50 albums released in 1963 (that weren't by The Beatles)
50 years ago today, The Beatles released Please Please Me, the debut album that marked the beginning of Beatlemania proper as the Fab Four began their conquest of the charts for the rest of the decade.
Now, we're certified Beatlemaniacs here at MusicRadar, but in among all the Beatle-based excitement, we know that 1963 was one hell of a year for music, with landmark releases for fans of soul, jazz, folk and much more.
So here are 50 of the best albums released half a century ago, for you to explore once you've finished giving Please Please Me a celebratory spin.
Bo Diddley's Beach Party – Bo Diddley
A barnstorming record, perhaps one of the greatest live rock and roll albums ever, Beach Party captures Bo Diddley on formidable form. Essential listening, and the Rolling Stones were clearly taking note.
Reminiscing – Buddy Holly
By 1963, Buddy Holly had been dead four years, but his shadow still loomed large over the rock and pop world. Compiled from various finished tracks and demos, with rockabilly-flavoured overdubs from Tex-Mex group The Fireballs, Reminiscing is a remarkably coherent tribute to one of the greats.
Chuck Berry On Stage
A strange one this: marketed as a live album, and purportedly recorded at Chicago’s Tivoli Theater, a close listen reveals that the screaming and applause appear to have been added in post-production. Still, all the hits are here, and they’re the hits that rock and roll were built on, so we forgive you Chuck.
Summer Holiday – Cliff Richard and the Shadows
Could Cliff possible have known, as he was cutting Bachelor Boy for this impossibly sunny film soundtrack, that he would remain one for the next half a century? Summer Holiday is undoubtedly cheesy, but a handful of numbers – including the title track – have seeped into the British national consciousness regardless.
At Carnegie Hall - The Dave Brubeck Quartet
Arguably one of the greatest live jazz albums of the ‘60s, At Carnegie Hall revealed The Dave Brubeck Quartet to be a band most at home in the live context, swinging with a fluidity and playfulness throughout the two-disc set.
Folksinger - Dave Van Ronk
A contemporary of Bob Dylan on the New York folk revival scene, Dave Van Ronk had a style and delivery all of his own, and it’s thrown into sharp relief on Folksinger. Full of powerful performances, unique guitar arrangements and a voice like treacle poured over thunder, this is essential listening for aspiring folkies.
The Guitar Player – Davy Graham
He influenced an entire generation of guitar players thanks to his dazzling technique and clear mastery of his instrument, and on The Guitar Player set standards of playing that really haven’t been topped yet. Do yourself a favour and have a listen.
King Of The Surf Guitar - Dick Dale
The unmistakable buzz-saw tone of Dick Dale’s super-charged guitar is what this album is all about. When he’s let of the leash, as on Mexico, he could strip paint with the sheer force of his playing.
Anyone Who Had A Heart – Dionne Warwick
Pairing Warwick’s classy vocals with Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s timeless songwriting makes for an unsurprisingly tasty package.
Dr. No – John Barry Orchestra
This soundtrack not only introduced the James bond Theme to the world, but provided the backdrop to Sean Connery and Ursula Andress’ iconic performances as they launched 007 into pop culture. He’s yet to leave.
Ella And Basie – Ella Fitzgerald
One of jazz’s greatest voices teams up with one of the genre’s best-known orchestras with Quincy Jones arranging. Nice.
Duke Ellington and John Coltrane - Duke Ellington and John Coltrane
What happens when two jazz greats decide to sit down and make a record? The answer is great things, as is demonstrated over these seven tracks of transcendental jazzy goodness.
The Crazy Beat Of Gene Vincent – Gene Vincent
The last of Gene Vincent’s records for Capitol, The Crazy Beat… is far from his best work, but even then still manages the odd diamond in the rough.
Back At The Chicken Shack – Jummy Smith
You don’t get many organists making funk-fuelled jazz odysseys these days, and if you ask us, that’s a crying shame. Jimmy Smith, alongside Kenny Burrell, Stanley Turrentine and Donald Bailey work up a top-notch set here that has very little to do with chickens (or shacks).
Death Chants, Breakdowns And Military Waltzes – John Fahey
A snappy album title this may not be, but who cares when the guitar playing is this singular? At turns mystical, mesmerising and occasionally just plain weird, John Fahey made quite the mark with this one.
Samba Esquema Novo – Jorge Ben
Jorge Ben’s debut album is a lesson in the sort of guitar work that will steal your girlfriend quicker than you can say “I can’t dance”.
The Kingsmen In Person – The Kingsmen
Primal rock and roll doesn’t get much simpler – or rawer – than this, the album that The Kingsmen put out in the wake of their raucous Richard Berry cover Louie, Louie. The sound of scared American parents long in the time before The Beatles.
Trouble Is A Lonesome Town – Lee Hazlewood
Populated with wild and wicked characters and Hazlewood’s distinctive lower register, Trouble Is A Lonesome Town is, in essence, a concept album of the dusty west littered with narration and gutsy country ballads.
Heat Wave – Martha And The Vandellas
Released in the wake of Martha And The Vandellas’ unstoppable single (Love Is Like A) Heat Wave, this is an album of Motown magic from one of the label’s best girl group. Peerless backing from the Funk Brothers helps, naturally.
Never Grow Old – The Maytals
Before they acquired the prefix “Toots and”, the Maytals released this ska-tastic collection of their earliest ska-oriented singles on the Studio One label.
The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady – Charles Mingus
Ambitious, complicated and remarkable: all words that can be used to describe Charles Mingus’ The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady, an album regularly described as a masterpiece. We’re not going to argue with that.
Folk Songs And Blues – Mississippi John Hurt
Having spent most of his life working as a farmer, Mississippi John Hurt’s arrival into the world of popular music at the age of 70 (ish, he wasn’t too sure of his actual birthday) was one of the most remarkable events of the folk revival. This set of live recordings helped establish the legend.
Nina Simone At Carnegie Hall
Recorded live, this is the document of Simone’s first appearance at the prestigious venue, and captures her stunning voice at the beginning of her career.
At Town Hall – Odetta
A rich and varied live recording that captures one of the folk revival’s best voices as she works through a set of traditional material, it’s easy to understand how Odetta made such an impact in the flesh from this record.
We Shall Overcome – Pete Seeger
Recorded live at the Carnegie Hall, a 44 year old Pete Seeger rolled out a lifetime’s worth of songs (including Dylan covers) that reaffirmed his position as one folk's most respected spokesmen.
Live At The Harlem Square Club, 1963 – Sam Cooke
Raunchier and rockier than his studio recordings, Live At The Harlem Square Club is a fascinating – and utterly thrilling – experience from beginning to end, the atmosphere of the club perfectly captured. Cooke has the audience in the palm of his hand throughout, a masterful performance. And yes, we're aware that it wasn't actually released in 1963, but s it was recorded then (and it's so damn good), we're letting it slide...
Sugar And Spice – The Searchers
One of the most popular of the Mersey beat groups, The Searchers had a pretty decent run in the early ‘60s, and Sugar And Spice shows why. A set of flawlessly performed covers with a hit original single thrown in for good measure, it helped make 1963 a vintage year for Scouse songsmiths.
Sinatra's Sinatra – Frank Sinatra
An attempt by big Frank to make a quick buck with a set of re-records of his classic hits, Sinatra’s Sinatra may feel like little more than an attempt to fit the word ‘Sinatra’ into the titles as many times as possible, but it’s still better than anything Michael Buble has done, so we’ll leave it alone.
A Christmas Gift For You – Phil Spector
Phil Spector might well be madder than a murderous moose these days, but back in the early ‘60s he knew how to record ‘em. Quite simply the Christmas album to top all others.
When Sun Comes Out – Sun Ra
He sounds like a character from StarGate, but Sun Ra was a jazz innovator, albeit one who combined a love for theatricality, ancient Egyptian clothes and science fiction in one jazzy stew, as witnessed on When Sun Comes Out.
Easier Said Than Done – The Essex
Why a vocal group made up of US Marines decided to name themselves after the British country that gave us the vajazzle, we’ll never know. Fitting in their music career around military life, The Essex managed to produce Easier Said Than Done to minor success.
The Miracles Recorded Live On Stage
Motown’s Live On Stage series, designed to showcase the legendary label’s artists in all their live glory, helped further cement the reputations of many an early Motown act. Smokey Robinson’s silky smooth vocals dominate here, and it is glorious.
Greatest Hits – The Shadows
It’s crazy to think that Hank Marvin’s troupe of co-ordinated instrumentalists issued a greatest hits as early as 1963, but they did – and it reached number 2 in the UK charts. Further proof of the indisputable power of a red Strat.
Blood, Sweat And Tears – Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash knew a thing or two about hard work – this was his 15th album since 1957, a statistic which puts literally every modern musician to shame – and he talks all about it on Blood, Sweat And Tears, nine songs about American working life that included stone cold classics Busted and The Legend Of John Henry’s Hammer.
Surfin' U.S.A. – The Beach Boys
12 tracks of all-American surf-rock classics, the title track alone would have been enough to make Surfin’ U.S.A. something special. This is The Beach Boys as a band, proving they could bring the (surf) rock like no other.
The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
After a debut album that did next to nothing in the States, Dylan needed to do something special with his second effort, and man, did he manage it. With The Freewheelin’, Dylan emerges as one of the most innovative and original song writing forces of the ‘60s. One of the greatest albums ever recorded, hands down.
Little Town Flirt – Del Shannon
Del Shannon is undoubtedly best known for his 1961 smash hit Runaway, which is included here on his second album, alongside some cracking Shannon originals and a crop of covers. Well done Del.
Live At The Apollo – James Brown
The Godfather of Soul was still a relative pup when he recorded this seminal live album at Harlem’s now world-famous Apollo Theater. Regularly cited as one of the greatest records of all time, it almost didn’t get released: Brown’s label King Records felt that it wouldn’t be a big seller. Turns out they were wrong: fans went just as wild for the record as the shrieking crowd that can be heard throughout it.
Impressions – John Coltrane
A lively mix of live and studio recordings that encompass Coltrane’s interest in Indian music (India) and exceptionally long tenor solos (Impressions). Influential and essential.
In Dreams – Roy Orbison
Kicking off with the staggering title track and going on to showcase Orbison’s voice as the phenomenally versatile tool it was, In Dreams is a collection of some of the Big O’s finest performances. Which makes it pretty much golden, if you ask us.
In The Wind – Peter, Paul And Mary
Peter, Paul And Mary may not have been cool (they still aren’t in case you’re wondering), but on In The Wind, they helped bring Bob Dylan’s songwriting to the fore with covers of Don’t Thing Twice, It’s All Right and Blowin’ In The wing, something for which we are eternally grateful. Well done, you biblically names folkies...
Night Beat – Sam Cooke
On Night Beat, one of the greatest voices ever recorded is framed by a backing band content to let it shine on a set of low-key blues that is essentially the ultimate late-night soul session.
How Do You Like It – Gerry And The Pacemakers
The suits, the songs choices and the style of Gerry And The Pacemakers’ debut album is all highly reminiscent of The Beatles, and yet so far away. The spirit of the Mersey beat boom lies within, if not the brightest stars.
Monk's Dream – Thelonious Monk
Thanks to his distinctive playing style and love of dissonant harmonies, jazz pianist Monk’s music wasn’t always universally appreciated. This 1963 release, however - his first for Columbia Records - is now regarded as something of a classic, and became one of his best-selling recordings.
If You Need Me – Soloman Burke
Not for nothing was Solomon Burke known as The King of Rock N’Soul, and his earthy R&B also contained elements of gospel, country and jazz. Despite his immense physical presence, Burke never had the commercial clout of some of his contemporaries, but this 1963 Atlantic release demonstrates that he was a match for any of them.
The Barbra Streisand Album – Barbra Streisand
The first of her 50 studio albums, Barbra Streisand kicked off her recording career with this triple Grammy award winning album. Rubbish title, though.
Surfer Girl – The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys were going hell for leather in 1963, releasing three albums in total, of which Surfer Girl was the second. An iconic cover and some classic Brian Wilson originals – including the title track – marks Surfer Girl as one of the Beach Boys best early albums.
Marvin Gaye Recorded Live On Stage
Live performances were never straightforward for Marvin Gaye. He suffered from stage fright in his early years, and in 1983, paranoia relating to an alleged murder attempt led him to wear a bulletproof vest while he was on stage. There’s no hint of such problems in this exuberant recording, which has him reeling off hits such as Stubborn Kind Of Fellow and Pride And Joy with the help of Martha And The Vandellas.
Top Ten - Etta James
James’s 1963 album is stuffed with classic recordings, not least her take on Mack Gordon and Harry Warren’s At Last. Recently adopted by Beyonce (who played Etta in 2008 Chess Records biopic Cadillac records), this version remains the definitive one. Despite the album’s title, which was derived from the fact that it contained a selection of James’s top ten hits from the previous three years, it peaked at 117 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius – Little Stevie Wonder
When we were 12 our major concerns were remembering to feed our pet guinea pigs and breaking into the school football team. Little Stevie Wonder had other things on his mind - recording his first live album, for instance. It was pretty successful, too, topping the Billboard 200 chart.