Today, 50 years on, the 1960s is still regarded as the benchmark to which all other decades are compared. Not just in terms of popular music but also in language, style, attitude and the emerging youth culture that each ensuing decade’s ‘new youth’ thinks they invented.

In terms of popular music the decade got off to a very inauspicious start. Many of the ‘hot’ stars of the 1950s were becoming watered-down, sanitised versions of their earlier selves, as icons such as Elvis Presley in the USA and Cliff Richard in Great Britain (both of whom continued to have million-sellers) were being steered away from their rock n’ roll roots towards sugar-sweet family entertainment. But in 1963 the world of pop suddenly changed. The age of the ‘super-groups’ was born and bands such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, and The Kinks, to name just a few, led a British musical revolution that swept across the Atlantic to America and had the public on both sides of the big pond clamouring to buy more records than ever before. Although the USA had ruled the roost during the preceding decade by 1964 Britain was the dominant force with UK acts comprising the entire top ten for the first time.

The R&B and Soul scene had always included many talented people who far too often didn't receive the popularity of less-talented white groups because of barriers and prejudices. But in the 1960s there was a notable emergence of black music stars who were championed by the likes of The Beatles, The Who and The Stones who helped introduce them to a new audience. These groups/artistes were able focus their musical talents through quality labels such as Atlantic and Motown.

The mid-to-late 1960s also saw the emergence of the drug influenced pop song as artists such The Beatles and The Beach Boys experimented with substances such as LSD as exemplified by albums such as Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. 1967 became known as the 'summer of love' as the youth of the day implored world leaders to give peace a chance. It was definitely the era to ‘tune in’ and ‘drop out’.

Although mono remained the master format for singles, by the late 1960s Stereophonic sound, which was first announced by EMI in the 1950s was becoming ever more popular, as were pre-recorded tapes which was helped by the launch of cassette players in Europe as well as the more bulky, and ultimately destined for extinction, eight-track tapes.

On the pages that follow we'll look at the British million selling records and recording artistes from 1960 to 1969.


Lonnie Donegan - My Old Man's A Dustman. The song that gave Lonnie the distinction of being the first British vocalist to enjoy three million-sellers, selling that number in Britain alone. This comedic song about a dustman was adapted from a World War 1 march - 'My old man's a farmer, now what do you think of that? He's wearing khaki trousers and a little gawblimey hat'.

Rolf Harris - Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport. Song that started a new craze -the wobble board. Rolf Harris, the son of Welsh parents who had emigrated from their native Cardiff, was born on 30th March, 1930 in Perth, Australia, where he got his first break in a talent show called 'Amateur Hour'. The story goes that in 1958 he was drying an oil painting on an oil heater. The painting got too hot so Rolf picked it up by it's edges and began to wobble it back and forth in order to cool it down. The resounding 'twang' that the board made was, he decided, just the type of sound he wanted for the background of his kangaroo song. After the song rocketed to number one in the Australian charts he was aproached by a Masonite firm to produce more of the boards, and in a short space of time over 55,000 were sold in Australia alone. Rolf moved to the UK in 1952 where he became a popular entertainer, landing his own TV show on BBC television and being awarded an M.B.E. in 1968 followed by an O.B.E. in 1977. As well as one of the countries (adopted) best loved entertainers Rolf Harris is an accomplished artist having recently been commissioned to paint a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.

The Shadows - Apache. First million-seller for Britain's most famous instrumental group of all time whose starting line-up consisted of Hank Marvin (lead guitar), Bruce Welch (rhythm guitar), Jet Harris (guitar) and Tony Meehan (drums). They were the regular backing group for Cliff Richard and this record was their fourth release. Harris and Meehan left the group to become an independent duo and were replaced by John Rostill and Brian Bennett, respectively. The 'Shads' went on to lasting chart success. Harris and Meehan didn't.


Kenny Ball and his Band - Midnight In Moscow. First million seller for Kenny born on 2nd May 1931 in Ilford, Essex. He gave up his job as a salesman started out on his musical career with Charlie Galbraith's All Star Jazz Band in 1951. At 23 he entered show business full-time making his first big impression at no lesser venue than the Royal Albert Hall, making his TV debut round the same time. He travelled extensively in the early days ending up in the Frankfurt, Germany in 1960 where he was talent spotted by Lonnie Donegan and given a recording contract with Pye Records. Since then, Kenny has toured extensively throughout the world and in 1963 he became the first British jazzman ever to become an honorary citizen of New Orleans.

Mr Acker Bilk - Stranger On The Shore. First million seller for Acker Bilk which had the distinction of being the longest runner in the British charts (39 weeks unbroken) until that record was broken in 1966. The single has an interesting history in as much as it was originally called 'Jenny'. Bilk composed the tune himself titling it after one of his children and it was issued in the USA by Atlantic Records on his album 'Sentimental Journey'. Then the BBC stepped in deciding that it was the perfect theme tune to a new children's drama serial they were about to launch called 'Stranger On The Shore'. (See the review at Television Heaven). The track was promptly renamed and issued as a single in the UK. Acker Bilk was born Bernard Stanley Bilk in Somerset on 28th January 1929. The name 'Acker' is a rural name for 'mate'. He was a familiar figure for many years on British TV with his distinctive bowler hat and coloured waistcoat.

Petula Clark - Romeo. First million seller for the star born Petula Sally Olwen Clark on 15th November, 1932 in West Ewell, Surrey. She was performing on local radio (in Cardiff) by the age of nine and was soon signed up as a major emerging young talent, making no less than 20 movies between the ages of 11 and 18. In 1950 she was also voted the Most Outstanding TV Artist in the UK and signed a recording contract with PYE records in 1955. Her first major seller was 'Sailor' in 1960. She went on to become a major star throughout Europe recording in English, French and German. By 1970 she had sold well over 25 million discs worldwide.

Helen Shapiro - You Don't Know. Born in the East End of London on 28th September, 1946, Helen started to take singing lessons at the Maurice Berman School of Singing where, one day, it was visited by John Shroeder of EMI who was on the lookout for new talent. He was so impressed with the young 13-year old that he arranged for her to have an audition which resulted in the instant offer of a contract and a record 'Don't Treat Me Like A Child' being especially written for her by Schroeder. She became the discovery of 1961 being voted the number one British Female Singer of the Year for both this year and the next. By now she was 14 and still attending Clapton Girls School in the London borough of Hackney. By the time she was 15 she had appeared in numerous radio and TV shows including a documentary called 'Look At Life'. Her mature voice seemed to belong to a singer who was much older and she continued to be a headliner in the early part of the decade. On her tours she was backed by a number of supporting acts, and on one of these tours was an up-and-coming group called 'The Beatles'. Before the tour had finished they had become the new pop sensations themselves. Years after disappearing from the pop scene Helen returned to the recording studio as a successful jazz singer.

Tony Sheridan and The Beatles - My Bonnie. A record that may have struggled to have reached a few hundred thousand sales, let alone a million, had it not been for the phenomenal success of the 'backing group'. But a million it did achieve even if it did take a while to go gold. Anthony Esmond Sheridan McGinnity was an ex-art school student from Norwich who had joined the exodus of hopeful up-and-coming British singers and pop groups to Hamburg, Germany where the all-night clubs and bars offered gainful employment for anyone willing to work long hours for little money and a roof over their heads. It was here that Sheridan met The Beatles, who at that time were comprised of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and (drummer) Pete Best. My Bonnie was an updated rhythmic version of a traditional song believed to have been written around 1881 and actually attained sales in Germany, where it was released on the Polydor label, of 100,000 discs. But word reached the Beatles native Liverpool of it's release and one enquiring soul decided to visit his local record store to attain a copy of it. The store's owner said he hadn't heard of it but was happy to order it. The store's owner was called Brian Epstein.


The Beatles - Love Me Do. The story of the Beatles early years through to their phenomenal success and eventual break-up has been told in countless books and translated into as many languages, and cannot be done justice in a few lines here. It's a complicated story but perhaps not as complicated as the release of their first UK single, 'Love Me Do', which was attributed to John Lennon and Paul McCartney but is said to have been written by Paul in 1958, when he was 16, about his girlfriend at that time, Iris Caldwell. The Beatles recorded numerous versions of the song with 3 different drummers. At their first Parlophone audition in June 1962, Pete Best was still their drummer. But when they recorded it on September 4th, Best had been replaced by Ringo Starr. After a fifteen take session, producer George Martin decided he would put this out as their first single but when the group returned to the studio a week later Martin still wasn't entirely happy with the finished product. The group were a little taken aback when Martin introduced session drummer Andy White, but they went along with him and recorded a retake, while Ringo stood by and played the tambourine. The initial recording with Ringo on the drums is the one released as the single. However, for reasons that are not clear, Martin decided to use the Andy White version on the Beatles first album. Whether he preferred White's drumming on this number to Ringo's is not clear, but Martin did say that he used White's version on the album because the master tape of this song had been sent overseas to an EMI subsidiary company. To add further confusion -later in 1963, following the Beatles meteoric rise, when the single was re-released it was the retake version with Andy White that was issued. So, if you happen to have an original EMI release of October 5, 1962 (on the red Parlaphone label), you have the Ringo version. Any US release as a single (April 27th, 1964 on Tollie Records), has the White version. There-clear as mud.

Petula Clark - Monsieur. Second million seller for Petula, sold 250,000 in Germany before the end of the year and totalled 2 million on the Continent. Her third million seller was Chariot.

Frank Ifield - I Remember You. Despite the fact that most people in the UK regarded him as an Australian, Francis Edward Ifield was born in Coventry, England on 30th November, 1937. His parents emigrated when he was very young and Frank began recording at the age of 15. In four years he had 44 records issued in Australia becoming the number one recording star there, as well as in New Zealand, and Tasmania before he was nineteen. He was signed by EMI Records on Columbia, under the guidance of Norrie Paramor, shortly after he came to London in 1959 and had his first British hit in 1960 with 'Lucky Devil' which reached number 22 in the charts. In 1962 he hit the top of the charts with this single, which sold 102,000 copies in one day and 367,000 in five days following it's release. 'I Remember You' was soon followed by Lovesick Blues which also went gold in 1962 and when his third single, The Wayward Wind, went to Number One he became the first artist to have three consecutive number one hits in Britain as well as three gold discs.

Cliff Richard and The Shadows - The Young Ones. Title of Cliff's first big film role, this single had at that time the most advance sales for any Britsh release totalling 524,000 copies by the day of its release. Before the year was out Cliff released a disc from his forthcoming second movie, 'Summer Holiday'. Bachelor Boy b/w The Next Time, which also sold over a million copies.

The Shadows - Wonderful Land. Lively million seller for the famous instrumental group.

The Tornados - Telstar. This tune was composed by Joe Meek an ex-junior studio engineer who opened up his own hit-factory in Holloway Road, North London. After advertising for a group in early 1962 he hired Clem Cattini, Alan Caddy, George Bellamy, Roger Jackson and Heinz Burt to form The Tornados. They were put on tour with John Leyton before landing a record contract with Decca following a season backing Billy Fury in Great Yarmouth. Following the first trans-Atlantic television transmission from the Telstar satellite on 23rd July, 1962, Meek was inspired to write this instrumental. He phoned the Tornados immediately he'd finished writing it and arranged for them to record it the next weekend. Within an hour of arriving they were in his studio working out the arrangement and half an hour later the disc was cut. Global sales of the record are estimated to have exceeded five million and the record stayed at number one in the UK for three weeks. Meek died tragically on 3rd February, 1967.

1963 and beyond to follow. Check back soon for updates.

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Gold Discs source:
The Book of Golden Discs by Joseph Murrells ISBN 0214204804