VinylThough one could reasonably claim that, in an age of iPod shuffling and the downloading of individual tracks at the expense of a carefully planned running order by the artist, the recorded album as a structured art-form no longer exists, the fact remains that this weekend marks the sixtieth anniversary of the British album charts. The first chart-topping LP (as the album was commonly referred to prior to the advent of the CD) was Frank Sinatra’s peerless ‘Songs for Swinging Lovers’, a classic for a defiantly adult audience, the audience the LP primarily catered for following its 1948 introduction onto the market. Initially, the Long Playing record was developed for classical music, enabling separate movements of orchestral works to completely fill two sides of vinyl, rather than being split into little sections as had been the case with the 78. The newfangled format was soon taken up by the mums and dads as a grown-up alternative to the vinyl choice of their children, the 45rpm. It continued to be a barometer of largely adult tastes for the first half-decade of the LP charts’ existence.

Glancing at a list of early LP chart-toppers, however, it’s interesting to note appearances by the likes of Elvis Presley, Bill Haley and Tommy Steele, even if Rock ‘n’ Roll has a mere cameo role to play where No.1 albums are concerned during the late 50s and early 60s. If one imagined ‘Original Soundtrack’ was the name of a band, they’d probably be the most successful album act of all time, for original soundtrack recordings utterly dominate the album charts during this period.

‘Carousel’, ‘Oklahoma!’, ‘The King and I’, ‘High Society’ and ‘My Fair Lady’ – either original Broadway cast recordings of stage musicals or the movie versions – all spent endless weeks sitting atop the LP charts between 1956-58, though none can compete with the daddy of them all, ‘South Pacific’. Hitting No.1 in November 1958, the soundtrack album for the film of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s stage musical remained resident at the top of the charts for the next 70 weeks! Yes, it was the sole No.1 LP for the whole of 1959 and wasn’t deposed until March 1960. That wasn’t the end of the album’s chart-topping run, however; it returned to No.1 on a further seven occasions, finally ending a staggering tally of 115 weeks at the top with one solitary week in September 1961, almost three years after first reaching the pinnacle. Beat that, ‘Thriller’.

The early 60s saw an upsurge of chart-toppers from Elvis, Cliff Richard and The Shadows, as well as the incursion of Trad Jazz via the likes of Chris Barber, Kenny Ball and Acker Bilk, though middle-of-the road tastes were still the dominant trend; The Black and White Minstrels had a trio of No.1 LPs in 1961-62 and ‘West Side Story’ upheld the original soundtrack tradition.

There was a notable change from May 1963, however, when The Beatles’ debut album, ‘Please Please Me’, hit the top of the charts. It remained there for the next seven months, only knocked off No.1 by the follow-up, ‘With The Beatles’, in December. After almost a full year as the sole No.1 album act, The Beatles were momentarily deposed by The Rolling Stones, when their debut long-player hit the top for twelve weeks in April 1964. Most retrospectively regard the rivalry between the two bands in terms of the singles chart, though it’s more glaringly evident in the LP chart of the time. ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ knocked the first Stones album off No.1 in July, a position it occupied until The Beatles again replaced themselves in December, this time with ‘Beatles for Sale’. ‘The Rolling Stones No.2’ hit the top spot at the end of January ’65 and the Beatles-Stones dominance of the chart finally ended when Bob Dylan’s ‘Freewheelin’ reached No.1 in April, the first non-Beatles or Stones chart-topper in two whole years.

By the mid-60s, the LP was becoming more recognised as an additional vinyl plaything for the singles-buying teens, with further chart-toppers from The Beatles, Stones and Dylan enhancing the generational handover where the album was concerned. There was one final hurrah for the old-school LP, however, when the soundtrack album for ‘The Sound of Music’ hit No.1 in May 1965, a position it returned to on a further ten occasions for the following two-and-a-half years, enjoying 70 chart-topping weeks in total. Hard to believe in an age when the songs from the film are now primarily seen as the province of a cult and mainly gay audience; but it was once the mainstream.

It was the release of ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ in June 1967 that finally sealed the album as the vinyl purchase of choice for the record-buying masses, a position it held throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, surviving the changes in formats, from the cassette to the CD. The changes of the past decade, however, have altered the listening experience far more dramatically than at any time since the long-playing record appeared 68 years ago. The listener can now choose the running order of the album if they so wish; and the cohesive narrative of songs that became the album’s most distinctive hallmark has been rendered redundant. Still, it was bloody good while it lasted.

© The Editor


  1. There’s a more prosaic reason for soundtracks to be so popular: they were acceptable gifts, neither too expensive nor too cheap, easily chosen for Christmas, easy to wrap.

    My father’s record collection staggered up to maybe ten LPS by 1965, only one of which he or our mum bought for themselves (A Hard Day’s Night) and included a gifted South Pacific, a gifted Sound of Music and a gifted West Side Story.

    By the way, “album” was current in the 1960s, well before CDs were invented. The Beatles’ eponymous double was known as the White Album in 1968: the likes of Sergeant Pepper, Ogdens Nut Gone Flake, Days of Future Past etc. were all widely reported as concept albums.


    1. I think another reason why soundtrack albums were so popular and sold so much is, obviously, the nonexistence of VHS or DVD. Like the tie-in paperbacks that used to accompany movies and TV shows, they were the nearest you could get to reliving the experience in your own home.


  2. For most of we cash-strapped teenagers in the 60s, it was enough of a struggle to stretch to the occasional 45rpm single at 6s 8d each, an EP cost 13s 4d and an LP was an unaffordable luxury item at 25s – you might manage a 7″ single once a month. (For younger readers, those are 33.3p, 66.7p and £1.25 respectively).

    My parents had the soundtrack LPs from some of the big shows such as Oklahoma, My Fair Lady, South Pacific etc. which, to my young mind were just a collection of random songs – it wasn’t until much later, when I’d seen the various films, that I could finally put those songs into some sort of context. I’ll admit to still enjoying My Fair Lady on film, partly for the elfin delight of Audrey Hepburn, plus the unique non-singing singing of Rex Harrison and some excellent lyrics – also giving due credit to Marnie Nixon for the real singing voice of ‘Eliza’.

    But progress can’t be resisted, and indeed why should it – Mrs M now has miniscule USB sticks, each of which currently stores her 400 best tunes (with room for 1,200 at a push) and which live in each of the cars, so she can get her fix of her favourites wherever she goes. True, it lacks the coherence of a creative artist’s themed album, but it’s her own unique theme, which is probably better. Onwards and upwards.

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    1. I confess the facility to burn discs has transformed my listening habits over the past five or six years; I now have more CDs I’ve compiled myself than actual official albums I’ve bought, but they’re essentially the next step up from ye olde ‘mix tape’. I still periodically purchase proper albums, but my long service as a financial supporter of the music industry has, I feel, earned me the right to DIY.

      I find the use of memory sticks more revolutionary re video. I still have ‘Fawlty Towers’ on VHS, a mere twelve episodes spread over four heavyweight tapes, whereas I know now I could fit that as well as all four ‘Python’ series that preceded it (and probably ‘Ripping Yarns’) on one miniscule stick. I can’t dispute that’s progress, certainly in terms of storage space!


      1. Some years ago I bought the complete boxed set of ‘This Sceptred Isle’, the BBC audio production, some of which I’d heard on the long, lonely motorway drives in my long-distance working days – in total, it’s more than 40 CDs, around 45 hours of brilliantly described British history from 55BC to 2000. But cumbersome to manage.
        It’s now all burnt onto a USB stick – portable, flexible, robust, secure, contiguous files, the ideal format.

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  3. The first records I ever listened to where beautiful recordings of Beatrix potter stories or Peter and the Wold, all in beautiful highly coloured red or yellow vinyl. The stories were delivered in equally beautiful (to me than and now) cut glass RP.
    The first album I ever acquired would have been Christmas 1973. it would have been one of the very first collective albums, where all the recent hits were put on – maybe “Now that’s what I call music 1”. I know this because it was Christmas and it was one of the first years I was allowed to stay up after 12 o clock and open my presents early, and I played it on my brothers “turntable” and listened with headphones. it included Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting” and Stefanie de Sykes and Rain’s “Born with a smile on my face.”
    Thus sated, I was content to let the rest of pop culture pass me by….

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    1. The first LP I ever received as a present was for my 8th birthday in 1975 – it was a ‘story’ album, called ‘The Happy Monsters’. The following year, I received MFP’s celebrated LP of James Bond themes by Geoff Love and his Orchestra. Until my pocket money increased in line with inflation, albums were strictly reserved for birthdays and Xmas.


  4. The other point about the album format – with a few honourable exceptions, e.g. most of The Beatles’ works (though not Revolution No. 9 on the White Album, thank you very much) – was the rather low ratio of good tracks to what could politely be described as ‘filler’. As the record companies were calling the shots in those days, they could decide exacly what went where on each album.

    Nowadays we can choose to buy single tracks, skip tracks, shuffle the listening order and rip selected tracks to create our own digital albums if we feel like it. We, not they control the listening experience. This has got to be a good thing, for us at any rate.


    1. Ironically, I think it was record companies themselves that paved the way for this, messing with the running order of a reissued classic album by tagging on bonus tracks – B-sides, outtakes, alternate mixes etc. An example is the CD of the first Roxy Music album, in which ‘Virginia Plain’ is sandwiched between the original tracks 3 and 4 – a stand-alone single never intended to be on that album.


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