It’s true. The USA went for albums a good six or seven years before theUK. Yes, albums sold very well, but not into the pop / teen / rock market.
It’s often said that Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967 marked the ascendancy of the album over the single in Britain. This is from David Hepworth’s A Fabulous Creation: How The LP Changed Our Lives (2019):
This was something different. It was the first LP The Beatles made without any thought of performing any of the individual songs live. There was no single taken from Sergeant Pepper any more than there was a single taken from Beethoven’s Fifth. For the first time, the LP was presented as a complete piece of work. They hadn’t collected a number of songs and put them on an album. They had done something new. They had ‘made an album.’ In doing so, they changed the game.A Fabulous Creation: How The LP Changed Our Lives. David Hepworth, 2019
Really? Let’s say first that it was the best rock book I read in 2019. David Hepworth is three years younger than me, and that’s the crucial difference.
The Beatles avoided singles on albums. Apart from Please Please Me, A Hard Day’s Night, Help! Abbey Road and Let It Be, albums did not include singles.
An album? Yes, there was a Sergeant Pepper concept. Try and persuade me that Within In You, Without You fits that concept in any way. I’ve grown to love it, but honestly, it was ‘keep George happy and on board.’
Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever do fit the concept, and they’re not on the album. However, they are attached to it in time, and re-united with it on the Giles Martin de-luxe box set 50th Anniversary Edition. It becomes apparent that keeping singles and albums separate was at least in part, a commercial decision.
Nothing from Revolver was ever performed live. I can’t argue what The Beatles thought might or might not be performed live.
Go back to the 78 rpm era. There are many singles which are extracts taken from Beethoven’s Fifth (though not by Ludwig himself, I agree).
I’d say the true advent of the rock album as one piece (and art) was Revolver and The Beach Boys Pet Sounds a year earlier. Yes, Pet Sounds had singles taken from it, but it was a concept, and at university in late 1966 ,it was being played non-stop. The Beatles and The Beach Boys felt themselves in competition at that time. Revolver is at least John The Baptist to Sergeant Pepper. Also, every Beatles LP was number one in the UK chart. Topping the chart with a Beatles album was a given, not a breakthrough.
I’d place another later milestone, What’s Going On? by Marvin Gaye in 1971 when soul embraced the album as a whole, and Stevie Wonder and Sly & The Family Stone followed.
It will go back further. Once they’d done Please Please Me (which had two hits), The Beatles were strict about separating albums and singles, avoiding the two hits, two B-sides and eight fillers template that had dominated pop and rock albums. There are no singles on Beatles For Sale, Rubber Soul or Revolver. The Rolling Stones followed … there are no singles on their early albums either.
On a personal note, I played the first two Beatles and Stones albums continuously. They were a major step for me, and most of the people I knew, from singles to LPs. The Rolling Stones was for many musicians and fans a primer in R&B … R&B 101. It sent us looking for their sources, and that meant albums. I don’t know how many it sold, but The Blues Volume 1 compilation on Pye International was a bible for budding R&B groups. If you wanted to explore Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, LPs were the way.
What cemented it was Bob Dylan. In 1964 I bought four Bob Dylan LPs … in my perverse and reverse order of purchase they were Times They Are A-Changing (1963), Freewheelin’ (1962) then Bob Dylan (1961). I went chronological finally with Another Side of Bob Dylan and haven’t stopped since. With Dylan, singles were then irrelevant. The folk boom around 1964-1965 sent people to albums too … and as you will see below Joan Baez had Top Ten hit LPs.
The album chart was less interesting to rock fans because in the UK, the teens and early twenties mainly bought singles and EPs and at the start of the Sixties (which most people place as late 1962) LPs were an older audience. EPs did very well in Europe because LPs were comparatively more expensive than America (in time worked to buy one) and EPs were like buying an LP in instalments.
Album charts were fare less volatile. We measure how many weeks a single is in the chart. With albums, months and even years are a better measure.
The singles charts were manipulated, fixed a little. The labels and pluggers didn’t bother to manipulate album charts. It was all very well packing ten girls in a minibus with 6/8d (33p) a shot to buy singles from chart reporting shops. 32/6d (152,5p) for an LP was a more costly exercise. The LP chart was not widely reported or prominently displayed, and the LP buyers weren’t interested in a record simply because it had a high chart placing.
The music papers of the time reflect the style of the album charts, as well as their relative importance to pop/rock buyers.
New Musical Express introduced an album chart on 9 June 1962, with Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii at #1. West Side Story was #2, and there was no earlier chart to compare, but West Side Story topped the album chart for seventeen weeks over the next year, sometimes slipping back to #2 before recovering.
This is the third chart the NME ever published. On 20 June 1962, New Musical Express (NME) had a whole page devoted to three charts: NME Top Thirty (singles), Best Selling Pop Records in the USA (Top 20) and Best Selling Sheet Music in Britain (Top 30). The Best Selling LP chart was on the adjoining page at the foot of a column and the print font was about half the size of the sheet music chart, which was in turn half the size of the singles chart. Here it is:
The main contestants for pop / rock album sales in mid-1962 were Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard and The Shadows (together) and The Shadows (separately). Elvis was churning out (very short) film albums … Blue Hawaii is now #2. That came out initially at the end of 1961. Cliff’s biggest hit LPs The Young Ones and Summer Holiday have the three or four pop songs, but I’d describe the bulk as traditional stage musical material. Cliff Richard on The Young Ones film and album. (See my REVIEW OF THE YOUNG ONES)
CLIFF RICHARD: For the public, we sort of eased them into it. And it became acceptable to mums and dads. It opened up my career so much. It was like an overnight change. One minute, I was a rock ‘n’ roll phenomenon. The next minute I was an all-round entertainer.
The Young Ones album by Cliff Richard was #1 for six weeks starting in January 1962, and spent forty-two weeks in the Top Ten album chart. Here we are, six months later, and it’s #5. The Shadows is in there … but they were also in The Young Ones. Thre album had been released in September 1961, ten months earlier.
It’s Trad Dad wasn’t really all trad jazz, and included Helen Shapiro, Chubby Checker and others in a pop exploitation film. Otherwise we have two Frank Sinatra, two mega-selling film soundtracks West Side Story and South Pacific, the incredibly non-PC Black & White Minstrel Show and Dorothy Previne dressed as a flapper doing hits of the 1920s.
A week later, Elvis’s Pot Luck entered at #1. The most interesting record in those first few weeks arrived in late July … Ray Charles’ Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music which might be the first ‘concept’ album.
The Beatles Love Me Do arrived towards the end of the year, but the December chart is even less pop-oriented … this happens at Christmas with singles too. At least, the LP chart is on the main page now, sandwiched between the American Top 20 singles, and the Sheet Music Top Twenty.
This is where I came in. Coincidentally, that chart is personally relevant … Elvis Presley’s Rock & Roll No. 2 was the first LP I ever owned and was a Christmas present that year (along with Joe Brown’s A Picture of You LP and All The Hits By All The Stars, a Cameo-Parkway compilation, both mid-price). Bobby Vee Meets The Crickets was a great album (See the page on BOBBY VEE linked here). There’s the second Shadows album, Out Of The Shadows. I now possess four of these LPs then (add West Side Story). Most of my friends owned The Best of Ball, Barber & Bilk, a trad jazz compilation, which cheats slightly … Pye Golden Guinea was a mid-price label at 21/-, (105p). South Pacific and West Side Story are still in there. So is one Sinatra, still swingin’. To our eternal shame there are THREE albums by the Black & White Minstrels, sitting at #1, #2 and #6. I thought of illustrating them as kitsch, but really, you don’t want to see them.
On the reverse of the next page, the imminent future can be seen …
That new single was Please Please Me … their first #1. They hadn’t yet had a Top Twenty hit. In that issue of New Musical Express there are adverts for forty-five singles, yet just one LP advert (How About Love by Alma Cogan on Columbia).
We have an anomaly. New Musical Express front page always advertised singles. Then in August 1965, Warner-Reprise took out a front page advert for LPs, and inside a large advert for EPs.
Why? The only albums on there of any interest to New Musical Express’s normal readership would be Beat & Soul by The Everly Brothers and A Song Will Rise by Peter, Paul & Mary, full of protest folk. This is around the time Warner-Reprise shifted from Decca distribution to Pye distribution, and they may have insisted on adverts without having a clue that Dean Martin and Vic Damone were of minimal interest. It may indeed have been an uneviable task to explain to Reprise’s founder, Frank Sinatra, that advertising September of My Years in a largely teen / early 20s magazine was pissing into the wind.
Someone at the NME was probably on the ball and called EMI, ‘Hey! Warner-Reprise are taking out adverts for ALBUMS! Can you believe that?’
They must have done, because unusually EMI took out an album advert for page three:
All of EMI’s choices were sensible … and The Country Sect by The Downliners Sect was set to be an underground classic too.
The LP chart? The folk boom was in full swing … two by Joan Baez, one by Bob Dylan. Add The Moody Blues and The Byrds.
And The Sound of Music is at #2.
Jump forward to 1966. Rival pop weekly, Disc has a Top 30 singles chart, but no album chart at all. Disc carries far fewer adverts than NME, but it does have three LP adverts.
Melody Maker in January has Pop 50 Singles, Top 10 LPs and Top Ten Jazz LPs:
That’s more like it … and we’re still more than a year ahead of Sergeant Pepper so often given as the date the teen market moved to LP. It fits in that Rubber Soul was the start of that magnificent run: Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sergeant Pepper, The White Album, Magical Mystery Tour, Abbey Road.
I have seven of these on LP. I hope you can guess that the missing ones are Sound of Music, Mary Poppins and Elvis For Everyone. Significantly, both Bob Dylan and Joan Baez are in there, with two Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks and The Who.
With singles, we compared charts from different sources just to show they’re not gospel. New Musical Express (NME) was renowned as the hippest music weekly, but not so here. Melody Maker (MM) has a hipper chart. It reinforces the point on the singles article … none of these charts are gospel truth. They had different measuring systems. New Musical Express relates more closely to likely Christmas sales for mum, dad, granny and grandad’s presents, so may be faster in sampling, or slower. I’d say slower, and that New Musical Express represents the Christmas purchases and Melody Maker shows what the teens spent their Christmas money on when the shops re-opened on the 27th.
Unsurprisingly, The Sound of Music is at #2.
|Rubber Soul||The Beatles||1||1|
|The Sound of Music||Soundtrack||2||2|
|Farewell Angelina||Joan Baez||5||9=|
|Elvis For Everyone||Elvis Presley||6||–|
|Out Of Our Heads||The Rolling Stones||7||–|
|My Generation||The Who||8||4|
|Kink Kontoversy||The Kinks||9||–|
|Highway 61 Revisited||Bob Dylan||10||–|
|My Fair Lady||Soundtrack||–||5|
|Take It Easy With The Walker Brothers||The Walker Brothers||–||6|
|Almost There||Andy Williams||–||7=|
|Tears of Happiness||Ken Dodd||–||7=|
This chart marks the tipping point towards LPs for me. It’s also the third chart shown here in a row with The Beatles at #1.
I’ve taken into consideration those many “Best Ten Albums Ever” lists, and this has two favourites of list compilers… Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys and Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan. Revolver features in several of those lists, though loses because a frequent rule is ‘No more than one by any artist.’ Side one of Aftermath is one of the Rolling Stones best LP sides. Then we have Bluesbreakers, aka the”Beano” album by John Mayall with Eric Clapton. For my peer group, Revolver, Pet Sounds and Blonde on Blonde were played as albums.
And yes, The Sound of Music is still #2.
While we all know nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, nostalgia was already in place: New Musical Express had started listing the Top Ten singles for five years ago, and for ten years ago as a regular feature.
This snapshot is just pre-Sergeant Pepper. It’s the week of that travesty when Release Me by Englebert Humpderdink was #1 in the singles chart, keeping The Beatles away from #1 with Strawberry Fields Forever / Penny Lane.
Disc now has an LP chart, still restricted to ten entries.
The significant thing, just before the Summer of Love, is that there are two soul albums in there … Geno Washington and The Four Tops. The Monkees represent the power of TV, which was novel. Otherwise, the chart from six months earlier was more interesting.
The Sound of Music soldiers on, over a year after our 1966 example, and still at #2. It was the best-selling album in the United Kingdom at points in 1965, 1966 and 1968 and the second best-selling of the decade, spending a total of 70 weeks at number one. It was in the American Top Ten for 109 continuous weeks. Its worldwide sales exceed twenty million … and it’s still available.
Easy Listening gets in twice too … Goin’ Places by Herb Alpert, and Mantovani’s Golden Hits.
By this point, New Musical Express has moved to a Top 15 for LPs, not a common choice. The Top Ten is barely different … apart from positions: it’s Troggs out, a second Herb Alpert album in. More interesting in NME is Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits at #12, and Fresh Cream by Cream at #13.
Sergeant Pepper has arrived. So has Jimi Hendrix with Are You Experienced. We have a Top 15 for LPs. Otherwise, given a choice of the Top Ten, I’d have that August 1966 list.
The Sound of Music is still #2.
However, is the single dead with the emergence of Sergeant Pepper? Extracts from the singles chart, given the tastes of The Summer of Love follow. There’s life in the single yet. Interestingly, NME decided to list the Sergeant Pepper LP in the singles chart as well, at #30. I can’t think for a moment that reflects LP sales versus sales of the #29 single.
|1||A Whiter Shade of Pale||Procul Harum|
|3||Carrie Anne||The Hollies|
|6||Alternate Title||The Monkees|
|7||She’d Rather Be With Me||The Turtles|
|8||Groovin’||The Young Rascals|
|10||Here Comes The Nice||The Small Faces|
|11||The Happening||The Supremes|
|12||Waterloo Sunset||The Kinks|
|22||Dedicated To The One I Love||Mamas and Papas|
|24||Night of The Long Grass||The Troggs|
|27||See Emily Play||Pink Floyd|
|28||The Wind Cries Mary||Jimi Hendrix|
|30||Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (LP)||The Beatles|
That issue of NME carries adverts for forty singles, one EP (Bill Cosby) and just two LPs … Evolution by The Hollies and The Ryans by Paul and Barry Ryan.
The Beatles at number one yet again. There is still a high proportion of MoR / Easy Listening in there … the rock histories are only going to enthuse about three out of fifteen, and two of those have plain white sleeves … The Beatles and Beggar’s Banquet. The other is Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix. The chart now has the same font size and prominence of the singles chart, but the content is woeful … Val Doonican (TWICE!), Des O’Connor, The Bachelors, Mantovani, Jim Reeves.
The last two columns are WEEKS IN CHART and HIGHEST POSITION.
And The Sound of Music has dropped to #6. But it has had 194 weeks on the chart.
Sounds was album -oriented, and prog-oriented. It placed its Album chart above its singles charts. It goes for a full Top 30 albums, but so does New Musical Express by this point.
The LP now dominates … but The Sound of Music is still hanging in there, albeit at #20. Oliver is #23 and Paint Your Wagon is #21, but largely this is a rock chart (at last). And I have sixteen of them. New Musical Express isn’t identical, but reasonably similar … NME have Andy Williams at #1.
I’d say at this point … gasp! … the LP is there as the dominant carrier. The #1 single is Clive Dunn with Grandad. Not a lead item for an album.