Silver sixties on disc, the winners

Jan 2015 Silver sixties on disc, the winners

By Pat Murphy

The music industry historically awarded Gold Discs for sales of a million or more, but the overwhelming bulk of the discs were for performance in the American market.

Relatively speaking, Britain was too small to compete in that league. Indeed, throughout the 1950s, it’s estimated that only three records – Rock Around The Clock, Diana, and Mary’s Boy Child – surpassed the British million mark.

Then in 1959, Gerald Marks, editor of the music paper Disc, had a bright idea: Why not create a British equivalent, scaled to recognize differences in population and market size.

And so, the British Silver Disc was born, to be awarded to all records that sold 250,000 or more in the UK.

The first winner, announced in early May 1959, was Russ Conway’s Side Saddle. Two weeks later, awards went to Elvis Presley (I Need Your Love Tonight) and Buddy Holly (It Doesn’t Matter Anymore). By summer’s end, Marty Wilde, Bobby Darin and Cliff Richard had joined the silver club.

Cliff, in fact, quickly became the king of the silver discs. By the end of 1963, his cumulative total stood at 17, four ahead of Elvis who was at 13. Cliff’s pace subsequently slackened, but it wasn’t until 1969 that The Beatles finally caught and then passed him.

But more about that in a moment.

With the exception of Gee Whiz It’s You – anomalous by virtue of being an import not intended for British release –
every Cliff single from Living Doll to Don’t Talk to Him passed the 250,000 threshold. It was a sustained consistency that left his contemporary British rivals far behind.

As for Elvis, his impressive early streak had a couple of interesting twists. Although he already had three silver discs under his belt by the end of 1960, Decca – the company that distributed Elvis in Britain – opted to get a tad superior.

He was, they said, above all this nonsense and didn’t need the publicity, so they wouldn’t be claiming any more such awards on his behalf. However, they relented within 12 months, doing a mass catch-up at the end of 1961. In effect, this meant that the intervening five – previously unclaimed – singles were thus duly credited to his account.

The other twist came in February 1962 when G I Blues had the distinction of being the first album recognised for sales in excess of 250,000 in Britain, thus earning a silver disc. It was also the only award that Disc formally made for an album, although the Beatles would certainly have qualified on a number of occasions.

The Beatles did prosper in the silver disc arena. Beginning with Please Please Me in early 1963, they embarked on an unbroken streak of 19 consecutive silver singles. In addition, six EPs hit the 250,000 mark.

Accordingly, they caught up with Cliff’s cumulative total in May 1969 and duly passed him a couple of months later. However, if Disc hadn’t stopped formally recognising albums after G I Blues, this transfer of the crown would’ve transpired two or three years earlier.

Then there was the matter of the slow burners. While most silver disc winners attained relatively high chart positions and passed the 250,000 mark within a few months of release, others travelled by a more gradual route.

Take, for instance, Tony Bennett’s I Left My Heart in San Francisco. First released in 1962, it didn’t appear in the charts until May 1965, even then only enjoying modest apparent success. However, in the true spirit of the tortoise eventually getting to its destination, it crossed the silver threshold in May 1967.

Wink Martindale’s Deck of Cards was another slow grower. Slipping under the radar after a few unobtrusive weeks in early 1960, it returned with a vengeance in April 1963. This time it made it into the Top Five, spent 21 weeks in the chart, and passed 250,000 in the process.

The silver disc statistics also provide a window into the impact of the beat group boom, in terms of both overall sales and the split between British and American acts.

In 1962 – the year immediately before the boom – a total of 35 silver discs were awarded. Of these, 60% went to British records. Two years later, the number of awards had rocketed to 57, a full 75% of which were won by British acts.

That’s not all that jumps out at you from a perusal of the honour roll. There’s the matter of hot streaks that suddenly end.

For example, Frank Ifield scored no fewer than five silver awards between July 1962 and August 1963. But if you’d said he was too hot not to cool down, you’d have been spot on. After I’m Confessin’, the Ifield glory days were over.

Similarly, The Searchers racked-up five between August 1963 and December 1964, but then things went rapidly off the rails. There was to be just one more Top 10 entry and no more silver discs.

Indeed, in the decade and a bit from May 1959 through the end of the 1960s, only four acts managed to register in double digits. You Had The Beatles (25), Cliff (24), Elvis (15), and the Rolling Stones (11).

To give Elvis his full due, had the silver disc been inaugurated in, say, 1956 rather than 1959, he’d have surely notched up another half-dozen or so.

All in all, it’s a pretty select group. Perhaps it really is lonely at the very top.

A native of Ireland, Pat Murphy now lives in Toronto, Canada.