Earliest British Acts on the US Best Sellers 1940-1963

PART 2 1956-1963 (part 1 below)

Lonnie Donegan was one of the first rock-oriented acts to score Stateside; he and fellow newcomer Elvis Presley were simultaneously in the Top 10 in 1956. British vocalists also only managed one Top 10 single in both 1957 and 1958. Interestingly, the former, ‘Rainbow’, which made a pot of gold for the first transatlantically successful Liverpool singer/songwriter Russ Hamilton, was the overlooked b-side of his No.2 hit ‘We Will Make Love’ in his homeland. The UK’s 1958 winner, 13 year old Laurie London’s ‘He’s Got The Whole World’ In His Hands’, which topped the US Cash Box chart, stalled outside the UK Top 10. The last year of the decade was also the best for British records Stateside, with three singles sitting simultaneously in the US Top 20 in February. However, yet again they were all by instrumental outfits.


In 1961 three British vocal singles reached the US Top 20, two of which (Hayley Mills and Lonnie Donegan) could be categorised as novelties. The following year, two of Britain’s leading trad jazz acts Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball had huge hits there – but they did not herald the start of any similar craze in the land where that style of music had originated from. 1962 also saw the first Top 20 hit by a UK vocal group, The Springfields, and the first No.1 by a group, The Tornadoes (another instrumental). In the year leading up to the British Invasion eight UK singles cracked the US Top 100 but only one of them reached the Top 20, ‘You Don’t Have To Be A Baby To Cry’ by girl duo The Caravelles, which exited the Top 20 as ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ by The Beatles rocketed onto the Top 100 on Jan 18 1964.


Statistically speaking, in the first nine years of rock music (1955-1963) of the 1187 singles that reached the US Top 20 only 1.25% originated in Britain (a figure that increased to 26% in 1964!). In truth, British acts did not seriously consider the possibility that they may have a US hit when they recorded, as a British entry in the Top 100 was so rare at that time that the UK music media handed out plaudits to any act that could even managed to reach the lower rungs. Among the acts who achieved that lesser feat were Cliff Richard, Marty Wilde, Anthony Newley, Helen Shapiro and comic turned chartmaker Charlie Drake. Interestingly Frankie Vaughan, The Beverley Sisters, Bob Sharples, Ron Goodwin, Lord Rockingham’s XI, Mike Preston, Betty Smith and Knightsbridge Strings all managed Top 100 placings with songs that failed to click in the UK!


Anyone under 45 will find it hard to imagine a time when British singles had little or no chance of charting in the USA. Forty years ago, it was by no means a forgone conclusion that The Beatles, or any of the British “beat boom” brigade, would be successful Stateside – if anything, history showed quite the opposite. Merseybeat (a term which encompassed all the groups coming out of the lively Liverpool music scene) was a huge musical craze in the UK, as had trad jazz and skiffle been previously – and there was no reason to think that it’s impact overseas would be any stronger. UK acts may have had the odd hit in the USA, but a long-term career there was considered completely out of the question.


Among the British records that fell by the wayside in America in 1963 were three singles and an album by The Beatles. ‘Please Please Me’ had received some radio support but sales there were minimal, and The Beatles’ UK chart topper ‘From Me To You’ came a poor second in the US to a cover version by Del Shannon, the two reaching positions 116 and 77 respectively.


07/04/56  8 ROCK ISLAND LINE-Lonnie Donegan                                        

12/08/57  7 RAINBOW-Russ Hamilton                                         

31/03/58  2 HE'S GOT THE WHOLE WORLD (IN HIS HANDS)-Laurie London                                          


HOT 100  (launched August 1958)                                  

12/01/59 10 MANHATTAN SPIRITUAL-Reg Owen                                              

02/02/59 13 THE CHILDREN'S MARCHING SONG (NICK NACK PADDY WACK)-Cyril Stapleton                                        

16/02/59  5 PETITE FLEUR (LITTLE FLOWER)-Chris Barber Jazz Band                                

31/07/61 18 MY KIND OF GIRL-Matt Monro                                            

28/08/61  5 DOES YOUR CHEWING GUM LOSE ITS FLAVOR (ON THE BEDPOST OVER NIGHT)-Lonnie Donegan                                        

02/10/61  8 LET'S GET TOGETHER-Hayley Mills                                          

24/02/62  2 MIDNIGHT IN MOSCOW-Kenny Ball                                            

14/04/62  1 STRANGER ON THE SHORE-Acker Bilk                                            

22/09/62 20 SILVER THREADS AND GOLDEN NEEDLES-Springfields                                          

29/09/62  5 I REMEMBER YOU-Frank Ifield                                           

24/11/62  1 TELSTAR-Tornados                                              

30/11/63  3 YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE A BABY TO CRY-Caravelles                                            




In the Victorian days, British entertainers were held in high esteem Stateside, in fact many Americans considered that performers from “The Old Country” had more “class” than their own home-grown talent. Even then, it was not unusual for British singers, tempted by the big money, to take the long voyage across the Atlantic to entertain their “colonial cousins”.


In the 1890s, the first decade of recorded music, no artist outsold Belfast born George J. Gaskin – who gave the world such favourites as ‘After The Ball’ and ‘When You Were Sweet Sixteen’. Similarly, Oldham’s own Ada Jones (who relocated to Philadelphia at age 6) was the most popular female singer in the USA in the first twenty years of the 20th Century. Her name may not ring too many bells but some of her hits might: ‘By The Light  Of The Silvery Moon’, ‘What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For’ and ‘Shine On Harvest Moon’. Music Hall’s most celebrated Scotsman, Sir Harry Lauder (who can forget his ‘Stop Your Ticklin’ Jock’ or ‘Roamin’ In The Gloamin’?) also sold a lot of cylinders in the pre World War I years. Nonetheless, by the early 20th Century, Americans were providing most of the world’s popular music with UK acts taking a back seat on the pop music bandwagon - a place they held until the Beatles-led ‘British Invasion’.


However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for Brit hits in the first half of the century. Between the wars sophisticated British orchestras like those of Ray Noble, Ambrose, Henry Hall, and the up-and-coming Mantovani, had successful singles.


The first official US Best Selling Singles chart was launched in July 1940, but it was not until London born, L.A. resident Ray Noble clicked with a couple of Top 10 entries in 1947 that any British act made a mark – and then they both featured US vocalist Buddy Clark. 1948 was a good year for UK acts with Top 20 entries by Gracie Fields, Primo Scala, Vera Lynn and Dick James (yes – The Beatles and Elton John’s music publisher). However, before you get the impression that this was an early “British Invasion”, it should be pointed out that in 1948 a US musicians union strike meant that no recordings could be made in the USA and, therefore, record companies had little choice but to promote records from the most commercial of the other English speaking countries. When the strike ended, interest in British vocalists waned and the only Top 20 entries over the next three years came from the orchestras of (Trinidad born – British citizen) Edmundo Ros and (Italian born – British citizen) Mantovani.


Just months before the NME launched the first UK chart, Vera Lynn became the first UK artist to top the US chart, when ‘Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart’ held the top slot for nine weeks – a record no UK act bettered until 1981! 


All the British entries in the US Top 20 between the launch of the UK chart (Nov 14 1952) to the first Beatles chart entry (Jan 18, 1964) are included in the list below, which shows that, apart from Dame Vera and Hull’s big voiced David Whitfield (assisted by Mantovani), the only other big UK hits in America in the pre rock’n’roll years were from instrumental acts: Frank Chacksfield; Eddie Calvert and Frank Weir - the latter with a record that failed to chart in his homeland. That would change, albeit not completely, when rock’n’roll first arrived.



   Eddie Calvert recieves his gold disc for 'Oh, Mein Papa'


Date    Peak  Title         Act     


15/02/47   2  LINDA-Ray Noble & His Orchestra With Buddy Clark

06/12/47   3  I'LL DANCE AT YOUR WEDDING-Ray Noble & His Orchestra With Buddy Clark

31/01/48   4  NOW IS THE HOUR-Gracie Fields

22/05/48 14  YOU CAN'T BE TRUE DEAR-Vera Lynn

03/07/48  19  YOU CAN'T BE TRUE DEAR-Dick James

14/08/48  6 UNDERNEATH THE ARCHES-Primo Scala

28/01/50  16  WEDDING SAMBA-Edmundo Ros

01/12/51  10  CHARMAINE-Mantovani And His Orchestra

21/06/52   1  AUF WIEDERSEH'N SWEETHEART-Vera Lynn

25/10/52   9  YOURS-Vera Lynn

23/05/53  13  THE MOULIN ROUGE THEME (WHERE IS YOUR HEART)-Mantovani And His Orchestra

30/05/53   6  (TERRY'S THEME FROM) "LIMELIGHT"-Frank Chacksfield And His Orchestra

05/09/53   2  EBB TIDE-Frank Chacksfield And His Orchestra

05/12/53   9  OH, MEIN PAPA-Eddie Calvert

01/05/54   4  THE HAPPY WANDERER-Frank Weir With His Saxophone, Chorus And Orchestra

18/09/54  10  CARA MIA-David Whitfield With Mantovani His Orchestra & Chorus