Over the next few months we’re going to be looking at the last sixty years of recorded music from a slightly different perspective. A decade at a time, writer and music historian Chris May will be working with the VF editorial team to uncover what we’re calling the “most collectable” records of each era. Unlike traditional “collectables” lists defined by monetary value, these are records picked for their importance as artefacts, whether rare, revolutionary or representative of a moment in time. We begin with the 1950s when the LP was in its infancy and the modern world as we know it was starting to take shape.
The 1950s are generally perceived as a monochrome and conservative decade, in contrast to the technicolour and revolutionary 1960s. The recorded music of the 1950s, however, reveals a different picture.
Innovation and experiment were to the fore in pop, jazz, R&B, electronic, conservatoire and even, though it sounds counterintuitive, in traditional folk music. Teenagers were invented, and so were free jazz and rock ‘n’ roll.
In the 1950s, too, increasing numbers of record buyers in the US and Europe were listening to music from distant cultures, a process encouraged by recovery from post-World War II economic austerity, affordable international air travel (for the middle classes anyway) and the increasing prevalence of LPs.
By the end of the decade, recordings of African, Indian, Latin American and South Asian musics, sometimes mediated by jazz and exotica, sometimes presented in their authentic states, were commonplace.
Looked at chronologically, as in this list of the some of the most enduring and collectable releases of the decade, the 1950s were soundtracked by a giddying, multi-coloured galaxy of music. Some of the discs are by artists widely-celebrated today, although where possible an effort has been made to avoid the most obvious choice of releases, others are by musicians who were little known at the time, and remain so today. Hopefully, you will find a few surprises along the way.
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One of those 50...