When The Record Mirror began publishing an LP chart in July 1956, the long playing record market was already dominated by pop vocalists rather than the original concept of classical recordings. There was only a top 5 listing each week, although the magazine publishers obviously tracked titles outside the top 5 as constant mention was made of LPs that were close to the chart and likely to enter the top 5 the following week. We shall never know whether these were absolute facts or whether it was the work of journalists talking up their favourite titles and influencing the readers of Record Mirror to buy certain LPs. It was true that many of the forthcoming tips did in fact enter the top 5 positions not long after being tipped but a few notable examples did not. On the new LP charts, throughout the year, a total of 15 Long Players or LPs reached the top 5, 9 solo artists, 5 film soundtracks and 1 London cast recording. Not that many people noticed or paid much attention to an LP chart in 1956. The total number of albums sold throughout the year was only just over 12 million or 18% of the total units sold, albums and singles. It would take until 1962 before 20 million LP units would be sold and this figure would rise virtually every year, with a few downturns, to reach a peak of 240 million LP units in 2004.
The first number one on the 28th July was Frank Sinatra's Songs For Swingin' Lovers. Fitting that Frank Sinatra should have the first no.1 LP, although the same could have been said about Elvis Presley, but Sinatra had already had 7 chart albums in the US since 1945 and in July 1956, Elvis was only just beginning his chart career. Sinatra's first public performance was as part of the Hoboken Four in 1935 on a radio show talent contest, Original Amateur hour. On tour in 1939, he was heard singing by the bandleader Harry James who hired him to front the band, but by January 1940 he had signed for the much more successful bandleader Tommy Dorsey and featured as lead singer on many of Dorsey's early 1940s hits including the first ever official no.1 sales hit in the US, I'll Never Smile Again. By 1942 he was having solo hits and became a pop phenomenon, the first real teen idol. During the war years, he had several no.1 singles as un-credited lead singer with The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and even Harry James re-issued All Or Nothing At All with a credit line of Frank Sinatra with Harry James & His Orchestra. Sinatra continued to record hits throughout the next ten years running alongside a successful acting career, even a best supporting role Oscar for his part in the non musical From Here to Eternity. Musically he had begun working with the arranger/conductor Nelson Riddle which produced the LP Songs For Swingin' Lovers, on which he recorded classic songs by Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart and the Gershwins. Songs included the ten year old You Make Me Feel So Young to the twenty year old Pennies From Heaven and I've Got You Under My Skin. Despite being at no.1 at the end of July and re-charting several times over the next few years, Songs For Swingin Lovers only remained in the charts of 1956 for 11 weeks and by mid October it was gone.
As previously mentioned, LP charts had been in existence in the USA since 1945. These early LP charts had been dominated by film soundtracks, Cast recordings, MOR crooners Bing Crosby, Vaughn Monroe and Doris Day and big bands such as Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman. More of the same was expected in the UK and indeed, the very first chart consisted of the Frank Sinatra LP, albums by Louis Armstrong and Mel Torme both titled Live At The Crescendo and also two film soundtracks.
Mel Torme had also been recording since the 1940s, primarily LPs based in his live shows in nightclubs and concert halls. His style had always been more appealing to a jazz audience and they did not buy enough records in the mid 50s to make Torme a major recording sales artist. Born in Chicago in 1925, he considered himself a rival to Frank Sinatra and would have gone the route of the big band had he been born earlier, but that route was closed by the time he began his career and he always felt happier singing jazz than standard pop although he had written one of the all time Christmas pop classics, The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire).
He couldn't complain about record sales with two LPs selling well enough to reach the charts during their first year. Live at the Crescendo was recorded live at the Crescendo Club in Los Angeles and featuring classic tracks That Old Black Magic, Blue Moon, Jeepers Creepers, You're Driving Me Crazy, his own version of The Christmas Song and also his hit single from 1956, Mountain Greenery. This was followed by a studio recording in collaboration with pianist/arranger Marty Paich, Mel Torme And The Marty Paich Dektette. Both of these LPs only remained in the charts for just four weeks.
Just one place lower than Mel Torme in the first LP chart was Louis Armstrong, also with an LP recorded live at the Crescendo and featuring the tracks When It's Sleepy Time Down South, Jeepers Creepers, My Bucket's Got A Hole In It, Don't Fence Me In and Stompin At The Savoy. This album made its one and only appearance at no.4 on the first ever chart and was never seen again. Louis Armstrong born in New Orleans on the 4th of July 1900, or at least so he claimed, but had never been proved. He learned the cornet at a reform school and later became one of the legends of jazz, firstly joining King Oliver's Band and beginning a solo career both singing and playing the trumpet from 1926 onwards. Despite being black, he switched from the "race" record label Okeh to its sister Columbia and had his first US no.1 single All Of Me, in 1932. In these early days of the recording industry, some labels only signed black artists and they were only offered to shops selling black recording, whereas other labels, often owned by the same companies, specialised in white artists and selling these records only in white run stores. One has to bear in mind that up until the 1960s in America, segregation by race was commonplace and accepted as the way life is. Apart from the civil rights campaigners and a very few pop stars of the day, to have your records only offered for sale in selected stores was expected and not worth arguing about.
It was not surprising that of the three no.1 albums by solo artists during 1956, the other two were by Bill Haley and Elvis Presley. Not strictly a solo artist, Bill Haley fronted the band The Comets and reached no.1 for just one week with Rock n Roll Stage Shows. They had also been in the charts earlier with Rock Around The Clock reaching no.2. Haley was born in Michigan in 1925, blind in one eye and therefore suffering from a crippling shyness. He called his backing band the Saddlemen when they were playing what they thought was country music, the band wearing cowboy hats, but as they came to accept their music was Rock n Roll, they ditched the country image and the name, taking their new name from Halley's comet.
Haley, best known for his recording of Rock Around The Clock, had already had a hit with Shake Rattle & Roll and had recorded Rocket 88 and Crazy Man Crazy as early as 1951, two classics of Rock n Roll which had not been hits, but had helped to define a genre. The trouble with Rocket 88 at that time was that it was too "white" to sell in race stores and too "black" to be a mainstream hit. A later single Rock The Joint attracted the attention of Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed who played it and records like it, referring to the style as Rock n Roll, thus giving Bill Haley just claim to be in on the birth of a genre before it was even named. Haley was offered the song Rock Around The Clock but the song that broke the band was Shake Rattle and Roll and it was only after its appearance in the juvenile delinquency drama film Blackboard Jungle that Rock Around The Clock began to take off and by 1956 had become the second biggest selling record ever, after White Christmas.
The LP Rock Around The Clock was the same LP as a previously released Shake Rattle & Roll with four extra tracks, Two Hound Dogs, Razzle Dazzle, Burn That Candle and the hit single from earlier in the year, Rock a Beatin Boogie and also included See You Later Alligator, Rock The Joint and Saints Rock & Roll. The other Bill Haley LP, Rock N Roll Stage Show actually hit no.30 on the singles chart on the week of the 10th November, but two weeks earlier it spent its and Haley's one and only week on top of the LP charts. It was conceived as an album, as opposed to a collection of singles or songs, although of the 12 tracks, Rockin Through The Rye was a hit single, the rest of the LP, although recorded in a studio, was a showcase for the Comets live shows with five instrumentals among the 12 tracks, six of which were recorded in one day's session, including Rudy's Rock and Calling All Comets featuring the sax player Rudy Pompelli and steel guitarist, Billy Williamson on Hide and Seek
In the late spring of 1956 however, the role of leader of the Rock n Roll movement was taken over by Elvis Presley. Elvis looked the part as well and Bill Haley was already in his 30s and never had the sexual attraction of his younger rival. Elvis Presley's first chart album, Rock n Roll also spent just one week at the top in 1956. Elvis Aaron Presley born in Tupelo Mississippi in 1935 as one of a set of twins, his brother Jesse was stillborn. He had moved to Memphis by his teens where he sung a mixture of blues, country, gospel and bluegrass, the music of the era. Sun records owner Sam Phillips, looking for a white man who could sing with a black feel, found Elvis and teamed him up with Scotty Moore and Bill Black on the first recording That's All Right Mama and a further four singles on the Sun label. They sold well in the Memphis area, and attracted the interest of the national record company RCA who bought his contract for the astronomical sum of $35000. The first RCA single Heartbreak Hotel established Elvis as an international superstar and by the time he had also had hit singles with Blue Suede Shoes, I Want You I Need You I Love You and the double sided Hound Dog/Don't Be Cruel, the first LP was eagerly awaited. When Rock n Roll was finally released it was a compilation of four of the Sun label tracks recorded in 1954/5 but also included a cover of Little Richard's Tutti Fruitti and Carl Perkins Blue Suede Shoes. Despite the LPs impact, entering at no.3 at the beginning of November and one week later, hitting no.1, it only spent a total of seven weeks on the listings and by mid December, it had departed.
Of the fifteen LPs that reached the chart during 1956, six climbed to the very top, the previously discussed LPs by Frank Sinatra, Bill Haley and Elvis Presley. The other three number one LPs during 1956 were all film soundtracks and all were Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, Carousel, Oklahoma and The King And I. Carousel spent six weeks at no.1, Oklahoma three weeks, but the King And I turned out to be one of the all time longest runners, 10 weeks at the top in 1956 and a total of 48 weeks spread over the following couple of years.
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein did not involve themselves in the movie version of their second musical Carousel which was the least successful of the three adaptations of their shows released within an eight month period from October 1955 to June 1956. Oklahoma which preceeded it and The King And I which followed were both blockbuster hits, while Carousel was considered at the time a failure. The dark story had also been less of a success on Broadway originally. Billy Bigelow is sent down "from above" for one day to try and make amends for mistakes he made in life. Billy worked at the carnival running the carousel, which is where he met Julie. He and Julie get married but Billy gets into bad habits when he can't find a job. When Julie tells him she's pregnant, he feels compelled to somehow find a way to support his family, but the only option seems to be falling back into crime with his old pal Jigger. On a job that goes badly wrong, Billy is shot and killed. Songs from the original show that were included were If I Loved You, June Is Bustin Out All Over, A Real Nice Clambake and of course You'll Never Walk Alone. Carousel was in second place on the first chart and apart from missing a couple of weeks in November, remained on the chart throughout 1956.
Yul Brynner and Deborah Carr starred in the King And I, the third longest running LP at no.1 ever with 48 weeks at the top. Mrs. Anna Leonowens and her son Louis arrive in Siam, where she has contracted to teach English to the children of the royal household. She threatens to leave when the house she had been promised is not available, but falls in love with the children. Anna and the King fall in love, but her British upbringing inhibits her from joining his harem. She is just about to leave Siam when she hears of the King's imminent death, and returns to help his son, her favorite pupil, rule his people. Deborah Carr, although starring in the film, did not feature on the recording, the female singing part was taken by Marni Nixon on I Whistle A Happy Tune, Getting To Know You and Hello Young Lovers.
Oklahoma first appeared on stage in 1944. A simple plot of a couple of young cowboys win the hearts of their sweethearts in the Oklahoma territory at the turn of the century, despite the interference of an evil ranch hand and a roaming peddler. Eleven years later, just two songs were cut for the film version, Lonely Room sung by the character Jud about his resentments and frustrations at being overlooked, and It's A Scandal It's An Outrage, the lead roles in the film being taken by Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones, after Frank Sinatra had walked out in a contract dispute. Songs included Oh What A Beautiful Morning, Surrey With A Fringe On Top, I Can't Say No, People Will Say We're In Love and Many A New Day.
Non Rodgers and Hammerstein musical soundtracks, both reaching a peak of no.3 were the Eddy Duchin Story and High Society, although High Society would have its week at the top the following year, only entering the charts of 1956 with two weeks to go. High Society starred Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra together with Grace Kelly and Celeste Holm. A musical remake of the film The Philadelphia Story, the story concerns the re-marriage of Tracy Lord and her former husband CK Dexter Haven who turns up and woos her all over again. The songs include True Love, I Love You Samantha, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. It also included the Cole Porter song from a previous musical Well Did You Evah which was added as an afterthought when it was realised that Bing and Frank should have a duet, and also Louis Armstrong makes a major cameo appearance, playing himself, the leader of a jazz band and singing two songs, High Society Calypso and Now You Has Jazz.
The Eddy Duchin Story, a biopic of the life story of the pianist and bandleader from the 1930s starred Tyrone Power and included the songs My Blue Heaven, September Song, Stardust and Shine On Harvest Moon. On the 4th of August, the second week of the chart, the London Cast recording of Salad Days entered and eventually peaked at no.5. Salad Days is a light hearted, comedy musical without any dark undertones. Set in London in the early-mid 20th Century the story revolves around Jane and Timothy. Jane is in search of marriage, Timothy in search of a career. It is a magic piano called Minnie which takes them on an enchanted adventure by compelling people to dance and be happy. Tracks include We Said We Wouldn't Look Back, Find Yourself Something To Do, I Sit In The Sun and Oh Look At Me.
Lonnie Donegan hit no.2 in the chart with the Lonnie Donegan Showcase. Lonnie Donegan, the inventor of the do it yourself musical style, Skiffle utilising any household object that could be used as an instrument, particularly the washboard, a ribbed scrubbing board, a tea chest, a piece of rope or a broom handle. He was born Anthony James Donegan in Glasgow in 1931 and moved to the East End of London when he was two years old. His original musical influences were the swing and big bands of the early to mid 1940s, Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey, but he also claimed to have been influenced by the vocal groups The Ink Spots and The Andrews Sisters and also less mainstream blues recordings by Frank Crumit and Josh White. The name of the style of music he eventually adopted and became famous for "Skiffle" was also not new, having been used as early as 1930 for a Chicago based band called the Dan Burley Skiffle Group. One of his first recordings was the track Rock Island Line which became his first hit single. His next single for Decca was Diggin My Potatoes which was banned by the BBC for suggestive lyrics. Although Decca dropped him from their roster, this did him no long term harm and he signed to Pye Records and released the single Lost John which climbed to no.2 and established Lonnie Donegan as an artist with a distinctive style. When the Lonnie Donegan Showcase LP was released, it also reached no.2 the first week in December and remained there throughout the month, but also climbed to no.26 on the singles chart on the first week of January 1957.
The only other LP to hit the chart during this first year of 1956 was Mario Lanza's Student Prince, a LP first released in 1954 and already having spent 36 weeks at no.1 in the US. This album would re-enter the chart two years later but spent only one week at no.4 on the 11th August 1956. Mario Lanza was born in Philadelphia as Alfredo Arnold Cocozza, the son of Italian immigrants. Basing his style on Enrico Caruso and appearing in several operas, and had already achieved 5 no.1 LPs in the US between 1951 and 1955, including The Toast Of New Orleans which featured his no.1 single Be My Love. He also starred in several films including playing his idol Caruso in the Great Caruso. The Student Prince featured three of his UK hit singles The Drinking Song, Serenade and I'll Walk With God.
So much for the albums that did make the chart during the first year of its existence, however, there was no room at all for US number ones from this year, Harry Belafonte's Belafonte and Calypso. Belafonte spent 36 weeks at no.1 in the USA but never reached the UK album charts ever. In the USA he also charted in 1956 with Mark Twain And Other Folk Favourites. Elvis Presley's first LP spent 10 weeks at no.1 in the US but was not released in the UK and neither was the LP Elvis. There was also no room in the new LP charts in the UK for successful US LPs Julie London-Julie Is Her Name, the Soundtrack to The Man With The Golden Arm, Four Lads-On The Sunny Side, Les Elgart-The Elgart Touch, Jo Stafford-Ski Trails, the Soundtrack to The Benny Goodman Story, Ella Fitzgerald's Cole Porter Song Book, Vic Damone-That Towering Feeling, Lawrence Welk And His Sparkling Strings, Paul Weston's Solo Mood or Don Cherry-Swingin For Two, all US top 5 LPs. With the majority of record buyers still purchasing singles, there was virtually no crossover between this chart and the new LP charts. Surprisingly, there was also no room in the album charts at all for every single one of the artists who achieved a number one single in the UK during 1956.
NUMBER OF TOP 5 ALBUMS - 15
NUMBER OF #1 ALBUMS - 6
Top albums of 1956
1 Soundtrack - Carousel
2 Soundtrack - King And I
3 Soundtrack - Oklahoma
4 Bill Haley & Comets - Rock Around The Clock
5 Frank Sinatra - Songs For Swingin' Lovers
6 Bill Haley & Comets - Rock n Roll Stage Shows
7 Lonnie Donegan - Showcase
8 Elvis Presley - Rock n Roll
9 Mel Torme - At The Crescendo
10 Soundtrack - Eddy Duchin Story