Elvis blog entry #275
Posted December 18,, 2014
(New Posts 1st & 3rd Thursdays of Each Month)

Elvis's Coming's and Going's
At the Top of Billboard's Chart

During his career, Elvis Presley took 14 single records to #1 on Billboard magazine’s Top/Hot 100 chart. Whenever a new Presley song reached the top of the list, it was cause for his faithful fans to celebrate. Ironically, though, it also gave the artist whose recording was being displaced at #1 the right to brag that, “It took Elvis Presley to knock me off the top of the chart.” Then, of course, each of Elvis’s #1 records eventually had to fall from its lofty perch, allowing the singer of the new #1 song to brag that, “I knocked Elvis Presley off the top of the chart.”

In addition to the popularity of the artist and the quality of the recording, the ability of any song to reach #1 on Billboard’s chart in the ’50s and ’60s also depended on other factors, including public taste and the level of the competition at any given time. The natural ebb and flow of the chart always guaranteed that those records reaching the top must eventually lose momentum and fall back down.

With that in mind, it is interesting to take note of the comings and goings of Elvis’s 14 #1 records on the Billboard singles chart. We’ll start with his first chart-topper in 1956 and go through his final one in 1969.

• “Heartbreak Hotel”

When Elvis’s first RCA single reached #1 on the Top 100 on May 5, 1956, it displaced “The Poor People of Paris,” an instrumental by Les Baxter. Baxter’s only top 40 hit held the top spot for 6 weeks before Elvis took over. “Heartbreak Hotel” held onto #1 for 7 weeks until June 23, when Gogi Grant’s “The Wayward Wind” took over at #1. Her song’s 7-week stay at the top was the highlight of Grant’s recording career, which featured just one other top 40 song.

• “Don’t Be Cruel”

Less than 3 months after losing the #1 spot, Elvis again topped the Top 100 on September 15, 1956, when “Don’t Be Cruel” jumped over “My Prayer” by The Platters. The second of the group’s 4 #1 records from 1956-58, “My Prayer” had spent 5 weeks at the top. “Don’t Be Cruel” stayed at #1 for 7 weeks until November 17 when Billboard listed it in a rare tie atop the chart with Jim Lowe’s “The Green Door.” Lowe’s only big hit then spent 2 weeks alone at #1 before giving way to …

• “Love Me Tender”

Elvis took the top spot back from Lowe on November 17 and held it for 3 weeks. That gave Presley a total of 17 weeks at #1 with 3 RCA singles in 1956. Guy Mitchell’s “Singing the Blues” pushed “Love Me Tender” off the top spot on December 8. Mitchell would have another #1 record with “Heartaches By the Number” in 1959.

• “All Shook Up”

Elvis’s biggest chart performer reached the top of the Top 100 in just its third week on the chart. It brushed aside “Butterfly” by Andy Williams on April 20, 1957. It was Williams’s only #1 song in a long easy listening recording career that continued for several decades. With 8 weeks at #1, “All Shook Up” was Elvis’s longest chart-topper, before giving way on June 10 to “Love Letters in the Sand” by Pat Boone, Presley’s biggest competitor on the charts in the fifties. Boone’s third #1 record stayed at the top for 5 weeks before Elvis took over again at #1 with …

• “Teddy Bear”

When “Teddy Bear” took the crown back from Pat Boone on July 15, 1957, it became Elvis’s fifth #1 record in a little over a year. It reigned for 7 weeks before being replaced by one of the biggest “one-hit wonders” in Billboard chart history. Debbie Reynolds’s “Tammy” spent 5 weeks at #1, and its total of 31 weeks in the Top 100 was more than any Presley single record ever achieved.

 • “Jailhouse Rock”

The coming and going of “Jailhouse Rock” at the top of the Top 100 in 1957 involved two other major recording acts in the early years of rock ’n’ roll. On November 4, 1957, Elvis took over the #1 spot from “Wake Up Little Susie” by the Everly Brothers. It was the first of the duo’s 3 #1 records in a career that would see them continue putting songs in the top 10 through 1962. After 5 weeks at the top, “Jailhouse Rock” stepped aside to make way for Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me.” Although it was the only #1 record in Cooke’s career, he continued to place records in the upper reaches of Billboard’s chart until his untimely death in 1964.

• “Don’t”

Elvis’s recording of the Lieber-Stoller ballad clawed its way to the top of the chart on March 20, 1958, displacing “Get a Job” by the Silhouettes. It was truly a “one-hit wonder” for the group, which never had another chart record. After just 7 days at the top, “Don’t” lost its grip on the top rung and gave way to “Tequila,” a classic rock instrumental number by The Champs. The group charted a few other records, the highest being “Too Much Tequila” at #30 in 1960.

• “A Big Hunk O’ Love" 

Kept in obscurity by the army, Elvis did not reclaim the #1 spot on the Hot 100 for 15 months. Finally, “A Big Hunk O’ Love” took over from Paul Anka’s “Lonely Boy” on August 10, 1959. Although it was Anka’s only #1 record in the fifties, he thrived on the chart during Presley’s two-year absence in the army. He followed up “Lonely Boy” with 3 straight top 5 songs. “A Big Hunk O’ Love” spent just two weeks at #1 before “The Three Bells” by The Browns took over on August 24, 1959. In her 2005 autobiography, Maxine Brown called knocking Elvis out of the #1 spot, “one of the biggest thrills we had that year.” The Browns—Jim and sisters Maxine and Bonnie—were good friends with Elvis, having toured with him in 1955.

• “Stuck on You”

Elvis’s first post-army recording sessions produced three blockbuster #1 singles in 1960. The first was “Stuck on You,” which replaced Percy Faith’s instrumental “Theme From a Summer Place” on April 25, 1960. Four weeks later, the Everly Brothers got some payback. In 1957 Elvis’s “Jailhouse Rock” had knocked Don and Phil’s “Wake Up Little Susie” off Billboard’s top spot. On May 23, 1960, their “Cathy’s Clown” knocked Presley’s “Stuck on You” off the top perch. It was the Everlies’ third and last trip to #1.

• “It’s Now or Never”

Elvis’s first venture into operatic pop music turned out to be one of his biggest hits on the Hot 100. On August 15, 1960, his take-off on the Italian standard “O Sole Mio” took over #1 from Brian Hyland’s sugary “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” “It’s Now or Never” ruled the Hot 100 for 5 weeks before giving way to the most successful dance record in chart history, “The Twist” by Chubby Checker.

• “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”

Presley continued his transition into pop music’s mainstream with the most successful chart ballad of his career. “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” reached #1 on November 28, 1960, replacing “Stay” by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs. Elvis’s version of the old song stayed at the top of the chart for 5 weeks, the most for him since “Jailhouse Rock” in 1957. On January 9, 1961, Bert Kaempfert’s “Wonderland by Night” became the second instrumental record to take the #1 spot from Elvis.

• “Surrender”

When “Surrender” reached #1 on the Hot 100 on March 20, 1961, it was Elvis’s fifth straight RCA single release to do so. This time there was some payback for Elvis. Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” had displaced “It’s Now or Never” seven months earlier. Now Chubby's “Pony Time” was sent packing when Elvis took “Surrender” to the top spot. After 2 weeks at #1, “Surrender” surrendered to the Marcels’s doo wop version of “Blue Moon.” Elvis had recorded the same song at a much slower tempo during his Sun Records days.

• “Good Luck Charm”

When Elvis took “Good Luck Charm” to #1 on the Hot 100 on April 21, 1962, he displaced “Johnny Angel” by Shelley Faberas, who would be his leading lady in three movies later in the ’60s. Two weeks later, when the Presley song gave up the top spot to “Soldier Boy” by The Shirelles, no one could have imagined that 7 years would pass before Elvis’s name again appeared in the #1 slot on the Billboard chart.

• “Suspicious Minds”

Elvis’s 14th and last Hot 100 #1 record topped the chart on November 1, 1969. “Suspicious Minds” held the top spot for just that one week. The singing acts that bookended Elvis’s last week at #1 reflect on how much pop music had changed since his last chart-topper in 1962. Gone were the familiar names that Elvis’s had dueled with for the #1 spot years before—Pat Boone, The Platters, The Everly Brothers, Sam Cooke, Chubby Checker. “Suspicious Minds” took over the top spot from “I Can’t Get Next to You” by The Temptations, and gave it up a week later to “Wedding Bell Blues” by The Fifth Dimension.

The foregoing reveals that Elvis had no major head-to-head competitor for the #1 spot on Billboard’s Top/Hot 100 during his career. He took over the #1 spot from 14 different recording acts and lost it to 14 different acts, as well. Even though both Presley and The Beatles were very active on the Hot 100 from 1964-1970, they never had a one-on-one duel for the top spot. The closest that came to happening was in November 1969. Elvis’s “Suspicious Minds” reached #1 on the first of that month. By the end of the month, The Beatles were on top with “Come Together” and “Something,” but The Fifth Dimension had occupied the #1 position for 3 weeks between Elvis and The Beatles.

If there is one record that Elvis fans should hold a grudge against, it would have to be “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by The Four Seasons. For 5 weeks at the end of 1962, it held the #1 position on the Hot 100. For all of those 5 weeks, the same song sat at #2, frustratingly blocked from the top spot—“Return to Sender” by Elvis. Unfortunate timing kept Elvis from having his 15th #1 record. 

The last opportunity Elvis had to take a record to #1 on the Hot 100 came with “Burning Love” in 1972. It also stalled at #2, behind a song by another singer who rose to prominence in the fifties writing and recordings many of rock ’n’ roll’s early classics. In 1972, though, Chuck Berry had the only #1 record of his career with the unlikely “My Ding-a-Ling.” For the one and only time, Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley sat in the top two positions on Billboard’s Hot 100 list on October 28, 1972. It was a fitting reminder of the contributions both men had made to the rise of rock ’n’ roll. | Alan Hanson

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