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Classic Album

‘It may not be American, but it’s ours’ thought British teens as wannabe rockers emerged from the UK suburbs. At the forefront was Marty Wilde, who recalls cutting his own 1959 debut LP with a sense of the impossible…
Cliff Richard and Marty Wilde rocking it out on Oh Boy!
GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty

It’s a badge of honour among some in the rock’n’roll fraternity that they never touch the early British stuff. It’s true that much of what was made over here was derivative and reliant on re-recordings of American songs. But while many efforts at recreating the sound of American rock in British studios in the late 50s were laughable, no less daft is the view that nothing worthwhile came from the homegrown response to the phenomenal new sounds coming out of the States.

The godfathers of the music on this side of the Atlantic are Lonnie Donegan, whose early skiffle recordings were rock’n’roll in spirit and energy, Marty Wilde, Cliff Richard and Billy Fury, followed by Vince Taylor and his Playboys, and Johnny Kidd & The Pirates. They weren’t all teenagers, but all made recordings that stand in their own right, while retaining something peculiarly British. Others such as Tommy Steele, Wee Willie Harris, Terry Dene, Vince Eager, and even Tony Crombie, merit honourable mention, too.

None of them, to be fair, except perhaps Donegan, claimed to be producing work on a level with their American inspirations. Marty Wilde, publicly critical at the time of the sound on many of his 50s singles, remains so today. “Yeah, well, they all had their own style in the end,” he reflects. “But, to be honest, I wouldn’t want to hear Cliff’s Move It, for example, played by a proper rock’n’roll musician. It wouldn’t have sounded the same. It was similar with my own hit version of Endless Sleep. They were, for me, two songs of the era that sounded right, that sounded like we’d got it.”

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