Abbey Road 90: The Start of The Pop Charts at Abbey Road Studios

4th December 2021

Abbey Road has been leading music history throughout the decades. Its connection with pop is most known for The Beatles, but the studios were producing pop hits as soon as the charts began in November 1952.

Journalist Naomi Larsson discovers the start of Abbey Road’s long running relationship with the charts and popular music that begin with Max Bygraves’ Cowpuncher’s Cantana.


The pop charts were the idea of New Musical Express publisher Percy Dickens as a way to encourage more advertisers to the music paper which was still in its early days. He called a few of his retailer friends, working out the number of copies sold of the biggest selling singles and created an aggregated chart. The first number one was Al Martino’s Here In My Heart.

Sir George Martin had only just started at EMI’s Parlophone label two years before and was working hard to contribute to the future direction of the label and its position against the other EMI subsidiaries Columbia and HMV. He dedicated a lot of his time to seeking out quirky records, focusing on comedy and alternatives from the mainstream.
One of his efforts was Max Bygraves’ Cowpuncher’s Cantana, which became Abbey Road’s first official chart entry reaching number six. Max Bygraves was a popular comedian, singer, actor and variety performer. The title track of the album Cowpuncher's Cantata was a medley of his comedy interpretations of popular records of the time, such as Frankie Laine's Mule Train and Cry of the Wild Goose, (Ghost) Riders in the Sky and Jezebel.

Producer Wally Ridley also worked on the recording, recounting how Max had problems with the lyrics and pacing, as told in the book Abbey Road: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Recording Studios: "Max Bygraves' first record was a thing called 'Cowpuncher's Cantata' which was an odd shaped piece of music and we had great difficulty in getting Maxie to come in on the beat because there were long gaps in between the vocal lines. He had trouble finding when to enter and in the end I had to stand next to him and squeeze his arm when he had to come in. It all worked out fine in the end and we had a big success."

Cowpuncher’s Cantana would mark the start of Abbey Road’s long running relationship with the charts and popular music.
Two years later, Abbey Road had its first number one with trumpeter Eddie Calvert’s Oh Mein Papa, a nostalgic German song suggested as a cover for Calvert by Columbia producer Norrie Paramour. And within the next decade, in 1963, 15 of the 19 UK number ones had been recorded at Abbey Road. The successful year kicked off with The ShadowsDance On in January followed by Frank Ifield The Wayward Wind and then The Beatles’ Please Please Me. EMI went on to hold the number one spot for 43 weeks that year.

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