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Elvis Presley: The King Of Rock & Roll | Part I

Elvis Presley 1950s

Elvis Presley is one of the most well-known and recognizable figures in music with his songs becoming classics. His music was always on in my grandparent’s house, to be honest, there was a lot of music being played, but Elvis was one of my Grandpa’s favorites. His music holds a special place in my heart and is also the soundtrack to one of my favorite Disney movies, Lilo & Stitch, which made me appreciate him more.

In part one we will explore Elvis Presley’s early life and his career through the 1950s. Also included throughout his history will be our top ten favorite songs of his from 1950s, curated by myself and my mother, each one will include a ranking and the music video.

Before He Became ELVIS

Elvis Presley was born Elvis Aaron Presley on 8th January 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi, 35 minutes after his twin brother, who was unfortunately stillborn. This would lead him to become very close to his parents, especially his mother. This became even more apparent when in 1938 his father, Vernon, was jailed for eight months after altering a check. This would result in them losing their house and living with relatives.

By September 1941 Presley had entered his local school and despite being an average student he would impress his teachers with his singing voice. In October 1945 he would place fifth in a talent competition at the state fair and receive his first guitar for his birthday in January 1946.

“I took the guitar, and I watched people, and I learned to play a little bit. But I would never sing in public. I was very shy about it.”

He would move schools that September becoming a bit of a loner but did find solace in his guitar, which he began taking to school on a daily basis. He was teased by his fellow students but I’m sure they ate their words once he ascended to the top of the charts and became one of the most popular performers in the world. When he reached twelve, after the tutorage of Slim, who had his own radio show Mississippi Slim’s. he has his first on-air performance. Well, the first time he had terrible stage fright but would perform the following week.

He would move from rooming houses with his family into public housing and enrolled at the local high school, L.C. Humes High School in November 1948. He would receive a C in music with his teacher claiming he didn’t have an aptitude for it, which in retrospect makes it seem that the teacher didn’t know what they were talking about. He was also bullied again at this school, with his classmates claiming the young Elvis Presley was a “mama’s boy”. Not that there is anything wrong with that.  

1950 to 1955: Elvis Presley’s Small Steps To Stardom

Credit; therake

Elvis Presley entered the 1950s forming a loose musical collective that included Lee Denson and brothers Dorsey and Johnny Brunette performing locally. That September he would begin working jobs around town while maintaining his attendance at school. His junior year would see the young Elvis grow out his trademark sideburns and begin to style his hair in the way we know him for. In 1953 he would overcome his fear of performing outside of his local area and would perform at the Humes’ Annual “Minstrel” show.

Presley couldn’t read music and learned to play and write music by ear. His influences were deeply rooted in southern gospel, the blues, and country music. He was a huge fan of black gospel blues pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe and would go on to record one of her songs, Hound Dog. He met B.B. King during his time on Beale Street performing and upon graduating in June of 1953 Presley knew he wanted music to be his future.

In August 1953 Elvis Presley would head to Sun Records to record a two-sided acetate disc: My Happiness and That’s When Your Heartaches Begin. If you wanted to be discovered by the boss Sam Phillips getting in and recording at Sun Records was what you needed to do. And that’s what he did, he would go back and record two more songs, I’ll Never Stand in Your Way and It Wouldn’t Be the Same Without You, in January 1954 but yet again nothing came of it. He would later contact Eddie Bond, who he auditioned for but was told “you’re never going to make it as a singer”.

Phillips asked Presley to come in and record a Jimmy Sweeney ballad, but he wasn’t quite the right fit. He sang all the songs he knew, at the request of Phillips and they would bring in two local musicians, guitarist Winfield “Scotty” Moore and upright bass player Bill Black, to start working towards recording some music together. It would be late into the night on 5th July 1954 when history would be made, Elvis Presley would pick up his guitar and start playing and singing a blues song by Arthur Crudup’s That’s All Right.

“All of a sudden, Elvis just started singing this song, jumping around and acting the fool, and then Bill picked up his bass, and he started acting the fool, too, and I started playing with them. Sam, I think, had the door to the control booth open … he stuck his head out and said, ‘What are you doing?’ And we said, ‘We don’t know.’ ‘Well, back up,’ he said, ‘try to find a place to start, and do it again.'”

Scotty Moore

#8. That’s All Right | 1954 | That’s All Right / Blue Moon of Kentucky

That’s All Right was released two weeks later with Blue Moon of Kentucky as its B-Side. This was also around the time that the trio would go on tour and Elvis would show off his “Rubber Legs” dance move. Soon after both Moore and Black would join Elvis’s backing band full time. On 2nd October he would play his only show at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, which is the center for country music. That November he would perform on Louisiana Hayride and did such a good job that he was hired to appear for a year every Saturday night. He would also make his first appearance on television on KSLA-TV.

1955 would see Elvis Presley become a regional star, sign Bob Neal as his manager, and meet the man who would have the biggest influence on his life and career, Colonel Tom Parker. He would book Presley on a tour with Hank Snow, and this would be when Roy Orbison, at age 19, first saw Elvis perform.

“His energy was incredible, his instinct was just amazing. … I just didn’t know what to make of it. There was just no reference point in the culture to compare it.”

In August Sun Records released a number of records under the credit of Elvis Presley, Scotty, and Bill. Despite his obvious talent and the group being popular, it was hard for them to get radio play due to the many different styles and sounds their music fitted into. This blend of styles would eventually create the rockabilly sound that Elvis is known for.

The trio was soon joined by drummer Fontana full-time and played some shows as the support act for Bill Haley. In November he was voted the most promising male artist as major labels were clamoring to sign the young 20-year-old. Parker and Phillips made a deal with RCA of $40,000 to buy out his Sun Records contract, his father signed his contract as Presley was still a minor. Along with this Parker arranged two entities to handle the publishing of Elvis’ work, Elvis Presley Music and Gladys Music. Songwriters were also obliged to forgo one-third of their customary royalties in exchange for having him perform their compositions.

1956 to 1959: The Birth Of The King

In January 1956 Elvis Presley would begin recording for RCA in Nashville. This session would produce the absolute classic Heartbreak Hotel, a moody unusual tune that was released at the end of January. At the same time, he would appear on CBS’s Stage Show for six performances over the course of two months. From there he would stay in New York and record more songs for RCA including a Carl Perkins cover of Blue Suede Shoes. That February his song I Forgot to Remember to Forget reached the top of the Billboard Country chart while in March Parker became Presley’s manager.

#4. Heartbreak Hotel | 1956 | Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One

Presley’s self-titled album was released on 23rd March and included a variety of different musical styles including R&B, Country, Blues, and Rockabilly. In April he would make the first of two appearances on the Milton Berle Show. Heartbreak Hotel would become his first number-one pop hit, going on to have a two-week residency at the New Frontier Hotel and Casino and signing a seven-year deal with Paramount Pictures.

He would tour the Midwest before making his second appearance on the Milton Berle Show performing a rendition of Hound Dog causing quite a stir due to his gyrating hips. I Want You, I Need You, I Love You reached No. 3 on the Billboard Top 100 chart, and No. 1 on the country music chart. It’s B-side My Baby Left Me also preformed well.

#10. My Baby Left Me | 1956 | I Want You, I Need You, I Love You/My Baby Left Me

This would lead to more appearances on television including NBC’s Steve Allen Show and Hy Gardner Calling. The next day he would record Hound Dog, Any Way You Want Me, and Don’t Be Cruel. His second album would be recorded that September while Hound Dog/Don’t Be Cruel would stay at the top of the charts for 11 weeks.

#1. Don’t Be Cruel | 1956 | Hound Dog/Don’t Be Cruel

He would then make three appearances on CBS’s Ed Sullivan Show, his first taking place in September 1956 performing his forthcoming single Love Me Tender. This moment would make him a national celebrity with around 60 million viewers. He would return at the end of October preforming Love Me from his dabut self-titled album Elvis while his first motion picture, also called Love Me Tender, was released on 21st November. At the start of December, he would pop into Sun Records where he would cross paths with Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis with the four men having an impromptu jam session. You can find these recordings on the Million Dollar Quartet album.

#7. Love Me | 1956 | Album: Elvis

His third and final appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, in January 1957, his performance was only shot from the waist up. This was all orchestrated by Parker to create the illusion of censorship due to the pearl clutching that had come with his hips. His next three singles would also go to number one, Too Much, All Shook Up and (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear and gain him even more international fans, including places that his music wasn’t even released yet. It was also around this time that he purchased his Graceland mansion which was for himself and his parents.

In July 1957 his second film, Loving You, was released with a soundtrack album accompanying it. The album was Presley’s third straight number one album. A hidden gem on the album is the beautiful track, Don’t Leave Me Now, which I would highly recommend listening to below.

#6. Don’t Leave Me Now | 1957 | Loving You [Soundtrack]

During this time he would build a lasting working relationship with song writers Leiber and Stoller, who were asked to write songs for Elvis’s upcoming film and accompanying album, Jailhouse Rock. The title track would be a number-one hit for Elvis. Leiber said:

“He was fast, any demo you gave him he knew by heart in ten minutes.”

#5. Jailhouse Rock | 1957 | Album: Jailhouse Rock [Soundtrack]

Elvis Presley would record his Christmas album while also undertaking three small tours. Leiber and Stoller were brought in again and write, at the request of Presley, an inuendo laden blues track called Santa Claus Is Back in Town. The Elvis’ Christmas Album would be his fourth number-one album. Moore and Black resigned as they were barely making any money compared to Elvis Presley. They were brought back a few weeks later and paid by appearance and time spent in the studio. Presley was drafted on 20th December, but it was postponed in order for him to finish work he had already committed to.

#9. (You’re So Square) Baby, I Don’t Care | 1957

At the start of 1958 Presley would complete work of the film and accompanying soundtrack for King Creole. It was released in July of that year and peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart. It included hots such as Don’t Ask Me Why and Crawfish. Before that though, he would wrap on the film and album before being drafted into the U.S. Army on 24th March 1958.

In early August Presley would be hit with some terrible news, his beloved mother was diagnosed with hepatitis, as her condition rapidly worsened, he was granted leave to be by her side. He arrived to be by her bedside on 12th August and two days later she would pass away from heart failure. This would have a profound effect on the young Presley and a loss he would never truly get over.

#2. Crawfish | 1958 | Album: King Creole [Soundtrack]

Elvis Presley would be stationed in Friedberg, Germany from October 1958. This would be where he met a 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, who went on to become his wife. As questionable as it is now the age difference wasn’t that strange for the time period, but their courtship would last seven and a half years while Presley was cautious, he was also besotted with her. When he left Germany in March of 1960 the two wouldn’t see each other again until 1962, in the summer after her 17th birthday.  

While in the US Army, RCA made sure there was an endless stream of Elvis Presley music from his unreleased material. A double A-side that I really enjoy and suggest you should listen to is I Got Stung/One Night. Other hit’s during his two-year spell in the US Army included (Now and Then There’s) A Fool Such as I and A Big Hunk o’ Love. From these unreleased and re-issued tracks RCA compiled four albums, with the most successful being Elvis’ Golden Records going to No3. On the LP chart. Presley would be promoted to Sargent in January 1960.  

#3. One Night | 1958 | I Got Stung/One Night [Double A-side]

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