The producers for the major record labels in 1958 viewed their world as chaos. Whereas earlier in the decade they could have anticipated that the record buying public would purchase a certain type of record, a record they were able to produce better than any small independent label, by 1958 rock and roll music was the sound most of the public wanted and that sound could be produced at least as well and sometimes better by the independent labels. And there were more of them. In 1956, the first year that rock and roll had a major presence on the Billboard weekly charts, the major labels still produced over half (56%) of the top twenty records. By 1958 that percentage had dropped to less than a third (30%). In 1956, 38 different labels had placed a record in the top twenty. In 1958 there were 50 different labels with top twenty entries. In 1956 there were fifteen labels that had a single entry in the top twenty. By 1958 that number had nearly doubled (26). The music business had fragmented. It was just as likely that a small, independent label could produce a number one hit as it was for the top songs to come from the major labels. There were eighteen songs that reached the #1 ranking in 1958 and those were produced by fourteen different labels only four of the top songs came from the major labels. In 1956 and 1957 there had been one record each year that was the only entry of a label in the top twenty and that record went to number one: "The Wayward Wind" by Gogi Grant for ERA records in 1956 and "You Send Me" by Sam Cooke for Keen records in 1957. In 1958 there were three such records: "Little Star" by The Elegents for Apt, "Get A Job" by The Silhouettes for ember, and "To Know Him Is To Love Him" by The Teddy Bears for Dore.
There was one consistency in the rankings for 1958 and that was Elvis Presley. For the third consecutive year he was the leading artist on the Billboard chart. His six top twenty entries, with a little help from Perry Como (#1 "Catch a Falling Star") and Perez Prado (#1 "Patricia") made RCA Victor the most popular label in 1958. Presley only had one #1 song, "Don't," but "Wear My Ring Around Your Neck" and "Hard Headed Woman" both made it to #2 ("Hard Headed Woman" actually making #1 on the Best Seller list). Capitol also stayed in the top five by continuing to find an audience for their traditional vocalists such as Dean Martin ("Return To Me" #4) and Frank Sinatra ("Witchcraft" #6). Added to that was the campus sound of folk music from The Kingston Trio ("Tom Dooley" #1) and a rare entry from rock and roll, "Willie and the Hand Jive" (#9) by The Johnny Otis Show. After its dismal performance in 1957, Decca bounced back into the top five with seven top twenty records, getting a big boost from the most popular record of the year, an import from Italy, "Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu" by Domenico Modugno (#1).
Mercury and Columbia were the two majors unable to make the top five in 1958. Mercury did manage seven top twenty records and placed eighth in the rankings. It was mostly The Platters that fueled the label's success with two number one songs: "Twilight Time" (#1) and "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" (#2 the last week of the year and eventually a #1 in 1959). Columbia faltered badly in 1958, falling to #39. The best of the four Columbia top twenty records was Doris Day's "Everybody Loves a Lover" (#6).
The best of the independents was MGM with eight top twenty records, including three number ones: "It's All In the Game" by Tommy Edwards, "It's Only Make Believe" by Conway Twitty, and "The Purple People Eater" by Sheb Wooley. Connie Francis made her first records for the label and had three in the top twenty with "My Happiness" (#2) being the highest rated. Cadence repeated its 1957 success primarily through the Everly Brothers who had two #1's, "All I Have To Do Is Dream" and "Bird Dog." Andy Williams continued to produce for Cadence ("Are You Sincere" #3) and the label got a #2 song from The Chordettes, "Lollipop." Imperial put an impressive ten songs in the top twenty, showing why the signing of Ricky Nelson was a brilliant move as he accounted for seven of the ten with "Poor Little Fool" as his first #1 record. Dot was still doing well with Pat Boone's five entries including the 1957 holdover, "April Love" which continued in the top twenty for the first eight weeks of 1958 and "A Wonderful Time Up There" which made it to #10 and was #4 on the Best Seller chart.
Perhaps most indicative of the rising success of the independent labels were the three that produced a number one song, even though that was the only top twenty song for the label. Apt records was a subsidiary of ABC-Paramount which was only used for producing singles. In 1958 the a doo-wop group from Staten Island, New York, The Elegants auditioned a song for Hull records, a label they were attracted to because of its success with the doo-wop group, The Heartbeats. Hull did the recording, but turned the song over to ABC-Paramount because they thought it was so good that it needed wider distribution. "Little Star" debuted on the chart in July and was in the top twenty for fourteen weeks, peaking at #1 on September 25th. The magic of the nursery rhyme inspired song was never duplicated Apt never had another #1 and The Elegants were a "one hit wonder" by any definition as none of their other recordings ever charted.
Phil Spector was also a bit of a "one hit wonder" with his singing group although he would have many hit records as a producer. In 1958 he had written a song, "To Know Him Is To Love Him" and formed a vocal group with Marshall Leib, Harvey Goldstein and Annette Kleinbard to record the song. They called themselves The Teddy Bears and auditioned for ERA records and the label liked the song enough to schedule a recording session. ERA then released the song through the Dore label in August. It took awhile to catch on, but when it did it rose steadily, reaching number one on December 1st and remaining there for three weeks. It was the only top forty record for the group which disbanded a year later.
"Get a Job" is an early example of the power of American Bandstand in the late 1950's. In October of 1957, a Philadelphia vocal group was trying to get a recording contract and auditioned for Kae Williams who owned the Junior label. He decided to record the group and issued "I Am Lonely" with "Get a Job" as the B-side. Philadelphia radio stations started playing "Get a Job" and when Junior couldn't keep up with the demand for the record, Williams contacted ember Records in New York to release the record nationally. When Dick Clark heard the record, he had The Silhouettes appear on Bandstand and by the end of February the song was number one. But that was it for The Silhouettes they never had another charted record. "Get a Job" is an instantly recognized classic of the early rock and roll period with the "sha na na na, sha na nana na" inspiring the name of the revival group from the late seventies, Sha Na Na. In 1958 it was the only top twenty song for ember records and it went all the way to number one.
While some of the independent labels merely had flashes of success, others had experienced longterm productivity outside of the pop charts before the rock and roll invasion. Chess was one such entity. Leonard and Phil Chess had had great success with their studio in Chicago producing jazz and rhythm and blues records. In 1955 they signed Chuck Berry to a contract and his recording of "Maybelline" became their first crossover hit. Berry was familiar with both blues and country music and was combining the two genres into something new. He wrote his own songs and the combination of his blues guitar with enunciated lyrics that told stories about and to teenagers created multiple hit records, four that made the top twenty in 1958: "Carol (#18), "Johnny B. Goode" (#8), "Rock and Roll Music" (#8) and "Sweet Little Sixteen" (#2). While the major labels were trying to find rock and roll, labels like Chess were already there. In the fragmented world of popular music in 1958, Chuck Berry proclaimed "It's gotta be rock and roll music if you want to dance with me."