When the Elvis Era drew to a close in 1963 there is some evidence that the major labels had reclaimed their right to be called "major." While the five labels that had dominated pop music prior to 1956 hadn't climbed back to the 66% of the top twenty power points they scored in 1956, the majors did claim 28% of the Billboard popularity points, up significantly from the low of 21% in 1961. They claimed 52 of the 179 top twenty records in 1963, but most notably the top three slots were occupied by the major labels, the best showing of the entire era. Many record executives in 1956 had seen rock and roll as a fad and had considered the independent labels that promoted such acts as a temporary annoyance. When the fad didn't go away, the majors got into the rock and roll market either by developing new talent on their own or luring them away from the smaller labels.
The big winner in 1963 was Capitol. In 1958, the label was still very successful with a second place in power points that year. But that success was fueled mostly by remnants of the early fifties with records from Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. For the next four years Capitol finished well out of the top ten. But 1963 was a banner year at Capitol as the label found success in several different directions. First, there was the resurgence of old time crooner Nat "King" Cole who placed three records in the top twenty with "Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer" (#6) as his top contribution. The label had done well on the album charts over the years with their folk group, The Kingston Trio. In 1963, with John Stewart replacing Dave Guard, the Trio scored a top ten hit with "The Reverend Mr. Black" (#8). In 1962 Capitol signed Bobby Darin away from Atco and in 1963 Darin gave the label two top ten hits, "You're The Reason I'm Living" (#3) and "18 Yellow Roses" (#10). He actually had another possible hit, but rather than recording "Danke Schoen," he gave the song to Wayne Newton who took the record to #13. But of course, the biggest factor in Capitol's resurgence was The Beach Boys. When Murry Wilson offered his sons' group to Capitol, their executives saw them as an act on the cutting edge of a new sound they believed would be very popular. They were right. The Beach Boys scored four top twenty hits in 1963 with "Surfin' U.S.A." making it all the way to #3 and being recognized by Billboard as the #2 song of the year. And things would get even better – the group had yet to score a #1 song, but eventually would have four for the label.
Columbia, the second most popular label of 1963, was most successful with non-rock and roll. Steve Lawrence led the way with the label's only #1, "Go Away Little Girl" while Andy Williams contributed two top twenty records, including a #2, "Can't Get Used To Losing You." Tony Bennet also had two records in the top twenty, including "I Wanna Be Around" (#14) and Johnny Mathis contributed "What Will Mary Say" (#9). The label did have one rock and roll success as Dion placed three in the top ten with "Ruby Baby" making it all the way to #2.
RCA had been the most popular label for three consecutive years. In 1963, it ranked third in popularity, but had the most top twenty records (16). It was the first year since 1956 that Elvis Presley did not have a #1 record for the label, but he did have four in the top twenty and three in the top ten, with "Return to Sender" a carry-over from 1962 that had stalled at #2. Two female vocalists did very well for the label with the only #1 song coming from Little Peggy March with "I Will Follow Him." Skeeter Davis had a #2 with "The End of the World," which Cashbox and Gilbert & Theroux both credited as being the most popular record of 1963. Sam Cooke had three top twenty hits with "Another Saturday Night" being his best at #10.
Mercury records was just behind the top three majors, placing seventh in popularity, mostly due to three top ten hits by Lesley Gore, including the #1, "It's My Party." The other major, Decca, fell on hard times. Brenda Lee had long been the label's mainstay and she was still good for two top twenty records in 1963 with "Losing You" (#6) being her best. But signing Rick Nelson away from Imperial had not proven as helpful as hoped – "Fools Rush In" (#12) was his only top twenty entry.
So, in 1963, the success of the major labels appeared to be on the upswing, but not necessarily due to mining the riches of rock and roll. In fact, even the most successful of the independent labels in 1963, Epic, didn't achieve its status with rock and roll. Epic ranked fourth among label popularity in 1963 with three ballads, a novelty/folk tune, and one instrumental – all of them ranking in the top three. Rolf Harris gave the label a #3 record with his Australian folk tune, "Tie M Kangaroo Down, Sport." The Village Stompers had the closest thing to rock and roll for Epic with "Washington Square" (#2). The biggest success came from Bobby Vinton who had two #1 records: "Blue Velvet" and "There I've Said It Again." He also scored a #3 with "Blue on Blue." All of these Vinton hits would have been just as comfortable in 1953 as they were in 1963.
The independent labels had first made their impact on the charts in 1956 largely due to rock and roll. While that wasn't the case for Epic, the second most successful independent of 1963, Dot (#5) capitalized on the newest sound in rock and roll, surf music. The label had three top twenty records with instrumentals from the genre, "Wipe Out" (#2) by the Surfaris being the most successful. Dot also benefitted greatly from Jimmy Gilmer and The Fireballs who had Billboard's top ranked record of the year and the labels #1 record, "Sugar Shack." ABC-Paramount continued to parlay their signing of Ray Charles as he produced four top twenty records, including "Busted" (#4). Tommy Roe had another rock and roll hit with "Everybody" (#3) and The Impressions contributed with "It's All Right," (#4) the soul sound of rock and roll. The Philadelphia duo of Cameo and Parkway continued to ride the dance music of rock and roll to success. Dee Dee Sharpe made the top ten for Cameo with "Do the Bird" (#10) while Chubby Checker had his carry-over from 1962, "Limbo Rock" and its follow-up, "Let's Limbo Some More" (#20). The sister labels actually combined for their greatest success, the doo-wop sound of "So Much in Love" (#1) by the Tymes that was distributed under the Cameo/Parkway label.
The counter-balance to this rock and roll success by the independents was the Warner Brothers and Philips labels. Warner Brothers' 1963 success came via the folk trio of Peter, Paul and Mary who had three top ten records, including two that made it to the second highest ranking: "Blowing in the Wind" and "Puff, The Magic Dragon." The Philips label joined Epic with two #1 records, neither of which could be considered rock and roll: "Hey Paula" by Paul & Paula was a very teen oriented ballad and "Dominique" by The Singing Nun can best be described as a novelty tune.
Many consider 1963 to be the denouement of the first age of rock and roll and in many ways the success of the record labels supports this conclusion. While the major labels had adapted to rock and roll, they had also had impacted the sound, and much of the rock and roll of 1963 had a more polished and cleaner sound than the original genre that had begun the revolution in 1956. Much of it, but not all of it. One label that had impacted the 1962 charts continued its ascendance in 1963 – Tamla. Propelled by its #1, Little Stevie Wonder's "Fingertips," Tamla placed four records in the top twenty. Its sister labels Gordy and Motown contributed three more.
In the fall and early winter of 1963, if one had looked into a crystal ball to predict the future of popular music, based on what was most successful on the charts at that time, one would probably have predicted the continued softening of the sound. Some would have said that rock and roll was dying. The last #1 of 1963 was "Dominique." The first #1 of 1964 would be "There, I've Said It Again." Also in the top ten at that time were "You Don't Have to Be a Baby to Cry" by The Caravelles (Smash) and "Popsicles, Icicles" by The Murmaids (Chatahoochee), neither a strong candidate for rock and roll. In fact, only two of the top ten that last week would rate high on a rock and roll quotient, the #10 "Be True To Your School" by The Beach Boys (Capitol) and "Louie, Louie" by The Kingsmen (Wand). But to be fair, in any week during the Elvis Era, the top ten would likely include some non-rock and roll. There was always a strong representation of traditional vocals, novelty songs, folk tunes, and orchestral melodies. But, consider the final week of 1962 in comparison. On 12/29/1962 the Billboard top ten included the eventual #1 "Go Away Little Girl" which had little rock and roll influence. The soulful ballad "Hotel Happiness" was more middle of the road. But the other eight would fit comfortably within the genre of rock and roll. Certainly, the top two, the hard driving instrumental, "Telstar" and the dance record, "Limbo Rock" were solid rock and roll hits. Not many who looked into that crystal ball would have seen the impact of the coming "British Invasion" and many would have minimized the upcoming success of the "Hitsville" that was evolving in Detroit. The majors of 1956 would never reclaim their dominant status and indie labels would continue to score major hits. In fact, some of those "indies" would eventually become the new "majors" (Motown). Perhaps one of the lasting legacies of the Elvis Era was the impact on record labels and the music industry. In Elvis Presley's words from 1957, it was "all shook up."