In 1958, Fontana issued the first of seven singles by the Lana Sisters: 'Ring-A My Phone' followed by 'Seven Little Girls Sitting In The Back Seat' which pre-dated The Springfields and Dusty's solo career on the Philips label. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=re3iW258ApI
Shortly before he became famous by singing the opening track on a Peter Sellers comedy album, vocalist Matt Monro made three singles for Fontana in 1958 - not long after giving up bus driving for London Transport. April 1961 saw the first UK single by the Greek singer Nana Mouskouri released on Fontana (which was sung in Greek), who had signed with the company in Paris. Over the next twenty-five years she would prove to be the label’s top selling album artist world-wide. Surprisingly it would take until 1986 for Nana Mouskouri to have her first UK hit single 'Only Love', despite selling vast amounts of albums. That single reached no. 2 in the UK charts.
Fontana's biggest singles successes with the Columbia catalogue were 'A Certain Smile' by Johnny Mathis, 'The Lady Is A Tramp' by Buddy Greco and Dave Brubeck's Quartet 'Take Five', as well as issuing the first two recordings by Aretha Franklin in 1961 who had been signed by the influential talent spotter and producer John Hammond.
From March 1962, Fontana ceased issuing any more Columbia U.S. singles and album product, after which all the American releases were released on a new CBS (orange) label, but still manufactured and marketed by the Philips Record Group. This arrangement ceased in late 1964.
Under Jack Baverstock and his team consisting of Terry Brown, Chris Parmenter, Dick Leahy and promotion men Tommy Loftus and Dennis Berger, the label became successful in its own right with a wide range of pop, folk and jazz releases. Brown and Parmenter were both ex-musicians (trumpeter and drummer respectively) and Leahy had joined Fontana from the Ford Motor Company in the mid-60's and then assisted in many recordings and promotions, but after several years he left to become M.D. for Bell Records, then GTO Records in the UK, later going on to manage Wham and George Michael's publishing company.
Harry Robinson of BPR Productions had worked with Jack Baverstock as an arranger and played him some tracks by Millie Small that had been produced by Chris Blackwell, whom he had brought over from Jamaica. Fontana signed a licensing agreement with Chris Blackwell's Island Records, kicking off with a huge hit by Millie, 'My Boy Lollipop' in 1964. This formed a close association with Fontana - and other artists under that agreement included the Spencer Davis Group, Jackie Edwards and Jimmy Cliff. Later, Blackwell made a deal with parent group Philips to press most of his Island Records product for the UK.
Acts either recorded or signed directly by Fontana included: The Allisons 'Are You Sure?' Eurovision Song Contest winner in 1962; Eden Kane; Kiki Dee; Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders; Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich; The Merseybeats; Manfred Mann; Kaleidoscope (who re-named themselves Fairfield Parlour - and along with Manfred Mann would go on to record for the Vertigo label); The New Vaudeville Band; The Pretty Things, The Herd and Roger Whittaker (who married Baverstock’s secretary Natalie O'Brien).
Folk repertoire came from Wally Whyton, Julie Felix, Martin Carthy, The Wolfetones, The Corries, Robin Hall & Jimmy McGregor and The Spinners.
An impressive list of British jazz artists were signed up to the label consisting of Tubby Hayes, Cleo Laine, Johnny Dankworth Orchestra, Ronnie Scott, Alan Haven - plus several releases by Blossom Dearie. From the USA, mainstream jazz artists such as Gerry Mulligan, Buddy Rich and Chet Baker were released.
In addition, many albums - and especially EPs - of Scottish country dance music from Jimmy Blair & his Band; Irish songs from Eileen Donaghy and society strict tempo dance records (in an attempt to rival EMI's Victor Silvester's sales) by Tommy Kinsman and his Orchestra, all successfully supplemented Fontana's catalogue.
There were three singles on Fontana released in 1962 from the Tamla Motown label by The Miracles, 'What’s So Good About Goodbye', The Marvelettes 'Please Mr Postman' and Eddie Holland - plus a one-off James Brown release 'This Old Heart' licensed from Federal Records in the USA in 1960.
A 1963 tie-up with Vanguard Records in the States gave singer Joan Baez the first of her many UK releases on Fontana with 'We Shall Overcome' and 'There But For Fortune', to be followed by three big selling albums, as well as releases from The Weavers, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Country Joe & The Fish and The Rooftop Singers 'Walk Right In'.
In 1964, a group called The High Numbers recorded 'Zoot Suit' and 'I’m The Face' at Philips' studios for Fontana under the direction of Baverstock and Chris Parmenter. It would be another year before the band changed their name to The Who and began to hit the big time.
Another U.S. licensing agreement in 1964 was with Vee-Jay Records which produced singles from Little Richard, Jerry Butler and a memorable hit by Betty Everett, 'Getting Mighty Crowded'. In addition World Pacific material - which was primarily a modern jazz label in the USA - was issued here on Fontana and their artist Bob Lind had a big hit with 'Elusive Butterfly' in 1966. The label also issued the first four album recordings available in the UK by India's master sitar musician Ravi Shankar.
Future Led Zeppelin guitar legend Jimmy Page had his first single released on Fontana 'She Just Satisfies' (TF 533) in January 1965 and four singles by seventeen-year-old David Essex, but they failed to chart. Of course not every record released made the big time; The Potatoes' release of 'The Bend' despite being performed, written and produced by industry pros Alan Howard, Ken Blaikley and Steve Rowland, did less than well.
A licensing agreement was made with Larry Page (aka The Singing Rage) in 1966 with releases from The Troggs 'Wild Thing', followed up by 'With A Girl Like You' Shortly afterwards Larry started up his own label Page One and later, Penny Farthing Records.
Back in 1965, Elton John’s band Bluesology had released a single, 'Come Back Baby' on the Fontana label TF 594 and a further release in 1966 entitled 'Mr. Frantic', TF 668. Again in 1969, Philips licensed another of his recordings from Dick James Music but now under Elton’s own name, 'Lady Samantha', on Philips BF1739. All three discs failed to chart.
In July 1968, The Sweet had a single released on Fontana, 'Slow Motion/'It's Lonely Out There' which at the time did nothing. A few years later they would sign with RCA and the glam-rock act really took off. Then in February 1969, a group from Wolverhampton obtained a recording deal with Fontana; they were called The 'N Betweens. A&R boss Jack Baverstock liked their sound and teamed the band with his studio engineer Roger Wake to record an album in the Stanhope studios which would be entitled 'Beginnings'. Reluctantly the band agreed to Baverstock's suggestion that they change their name to Ambrose Slade and their first single (an instrumental) was released from the album, Genesis. Later that same year they shortened their name to Slade and two further singles from the album followed but it wasn't until two years later, when under management to Chas Chandler, that they switched to Polydor Records after which the hits would roll in for more than twenty years. The original 'Beginnings' album is much prized today by collectors on e-Bay.
In the summer of 1969, 'Je T’Aime, Moi Non Plus' a recording from France performed by Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg, was released on Fontana. Because of its sexual overtones, it was immediately banned from being played on the BBC and after getting the record to number 2 in the charts, the company was requested to withdraw the single from sale. The president of Philips Industries Frits Philips, a member of the Moral Re-Armament Group, had heard it was a Philips-associated product and decided it was inappropriate for a major international electrical company (whose core business was in selling radios, TVs and white goods) and requested that it be withdrawn at once. Gainsbourg quickly arranged a deal with another record label recently launched by Phil Solomon, Major Minor Records and in its first week of release on that label, it reached number one, the first banned number one single in the UK and the first single in a foreign language to top the charts! It stayed on the UK chart for 25 weeks. At the end of this illustrious year saw the launch of a new and iconic label, Vertigo.
Jack Baverstock continued to work in the music business after he left Fontana in 1970/71, and a few years later was handling releases on the Tiffany Record label, with acts that included Freddie Starr. Their pressing and distribution deal was through the newly-formed Phonogram company and Starr's "It's You" reached no. 9 in the UK charts. Tiffany was owned by the Mecca Agency and headed up by Ivor Rabin.
The most successful top-selling album artist released on Fontana was undoubtedly Nana Mouskouri. From the mid 1960s through to the early 1980s, several hundred thousands of her LPs were sold in the UK alone. During this time, Nana had her own popular BBC-TV series which gained large viewing audiences. The shows were produced by Yvonne Littlewood. But it would take until 1986 for Nana Mouskouri to have her first UK hit single 'Only Love', despite selling vast amounts of albums. That record reached no. 2 in the UK charts. By then the Fontana label was issuing more progressive music, so 'Only Love' was released on the Philips.
The American vocal duo Was (Not Was) revived the label's success in the '80s and '90s with several hit singles, including 'Shake Your Head' on which there were additional vocals by Ozzy Osbourne and Kim Basinger. The American vocalist Oleta Adams had chart success on the Fontana label in the 1990s with 'Get Here' reaching no. 4. The Manchester based indie band James had several hits in the 1990s, 'Sit Down' and many others.
A complete listing of all singles issued on the Fontana label can be found on: http://globaldogproductions.info/f/fontana-uk.html
and a fairly comprehensive list of Fontana albums can be found at: http://www.45worlds.com/vinyl/label/fontana-uk
|The five number one hit singles in the UK on the Fontana label were:-