Released by BMG in October 2001. Project consultant, compilation and liner notes.
In the jacket blurb to Peter Guralick’s biography of Elvis Presley, Last Train To Memphis, we are told that, when Elvis in 1953, first walked into Sun Records, Sam Phillips’ Memphis recording studio on 706 Union Avenue to make a record of his own voice, he was asked who he sounded like. Elvis replied, ‘I don’t sound like nobody.’ Listening the tracks on this fifties collection, it is easy to understand what Phillips noted at the time, ‘the boy was right.’
Although none of the hits gathered here came out of the now legendary Sun Studios, they do come from the period that started shortly after, when RCA purchased the Presley contract from Phillips. For most, it was the the period that witnessed Presley’s rise to fame on a global basis with some of the most popular songs and biggest hits between 1956 and 1959, one year after his induction into the US Army.
Quite appropriately, our collection opens with the seminal Heartbreak Hotel, the first single Elvis recorded for his then new record label at their Nashville studio in January 1956 under the guidance of Steve Sholes, the who had signed him the previous December. Although Sholes has within a month collected enough material to fill almost two albums, it was a gamble since he had no idea at the time whether Heartbreak Hotel would be a hit or not.
Without the Sun sound that had so defined Presley’s home popularity up to that point, the word around RCA was that it wouldn’t. Proving the doubters wrong, of course, Elvis took the single into the charts five weeks after release, and eventually to the top spot seven weeks after that. In May 1956. From there, it became a million seller and ended up, interestingly enough, as the disc reached number two, in June, behind Pat Boone’s I’ll Be Home, and stayed in the top ten for sixteen weeks. Clearly Elvis had arrived.
He second and third tracks are equally symbolic of Presley’s beginnings and the impact he had on popular music in the fifties. Hound Dog and Don’t be Cruel made up both sides of Elvis’s third singe, released later that same year. Eventually selling five million copies, Hound Dog – the song that Elvis premiered live on the Milton Berle and Steve Allen shows before recording – hit number two in the US on 1 September, while fourteen days later, it was overtaken by the other side, Don’t Be Cruel. Topping the chart for five weeks, it was a similar story in the UK the following month when Hound Dog repeated its number two run, this time for three weeks.
It was not to be until All Shook Up released in the UK the following summer that Elvis would score his first British chart topper. It was also the first time that an Elvis record, or for that matter, any record, had charted the week before its official release date, creating a still unbeaten record. In America, released the previous April, the record had already enjoyed a run at number one, sold two million copies, and like Heartbreak hotel, ended up as the biggest selling single of the year. Not bad for what the critics predicted was nothing more than a passing fad.
By 1958, passing fad, Elvis certainly wasn’t. He had already starred in two films Love Me Tender and Loving You, and was now again seen in the latest MGM box-office smash, Jailhouse Rock, accompanied by a soundtrack EP and single. The release of the latter however coupled with Treat Me Nice, another Leiber and Stoller composition written for the movie, was delayed one week due to the RCA pressing plants at Decca Records unable to meet the demand of the advance orders that, had since the release of the film, poured into record stores…