Established in 1948 as a home for American recordings financed or purchased by its parent organisation, the Decca Record Company of England, London Records quickly outgrew its original brief to become the UK’s premier outlet for music from the USA and a local home for dozens of the independent labels that sprung up across America after World War II.
London issued its first licensed recordings in March 1951 – two 78s by popular entertainer Billy Daniels sourced fromNew York’s Apollo label. Nearly nine months passed before another licensed title appeared, but pianist Adelaide Wood’s tear-’em-up version of ‘Down Yonder’ sold enough copies to change the focus of London in favour of non-owned repertoire.
A deal with Lew Chudd’s Imperial label in 1952 brought early success with Slim Whitman and opened the door for hits in the coming years from Fats Domino, Ricky Nelson and Sandy Nelson. By 1955 Imperial had been joined on the London roster by such notable imprints as Jubilee, Dot, Cadence, Modern/RPM, Abbott/Fabor, Herald/Ember, Dootone, Kapp, Era, Savoy and, perhaps most significantly of all, Atlantic. Over the next five years Sun, Cameo, Chess, Liberty, Flip, Excello/Nasco, End/Gone, Specialty, Ace, Challenge, Del-Fi, Vee-Jay, Big Top and numerous joined the London family, many staying well into the 1960s.
It was repertoire sourced from these and other imprints that built London’s unbeatable reputation for rock’n’roll, R&B and American Pop. London was not the only company to issue American recordings during the 50s, but it was the only label dedicated solely to doing so – and if that meant a release schedule in which the Coasters rubbed shoulders with pianist Roger Williams and the orchestras of Lawrence Welk and Billy Vaughn shared catalogue space with Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry, then so be it.
Almost anyone who started collecting records in the 1950s will rhapsodise about their purchases of the latest releases on the black-and sliver, tri-centre pressings that were common to all London 45s until the late 50s, and the enjoyment they derived from seeing a growing pile of the company’s blue and white house bags sitting side-by-side near the family gramophone. For most of us, London wasn’t so much a label as a musical education, which continued into the 1960s fighting off increased competition from other UK majors who’d established US-specific imprints after seeing how successfulLondonhad been. The label’s profile decreased as the 60s progressed, but it continued to be cherished by generations of collectors who, by the 70s, were looking to it as a source of great soul music from logos such as Hi and All Platinum.
London closed in 1979 but was revived in the mid-1980s, coming full circle as licensed repertoire from labels such as Philly World and Vanguard rubbed shoulders with homegrown hits from the Bluebells and Bananarama. Ace’s ongoing series of CDs chronicling London’s activity on a year-by-year basis is not going up that far, but by the time it’s finished it will have told the story of more than 20 years in the life of arguably the UK’s most revered label.
The series so far has more than delivered on its mission statement. Between them the CDs add hundreds of tracks to our catalogue that are not available on other Ace CDs. To preserve authenticity, wherever possible we have mastered from the same tapes used to make the production masters of the original 45s, and all singles that were originally released in mono appear on our CDs in mono, even if a stereo tape has since become available.
By Tony Rounce
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