Sheet Music History

Before the advent of the record charts, the sheet music chart was an effective and vital guide to popular music. Sheet-music of a hit song would often sell in the thousands per week (especially before the Second World War), but even after, sales of records were no match for many years. Records, despite the New Musical Express chart which began in November 1952, would not begin to be a threat to sheet music until around 1955. One possible reason for this was that there used to be an enormous number of dance bands around which played all the latest tunes. Anyone could record a new song so it was difficult for any particular recording to be favoured. It was the actual song that mattered most. In the early days the main song publishers, who were situated in Denmark Street, London, would each handle around 25 new songs a year. They would initially print about 1000 copies of a song marked "Professional Copy - Not for Sale" and these would be handed out to any singer or bandleader. If any big names showed interest they would be urged to "plug" it via broadcasts. Often "plug" money was involved at anything between £50 to £100 for each broadcast, but this was later put a stop to by the BBC. No song could be recorded without the publishers permission and so they had much more power than the record companies.

In 1949 an organisation called the Popular Music Committee of the Music Publishers Association began to compile a new style chart and at the same time Radio Luxembourg began to broadcast them. These broadcasts went on until 1959 via a popular programme called "The Top Twenty Show" and presenters like Pete Murray selected the cream of recordings available of each song, and different versions were aired each week. It's an interesting coincidence that along with the new chart and the Radio Luxembourg broadcasts, Petula began her recording career during 1949. The British Record and Sheet Music Chart listed on the Charts page highlight the music that Petula recorded between 1949 and 1964 and which featured prominently in the Best Selling Music Chart. In many cases her versions were responsible for their popularity and of course were also hit records. Of those that weren't, it is worth remembering that Petula must still have contributed to the songs popularity via her very regular radio and TV appearances during those years.

Terry Young
Petula & Company
, Issue #67, Spring 1991
International Petula Clark Society (IPCS) publication