Elvis at Sun
Before The History
Elvis biography - 1956
January 10, 1956
Presley became a national star in 1956. He and Parker traveled to Nashville.
Two days after his twenty-first birthday, Elvis has his first recording session for RCA, held at their studio in Nashville. Among the songs
laid to tape during this session is "Heartbreak Hotel","I Got A Woman," and "I Was The One".
January 27, 1956
His debut session produced the epochal 'Heartbreak Hotel', one of the most striking pop records ever released. Co-composed
by Hoyt Axton's mother Mae, the song evoked nothing less than a vision of absolute funereal despair.
There was nothing in the pop charts of the period that even hinted at the degree of desolation described in the song.
Presley's reading was extraordinarily mature and moving, with a determined avoidance of any histrionics in favour of a
pained and resigned acceptance of loneliness as death. The economical yet acutely emphatic piano work of Floyd Cramer
enhanced the stark mood of the piece, which was frozen in a suitably minimalist production.
The startling originality and intensity of 'Heartbreak Hotel' entranced the American public and pushed the single
to number 1 for an astonishing eight weeks.
The record sold millions of copies, and subsequent television appearances triggered
the myth of Elvis and of Rock 'n' Roll throughout the entire United States. He
made the BILLBOARD charts 11 times in 1956 (a record only he himself would
break, in 1957), with "I WAS THE ONE", "BLUE SUEDE SHOES" and "DON'T BE CRUEL",
Whatever else he achieved, Presley was already assured a place in pop history for one of the greatest major label
debut records ever released.
The Jordanaires, a gospel quartet and popular country back-up group, begin working with Elvis in the studio during the first few RCA sessions
and would soon begin touring with him. They would also appear with him in several films. They would be his main back-up group until the late sixties.
Having outsold his former Sun colleague Carl Perkins with 'Blue Suede Shoes', Presley released a debut album that contained several of the
songs he had previously recorded with Sam Phillips, including Little Richard's 'Tutti Fruitti', the R&B classic 'I Got A Woman' and an
eerie, wailing version of Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart's 'Blue Moon', which emphasized his remarkable vocal
"Heartbreak Hotel" b/w "I Was the One" is released by RCA and sells over 300,000 copies in its first three weeks on the market. It would go to
number one on Billboard's pop singles chart for eight weeks and would also hit number one on the country chart and number five on the R&B chart.
It would become the first Elvis single to sell over one million copies, thus becoming Elvis's very first gold record.
January 28, 1956
Elvis appears with Scotty, Bill, and D.J. on the Jackie Gleason-produced "Stage Show", starring Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey on CBS. This is Elvis's
first network television appearance.
Presley made his national television debut displaying his sexually enticing gyrations
before a bewildered adult audience.
He appears on six weekly "Stage Shows" in a row and makes minor waves nationally. The last of these six "
Stage Show" appearances is March 24. Traveling and personal appearances continue during this time, including the "Louisiana Hayride" appearances
for which he is still under contract. Fame and "infamy" build.
As "Heartbreak Hotel" makes its climb up the charts, "Mystery Train" b/w "I Forgot to Remember to Forget", Elvis's fifth and last single to be
released on the Sun label, hits number one on Billboard's national country singles chart. His first number one hit on a national chart.
In March, Parker signed Presley to a managerial agreement for which he would receive 25 percent of Presley's
After hitting number 1 for the second time with the slight ballad 'I Want You, I Need You, I Love You', Presley
released what was to become the most commercially successful double-sided single in pop history, 'Hound Dog'/'Don't Be Cruel'.
The former was composed by the immortal rock 'n' roll songwriting team of Leiber And Stoller, and presented Presley at
his upbeat best with a novel lyric,complete with a striking guitar solo and spirited handclapping from his backing group
the Jordanaires. Otis Blackwell's 'Don't Be Cruel' was equally effective with a striking melody line and some clever
and amusing vocal gymnastics from the hiccupping King of Western Bop, who also received a co-writing credit.
The single remained at number 1 in the USA for a staggering 11 weeks and both sides of the record were massive
hits in the UK.
March 13, 1956
RCA releases "Elvis Presley", Elvis's first album. (He had not released an album on Sun.) The album would go to number on on Billboard's pop
album chart for ten weeks. It would become the first Elvis album to reach over $1 million in sales, thus becoming Elvis's first gold album.
April 1, 1956
Elvis has a screen test for Paramount Studios in Hollywood. He lip syncs "Blue Suede Shoes" and he performs a scene from the as yet unmade film,
"The Rainmaker", a film he did not end up being in.
April 3, 1956
Elvis appears on "The Milton Berle Show" on ABC, which, for this particular broadcast, originates from the deck of the aircraft carrier, the USS Hancock.
April 6, 1956
Elvis signs a seven-year movie contract with Hal Wallis and Paramount Pictures.
April 23 - May 9, 1956
The Colonel arranged Presley's debut at the New Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas that April, but compared to the usual hysteria, Elvis has lukewarm acceptance for
his two-week engagement at the New Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. He is not exactly what the adult audience of Vegas gamblers relates to very well.
During these two weeks, the single "Heartbreak Hotel" and the album "Elvis Presley" both hit number one on the Billboard pop charts.
Through all of this, the travel and personal appearances around the country and new record releases continue. The crowds get bigger and bigger, wilder
and wilder. Elvis's fame grows dramatically Some shows have to end early due to fans' storming the stage. Elvis creates pandemonium wherever he goes.
June 5, 1956
Elvis appears again on "The Milton Berle Show", this time in the studio where the show usually originates, this time backed by the Jordanaires in addition
to Scotty, Bill and D.J. Among his selections is a playfully sensuous, bump and grind performance of "Hound Dog" that drives the kids in the audience
wild, and, the next day, has the press and some of the adult viewers appalled. It is one of his most controversial performances. This merely serves
to fuel his seemingly unstoppable popularity even more.
Traveling and personal appearances and new record releases continue. By this time Elvis, with his sexy moves and black-influenced sound, is being
condemned by certain factions of the " morally concerned" establishment and the religious community. But, the kids love it.
July 1, 1956
Elvis appears on "The Steve Allen Show" on NBC. Among his performances that night is a much toned down version of "Hound Dog". Allen has Elvis dressed
in white tie and black tux with tails and has him sing the song to a live Basset hound, a tongue-in-cheek response to all controversy created by the
Berle appearance the month before. Elvis good-naturedly goes along with it, but is not too happy about it.
Record releases, touring, and recording continue. The condemnation and controversy continue along with the ever-growing popularity. Ed Sullivan, who
had said that he would never have the likes of Elvis Presley on his show, changes his tune when he sees the big ratings that Elvis attracts to the Berle
and Allen shows. A three-appearance deal is worked out for $50,000 and is the highest amount ever paid to a performer, up to that time, for appearing
on a variety show.
Elvis begins shooting his first movie, "Love Me Tender" on loan-out from Paramount to Twentieth Century Fox. It is originally titled "The Reno Brothers",
but is re-titled before its release to capitalize on Elvis's sure-to-be-a-hit single from the soundtrack. The recouped its cost--$1
million--in three days. The film was produced by David Weisbert, who had previously worked on James Dean's
Rebel Without A Cause. Presley's movie debut received mixed reviews but was a box-office smash, while the smouldering, perfectly
enunciated title track topped the US charts for five weeks.
The Presley sound gradually took on more folk-like aspects: "LOVE ME TENDER " is a lovely ballad based on "Aura Lee", a folk song from 1861.
In just a few days, "LOVE ME TENDER" received over a million advance orders, and RCA had a hard time printing all of the copiesrequested.
September 9, 1956
Elvis makes the first of three appearances on Ed Sullivan's "Toast of the Town Show", the top television program of the era. Elvis attracts the highest
ratings ever for any television variety show.
September 26, 1956
"Elvis Presley Day" is proclaimed in Tupelo, Mississippi. Elvis's parents join him as he returns to the town of his birth as a big star. He performs two
shows that day at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, the same fair at which he had performed at age 10. This time there are a hundred National
Guardsmen surrounding the stage to control the crowds of excited fans.
By this time, souvenir merchandising using Elvis's name, image, and likeness has become a big part of the Elvis phenomenon. Licensees would soon be
producing as many as thirty different products including hats, t-shirts, jeans, kerchiefs, sneakers, shirts, blouses, belts, purses, billfolds,
wallets, charm bracelets, necklaces, magazines, gloves, bookends, a statue, lipstick, cologne, stuffed hound dogs, stationery, sweaters, crockery,
and more. Elvis and the Colonel blazed new trails in the area of celebrity merchandising. This would forever be part of the marketing of Elvis Presley,
feeding a never-ending demand.
October 28, 1956
Elvis makes his second of three appearances on the Sullivan show.
November 16, 1956
Elvis's first movie, "Love Me Tender" premieres at the Paramount Theater in New York City, opening nationwide in the days following. It becomes a smash hit,
and the critics' reviews aren't bad for his acting in this melodrama, which is set in 1800's Civil War era southern America. The film has Elvis performing
several songs, of course.
December 31, 1956
The front page of the Wall Street Journal reports that in the past few months Elvis merchandise has grossed $22 million in sales.
Elvis ends the pivotal year of his career, when regional popularity gave way to unprecedented national and international fame. The year of 1956 had
seen the beginning of Elvis souvenir merchandising, the beginning of a successful movie career, history-making record sales (five number one singles
on the pop chart, two number one albums on the pop chart, and other hits), history-making television appearances, record-breaking personal appearances and more.
Elvis had become the primary symbol of the new youth culture in America. He had also become one of society's most controversial figures. His unique
blending of white country and gospel music, black R&B and gospel music, white pop music, and his particular brand of charisma and talent, and the resulting
success and controversy, had him helping greatly to begin, without premeditation, a cycle of change in music and pop culture and the mores of American society.
Nothing would ever be the same for Elvis Presley or for the world.
Elvis' hit singles that year were all certified gold: they included "Heartbreak Hotel" (#1), "Hound Dog" (#1), "Don't Be
Cruel" (#1), "Love Me Tender" (#1) and "Anyway You Want Me (That's The Way I'll