow it up.
It is no coincidence that Clive Selwood was Marketing Director at the time. He had moved from CBS. In his fifteen months at Pye, they had fifty chart entries. As Selwood says, Pye replaced CBS / Epic as the top singles company.
Despite, or perhaps because of, my best efforts, Pye seemed unable to crack the album market. I believed this to be on account of the company being unwilling to invest the kind of funding required … though we did have a top-selling album with the Muppets.
Clive Selwood, Al the Moves (and none of the licks) 2003
Selwood describes the heavy drinking culture in management and finishes:
A few years later the company went out of business., the factory was sold, and their terrific catalogue was put up for auction. It has since changed hands at least twice. Perhaps it was the booze.
Clive Selwood, Al the Moves (and none of the licks) 2003
A number of 1970s records have an overprinted DISCO DEMAND in the centre. The series also had its own catalogue numbers beginning DDS (Disco Demand Series). This was a period when other labels were starting up dance labels (just as they’d started up prog labels five or six years earlier). EMI had Power Exchange, Phonogram had Janus and Westbound, CBS had Direction then Epic. Pye found it cheaper to rubber stamp DISCO DEMAND on top of Pye labels and Pye International labels. Why the Javells were Pye Disco Demand but Chuck Wood backed by Wigan’s Chosen Few was Pye International Disco Demand escapes me. Nevertheless it gets listed as a distinct label in the chart books. It’s a popular Northern Soul label.
Some stuff is surprising, such as Wayne Gibson’s cover of The Rolling Stones Under My Thumb. British singer Gibson had recorded it back in 1966 (and had it denounced by Mick Jagger), but its persistent beat, louder drums and tinny keyboard sound made it an infectious floor filler at the Wigan Casino in the early 70s. Pye re-issued it as a Disco Demand title in 1974 and made the Top 20, ten years after Gibson’s previous Pye hit, Kelly. Gibson’s first Decca single (Linda Lu 1963) was produced by Shel Talmy. Under My Thumb is as danceable a song as you can get, but the original wipes the floor with Wayne Gibson.
Pye and golden oldies
The Mini-Monster series are four track EPs of older hits in paper die-cut sleeves, playing at a conventional 45 rpm, and issued 1970-1971.
At the same time, Pye’s supposedly hipper sibling, Dawn, was testing out maxi-singles playing at 33 rpm. Pye used its own label for a maxi-single, For The Collector: Early David Bowie in 1966, with a Dawn style sleeve design (with the repeated logo forming a border on a cheap paper sleeve). Bowie had done three Pye singles in 1966 which were rare because no one bought them, and they were already sought after by 1972. The 1966 originals are now worth up to £1000 each mint, for demo copies, £400 for straight copies, but the humble 1972 compilation of them is worth a modest £20 mint, less if a pink or grey pressing from four or five years later. The 1972 ones are light blue centres.
Pye introduced the Flashback series of double-sided hits right at the end. This was the point where Golden Oldies series were coming from every label, usually “both sides a hit.”
King Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas, 1979 Flashback series reissue of his 1974 hits.
Pye Big Deal
Pye Big Deal was a series of 4 track 12″ singles at 45 rpm in 1977. The series ran to seventeen titles. This one is The Ivy League. In design terms they used their early 70s blue for the sleeve, and their later pink and purple for the centre label. It seems odd as a concept … surely a DJ would prefer just one track a side, though on short 60s singles, two will go on in high quality. The “Stax Classics” release had the same sleeve, but a yellow Pye Stax centre.
Gallery: click to enlarge
Pye in the singles charts (and not) …
|Lonnie Donegan||The Grand Coulee Dam||1958||6|
|Emile Ford||What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For?||1959||1|
|Chris Barber||Petite Fleur||1959||3|
|Lonnie Donegan||Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour?||1959||3|
|Miki & Griff||Hold Back Tomorrow||1969||26|
|Lonnie Donegan||Battle of New Orleans||1959||2|
|Lonnie Donegan||My Old Man’s A Dustman||1960||1|
|Emile Ford||On A Slow Boat To China||1960||3|
|The Viscounts||Shortnin’ Bread||1960||16|
|Emile Ford||You’ll Never Know What You’re Missing||1960||12|
|Lonnie Donegan||I Wanna Go Home (Wreck of the John B)||1960||5|
|Emile Ford||Them There Eyes||1960||12|
|Emile Ford||White Christmas||1960||4|
|The Viscounts||Who Put The Bomp (in the Bomp Bomp Bomp)||1961||21|
|Benny Hill||Gather In The Mushrooms||1961||12|
|The Brook Brothers||Warpaint||1961||5|
|Lonnie Donegan||Have a Drink On Me||1961||8|
|The Brook Brothers||Ain’t Gonna Wash For A Week||1961||13|
|Petula Clark||My Friend The Sea||1961||7|
|Benny Hill||Transistor Radio||1961||24|
|Mark Wynter||Venus in Blue Jeans||1962||4|
|Jimmy Justice||When My Little Girl is Smiling||1962||8|
|Lonnie Donegan||The Party’s Over||1962||9|
|Benny Hill||Harvest of Love||1962||20|
|Jimmy Justice||Ain’t That Funny||1962||9|
|Petula Clark||Ya YaTwist||1962||14|
|Mark Wynter||Go Away Little Girl||1962||6|
|Jimmy Justice||Spanish Harlem||1962||20|
|Lonnie Donegan||Pick a Bale of Cotton||1962||11|
|Miki and Griff||A Little Bitty Tear||1962||16|
|Julie Grant||Count On Me||1963||24|
|Miki & Griff||I Wanna Stay Here||1963||23|
|The Searchers||Sweets For My Sweet||1963||1|
|The Searchers||Sugar and Spice||1963||2|
|The Searchers||Needles and Pins||1964||1|
|Tommy Quickly & The Remo Four||The Wild Side of Life||1964||33|
|The Undertakers||Just A Little Bit||1964||49|
|The Searchers||Don’t Throw Your Love Away||1964||1|
|The Searchers||Someday We’re Gonna Love again||1964||11|
|The Kinks||You Really Got Me||1964||1|
|The Soul Agents||I Just Wanna Make Love To You||1964||–|
|The Honeycombs||Have I The Right?||1964||1|
|The Migil Five||Mockingbird Hill||1964||10|
|The Searchers||When You Walk In The Room||1964||3|
|Sandie Shaw||Always Something There To Remind Me||1964||1|
|The Kinks||All Day and All of The Night||1964||2|
|The Searchers||What Have They Done To The Rain?||1964||13|
|The Kinks||Tired of Waiting For You||1965||1|
|Sandie Shaw||Girl Don’t Come||1965||3|
|The Searchers||Goodbye My Love||1965||4|
|The Kinks||Set Me Free||1965||9|
|Donovan||Catch The Wind||1965||4|
|Jackie Trent||Where Are You Now My Love?||1965||1|
|The Honeycombs||That’s The Way||1965||12|
|The Searchers||He’s Got No Love||1965||12|
|The Kinks||See My Friend||1965||10|
|The Kinks||Till The End of The Day||1965||8|
|Francoise Hardy||All Over The World||1965||16|
|Sandie Shaw||Long Live Love||1965||1|
|The Kinks||Dedicated Follower of Fashion||1966||4|
|Petula Clark||My Love||1966||4|
|The Kinks||Sunny Afternoon||1966||1|
|Petula Clark||I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love||1966||6|
|Alan Bown Set||Headline News||1966||–|
|The Kinks||Dead End Street||1966||5|
|The Kinks||Waterloo Sunset||1967||1|
|Petula Clark||This Is My Song||1967||1|
|Sandie Shaw||Puppet On A String||1967||1|
|Val Doonican||If The Whole World Stopped Loving||1967||3|
|The Foundations||Baby Now That I’ve Found You||1967||1|
|Donovan||There is A Mountain||1967||8|
|Long John Baldry||Let The Heartaches Begin||1967||1|
|The Kinks||Autumn Almanac||1967||3|
|The Status Quo||Pictures of Matchstick Men||1968||7|
|The Foundations||Build Me Up Buttercup||1968||2|
|The Status Quo||Ice In The Sun||1968||8|
|The Foundations||Back On My Feet Again||1968||18|
|Donovan||Hurdy Gurdy Man||1968||4|
|The Foundations||In The Bad Bad Old Days||1969||8|
|Jefferson||The Colour of My Love||1969||8|
|Joe Dolan||Make Me An Island||1969||3|
|Sandie Shaw||Monsieur Dupont||1969||4|
|Pickettywitch||That Same Old Feeling||1970||5|
|Joe Dolan||You’re Such A Good Looking Woman||1970||17|
|Pickettywitch||(It’s Like A) Sad Old Kinda Movie||1970||16|
|England World Cup Squad 1970||Back Home||1970||1|
|Arsenal 1st Team Squad||Good Old Arsenal||1971||16|
|Parchment||Light Up The Fire||1972||31|
|Carl Douglas||Kung Fu Fighting||1974||1|
|Sweet Sensation||Sad Sweet Dreamer||1974||1|
|The Javells||Goodbye Nothin’ To Say||1974||26|
|Wayne Gibson||Under My Thumb||1974||17|
|Johnny Wakelin & The Kinshasa Band||Black Superman (Muhammad Ali)||1975||7|
|Sweet Sensation||Purely By Coincidence||1975||11|
|Brotherhood of Man||Save Your Kisses For Me||1976||1|
|Johnny Wakelin||In Zaire||1976||4|
|The Real Thing||Can’t Get By Without You||1976||2|
|Brian & Michael||Matchstalk Men & Matchstalk Cats & Dogs||1976||1|
|Wayne Gibson||Under My Thumb||1976||17|
|David Parton||Isn’t She Lovely||1977||4|
|The Muppets||Halfway Down The Stairs||1977||7|
|Lena Martell||One Day At A Time||1979||1|
|The Real Thing||Can You Feel The Force?||1979||5|
|Petula Clark||Downtown (Remix)||1988||10|
The Pye Anthology CDs … click to enlarge
CD releases have been patchy with Pye as the rights have changed hands so often. There is an extensive “Pye Anthology” series which also covers Piccadilly (Joe Brown, Bystanders, Rockin’ Berries, David Garrick, Ivy League, Clinton Ford) and mixes Pye and Piccadilly tracks. Pye were always cavalier on the distinction. There are also Pye Jazz Anthologies.
This is by no means all, but with some of the artists these CDs contain virtually all their Pye recordings. Also, looking at Amazon, some are out of print and commanding swingeing Reseller prices.