Felsted, in Essex, is the village where Sir Edward Lewis, the head of Britain’s Decca Records, lived. It is most famous for its independent boarding school, which has turned out such eminent characters as broadcaster and newsreader Kenneth Kendall and, rather further back, Oliver Cromwell’s sons Richard and Henry.
In 1954 Felsted lent its name to a Decca subsidiary releasing jazz and dance-band music; its monochrome label bore the legend ‘Dance Rhythms’. In 1958 it was employed to release US-recorded material in the UK, the singles now modified to proclaim ‘American Recordings’. The source of this music was the US-based label celebrated by this compilation, which opened its doors in 1957 as a subsidiary of London. The US operation’s output can be immediately identified by its bright orange label.
Felsted’s two biggest hits were ‘Asia Minor’ by Kokomo and ‘Foot Stomping’ by R&B act the Flares. While the Flares were a genuine group, the first-named was actually jazzman Jimmy Wisner. The instrumental is a rocked-up version of classical composer Edvard Grieg’s similarly named ‘Piano Concerto In A Minor’, and the distinctive sound of the instrument was obtained by coating the hammers of a piano with shellac (nail varnish).
The number of labels that reputedly turned down Wisner’s offering ran into double figures, so he created his own label, Future Records, to release it. It started selling so well that he couldn’t handle the distribution and Felsted picked it up. ‘Asia Minor’ climbed to Number 8 on the US charts in April 1961; in the UK it went to Number 35. Three more singles were released on Felsted and, while these failed to chart. Wisner’s career as a film composer, session musician and arranger/producer was up and running.
As pop pundit and producer Stuart Colman has observed, ‘The act of marching through sandboxes full of pebbles, to give a pop recording some snappy aural appeal, has been pursued on more than one occasion.’ He cites guitarist Les Paul and group the Solitaires as prime exponents. The Flares, a quartet led by ex-Cadet Aaron Collins, brought the fad back into fashion in 1961 when ‘Foot Stomping Part 1’ hit Number 25 on the US chart.
It’s since reappeared on the soundtrack to the classic John Waters movie Hairspray, while later hits by the Dave Clark Five and the Honeycombs certainly bore the imprint of the Flares’ hobnail boots.
The late Fifties saw the beginning of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, and many pop releases of the time aimed to cash in on the headlines being made by the advent of space flight. Our collection’s opening track, ‘Blast Off’, is a US-made rockabilly Instrumental by the Spacemen.
By contrast, the Spotnicks’ eponymous theme was imported from Sweden. Formerly the Frazers, their space-age song was written by lead guitarist Bo Winberg, while rhythm guitar and vocalist Bo Starander changed his name to the more American-sounding Bob Lander. ‘Moonshot’ was among their other efforts, but the Spotnicks’ fame proved short-lived.
If the Spacemen took rockabilly into orbit, then Charlie Gracie was a more down-to-earth performer. The Philadelphia-born singer and guitarist had first hit on Cameo in 1956 with ‘Butterfly’ and ‘Fabulous’, but fell out with the label. According to the documentary film Wages Of Spin, he sued them for unpaid royalties and, in retaliation, was blacklisted by radio and TV’s American Bandstand. He continued to perform and record, however, and in 2011 recorded a CD ‘For The Love Of Charlie’, co-produced by Al Kooper and featuring guest spots from Graham Nash, Peter Noone and Jimmy Vivino, just three of the artists he’d inspired over the year.
New Jersey Female vocalist Kathy Linden took an Irving Berlin classic to Number 50 in the Billboard chart in 1958, following up the success of her debut hit ‘Billy’. Penned in 1919, ‘You’d Be Surprised’ is probably best remembered for its inclusion in the 1946 Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire film Blue Skies. Tommy Mara turned to another vintage tune in ‘Where The Blue Of The Night’ and came out with a Number 76 hit. The song was penned by Roy Turk and Fred E Ahlert, with lyrical assistance from its original singer, Bing Crosby.
The last Felsted single release was ‘Come Go With Me’, a 1959 waxing by the Majors reissued in 1964. From then on, Decca used subsidiaries like Parrot to market the British Invasion acts that had killed off much home-grown US talent. The name stayed around, however, being seen as late as 1969 when ‘Nothing But A Heartache’ by the Flirtations on Deram (another division of London) was published by the Felsted Music Company.
From Essex to America was quite a step, even with the advent of the jet airliner. And Felsted was an unusual label; enjoy this slice of its varied output.