As our title suggests, Elvis Presley was not only the first but also the greatest star of the rock’n’roll era. His energetic, genre-blurring early recordings have retained their appeal for fully half a century and will do so forever.
Presley was born in January 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi and moved to Memphis, Tennessee as a teenager. Local label Sun Records released his first five singles between July 1954 and August 1955. These early recordings featured the guitar of Scotty Moore and the upright bass of Bill Black. We include historic A-sides ‘That’s All Right’, ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’, ‘Baby Let’s Play House’ and ‘I Forgot To Remember To Forget’, together with their flips.
Manager Colonel Tom Parker then negotiated a deal with RCA Records. Presley’s first recording for them, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, was also his first single to hit Number 1 in the US chart; Scotty and Bill were joined on it by Chet Atkins on guitar and Floyd Cramer on piano. The song, inspired by a newspaper report of a suicide, was not to the taste of RCA executives, who initially opposed its release; it went on to become the best-selling single of 1956.
Our compilation includes all of Elvis’s UK/US chart-toppers released between 1956 and 1962. After ‘I Want You, I Need You, I Love You’ and ‘Don't Be Cruel’, ‘Hound Dog’ became his fourth US Number 1 of 1956. It was promoted by a performance on US television featuring his ‘suggestive hip movements’, while ‘All Shook Up’ and ‘Jailhouse Rock’ hit the top in ‘57.
Elvis’s single releases of 1958 and 1959 performed relatively inconsistently, thanks to a call-up to the US Army that meant he was unavailable to publicise them. 1959’s double-sided ‘A Fool Such As I’ and ‘I Need Your Love Tonight’ made Numbers 2 and 4 in the US, but went all the way to the top in Britain.
He returned to the States in early 1960 and released an album appropriately entitled ‘Elvis Is Back’. The single ‘It’s Now Or Never’ was based on the Italian standard ‘O Sole Mio’ Elvis heard while stationed in Germany and sold more than twenty-five million copies worldwide. His stay in Germany also inspired the release of ‘Wooden Heart’ in 1961. Although not released as a single in the US until 1964, it hit Number 1 in the UK, where it stayed for six weeks.
Our third disc sees early-career Elvis borrow three tracks from Little Richard’s songbook. ‘Rip It Up’, ‘Long Tall Sally’ and ‘Ready Teddy’ appeared on second album ‘Elvis’ that entered the US charts late in 1956 at a then unprecedented Number 7 on the way to the summit, and by 1960 would be certified as having sold over three million copies.
Elvis has often been criticised for the movies he made, particularly later in his Hollywood career, but the quality of the music is not in question. After his debut in Love Me Tender the films came thick and fast ‘Loving You’ (1957), ‘Flaming Star’ (1960) and ‘Blue Hawaii’ (1961) are each taken from features of the same name. The soundtrack album of the last-named stayed at the top of the American charts for twenty weeks.
Loving You featured some great rock’n’roll songs, most notably ‘Mean Woman Blues’ which showed the power he was capable of generating in live performance. ‘Teddy Bear’, a 1957 US Number 1, sold two million copies and earned him another gold disc. ‘King Creole’ was title track of a 1958 movie soundtrack album but was never released as a single (we also feature ‘Crawfish’, ‘Hard Headed Woman’ and ‘Trouble’ from the same movie) and ‘Treat Me Nice’ was a 1957 Leiber-Stoller song from Jailhouse Rock.
The year of 1962 saw the Beatles arrive on the recording scene – and though they would eventually become the only act to outstrip Elvis in terms of worldwide sales of singles and albums, the King still ruled in ‘62. As proof we have ‘Good Luck Charm’, a transatlantic chart-topping single, plus further UK Number 1 records in the double-sided ‘Rock A Hula Baby’/’Can’t Help Falling In Love’, ‘She’s Not You’ and ‘Return To Sender’.
Even though movies and married life sometimes took precedence over the music, Elvis Presley continued to exert an appeal. A relaunch of his music-making career with the ‘68 Comeback Special TV show was followed by a return to regular live performance. But the collapse of his marriage to Priscilla in late 1971 and his increasing use of prescription drugs affected him badly. Elvis left this life on 16 August 1977 when he died of heart failure at his palatial Graceland home.
Three and a half decades later, the music of his early years, some of the greatest rock’n’roll ever produced, still stands as his monument.