Top Rank

Rank Organisation Advert 1955, before the record label

The Rank Organisation and its founder, Sir J. Arthur Rank, had its name immortalised in Cockney rhyming slang, as seen in the 60s movie The Bofors Gun. You can guess what having a J.Arthur (Rank) is, just as a Barclays Banker is rhyming slang for wanker. A company that proudly sold rank flour as well as making rank films was not one which delved too deeply into word association. They happily put Rank Records Ltd – London on the rear of all their EPs, missing off the essential “top”. In the 1950s, Rank was famous for its Rank Charm School producing Rank or possibly rank stars and starlets.

J. Arthur Rank

J.Arthur Rank was born into the flour milling dynasty which became Rank Hovis McDougall. He was a devout Methodist and Sunday school teacher, which led him into producing religious films. He started the British National Films Company in 1932 in response to what he saw as the negative influence of movies. In 1935 he bought Pinewood Studios, and by 1937 had become a major film distributor too, forming the Rank Organisation. Within a few years they acquired Odeon Cinemas, Amalgamated Studios in Elstree, Gaumont-British Cinemas, Paramount Cinemas and Bush Radio.

By 1942, they had 619 cinemas, and produced the cream of British films for the next two decades.

Ken Richmond, the man who rang the gong for J. Arthur Rank Films

So, the image of a glistening muscular man bashing a huge knobbly gong was a familiar one to cinema goers through the 1940s, 50s and 60s. The man was Ken Richmond, a 6 foot 5 tall wrestler.

Like MGM’s roaring lion and Pathé’s crowing rooster, J.Arthur Rank’s gong-banging stalwart preceded the opening credits to many a film and the Rank Organisation was a big player in the British leisure industry, also owning interests in dance halls and television.

Rank Audio Plastics

Rank Audio Plastics Slim Disc 1960

Rank also had an early promotional disc division, Rank Audio Plastics. They used Lyntone to press flexi-discs for advertising, which Rank called “Slim Discs.” They were touting for custom for their three formats:

One format was on playable card, and the industry sample utilised their film division:

The record label

The man with the gong also appeared on a record label. ‘Top Rank’ may strike us today as an odd choice of adjectives to promote confidence in a product, but back then it was a familiar brand and nobody thought otherwise. Due to its fairly short lifespan as a record label (1959-62) it has become a rich vein for singles’ collectors.

Top Rank Records started out in January 1959 with a Christmas record, Little Drummer Boy, by the Harry Simeon Chorale (JAR 101). January is either a little too late, or a lot too early, for a Christmas disc. Nevertheless, it entered the charts in mid-February, stayed there for seven weeks and reached a respectable #13 in the UK chart.

Little Drummer Boy: THe Harry Simeone Chorale Top Rank 45, 45-JAR-101
The Little Drummer Boy: Harry Simeone Choral, 45-JAR-101, 1959
Later silver pressing, with larger 20th Century Fox logo
Earlier sleeves have a smaller centre hole
The demo version, 1959

Galleries- click to enlarge

Top Rank wanted to emulate the American film companies which were starting record labels, and recruited Dick Rowe from Decca to run the A&R side with arranger Tony Hatch in late 1958.

They already had business connections with 20th Century Fox. EMI had had MGM for several years with its own label. ABC – Paramount were modest enough not to demand their own imprint, but licensed tracks to EMI’s HMV label. Decca got Warner Brothers by giving them their own label. Pye got Columbia Pictures (Colpix). with the same method. It was a natural for a film company to have a record division.

Outside My Window: The Fleetwoods JAR294. At that point, picture sleeves were extremely rare on British 45s. Note how the rear sleeve boosts the American connection.

Teenage Sonata: Kenny Day, Top Rank 45 April 1960

Read the back cover blurb. Great discoveries like Kenny Day make Top Rank easily the Toppermost of the Poppermost. For years, I thought John Lennon had coined the phrase:

“He’d say, ‘Where are we goin’, fellas? ‘ And we’d go, ‘To the top, Johnny! ‘ And he’d say, ‘Where’s that, fellas?! ‘ And we’d say, ‘To the toppermost of the poppermost, Johnny!

It was actually first said in The Wild One by Marlon Brando in 1953, Stu Sutcliffe’s favourite movie, so Top Rank had got the slogan from there … before Lennon. It may have been a call sign on their Radio Luxembourg show.

It was the American records distributed on Top Rank that contained most of its classics, including: I Only Have Eyes For You by The Flamingos, Teen Beat by Sandy Nelson, Walk Don’t Run by the Ventures, Stay by Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs, Will You Love Me Tomorrow (with Boys on the B-side) by the Shirelles, Nut Rocker by B.Bumble & the Stingers, New Orleans and A Quarter To Three by Gary U.S.Bonds, Like Long Hair by Paul Revere & The Raiders, Runaround Sue by Dion and anything by Freddie Cannon.

Among the seminal tracks is (Do The) Mashed Potato Part 1 by Nat Kendricks and The Swans, recorded 1959, released 1960 (US R&B #8). This is one of several instrumentals that James Brown did under a pseudonym … Nat Kendricks was his drummer. Brown played piano and shouted in Night Train style but they had Crlton “King” Coleman, a local DJ shout on top to conceal JB’s distinctive voice.

American labels with Top Rank deals included Vanguard, Vee Jay, Indigo, Swan, Laurie, Scepter, Herald, Fury, Wand and Whale. Rank Records Limited (Top Rank was just the logo) were also willing to note American companies more prominently on the centre label. The Harry Simeone Chorale carried prominent 20th Fox logos, and Woody Herman EPs mentioned EVEREST in the same size lettering as Top Rank.

Adonis: Terri Dean, Top Rank, 1959 JAR-179

A 2010s online footnote to the US deals comes from a YouTube comment by Terri Dean, whose 1959 Adonis single was on Laurie in the USA, and Top Rank in the UK. It was an answer disc to Venus, recorded when Terri was 14 or 15. Someone had posted the record on YouTube with a picture of the Top Rank record. Terri Dean asks if anyone could send her a copy as she had never seen it before, and had no knowledge of its existence.

Top Rank was an extremely prolific 45 rpm label, releasing 160 singles in its first year, at three a week. It was derided by EMI and Decca for trying to run before it could walk (Walk Don’t Run by The Ventures was on Top Rank), and for throwing in too much money too quickly in an attempt to buy instant success.

The label had started its life in January 1959 with a blue label and blue sleeve. Half the first batch were licensed from 20th Century Fox which had its own distinctive gold lettering on the labels. It shifted to a red sleeve during the first busy year, around July 1959, and ran as an independent until August 1960 with JAR 434. JAR stands for, you’ve guessed, J. Arthur Rank. The blue sleeve persists, and they ran blue and red simultaneously for a while.  There is an accurate numbered JAR 221 in blue illustrated, and a JAR 223 in red.

The Rare Record Price Guide rates a red / white version of Adam Faith’s Ah, Poor Little Baby as worth 20% more than the blue version. Why? No idea. Singles around the changeover point would have been in print long enough to have had either sleeve.  The red sleeve has at least three variants in the bottom left quadrant. This was partly due to changing hole size, but the red border around the centre does shift considerably.

Galleries – click to enlarge. “Small hole” die-cut sleeves

Kansas City: Wilbert Harrison 45-JAR-132 June 1959
Only Sixteen: Craig Douglas 45-JAR-159
July 1959

The switch from blue centres to the classic red and white centre came in the autumn of 1959. What’s sure is that both red and blue sleeves were used on them, at least for a while. The blue sleeves have white rectangles for dealers (or buyers) to number them. The red don’t.

By the end of 1959 the distinctive red and white centre label had been introduced. The eye-catching scarlet and white Mondrian-ish sleeve design goes with it later with the switch to EMI, not initially, and encompassed its most remembered phase of hits.

Nashville Boogie: Bert Weedon 45-JAR-221, numbered sleeve November 1959
Tennessee Waltz: Bobby Comstock & The Counts 45-JAR-223 November 1959

77 Sunset Strip: The Pinewood Studio Orchestra 45-JAR 256 December 1959
Happy Anniversary: Mitzi Gaynor 45-JAR-258
November 1959
Captain Morgan: Bob Wallis & His Storyville Jazzmen, JAR-331 March 1960

In contrast to what some reference guides state, blue sleeves continued. All these examples were labelled by purchasers, and they were released out of sequence. Top Rank was using its own Pinewood Studio Orchestra (i.e. session men) to rush out a timely cover version of 77 Sunset Strip.

gallery- click to enlarge

Note that changing rim size, as well as the quality of the American material on Top Rank:

Tootie Flootie: The Megatrons 45-JAR-236 November 1959
I Only Have Eyes For You: The Flamingos 45-JAR-263 January 1960
Rancho: Jackie Lee 45-JAR-286 February 1960
Not One Minute More: Janet Richmond 45-JAR-288
January 1960
Baby What You Want Me To Do: Jimmy Reed 45-JAR-333 April 1960
Clap Your Hands: The Beaumarks JAR- 377
May 1960

Again, numbers were assigned before release dates, so they were not issued in strict numerical order.

Top Rank did well internationally, with virtually every release coming out in the Netherlands and Germany.

Lonely Guitar: Bert Weedon – Netherlands 45
Jump Over; Freddie Cannon – German 45

Genial guitar mentor Bert Weedon and home-grown pop idol Craig Douglas brought regular locally-derived sums into the Top Rank coffers.

Andy Stewart: Andy Stewart Top Rank LP 1961
Did we mention that he was Scottish?

Andy Stewart was a “professional Scotsman.” His Scottish Soldier was a much requested ‘Family Favourites’ staple. It’s also the normal disappointment when you spot the red and white Top Rank label in a stack of secondhand records. There are so many copies about that it’s a surprise when you see any other Andy Stewart record … other Top Rank tracks are Nae Sae Bad, That’s The Reason Noo I Wear The Kilt, Bonnie Lass O’Fyvie, The Battle’s O’Er, Take Me Back, and the 1962 bandwagon ditty The Highland Twist.


Top Rank LPs turn up surprisingly rarely. They can’t have sold too many, though they had some real MoR stuff on there as well as a large classical catalogue. They focussed on 45s and EPs heavily.

They had adverts on the inner sleeves, and the company wealth is illustrated by their LP inner sleeves. They must have been printed specifically for them with a singular design. They had a fold over flap, something unique to the label.

Top Rank LP inner sleeve with fold over, 1960

Jazz and Collectors Choice series: Vanguard

Newport Folk Festival Volume 1. Recorded at the 1959 Festival, Top Rank LP 1960
Folk Festival At Newport centre label, with prominent VANGUARD

Vanguard licensed records from The Weavers and Pete Seeger solo also carried large company names (see Vanguard).

Swan, Gallery – click to enlarge

The Explosive Freddy Cannon: Freddy Cannon LP 1961, #25/018, Licensed from Swan.

Grand Award

Grand Award was an American audiophile label that flirted with several companies … Top rank, Pye, EMI. (SEE Pye Command). They had a brief period with Top Rank, with Enoch Light releases, now sought after by DJs for mixing because of the hifi extremes.

The Roaring 20s: Charleston City All Stars with Enoch Light,
rare Top Rank 10” LP 1958, licensed from Grand Award audiophile label

LPs – BUY series

The BUY series of albums was advertised as value for money. I suspect that indicates a mid-price label, along the lines of Pye’s Golden Guinea or Decca’s Ace of Hearts / Ace of Clubs … about £1.00 rather than £1.50. Craig Douglas appeared to have his debut LP at mid price even though he was one of the best-selling pop artists on Top Rank.

Drums! Drums! Drums! Tony Crombie & His Band, Top Rank BUY series LP 1960 BUY/027
Clark, TYop Rank BUY series LP BUY/044How About That: Dee
Craig Douglas: Craig Douglas
Top Rank BUY series LP 1960, BUY/049

Gallery: click to enlarge

King Size 45s

Picture sleeves were used more than most labels, and in 1959 they introduced the “King Size 45” or “Top Rank Jazz and Folk Selection” series with picture sleeves. The difference between a King Size 45 and an EP is the sleeve … King Size 45s are paper, EPs are card.

The first issue though was spoken voice, the courtroom scene from Orson Welles’ Compulsion. It was given the series number TR5001, and continued the 20th Century Fox connection.

Compulsion … galleries – click to enlarge

Compulsion: Orson Welles, King Size 45. 1959 TR5001

The Tops! EP on King Size 45s contains six covers, but done by existing Top Rank artistes: Craig Douglas, Sheila Buxton and Bert Weedon. The cover versions angle aligned it with Embassy BUT with known artists. It was a template for a host of budget labels two or three years later, except they did not use established stars.

Tops! Various Artists, King Size 45 Top Rank TR5004

Careless Love – Peter Seger / Times Are Getting Hard – Leon Bibb
Top Rank King Size 45 TR5020 1960

The Pete Seeger / Leon Bibb single, #4 in the Newport Festival 1959 series, is an unusual early example of the split single featuring two artists. Most King Size 45s are one performer. Top Rank’s sleeve says:

Under the KING SIZE 45 sign you will find the best in jazz, classics, popular music and film soundtrack recordings. Every issue is a new one – and every one offers the record buyer first class value-for-money in terms of playing time and packaging. The KING SIZE 45 is an ideal way of building a collection to be proud of.

Indeed. The Pete Seeger rendition of Careless Love is just under six minutes long.

Top Rank EPs – pre-EMI

All galleries – click to enlarge

Film …

Follow A Star (EP): Norman Wisdom, Top Rank JEP 2052 Film soundtrack EP

You would have thought that like Warner, MGM, Paramount and Colpix, the other film company labels, Top Rank would be pushing out the soundtrack releases and tie-ins. They are surprisingly thin on the ground, but then their singing comedy star was Norman Wisdom, so we might be thankful.

Sunset Strip: The Pinewood Studio Orchestra EP, JKP 2064

Sunset Strip was from the Pinewood house orchestra, with film and TV -like covers.

Rank had a run of early licensed American EPs clearly labelled Top Rank International, most of them jazz. Note the prominence of American originators Vanguard, Everest, Grand Award, Interlude, Arcade and 20th FOX on the centres.

Folk … click to enlarge

Folk Songs (EP): Leon Bibb, Top Rank EP, JKR 8022, 1959
Licensed from Vanguard

Travelling With The Weavers No. 1: The Weavers, Top Rank EP JKP2005, 1959
Licensed from Vanguard

The Weavers hold a special place in American folklore – by which I mean musicians’ folklore – due to the presence of Pete Seeger. Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman of The Byrds, and Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane cite them as a major influence. Whatever, Top Rank licensed their records in.

Josh Mcrae (EP): Josh Macrae 1961 JKP 2061
The Work of The Reivers Vol 2 1961 JKP 2062

As well as Andy Stewart, Top Rank had Josh McRae and also The Weivers for a strong Scottish folk connection.

Classical … click to enlarge

George Philip Telemann, Concerto in E Minor For Oboe and Strings: I Solsti di Zagreb,
Licensed from Vanguard, with red and gold centre label marking classical.

Jazz … click to enlarge

Top Rank released a great deal of jazz, right at the outset in 1959, and mainly on EPs. It was mostly back catalogue from American labels and retro, but they must have felt it worth building up such a large jazz EP list so quickly.

Jumpin’ At The Woodside: Various, JKP 2050 1959
Licensed from Interlude

Ragtime: Eubie Blake JKP 2008, 1959
Licensed from 20th Fox

The Great Days of Jazz: Willie The Lion Smith JKP 2013 1959
Vive La Dixie: Mr Dixie and His Band JKP 2014 1959
The Jo Jones Trio, JKP2045 1959

Easy Listening …

I Want To Be Happy Cha-Chas (EP): Enoch Light & The Light Brigade JKR 8001
Licensed from Grand Award

Razzamatazz Vol.2 (EP): Charleston City All-Stars, JKR 8010
Enoch Light, Grand Award

Meet Gloria Lynne: Gloria Lynne JKP 2024
The Heavenly Kay Starr: Kay Starr JKP 2042 1959

Popular …

Four Direct Hits (EP): Freddy Cannon JKP 2066

Country & Western

They also produced the six volume Country & Western Express series of C&W material.

Disneyland series: EPs

Gallery: click to enlarge

In a strong film company connection move, they also licensed and released the Disneyland label. Disneyland eventually tried most UK labels.

Disneyland LPs

EP Numbers

Top Rank EPs had several number series. These primarily indicated price, but peripherally reflect genre. The two classical series were 15/- a disc … almost double the going rate.

JKP 2000 series … film music, light music, folk, jazz, popular, C&W, rock
JKP 3000 series … post 1961, pop, C&W, blues
RR  5000 series … King Size 45 series (jazz, folk)
JKR 8000 series … American dance and swing era, but also Irish and Scottish
JCK 9000 series … Classical
15/000 series … Classical

Pictures and advertising

Picture sleeves appeared sporadically on Top Rank singles from early 1960. Bert Weedon recorded prolifically for Top Rank, covering Apache and Walk Don’t Run. (And allegedly then doing cover versions of his cover versions for Woolworth’s Embassy label on the side).

Bert Weedon was the acknowledged father of English rock guitar. Nearly all the 60s generation of guitarists once possessed a dog-eared copy of Bert’s guitar tutor Play In A Day. Unfortunately, some of his cover versions like Apache are a travesty. If he simply copied, they’re OK. On Apache, he thought playing it very slowly with strings might enhance it. Wrong. Play In A Day was reprinted for decades.

Bert Weedon’s Big Beat Boogie even had a gatefold picture sleeve in February 1960 (see Now for The Commercials).Bert also recorded Guitar Boogie Shuffle, Nashville Boogie and China Boogie. See that boy boogie woogie.

Big Bet Boogie: Bert Weedon, Top Rank 45 February 1960 JAR-300

No one thought of sticking unrelated advertising on 45 sleeves until 1960. Top Rank produced an elaborate gatefold picture sleeve for Bert Weedon’s (surely they didn’t imagine he’d be a star?). In the inside, as well as a smiling well-groomed Bert pic, there was an advert for Clarks Wessex shoes, and McCaul “match box separates in Acrilan” which we assume are socks. While Bert doesn’t exactly endorse these nylon socks, it says that when you see Top Rank Magazine at the cinema you will hear Bert playing guitar and see “these products for better living”. And he appears to be looking admiringly at the ads in the gatefold.

Enter EMI

Top Rank had difficulty sourcing material in competition with the “Big Four” (EMI, Decca, Pye, Philips), but invested quite heavily. It was losing money steadily, mainly by over-paying for US license deals, and the parent company suddenly pulled the plug in August 1960 and licensed its name and material to EMI.

It was Top Rank’s success in dealing with smaller US labels that made it an attractive target for EMI. There are records that made little or no chart impression in the UK at the time, but are much-covered all-time classics, like Dee Clarke’s Raindrops or Wilbert Harrison’s Kansas City or Jimmy Reed’s Baby What You Want Me To Do or The Paris Sisters I Love How You Love Me. The latter was an early Phil Spector production and a #5 US hit that failed to register in the UK.

EMI made a deal to keep it going and the label became part of EMI, whereupon the catalogue numbers jumped to JAR 500 for its first EMI release, Top Teen Teen Baby by Gary Mills which was in a then rare picture sleeve. Mills had been discovered singing on the altar steps of a South London church so as to attract teenagers in, and offered a Top Rank contract

Top Teen Baby: Gary Mills, Top Rank (EMI) 45, 1960 JAR-500

The first Top Rank release on EMI, Top Teen Baby by Garry Mills in 1960, carried an advert for Aristoc stockings on the reverse of the then unusual picture sleeve.  Mills had been discovered singing on the altar steps of a South London church so as to attract teenagers in, and offered a Top Rank contract. Top Teens was a regular Aristoc range.

Aristoc stockings pack, 1960

Was the song written as an advert? Or did Aristoc pick up on a song? The former is more likely. The lyrics include:

In her petticoat and long nylon hose
My Top Teen baby knows what she shows

It would be hard to write that unless you had to, even in a lyric which also includes the half-hearted praise of:

In her skirt she is the mostest of the lot
And furthermore she’s the only chick I’ve got

Aristoc was into product placing in movies early on, so were an alert company.  Hosiery-obsessed Top Rank had decided that boys bought the twangy guitar instrumentals of Bert Weedon (and Acrilan socks) and girls bought the teen angst of Gary Mills (and Aristoc stockings).

Gary Mills’s Look For A Star EP was one of the first EPs under the EMI banner too, so someone somewhere liked him.

Stay: Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs, Top Rank single, JAR-526, 1960

The most famous Top Rank sleeve. It remains an anomaly in the EMI line-up of sleeves, in that it’s the only one not to put EMI on the sleeve somewhere. Some argue that the design pre-dates the EMI takeover. I’ve seen many earlier discs in this sleeve, but that happens with second hand records, and also with re-pressings of earlier hits. I haven’t seen a clear dealer-numbered matching example before JAR-500. It also has some resonance with contemporary EMI geometric designs … Columbia had circles, HMV had diamonds, Parlophone had lines. This had rectangles, but then it’s stronger in colour and design, though maybe the red, black and white company image dictated that.

These are both early:

galleries – click to en;arge

You’re Looking Good: Dee Clark JAR-501 1960, Licensed from Vee Jay September 1960
Vaquero: The Fireballs JAR-507 1960
, a “Rank Records USA recording.” September 1960

The Dee Clark sleeve isn’t dealer numbered but it came in a box where most were and all were correctly matched. They were either using up sleeves, or hadn’t introduced the new one. They hadn’t got round to adding EMI to the centre label either. Also in that early batch of releases is Vaquero by The Fireballs, also from September 1960. That has the sleeve.

The centre label remained the same with the addition of Made by Electronic and Musical Industries Ltd Great Britain. Note that this was an era where records stayed in print for many months, and you will find records with a lower number than JAR 500 with the EMI stamp.  You can find copies of The Ventures Walk Don’t Run, JAR-417, like this. This means it was a re-pressing. Early copies will not have it.

John Leyton had two hits on Top Rank, both produced by Joe Meek and written by Geoff Goddard with Johnny Remember Me (#1) and Wild Wind (#2). As Meek produced independently, this was more like the US licensing deals than a Top Rank initiated production.

Joe Meek had had a troubled relationship with Top Rank, while delivering its two biggest hits. In January 1961 he was betting on a big hit with Mike Berry by covering The Shirelles Will You Love Me Tomorrow on the Decca label. When he’d decided to do the cover, he’d checked with Dick Rowe that The Shirelles version (licensed to Top Rank) would not be released in the UK. Rowe had promised that back in November 1960, before it got to #1 in the USA. Once that had happened, they had to release it, and it soared to #4. A true double sided single – the B-side was Boys which The Beatles were to cover on Please Please Me along with The Shirelles Baby It’s You Decca gave up on the song, and stopped promoting the Mike Berry version. Meek was fuming … earlier he had covered Tell Laura I Love Her with John Leyton for Top Rank, only to see the Ricky Valance original win the day. So they had angered him both ways. Then he got those two massive John Leyton hits.


Look For A Star: Garry Mills, EP, JKP-3001, first EMI Top Rank EP

EMI released EPs soon moved to the standard EMI top white bar design.

On Target (EP): Freddie Cannon JKP-3010, released 1961

John Leyton (EP): John Leyton JKP -3016, released 1962

John Leyton (EP): centrelabel

To me, a keen collector of both Gary U.S. Bonds and Freddy Cannon, Top Rank discs are surprisingly undervalued … LPs by those two are rated £20 to £30 in mint condition in Rare Record Guide 2022. The most valuable seems to be The Shirelles Sound, a 1961 EP by The Shirelles. Rare Record Guide rates it at £100 in mint condition. Discogs have the median value at £73.20, which won’t be mint. This image is taken from an eBay sale at £128, and certainly doesn’t appear to be mint. I also found pone advertised at £180. Incidentally, if you play Mama Said by The Shirelles then Days Like This by Van Morrison you will detect aninspiration.

The Shirelles Sound (EP) Top Rank 1961

EMI albums

Top Rank EMI albums have the familiar white top title bar like the EPs:

Bandwagon Ball: Craig Douglas, Top Rank LP 1961 #35-103
Sings Happy Shades of Blue: Freddy Cannon Top Rank LP #35-106 1961

Freddy Cannon was among Top Rank’s most reliable hit makers, and with three Top Rank LPs, was more successful at getting releases than any other popular artist. They were licensed from Swan.

The similar artist I seek on LP is Dance to Quarter To Three by Gary U.S. Bonds.

The end

Nut Rocker: B. Bumble and The Stingers JAR-611. 1962. My copy. Note my numbering, #2. It was.

EMI closed Top Rank down in April 1962, creating the new Stateside label to house the American artists. Nut Rocker, by B. Bumble & The Stingers,  released in March 1962 was the final hit record. Highland Twist by Andy Stewart (JAR-616) may have been the last record.

From late 1961 its British contingent had already begun transferring to other EMI labels: John Leyton and Bert Weedon went to HMV, Craig Douglas to Columbia, and so on. Some American artists had an interim switch to Columbia, but soon Stateside simply replaced Top Rank as EMI’s American licenses label. Freddy Canon had the honour of the first EMI Stateside release, Palisades Park when the label switched.

Palisades Park: Frdddy Cannon, EMI Stateside 45SS-101

The Vee Jay catalogue switched briefly to Columbia for a few titles before moving to Stateside. For example, Gene Chandler’s Duke of Earl is a Columbia release in February 1962, though his subsequent records are all Stateside. I was told about a completist Top Rank collector, who had every release. That is, until someone offered him a Top Rank copy of Duke of Earl, which is not listed in any of the reference books. He was told that it was pressed up on Top Rank, then immediately withdrawn and switched to Columbia. The last official release was JAR 617 Just Got To Know by Jimmy McCracklin in April 1962, a full-on blues song.

Top Rank singles 1959-1962

Great Top Rank singles … click to enlarge

Will You Love Me Tomorrow: The Shirelles JAR 540 1960
Raindrops: Dee Clark JAR 570 1961
Johnny Remember Me JAR 577, 1961
Runaround Sue: Dion, JAR 586 1961
Highland Twist: Andy Stewart JAR 616 1962

artistetitleyearUK chart

Harry Simeone Chorale
Little Drummer Boy195913
Bert WeedonGuitar Boogie Shuffle195910
Wilbert HarrisonKansas Ciy1959
Craig DouglasA Teenager In Love195913
Adam FaithAh, Poor little Baby1959
Freddy CannonTalahassee Lassie195917
Chubby CheckerThe Class1959
The FlamingosI Only Have Eyes For You1959
Craig DouglasOnly Sixteen19591
Vince EagerMakin’ Love1959
Dee ClarkHey Little Girl1959
Sandy NelsonTeen Beat19599
Freddy CannonWay Down Yonder in New Orleans19593
Bert WeedonNashville Boogie195929
Johnny DankworthWe Are The Lambeth Boys1959
Bert WeedonBig Beat Boogie196037
Freddy CannonCalifornia Here I Come196025
Garry MillsLook For A Star19607
Nat Kendricks & The Swans(Do The) Mashed Potato Part 11960
Josh McRaeTalkin’ Army Blues196012
Craig DouglasThe Heart of A Teenage Girl196010
Jimmy ClantonAnother Sleepless Night196050
Jack ScottWhat In The World’s Come Over You196011
Freddy CannonThe Urge196018
The VenturesWalk Don’t Run19608
Jack ScottBurning Bridges196032
Dante & The EvergreensAlly Oop1960
Bert WeedonApache196024
The FendermenMule Skinner Blues196032
Andy StewartDonald, Where’s Your Trousers196037
Garry MillsTop Teen Baby196025
Twistin’ USADanny & The Juniors1960
Andy StewartA Scottish Soldier196019
DionLonely Teenager196047
Bert WeedonSorry Robbie196028
Maurice Williams and The ZodiacsStay196014
Gary U.S. BondsNew Orleans196016
Bert WeedonGinchy196135
The ShirellesWill You Love Me Tomorrow / Boys 19614
Paul Revere & The RaidersLike Long Hair1961
Freddy CannonMuskrat Ramble196132
The ShirellesDedicated To The One I Love1961
Craig DouglasA Hundred Pounds of Clay19619
Craig DouglasTime19619
The ShirellesMama Said1961
Dee ClarkRaindrops1961
Gladys Knight & The PipsEvery Beat of My Heart1961
Gary U.S. BondsQuarter to Three19617
John LeytonJohnny Remember Me19611
The JarmelsA Little Bit of Soap1961
John LeytonWild Wind19612
DionRunaround Sue196111
The Paris SistersI Love How You Love Me1961
Glen CampbellTurn Around Look At Me1961
Phil McLeanSmall Sad Sam196234
The ShirellesBaby It’s You1962
Gary U.S. BondsDear Lady Twist1962
Lee DorseyDo-Re-Mi1962
Craig DouglasWhen My Little Girl Is Smiling19629
B. Bumble & The StingersNut Rocker19621
Jimmy McCracklinJust Got To Know1962

Top Rank on CD

One Day have done four double CD sets on the history of Top Rank. These are all “end of copyright” releases – the artists get nothing. The first three sets, 1959, 1960, 1961 have just A-sides. As 1962 ended mid-way, that set has As and Bs. They give an excellent guide to the scope of the label and list the major artists on the front. See below.

What happened to Rank?

After they sold the record to EMI, Rank continued with its chains of ballrooms and cinemas, The ballrooms were known as Top Rank Suites and were immortalised in Althea and Donna’s reggae hir Up Town Top Ranking. Just as immortal were Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s hilariously filthy tale, as ‘Derek and Clive’, Top Rank.

Many cinemas sadly were converted into Bingo halls, first as Top Rank Bingo then as Mecca Bingo. Then from 1966 they ran the UK connection to Xerox, as Rank Xerox.