If Elvis Presley were alive today to celebrate his 79th birthday, he probably would get “All Shook Up” while holding his “Teddy Bear” and celebrating at “Heartbreak Hotel.”
The “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” unfortunately died of a heart problem in 1977 at age 42 at his massive Graceland estate in Memphis, Tenn.
Graceland, where Elvis spent most of his time when not performing, is the most famous home in America after The White House.
Elvis reportedly earned the nickname the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” when a magazine ran a contest between Elvis and calypso singer Harry Belafonte to see who was the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
Elvis won and the nickname stuck. The magazine later pitted Elvis against Pat Boone and Elvis against the Beatles and Elvis won both contests.
But did Elvis really deserve the title?
The easiest way to make that determination is to compare Elvis against his contemporaries from 1955, the beginning of the modern rock ‘n’ roll era, through 1963, the year before the British Invasion permanently altered the landscape of American music.
Most No. 1 hits
Elvis had 18 No. 1 hits, a record until the Beatles totaled 20 from 1964 through 1970.
Of the soloists who had at least one No. 1 hit during that span, Stevie Wonder tops the list with eight. He had his first chart topper with “Fingertips Part 2” in 1963. That’s less than half as many as Elvis had.
No singer, who had his/her first No. 1 hit prior to 1960, had five.
Most weeks at No. 1
Elvis’ 18 No. 1 hits combined to remain in the top spot for a record 79 weeks.
Of the singers from 1955 through 1963, Stevie Wonder is second with 18 weeks at No. 1. That’s less than 25 percent of Elvis’ record.
Longest running No. 1 hits
Elvis’ dual No. 1 hit of “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel” remained at the top of the charts for 11 weeks, a record for that era.
Three songs from that period lasted for eight weeks: “Singing the Blues” by Guy Mitchell in 1956, “Mack the Knife” by Bobby Darin in 1959 and “Theme from A Summer Place” by the Percy Faith Orchestra in 1961.
Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men combined to have the longest running No. 1 hit when “One Sweet Day” stayed at the top for a record 16 weeks spanning 1995 and 1996.
Three other songs remained at No. 1 for 14 weeks: “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston spanning 1992 and 1993, “I’ll Make Love to You” by Boyz II Men in 1994 and “Macarena” by Los Del Rio in 1996.
Most Top 40 hits
Elvis had a record 114 Top 40 hits.
Elton John is second with 59, slightly more than half of Elvis’ total. The Beatles were third with 52.
Of the singers from 1955 through 1963, Stevie Wonder had 46 Top 40 hits, one more than Aretha Franklin. Pat Boone had 38, Fats Domino 37 and Ricky Nelson and Connie Francis 35 each.
Most Top 10 hits
Elvis holds another record with 38 Top 10 hits, four more than the Beatles. Madonna is a surprising third with 32 and Stevie Wonder fourth with 28.
Ricky Nelson and Pat Boone were in 15th and 17th place, respectively, with 19 and 18 Top 10 hits.
It’s obvious Elvis earned the accolade “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” by comparing his successes to his contemporaries. And he gained the honor the old-fashioned way - he earned it.
What makes Elvis unparalled success even more impressive is that he was told that he could not sing. That was before joining forces with Sam Phillips, head of Sun Records in Memphis, Tenn.
Born in Tupelo, Miss., in 1935, Presley and his family remained there until moving to Memphis in 1948.
Encouraged by an elementary school teacher, the 10-year-old Presley placed a disappointing fifth at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show with his rendition of Red Foley’s country hit “Old Shep.”
He received his first guitar in 1946 and was taught to play by two uncles and the pastor at his family’s church. The guitar became one of Elvis’ trademarks during his early years as a performer.
Presley was scheduled to perform at a Tupelo radio station when he was 12. He was overcome by stage fright for his first scheduled on-air performance and failed to sing. One week later, he managed to perform.
Not the most auspicious debut for a man who played before thousands during his career.
As an eighth grader at Humes High School in Memphis, he received a “C” in music and his teacher reportedly told him that he had no aptitude for singing. The teacher later allegedly admitted that she had no appreciation for his singing style.
However, that’s not the grade you would expect from somebody who would be inducted in three music halls of fame for three distinctly different genres - Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, Country Music Hall of Fame in 1998 and Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2001.
The “C” student was nominated for 14 Grammys and won three, ironically, all for gospel music and none for rock ‘n’ roll.
After he graduated from Humes High School in 1953, Presley decided to focus on music.
In August of that year, he went to Sun Records to purchase studio time to make a record for his mother.
Presley returned to Sun Records in January 1954 to make another record. He still had no contract.
After tryouts for two local bands early in 1954 resulted in rejections, a subdued Presley returned to his job as a truck driver for a Memphis electric company.
Phillips, meanwhile, still was searching for a white singer who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel.
In June 1954, Phillips asked Presley to come to Sun to record some songs.
On July 5, Presley had another recording session at Sun Records. Near the end of the session, Presley began performing “That’s All Right,” Alfred Crudup’s 1946 blues song. He added his now famous gyrations during the song.
Phillips quickly taped the song and, three days later, a Memphis DJ began playing it. The radio station got bombarded with calls from listeners wanting to know the singer’s name and where he graduated from high school in an effort to determine if the performer was black or white. In those days, Southern schools had not yet been integrated.
Presley and his two studio musicians played a club on July 17. At the end of the month, they again played at a Memphis club, opening for Slim Whitman.
Later in the year, he played the Grand Ole Opry and Louisiana Hayride, which was broadcast by 198 stations in 28 states. Presley’s popularity was beginning to grow exponentially.
Things changed radically for Presley in 1955.
Col. Tom Parker, recognized as the best promoter in the music business, became Presley’s “adviser” early in the year. Parker then would become his manager in 1956.
In October, Presley played several shows opening for Bill Haley of “Rock Around the Clock” fame. Haley reportedly told Presley to play fewer ballads because he had a real feel for rhythm.
Presley was voted the year’s most promising male vocalist at the Country Disc Jockey’s Convention in November. Presley also performed at the convention.
Later in the month, Parker and Phillips worked a deal with RCA Victor to acquire Presley’s contract for the unheard sum of $25,000.
Presley made his first record for RCA on Jan. 10, 1956, with “Heartbreak Hotel” and it was released on Jan. 27. It reached No. 1 on April 21, 1956, and remained there for eight weeks. The success marked Elvis’ transition from a Southern sensation to a national phenomenon.
The first of his 18 No. 1 hits propelled Presley into a movie star who made 31 feature films, the most successful singer of the modern rock ‘n’ roll era, a renowned concert performer and an iconic entertainer.
Not bad for a guy who was told as a youngster that he couldn’t sing and who was hampered by stage fright.
Barry Levine is an entertainment writer for The Albany Herald. He can be reached at email@example.com.