Posted: April 6, 2014 in MUSIC, Rock n Roll 1956 Part 1-Elvis
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by Robert Seoane

Fifteen year old John Winston Lennon headed home from school one dreary winter’s day in Liverpool, England, circa 1956, as he did every day of his young life. John didn’t like school, and as a result got thrown out of more than one. He found schoolwork boring and had not yet found the one thing that would inspire him to do anything with his life. That particular day, as he sat to eat the lunch his Aunt Mimi prepared for him, he turned on the radio. What he heard changed his life, gave it meaning and pointed to a direction. Not just for him, but for millions of others around the world. The only difference between us and that fifteen year old boy was that Lennon’s rise to fame with The Beatles would eclipse the King’s own fame.

“Well, since my baby left me, I found a new place to dwell, it’s down at the end of Lonely Street at Heartbreak Hotel…”

The voice coming from the radio was unique, a soulful wail that made you feel his pain, singing in a high voice as if he were crying and then smoothly dipping into a low, soulful and sensual baritone that tells you how we’re so desperately lonely, we can die. The instrumentation was spare, filling in the looming silence only occasionally with a few sharp guitar jabs and a laid back bass rhythm accompanying the vocal. Soon, a piano crept in like a tip-toeing cat, and afterwards, a few more vocal proclamations of intense loneliness briefly breaks into a tight, cuttingly sharp guitar solo that accentuates the desperation in the song. The echo added to this amazing new voice, achieved by recording the vocal in the studio hallway, enhanced the misty mood of the song and a young artist gets his first Number One hit. Soon after that, young John Lennon decides to save money to buy his first guitar.

“When I first heard “Heartbreak Hotel,” I could hardly make out what was being said. It was just the experience of hearing it and having my hair stand on end. We’d never heard American voices singing like that. They’d always sung like Sinatra who enunciated well. Suddenly, there’s this hillbilly hiccupping with echo and this bluesy background going on. We didn’t know what the hell Presley was singing about or Little Richard or Chuck Berry. It took a long time to work out what was going on. To us, it just sounded like great noise.” –John Lennon


Elvis Aron Presley’s influence on rock ‘n’ roll reverberates today. His star power, attitude, style and sound is still the blueprint of what a male pop star should look like. Over the decades, Elvis has since become an immortal icon, joining the ranks with Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and those other tragic figures, not just because of his untimely death, but also because he epitomized what we as a society consider perfection.

The ripples of Elvis Presley’s overall style overshadowed his music. His voice was distinctively his and to be copied by myriad future artists and imitators. You can hear it occasionally coming out of David’s Bowie’s voice and you can see his enduring impact on fashion on Bruno Mars’ 2013 pompadour. His debut in the public eye once “Heartbreak Hotel” was released, rivaled only that of Frank Sinatra, when the teenage girls went crazy at the sound of his voice and mobbed him at every public appearance. It was 1956, and just two and a half years earlier, he was a part-time truck driver recording a couple of songs for his mother.

It was in the early morning hours after the Fourth of July in 1954 when Elvis, exhausted from recording the entire night at Sam Phillips’ Sun Records with guitarist Scotty Moore and upright bass player Bill Black, managed to extract a last burst of musical energy. He got up on his feet and began singing a song and accompanying himself on guitar. The frustrations of already having recorded several songs and still not having gotten it yet led him to this impromptu jam.

“That’s alright, mama/That’s alright for you/That’s alright mama/Any way you do…”

Bill and Scotty joined Elvis. Sam stuck his head out the control room door. What is that? Start it again, I want to get this down… That was it. That was the sound Sam Phillips was looking for. He remembered what he once said:

“If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.”

Suddenly, in a burst of spontaneous energy from this young fellow from Tupelo, Sam Phillips had found his white man with the Negro sound.

In many ways, Elvis Presley was mainstream music’s Great White Hope. The recording industry was very hesitant to introduce black talent into their family of artists, except for the bold, new up and coming labels like Chess and Atlantic. Elvis grew up in a predominantly white environment, populated with white faces on the streets, in school and in church. Gospel music, songs created by black artists, were sung by white faces in the white only churches Elvis went to. He grew to love the music, but despite his unmixed surroundings, he managed to capture the sound and feel of soul when singing his beloved songs. His skin was white, but Elvis’ soul was black.

Sam Phillips knew what he had, and it was proven to him when he heard “That’s Alright” play on the radio repeatedly three days later and people began calling in to ask who that negro artist was. At one point, Elvis went on the air to prove to the listeners he was white.

Sam Phillips had believed in this kid from the beginning, despite having given him a few songs to sing that didn’t sound as good as he had hoped, he still heard something special in Elvis’ voice to put him together with Scotty Moore and Bill Black. After hours of recording and searching for the right sound, it had finally sprouted; the key to introducing rock and roll to White America and having White America accept rock and roll into their homes for the rest of the century was in the studio just outside Sam’s control room.

During the two years leading up to the release of “Heartbreak Hotel”, Elvis would record various songs for Sun Records and tour live, appearing on the radio and sometimes on television, honing his own onstage style. He was well aware that the mere shake of his hips or wiggle of his leg could elicit screams and wails from teenage girls, and the more he toured, the more he learned and perfected his moves. Fellow peers like Roy Orbison and Bill Haley crossed paths with Elvis before the beginning and were impressed. Haley even suggested to Elvis that he sing fewer ballads and more rock and roll.

Ironically, Elvis’ slide into ultimate mediocrity began even before his career jump started when then manager Don Neal introduced the young star to Colonel Tom Parker. Parker was otherwise known as “The Colonel” since 1948, when he attained the rank of colonel in the Louisiana State Militia from the Mayor of Louisiana for his work on the Mayor’s election campaign.

Colonel Tom Parker had found his golden, egg-laying goose, and he used his paternal manner to influence Elvis; little by little toning him down. Parker managed to “clean” Elvis up within two years of his worldwide success. In 1958, at the behest of the Colonel’s suggestion, Elvis was inducted into the Army.

“Up until Elvis joined the army, I thought it was beautiful music and Elvis was for me and my generation what the Beatles were to the ’60s. But after he went into the army, I think they cut “les bollocks” off. They not only shaved his hair off but I think they shaved between his legs, too. He played some good stuff after the army, but it was never quite the same, It was like something happened to him psychologically. Elvis really died the day he joined the army. That’s when they killed him, and the rest was a living death.” –John Lennon

Upon his return from his Army stint, Parker concocted a cockamie return show on TV with none other than everyone’s parents’ favorite music star, Frank Sinatra. Without a single rock and roll artist anywhere in sight, Parker dressed Elvis in a tuxedo and trotted him out to sing a duet with Frank, trading each other’s hits. It was his baptism into mainstream America. Soon, he would record some increasingly mediocre songs over the years and star in silly movies. In the meantime, the 1960s exploded with the most talented artists and musicians of the day, and Elvis was sitting the decade out musically, never playing or associating with any of them, except for one famous visit with The Beatles at his own home in 1965. Colonel Parker made sure that Elvis would remain the King by being aloof, unreachable and as a result, a caricature of his own self.

Parker’s influence lasted until the day Elvis died. One of the last opportunities to see Elvis with a fellow superstar was in 1976, a year before his death. Barbra Streisand and her boyfriend, Producer Jon Peters, approached Elvis to play in a remake of “A Star Is Born” with Streisand. Back then, Streisand was at the top of her game and one of the biggest box office draws of the decade. Teaming up with Elvis in a pass-the-torch remake as a rock musical was considered a very modern and envelope pushing film idea. Elvis was also interested, primarily because he wanted to prove to the world he could actually act. Parker however, saw no profit in being co-star to Streisand and could not spin an Elvis album out of it, so he suggested to his sole client not to do it.

So, by constantly protecting Elvis’ reputation as the King by keeping him aloof and away, as well as keeping his eye always on the bottom line, Parker relegated the King of Rock and Roll, the man who would point the musical direction of the Western world for decades to come, to a Las Vegas act.

But in 1956, it was just beginning. Sam Phillips sold Elvis’ record contract to RCA for $35,000 the year before. Elvis’ initial difficulty to break into the charts was simply because he could not be categorized. He wasn’t black, so he didn’t belong in the Rhythm & Blues genre, but he sounded too “negro” to be placede in the country and western genre. His music was labeled “rockabilly”, and it was Elvis’ popularity that showed the so-called experts that his music encompassed both genres. On January 27, 1956, the first month of the first true year of rock and roll, “Heartbreak Hotel” was released as a single. Soon, it jumped up to the Number One position on the Pop charts for seven weeks, was also Number One on the country and western charts, and climbed to number five in the rhythm and blues charts, a triple-threat feat rarely accomplished by anyone else.

Soon, “Heartbreak Hotel” would be followed in rapid succession by up to forty singles and five LPs over the next two years. Ten of those singles each reached Number One in the US Pop charts. Six of those ten singles also topped the Country charts and five of them topped the R&B charts. Elvis would typically place on three charts whenever he recorded a song specifically to be released as a single. The others were usually just cuts from his albums, which is usually how it was done during the days before I-Tunes. In the 50s and much of the 60s, there used to be a clear distinction between singles and albums, and neither the twain shall meet when they were released, until the record industry realized how much money they were losing by not including hit singles in the albums. But in the 1950s, singles were released because they sold fast, and albums were usually filled with only a few good songs and surrounded by filler material, mediocre songs that would never be released as a single.

After Sam Phillips got “That’s Alright, Mama” down on tape, he recorded another song for the 45 rpm vinyl single’s B-side. In contrast to the aforementioned R&B tinged rockabilly tune, ”Blue Moon Of Kentucky” was a country-inflected song, and this pair of songs would come to symbolize the Elvis juggernaut, a mixture of rock n roll, R&B and rhythm & blues. RCA Records had no idea how to market him until the listening public showed them.

“Heartbreak Hotel” was followed up the singles chart with its own B-Side “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You”, a torchy ballad that displayed Elvis’ talent for slow songs, an ability Sam Phillips noticed early on but wisely resisted, opting instead to recording rockabilly tunes that showcased his incredibly original voice.

The first three months of 1956 was a blurry of activity that helped prepare the 19 year old Elvis’ for superstardom. After “Heartbreak Hotel” was recorded for his new label, RCA, Colonel Tom Parker booked him on CBS’ “Stage Show” for six appearances over two months, bringing him to national television’s viewership attention. He toured extensively and recorded songs for his upcoming debut album. By March, Colonel Parker had signed off as Elvis Presley’s exclusive manager.


It was the first rock ‘n’ roll million seller and the first rock ‘n’ roll album to hit Number One on the Billboard Top Albums chart, staying there for ten straight weeks. It was Spring 1956 when his debut album titled “Elvis Presley” debuted as a monaural recording. There he was, gracing his debut album with a picture taken at a concert in Tampa, Florida In the summer of 1955, the once and future king; in one of the few pictures where he’s actually playing a guitar and singing so raucously you can clearly see down his throat; his name emblazoned down the side and across the bottom in neon pink and green. Various artists such as Big Audio Dynamite, Tom Waits, k.d. lang and Chumbawamba have paid homage to the cover but the most notable is The Clash’s “London Calling” album, that mimicked the neon pink and green font and symbolically taking Elvis’ guitar and smashing it on the floor.

The album tracks were comprised of the country and western inflected recordings from the Sun sessions Sam Phillips produced in late 1955 and sold to RCA along with Presley for $35,000. Some were filler ballads and not very good. Yes, his voice was deep, rich with vocal inflections unique to only him, but the melodies were slow. “I Love You Because”, “Just Because” and especially “Blue Moon”, a pretty melody inexplicably recorded with a spacey, empty production and including strange sounding falsetto emanating from The King, would never have elevated Elvis to the position of superstardom without his rockabilly side. That was the side people went wild for. The ballads were only there to catch your breath.

The album opens with a classic rock ‘’n’ roll standard, Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes”. Where Perkins’ take on his song was laid back and easy, Elvis’ version is frenetic.

“Well, it’s one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, now go cat go…”

Carl Perkins was one of the most important talents at Sun Records and Sam Phillips did not want Elvis to release that song as a single for fear of eclipsing Perkins’ career, hence its opening position on Elvis’ album instead. The countdown at the top of the song makes it a natural beginning to what promises to be a rockin’ and rollin’ time with Elvis. His voice owns the song, even showing Perkins how it should be sung, with an energy and excitement that was palpable in the recordings. Elvis sounded as if his very sinews were made of rock ‘n’ roll, and each harmony and musical note affected his body, delivering spasms of dance and hip swaying that felled every teenage girl within a one mile distance ratio. In the meantime, Scotty Moore’s guitar breaks out in two solos that remains a blueprint for how an electric guitar should dance around a tune.

Elvis then took on Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman”. Once again, his soulful baritone wraps itself around each syllable and breathes them out with a rhythm that belied the energy coursing through his body, so you could actually see him shake, rattle and roll as he sang. Then he changes Charles’ ending from the regular slow fade out to an abrupt stop, returning with a slow, rolling reprise that repeats the main line with the mournful wail of a young man having a wet dream.

Two ballads followed after the bouncy “One Sided Love Affair”, sung in a vibrant, playful vocal. Once side one of the album ends, the needle of the phonograph would either just spin around against the center of the vinyl album or automatically lift and place itself back in its cradle, a modern technical wonder that would soon become standard in most record players.

But you still had to stand up to turn the record around and play the other side. Every unsuspecting first time listener was electrified at the outburst that was Elvis’ version of Little Richard’s “Tutti-Frutti”. Although not quite able to surpass Little Richard’s downright lewd interpretation of his own song, Elvis tinkered with it by ending the famous nonsense lyric with “bam boom” instead of Little Richard’s “bam bam”.

The next track is “Trying To Get To You”, a Sun Records recording of a mid-tempo ballad with a catchy melody that becomes even more fun to listen with Elvis’ phrasing, as if he were bouncing each word off his foot like a basketball.

“I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Cry Over You” continues the jaunty feel of the album, but it soon grinds to a halt with two slow, unimaginative songs that almost ends the album in a depressing note. The final track on the album however, Jesse Stone’s “Money Honey”, returns Elvis to his beloved rockabilly style with a mid-tempo basic rocker that allowed him to showcase his falsetto hiccup between syllables that were guaranteed to run chills down the spines of every pre-pubescent girl who heard it.

Elvis truly hit the ground running after the release of his first album and single, especially when HH hit Number One. Soon, national TV discovered that, despite threatening Establishment with his young, savage, rebellious gyrations and suggestive movements, he pulled in ratings. Milton Berle, who was one of TV’s first comedians to have his own weekly comedy show consistently at the top ranks of the TV networks’ holy ratings, was the first man to realize that this boy was a phenomenon with a following, as so obviously indicated by his record sales and primarily, the reactions of the teenage girls (and I’m sure, some boys) at his concerts.

The apex of the Rock n Roll summit was at Elvis’ reach. He was destined to reach the top, despite the looming shadow of helplessness suddenly showing its pale white face.

Elvis and his fellow bandmates boarded a plane a few days after the Berle performance, which had been recorded on a battleship among an audience of sailors and their families. They had begun a short tour that would ultimately take them to Las Vegas for an infamous show that would be welcomed with lukewarm reception by a middle aged crowd who wanted to be crooned by Perry Como instead. Two decades later he would rule Las Vegas, but that day, the audience reaction was nothing but polite and tolerant. But before that, the flight became a sobering wake-up call.

After having been flying in the air for a little over half an hour, one of the engines of the plane started to sputter. The pilot reported engine trouble. Elvis and his bandmates froze. The realization that they may go down became a sickening reality. Of course, history proves that they landed safely, but they were reportedly so shaken up, they had to take some time off first before continuing their national trek. Sadly, many rock artists over the following decades were not as lucky as Elvis that day. In fact, the plane crash and rock ‘n’ roll are, sadly, inextricably linked forever. But Elvis would be spared.

Milton Berle showcased Elvis again at the start of summer in what was probably the performance that sealed Elvis’ career and endurance as a world known icon. He sang his latest hit “Hound Dog” and the camera captured a young man who danced as if he was fucking. Nobody had ever danced in such a way. His body seemed to be divided into two parts. The staid, top part above his hips that only moved in sudden spasms of rhythm, and the lower part, his hips thrusting in and out and his legs bent at the knee moving to and fro in alternating twists, every once in a while managing to get on the tip of his toes, still with his knees bent. Then, just to add a cherry on the pubescent cake, there was his sneer. Put them together and it sent squeals of orgasmic delight from the mostly female audience, and legitimately concerned many pockets of American society, believing strongly that this rock ‘n’ roll, this black devil music, was going to slowly but surely deteriorate the moral fabric of their youth. Society has since become more tolerant and our youth is exposed to much more than they were then. Whether this is indeed rock ‘n’ roll’s fault and we are going to Hell, at least we’re going dancing.

Steve Allen, NBC’s first host of the Tonight Show and The Establishment’s Poster Asshole back then, took a look at Berle’s ratings during the Presley appearance and was mortified because he did not understand rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis Presley or the hypnotic grip this young delinquent and the music seemed to have on the teenage market, but he did understand something that surpassed his beliefs, tastes and mores… ratings.

It was the halfway point of the banner rock ‘n’ roll year of 1956 when Elvis appeared on the Tonight Show with Steve Allen on July 1st. That day, Elvis was not to give his usual performance of “Hound Dog”, the single he would be recording the following day in the RCA Studios in New York, along with “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Anyway You Want Me”.

Instead, Steve Allen decided to set him up to ridicule and called it comedy. Where Berle had allowed Elvis to do his thing for the world to see, Allen treated him like a circus side show freak. Fancying himself a singer/songwriter but having never been anywhere near a Billboard top 100 chart, Allen typified the resentful, intellectual elite who patronizingly accepted this awful noise as nothing but young society’s fad and should better be snuffed out and forgotten as soon as possible so I can get back to my Bing Crosby. So Steve had Elvis dress up in a black tie and tails like something out of a Fred Astaire musical and trotted him out to sing his song… to an actual hound dog.

Of course, instead of it being funny it was just stupid. Nobody laughed throughout the entire bit except for some nervous tittering at the beginning when Allen introduced Elvis to the dog. Elvis however, could not be ridiculed. He handled it good naturedly, taking the hound dog’s face in his hand to sing into his eyes, and when he belted out the song, Elvis’ voice boomed. The TV cameras however, never opened the shot wider than head to waist, so when the drums came in where Elvis would start to swivel the hips, you weren’t be able to see it, despite the fact he didn’t seem to be dancing anyway. The Allen producers had tamed the beast. It would be the subtle beginning of Elvis’ long, watered down transition from rock ‘n’ roll rebel to Las Vegas entertainer. But “1956 Elvis” was as perplexed about the reaction from the “Over 30” crowd as everyone else was in the “Under 30” crowd.

I don’t feel like I’m doing anything wrong. … I don’t see how any type of music would have any bad influence on people when it’s only music. … I mean, how would rock ‘n’ roll music make anyone rebel against their parents?” –Elvis Presley

The critical backlash after the Berle appearance was harsh. The term Elvis The Pelvis was coined, much to Presley’s displeasure. The New York Times and the Daily News both panned him. Law and Morality Enforcer FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (and closet cross-dresser) opened a file on him after two teenage Wisconsin girls came home with his autograph scrawled on their waist and thigh, respectively. Ed Sullivan, a TV giant back then who had a weekly variety show Sunday nights on CBS and could make a star overnight, pronounced Elvis Presley “unfit for family viewing”, then dropped his bendable ethics when he saw that Steve Allen’s Tonight Show episode with Elvis actually beat Sullivan in the ratings. Ed jumped on the Presley bandwagon and booked him for two fall appearances (the first one in which Charles Laughton substituted as host) and a third one the following January. In the meantime, throughout this turmoil, his double A single Hound Dog/Don’t Be Cruel shot up the charts and stayed at Number One for 11 weeks. The two songs were the soundtrack for the Summer of ’56.

“Hound Dog” was written by Mike Lieber and Jerry Stoller, and first recorded by Big Mama Thornton in 1953.

Thornton’s delivery of the song was laid back and with totally different lyrics. Presley added urgency to the song with rapid fire drum bursts between each stanza and a sizzling guitar solo from Scotty Moore. He also changed the lyrics, keeping only the opening line “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog” as well as “They said you was high class”. It was Elvis who added the line “crying the time” after the opening line instead of “snooping round my door” as Thornton sang it. Also, the line “You ain’t never caught a rabbit, you ain’t no friend of mine” was totally made up by Elvis.

“Don’t be Cruel” along with “Hound Dog” became the biggest selling single of 1956. Written by Otis Blackwell, Elvis’ shared co-writing credit of DBC because of his habit of tinkering with the lyrics and feel of each song he chooses, as he did with “Hound Dog”. But where HD’s Lieber and Stoller kept their songwriting credit intact, Blackwell was the first of many subsequent writers to surrender 50% of the royalties to have the opportunity of having his song sung by the up and coming King. It was a smart move, because of Elvis’ most popular songs cannot be imagined sung by anyone else. His delivery was so unique, so right, that nobody to date has ever matched or surpass his interpretations for excitement and pure rock ‘n’ roll energy.

Ed Sullivan wasn’t hosting his show the first time Elvis appeared on September 9th, 1956, but it generated 60 million viewers in a country who’s population at the time was 170 million, approximately half of what it is today in 2014. Over 82% of the television viewing audience was watching this phenomenon once again, seen in their own homes in grainy black and white. The ability to see history unfolding itself in your own living room was a totally new phenomenon, and it would be repeated often with many other historic moments to come. But back then, it was still a totally new way of experiencing the world, and the American public would huddle around their TV sets, acting as historical witnesses to the moon landing, the space shuttle exploding, OJ Simpson leading a low speed car chase… time after time after time.

His appearance on Sullivan brought him front and center into the national spotlight like no other appearance he had made thus far. He was seen dancing only waist up on his appearances, but just the slightest chuckle, the slightest move of his shoulder or vocal inflection, sent ripples of excitement through the audience. At one point, Elvis himself even parodied his censorship by suggesting that he’s only allowed to move his pinky, and then began to move it around seductively, generating squeals of delight. Elvis was the perfect package. White, handsome and incredibly charming. He can be seen chuckling regularly at his fans’ reaction to him on most of his live recorded performances and acting in a self-deprecating manner, making him that much more likable. Only Frank Sinatra had generated this type of reaction. After the Sullivan performance, The Establishment, including Sullivan, recognized his alarming popularity and decided that to quash rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis Presley must be tamed.

Three weeks later, he returned to his hometown of Tupelo and, dressed in black with white shoes, gave the audience what had been banned on TV.

He moved, gyrated, swiveled and moved his legs back and forth, eliciting the same ecstatic reaction each time. His touring performances and first two Sullivan appearances were designed to promote his new upcoming single “Love Me Tender” and album, titled simply “Elvis”. There was no need for further clarification.

After releasing as many singles as they possibly could from his first album, inventory had become scarce. Musical artists didn’t have the luxury of waiting a year or two between album releases as they do today. They were obligated to release product on a regular basis, like a treadmill, to ensure enduring popularity. The Elvis Propaganda machine was now in high gear. American Capitalism had discovered the power of Elvis, and starred him in his first film.


“Love Me Tender” was Elvis’ follow-up single to the “Hound Dog”/”Don’t Be Cruel” juggernaut. Having a rich baritone that fit ballads perfectly, RCA decided to showcase “Romantic Elvis’” voice. It proved a great success, becoming the first record to ever receive a million orders before it was even released, right after he sang it on Sullivan. It reached to Number 1 on Billboard and stayed there for five weeks, ironically enough replacing “Don’t Be Cruel” from the top position. Elvis broke another record, occupying the top slot on Billboard for sixteen consecutive weeks. It was a record that would stand for thirty-eight years, until 1994 when it was broken by Boys II Men.

Based on an old 1861 Civil War melody called “Aura Lee”, the words in “Love Me Tender” were changed to modernize it. Personally, I find it to be one of the most boring, slow songs ever recorded, but that’s probably because Elvis’ fast songs are so unique and sound great to this day. In turn, “Love Me Tender” sounds like a song that belongs in the decade it was produced.

Elvis didn’t want to be a rock ’n’ roll star as much as he wanted to be a movie star. He confessed that to Colonel Parker, expressing a desire to be taken as a serious actor. The good Colonel promised Elvis he would make sure he got his wish. Dollar signs must have rolled through Parker’s eyeballs like a slot machine when he heard the word “movies”. Although he intended to grant Elvis’ wish, that bit about serious acting went out the window. Parker suggested adding four more song to the movie, which had its name changed from “The Reno Brothers” to “Love Me Tender” due to the song’s overwhelming popularity. Elvis would soon regret having to sing additional songs for the movie, as the vision he had for an acting career would be derailed by a subsequent poor selection of films that were designed to market the idea of an “Elvis movie” and not broaden his talents with more meaningful roles. Elvis could have handled it, too, displaying an ease with acting that was noticed by many important critics. But his own immense popularity drowned out his filmic dreams from the incessant screaming that was heard during the film’s premiere and whenever Elvis appeared.. The fans didn’t care what the movie was about. They just wanted to stare at him and scream.


Released on October 21, 1956, Elvis second album followed the same formula as the first. A collection of soon-to-be rock ‘n’ roll classics mixed with country inflected tunes. One particular rockabilly tune, “When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again” stood out as a possible follow-up, but the first single off the album after “Love Me Tender” turned out to be “Love Me”, a torchy ballad with a melody that Elvis makes his own, singing in his deep baritone that rises up to a pleading tenor.

It was the second track off side one, the opener being “Rip It Up” which, along with “Long Tall Sally” and “Ready Teddy” were originally sung by Little Richard and destined to be classic rock ‘n’ roll standards. Presley did the song’s justice, but had met his match with Little Richard’s performance.

Elvis offered was another way of singing it. Little Richard’s voice shredding style surpasses any other version of these songs with the possible exception of The Beatles’ version of “Long Tall Sally”.

Presley had also teamed up with Otis Blackwell again, after the phenomenal success of “Don’t Be Cruel”, and recorded “Paralyzed” to end the album. Elvis sure knew how to pick ‘em.

1956 was coming to an end, and Elvis decided to wrap the year up by returning to the place that started it for him. On December 4, he walked into Sun Records to visit to old friends who were recording with Sam Phillips that day. Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis were also on the cusp of rock stardom, but on that evening, they were just three guys jamming, as a lark.

Sam Phillips recorded that legendary unplanned jam, but never released it because he no longer retained the rights to Presley. It was finally released in 1981 in Europe and nine years later in the US. A fourth future superstar, Johnny Cash, also dropped by for a visit and a famous photograph was taken of the four that rolls around the Internet to this day, but it’s said that Cash never participated in the jam. Johnny Cash himself begged to differ however and insisted that he indeed was there as well, but could not be heard singing because of his distance to the microphone.

That meeting served as a great kickoff to end the year, as of these young musicians who got together on that December evening would grow to impact music we still hear today. Elvis wasn’t the only juggernaut careening through American culture. 1956 would introduce a slew of artists whose music would prove to stand the test of time.

  1. […] THE HISTORY OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL 1956 – ELVIS […]


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