TEENAGER IN LOVE GREAT BRITISH RECORD LABELS: PHILLIPS
The PHILIPS label was formed 1950, although the company’s roots go back to the late 19th Century, to the Dutch industrial giant, Philips Gloelampen Fabrieken, founded in Eindhoven in1891. Originally a manufacturer of electric light bulbs, the company’s activities gradually grew into other areas of electrical equipment, both industrial and domestic, including radios and gramophones. In 1946 they took the decision to expand into the record business, to which end they acquired asmall Amsterdam-based company who pressedrecords for UK Decca’s Dutch outlet. Renaming the company Philips Phonographische Industrie, they established a new pressing plant in Baarnand the Philips label first appeared on a series of classical recordings for the Dutch market. Subsidiary companies were quickly established in Austria, Belgium, France, West Germany and Italy, and in 1952 they opened an office in the UK. A joint distribution company, Phonogram, was set up in Amsterdam to sell both Philips and Decca records in The Netherlands, and by the mid-50s they had evolved into a hugely-successful pan-European company.
Launched under the proud slogan “The Records Of The Century”, their first UK releases appeared in January 1953, via a series of Popular 78rpm singles, with 33 1/3rpm LPs following in July ’54 and 45rpm EPs a year later. Surprisingly, perhaps, Philips would be the last major label to issue 45 rpm singles in the UK, in January ’58 - althoughby this stage they’d been releasing them in mainland Europe for several years (NB: this is why several of their early UK R’n’R 78s are still such expensive collectors’ items). The ace up their sleeve, which had been announced in 1951, was that Philips would be taking over the European licensing for US Columbia, whose relationshipwith their long-time UK affiliate had deteriorated beyond salvation (their differences largely concerned their Classical catalogues, the issues ranging from a conflict of interests - very often, both companies had competing versions of the same repertoire - to EMI UK’s reluctance to embrace the new vinyl microgroove LP technology). This effectively served to put Philips in a no-lose situation; they were more or less guaranteed hit records, even if their home-grown releases didn’t quite measure up.
Two former EMI men, Norman Newell and Len Smith, had been charged with overseeing Philips’ UK launch and signing artists. Their initial roste rincluded Johnny Brandon, David Hughes, GaryMiller, Gracie Fields, Glen Mason, etc., while their early release schedules concentrated on the‘Popular Music’ of the day, i.e. show tunes, movie themes, covers of American hits and/or revivals of oldies, alongside light orchestral pieces and random novelty items. None were commercially successful and sure enough, the new label’s chart action came from US Columbia releases, by Frankie Laine (whose ‘I Believe’ was the biggest UK hit of 1953, spending 18-weeks at No.1), Guy Mitchell, Doris Day, Johnny Ray, Rosemary Clooney, Jo Stafford and Tony Bennett. But the calibre of their ‘home’ acts soon improved.The Beverley Sisters and Winifred Atwell both registered huge hits and in 1955, Philips signed the man who would ultimately become their most successful artist, Frankie Vaughan. Scouser Vaughan, who’d previously recorded for EMI’s HMV label, arrived with a well-earned reputation for handling uptempo songs. And although it was doubtless wholly by chance, he became one of the first UK artists to successfully cover US R’n’R material - e.g. Boyd Bennett’s ‘Seventeen’, which made the UK Top 20 in December ’55. A television and radio perennial, Frankie was very much a housewives’ favourite and the gormless enthusiasm with which he attacked big beat songs was sufficiently infectious that he was rewarded witha string of massive hits - e.g. Jim Lowe’s ‘Green Door’(which reached No.2), Joe Valino’s ‘Garden Of Eden’(No.1), Charlie Gracie’s ‘Wanderin’ Eyes’(No.6) and Gene McDaniels’ ‘Tower Of Strength’(No.1).
Another early Philips chart-topper was Anne Shelton, with the brisk, military-like ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, which also dented the US charts; and while it would take Shirley Bassey a couple of years to fully establish herself, she also eventually hit the top spot - in early ’59, with ‘As I Love You’- following a trio of minor chart entries, beginning with her cover of Harry Belafonte’s ‘Banana Boat Song’. Although rather less successful, The Kaye Sisters and Rose Brennan were cut from much the same cloth, musically, as - to perhaps a slightly lesser extent - were Lynda Graham and Roy Tierney. Philips’ key ‘backroom boys’ were producer/arranger Johnny Franz and arranger/musical director Wally Stott, who between them were responsible for most of their early homegrown hits. Their early sessions were largely recorded at IBC Studios or, if a full orchestra was required, the acoustically-perfect Conway Hall, althoughthey eventually had their own purpose-built studio installed in the company’s offices, in Bayswater.
They only ever flirted mildly with Skiffle and R’n’R, both of which seemed alien to their MOR culture. Their sole Skiffler was Sonny Stewart (who somehow managed to wangle a spot in The Golden Disc), while in all honesty, their only Rock’n’Roller of any real merit was Marty Wilde. But what merit! Arguably the UK’s finest Rocker (and he’s still bloody good, today), Mart was cutting great records from the get-go, even when he was backed by dodgy session players - checkout ‘Honeycomb’, ‘Misery’s Child’and ‘The Fire Of Love’. But once his own backing group, TheWildcats, started playing on his discs, he really kicked on - c.f. ‘Teenager In Love’(which reached No.2) and ‘Bad Boy’ (No.7 - this one was so good it even cracked the US Top 50). A couple of years hence, he went for the full big band sound on ‘Jezebel’ (No.19) .
Marty was famously managed by Larry Parnes, another of whose protégés was Johnny Gentle, nowadays chiefly remembered for his vague Beatles connection (they once backed him on apackage tour of Scotland). But elsewhere, Philips’here, Philips’approach to R’n’R was often to simply record their MOR singers way outside their comfort zones, on covers of US hits - e.g. Art Baxter, Jimmy Lloyd, Joyce Shock, Shani Wallisand perhaps none more so than Irish crooner Ronnie Carroll, who found himself covering US R’n’B artists like JackieWilson (‘To Be Loved’) and Marv Johnson (‘MoveTwo Mountains’), before scoring his biggest hit with a fine cover of Bobby Vinton’s ‘Roses Ar eRed’(No.3).
By the early 60s Philips had embraced Teenage Pop rather more firmly, as 45s by Brian Bentley & The Bachelors (amazingly, there were three different groups of Bachelors recording aroundthis time), Tony Allenand Dean Stevens, affirm, and they’d even updated the sound and style of their girlies, as evidenced by Billie Laine, Rosemary Lane (no relation!), Sally Greenand the delightful Susan Maughan, who reached No.3 with her splendid cover of Marcie Blane’s‘Bobby’s Girl’. Instrumentals were another regular feature of a typical Philips release schedule, the instances herein ranging from the Twang of The Volcanos and Dennis Newey to the Jazz of Bil lMcGuffie, via the Honk of Frank Weir & His Werewolves and the Suck & Blow of harmonicat Tommy Reilly.
Finally, The Springfieldshad been widely tipped for success and their first single, ‘Dear John’, generated plenty of radio play. Such was the buzz they created that Philips must have been expecting a full-on Folk boom, as they lost no time in signing an experienced duo, Gill & Terry, as well. But it was The Springfields who comprehensively won the day, making the US Top20 with the million-selling ‘Silver Threads And Golden Needles’in the summer of ’62, following which they finally cracked the UK Top 5 with ‘Island Of Dreams’. Of course, not long after that, Dusty quit for a solo career...