1-CD-Album deluxe with 72-page booklet, 31 tracks; playing time: 80:29 minutes.
It was the year everything began to change. When the music merchants gathered for their annual convention in July 1955, one of the keynote speakers remarked that "Vintage years lie ahead." How true for the industry as a whole, but how tough for the mainstream country music heard here. Reviewers in the trade papers noted an increasing number of artists taking after Elvis Presley and his "trick warbling," as 'Billboard' dubbed it. And make no mistake, Elvis was still viewed as a country artist. He was still on a hillbilly barndance, the Louisiana Hayride, and still touring predominantly in the South and Southwest. Most of the interest in acquiring his contract came from the major record labels' country divisions, and it was RCA's country division that acquired him from Sun Records in November 1955.
In 1955, country music finally came to network television on a regular basis. Tennessee Ernie Ford was on NBC-TV's daytime schedule, and, as of January 25, 1955, the Ozark Jubilee, hitherto broadcast on local TV in Springfield, Missouri, was picked up for nationwide transmission by ABC-TV. Soon after its debut as a radio show in December 1953, the Ozark Jubilee had recruited Red Foley as host, and Foley's small-town avuncular charm worked well on television. All this left the NBC-affiliated Grand Ole Opry in the dust. The network had tried rotating some Opry cast members through The Kate Smith Evening Hour without much success, and a one-off Opry telecast on June 11 didn't do much better. Following the success of The Ozark Jubilee, ABC approached the Opry, and Purina sponsored the show on ABC-TV. Rather than film the actual show, Purina insisted upon staged sets with merry-go-rounds, hay bales, and non-country guests. The Purina Opry show went out in the 1955-'56 season, but didn't return, while the Ozark Jubilee remained on ABC-TV until 1960. Meanwhile, pioneering film maker Al Gannaway filmed many Opry stars, and his work is the only filmed documentation of the Opry's cast (Cowboy Copas, Webb Pierce, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, etc.) in the mid-1950s. Pillsbury bought the series and placed it into 40 markets.
Country music was slow to reach nationwide television because advertisers assumed that country music purchasers had little or no money to buy their products. This was backed up by industry surveys showing that in country music 78s still outsold 45s on a 70:30 ratio and that country LPs barely sold at all. While it was probably true that country music generally appealed to those with less disposable income, it was also true that country music fans supported their music in other ways. There were around 25 country music parks that opened after church on Sunday and presented shows that ran until midnight. Two hundred more drive-ins, theaters, speedways, and ballparks regularly scheduled country music shows. Performers were paid between $1000 and $2500 depending on how many acts they brought with them. That business took in $50 million in 1954-'55. The industry was impressed.
On the broader business front, Britain's EMI bought Capitol Records in January 1955 for eight million dollars. EMI's HMV label had handled RCA Victor in England since the early 1900s and EMI's Columbia label had handled American Columbia for as long (and had even owned the American parent for a few years). RCA, though, made known its intention to break free of EMI when the term was up in 1957 and, as of 1953, American Columbia had gone to Philips Records in Europe. That left EMI contemplating a future without American repertoire. The only solution was to buy one of the two affordable major American labels, Capitol or Mercury. The Capitol purchase was so profitable for EMI that Philips bought Mercury in 1961 when it became clear that it would lose Columbia Records.