Elvis Presley's Biggest Records …
A Top 10 Countdown

“It was my biggest record  … well, it was no bigger than the rest. It just sold the most.” — Elvis Presley

Elvis enjoyed using that one-liner prior to singing “Don’t Be Cruel” on stage and on television in 1956. All humor aside, though, was “Don’t Be Cruel” really his biggest hit song at that time? He claimed it sold the most, but did it really? Remember that “Hound Dog” on the flip side was also tremendously popular. There’s no way of knowing how many kids bought that record for “Don’t Be Cruel” and how many bought it to get “Hound Dog.” If each side is credited with half the record’s total sales, then maybe “Heartbreak Hotel” actually sold more copies.

The point is that record sales is not an authoritative criteria for ranking Elvis’s “biggest” records. There’s really only one objective way to do it, and that’s by comparing chart performances. Both sides of most of Elvis’s single records were ranked on Billboard's weekly Top/Hot 100 pop singles charts.  By using Billboard's ratings, then, a point system can be used to created a biggest-to-smallest Presley hit list.

Here’s the point system used to generate the following list of Elvis’s biggest records. For each week that a Presley single title appeared in the Top/Hot 100, it was awarded a number of points in inverse relation to its number position on that week’s chart. For example, if an Elvis song was #1 on the survey for a certain week, it earned 100 points for that week; if it dropped to #2 the next week, it earned 99 points that week; and so on down the list. If it was at the very bottom of the list at #100, then it earned just 1 point that week.

To keep things fair, however, one adjustment to this point system was made. In the 1950s, popular records tended to stay on Billboard’s chart much longer than they did in the 1960s. The main reason for this discrepancy was the “Top 40” concept that radio station program managers began adopting toward the end of the ’50s. Once a record had peaked on the chart and then fell below #40 on the Hot 100, it was dropped from the playlists of most radio stations. That resulted in the record plummeting completely off the Billboard chart a week or two later. For example, although “All Shook Up” was on the Top 100 for 30 weeks in 1957, 9 of those weeks came after the record had dropped below #40 on the chart. In contrast, “Surrender,” a 1961 #1 hit for Elvis, spent only 12 weeks on the chart. When it dropped from #25 to #42 in May 1961, radio stations stopped playing it, and it disappeared completely from the Hot 100 the next week.

In order to compensate for the “Top 40 Factor” and to level the playing field somewhat, for the following list, points were assigned to an Elvis record for only up to the first 20 weeks it appeared on the Top/Hot 100. Here, then, is a top 10 countdown of Elvis Presley’s biggest hit records.

#10 — “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” (1,501 points)

Elvis’s classic ballad entered the Hot 100 at #35 on November 14, 1960. Two weeks later it was at #1, where it stayed for 6 weeks. Of the 16 total weeks it spent on the chart, 11 were in the top 10. Like most Presley hits in the early sixties, it was abandoned by most DJs once its popularity started to fade.

#9 — “It’s Now or Never” (1,619 points)

In a 1961 press conference, Elvis claimed “Its Now or Never” was his biggest seller. It certainly was his biggest chart record of the 196os. From July to November 1960, it spent 20 weeks on the Hot 100, 5 of those weeks at #1.

#8 — “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” (1,692 points)

Elvis’s second RCA single is one of two records to make this top 10 list without reaching #1 on the Billboard chart. It peaked at #3 in July 1956, but it piled up points by staying in the top 10 for 10 weeks (and 2 more weeks at #11). It remained on the Top 100 for 24 weeks, the last 4 of which were not counted in its point total.

#7 — “Hound Dog” (1,781 points)

As perhaps the most well known of all Presley recordings, it’s surprising that “Hound Dog” didn’t finish higher on this Elvis’s top 10 list. It spent 28 weeks in the Top 100, second most among all Presley records. Its chart performance was hurt, though, by competition from its flip side, “Don’t Be Cruel.” Although “Hound Dog” spent 11 weeks in the top 10 in 1956, it never reached #1 on the Top 100.

#6 — “Jailhouse Rock” (1,798 points)

The last of Elvis’s blockbuster trio of hits in 1957, “Jailhouse Rock” spent 27 weeks in the Top 100, 14 of them in the top 10, including 6 weeks at #1. Even after leaving the top 40 it lingered on the Top 100 chart for another 8 weeks. It lost the #5 spot on this list by a single point to the Elvis single that preceded it in 1957.

#5 — “Teddy Bear” (1,799 points)

“Teddy Bear” spent 25 weeks on the Top 100, including a phenomenal 12 weeks in the top 5. Its 7 weeks at #1, one more week than “Jailhouse Rock,” gave the Loving You soundtrack tune the extra chart point it needed to take the fifth spot on the list of Elvis’s biggest hits.

#4 — “Heartbreak Hotel” (1,820 points)

Elvis’s first RCA single in 1956 spent a total of 27 weeks in the Top 100, 14 of which were in the top 5. Although it sat perched atop the chart for 7 weeks, its chart point total was minimized a bit by how slowly it moved up the chart initially. Nine weeks passed between March 3, when it entered the chart at #68, and May 5, when it finally reached #1. By contrast, “All Shook Up” reached #1 in just 2 weeks.

#3 — “Love Me Tender” (1,846 points)

The title song of Elvis’s first movie entered the Top 100 at #12, the second highest chart entry of any Presley single. The next week it jumped to #6, starting a run of 14 weeks in the top 10. Although it had a comparatively short run at #1 (just 3 weeks), the points it accumulated during week after week in the top 10 earned it the #3 spot among Elvis’s biggest hits.

#2 — “All Shook Up” (1,863 points)

“All Shook Up” was a beast on Billboard’s Top 100 in 1957. Its 30 weeks (7 months!) on the chart was the longest run of any Elvis single, as was its 8 weeks at #1. Only one other Presley record spent more weeks in the top 10 than “All Shook Up’s” 15 weeks. It’s hard to believe any other Elvis song could have had a better chart record, but one did.

#1 — “Don’t Be Cruel” (1,897 points)

What makes the 1956 chart performance of “Don’t Be Cruel” so phenomenal is that it faced stiff competition from Elvis’s own “Hound Dog” on the flip side. His biggest hit spent 27 weeks in the Top 100, 16 weeks in the top 10, and 7 weeks at #1. But the fight for #1 on Elvis’s “Biggest Hits” list ultimately came down to where the two contenders were on the Top 100 in weeks 19 and 20. While “All Shook Up” was at #22 and #32 those two weeks, “Don’t Be Cruel” finished at #14 and #15, giving it the points for a narrow victory. Even if points were allowed for all of “All Shook Up’s” 30 chart weeks and “Don’t Be Cruel’s” 27 chart weeks, the latter still wins, though by a closer margin of 2,263 to 2,247 points.

Those are Elvis’s top 10 biggest hits. Here are #s 11-25 on the list, along with their point totals: #11 “Love Me” (1,401), #12 “Don’t” (1,383), #13 “Return to Sender” (1,368), #14 “Too Much” (1,336), #15 “One Night” (1,302), #16 “Stuck on You” (1,277), #17 “Can’t Help Falling in Love” (1,272), #18 “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck” (1,243), #19 “Suspicious Minds” (1,210), #20 “I Got Stung” (1,175), #21 "Loving You (1,155), #22 “Burning Love” (1,134), #23 “Good Luck Charm” (1,115), #24 “A Fool Such As I” (1,109), #25 “Crying in the Chapel” (1,107).

A couple of Elvis records that are not among his top 25 biggest hits deserve special mention. The first is one of his 14 #1 singles that did not make the cut. In 1959 “A Big Hunk O’ Love” quickly climbed to #1 on the Hot 100 but then faded away just as fast. It accumulated 983 points, qualifying it for only 30th place on Elvis’s hit list.

Then there was the roller coaster chart ride of “Way Down.” Elvis’s last single release peaked at #31 in July 1977 before heading back down the chart. Following Elvis’s death the next month, “Way Down” reversed course and headed back up the Hot 100 to a new peak at #18. In the end, it spent 21 weeks on the chart, the most of any Elvis record since “Jailhouse Rock” 20 years before. “Way Down” eventually accumulated 1,269 chart points, which would have placed it at #18 on Elvis’s list of biggest hits. Since much of its chart success was result of a final tribute by bereaved fans, “Way Down” can’t fairly be labeled one of Elvis’s biggest hits, and so it was left off the list. — Alan Hanson | © December 2013


"'All Shook Up's' 30 weeks  on the chart was the longest run of any Elvis single, as was its 8 weeks at #1. It also spent 15 weeks in the top 10. It’s hard to imagine any other Elvis song could have had a better chart record, but one did."