Americans are obsessed with being #1 in everything. Our fixation with being the best extends into our politics, our economy, our sports, even our pop culture. We deify Academy Award winners; the other nominees are labeled “losers.” Elvis fans aren't immune. They have always felt the need to have their boy recognized as the greatest entertainer of all time. He was the King of Rock ’n’ Roll, Ruler of the Music Charts, the Savior of Las Vegas, and so on.
Of course, it takes numbers, big numbers, to backup such claims. In the recording industry, the two big standards of measure have always been #1 records and gold records. Several years ago, when it was reported that several different musical acts had surpassed Elvis in the number of gold records earned, Presley’s fans demanded a recount that would, somehow, put Elvis back on top.
As for #1 records on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, Elvis has irretrievably lost that claim to being #1. Elvis had 14 #1 records during his 22-year run on the Hot 100. The Beatles had 20 #1s in their 7 years on the charts. And now we learn that Mariah Carey has not only passed Elvis, but The Beatles as well!
However, a case can still be made for Elvis as “King of the Charts.” Let’s start by looking at his recordings that just missed reaching #1 on the Hot 100. Normally, little recognition is given to records that stalled out at #2 on the Hot 100. In Elvis’s case, however, several of his most memorable recordings did just that. They were bridesmaids on the charts, reaching #2 but not #1. To go with his 14 #1s, he had 7 #2s. Let’s take a second look at the Elvis records that came in second.
Instead of giving Elvis’s #2 records chronologically, I going to list them in reverse order of chart performance. That is, the tunes that spent the fewest number of weeks at #2 will be listed first, and the ones that spent the greatest number of weeks at #2 will come last.
As it turns out, 4 of Elvis’s 7 #2s only spent one week at that position. I’ve ranked these 4 records according to how long each one spent in the top 10 on the Hot 100.
#7: “A Fool Such as I” entered the Hot 100 at #64 on March 23, 1959. Elvis was halfway through his army stint at the time. By mid-April the song was in the top 10, and on April 27 it reached #2. It was kept out of top spot by the Fleetwoods’ “Come Softly to Me.” Elvis’s recording dropped to #6 the very next week. Overall, it spent 5 weeks in the top 10 and a total of 15 weeks in the Hot 100.
#6: “Burning Love” was Elvis’s last “hit” record. It also spent 15 weeks in the Hot 100, starting with its entry at #90 on August 19, 1972. On September 30 it entered the top 10 at #9. It then slowly crawled upward, one or two spots per week, until it reached #2 on October 28. Ironically, Elvis was upstaged at #1 that week by another “aging” rock ’n’ roll star, Chuck Berry, with his “My Ding-A-Ling.” “Burning Love” dropped to #5 the next week, and precipitously fell completely off the Hot 100 just 3 weeks later.
#5: “Hard-Headed Woman” is often listed among Elvis’s #1 records, but it fell one spot short of that position. At first, it certainly looked like it was headed for the top. It debuted in the Hot 100 at #15 on June 30, 1958. The very next week it was at #3. Two weeks later, on July 21, it moved up to #2, just behind “Yakety Yak” by The Coasters. But then, the next week Elvis’s recording dropped back to #3 and began to slowly head back down the chart. “Hard-Headed Woman” finally dropped off the Hot 100 at the end of September after a 13-week ride on the list.
#4: “Can’t Help Falling in Love” remains one of Elvis’s most recognized recordings. It’s hard to believe it didn’t reach #1, but that’s the case. The signature tune from the “Blue Hawaii” soundtrack, entered the Hot 100 at #57 on December 4, 1961. A month later, on January 6, 1962, it entered the top 10, where it would remain for 6 weeks. It could get no higher than #2, however, that being for one week on February 3rd. It was denied the top spot by “The Peppermint Twist” by Joey Dee and the Starliters. After 14 weeks on the Hot 100, “Can’t Help Falling in Love” dropped off the chart in the middle of March.
#3: “Hound Dog” is an iconic recording forever associated with Elvis in the pop culture of the fifties. Most people think it was a #1 record, but a set of unusual circumstances conspired to keep it out of the top spot. The song entered the Hot 100 at #24 on August 4, 1956. On September 1 and 8 it was at #2 behind “My Prayer” by The Platters. Then, on September 15, the flip side of Elvis’s record, “Don’t Be Cruel,” jumped over “Hound Dog” and took over the #1 spot. “Hound Dog” dropped to #3 for 3 weeks, before moving back to #2 again. However, “Don’t Be Cruel” had a 7-week stranglehold on the top spot that “Hound Dog” could not break. In the end, “Hound Dog” spent 28 weeks in the Hot 100, second only among Elvis’s recordings to “All Shook Up,” which rode the chart for 30 weeks in 1957. “Hound Dog” spent 11 weeks in the top 10, including 3 weeks at #2.
#2: “Too Much,” Elvis’s first single release in 1957, entered the Hot 100 at #30 on January 26. Within 3 weeks it was in the top 10, and on March 2 it settled into the #2 position. But there it sat for 4 consecutive weeks, unable to displace Tab Hunter’s ghastly rendition of “Young Love.” Finally, in late March, “Too Much” began to give ground on the chart, exiting in early May after 15 weeks on the Hot 100, 8 of them in the top 10. An interesting footnote to “Too Much” is that, after two full months off the chart, it inexplicably (to me, anyway) reentered the Hot 100 for 2 more weeks in July 1957.
#1: “Return to Sender” has the distinction of being #1 among all of Elvis’s #2 recordings. It spent 5 consecutive weeks in the runner-up spot in 1962. The catchy rhythm tune entered the Hot 100 on October 20 and reached #2 on November 17. It had the misfortune, however, of being released almost simultaneously with The Four Seasons’ mega hit, “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” The Jersey Boys rode the top of the chart for 5 weeks, with “Return to Sender” right behind them the whole time. Never able to reach the tantalizingly close #1 spot, Elvis’s song began its journey down the chart, exiting the Hot 100 in early February 1963. “Return to Sender” had spent 16 weeks on the chart, 9 of them in the top 10. Elvis would not have a bigger hit until “Suspicious Minds” over 6 years later.
To summarize, in the Hot 100, Elvis had 7 recordings that spent a cumulative 16 weeks at #2 without reaching #1. The Beatles, on the other hand, only had 3 recordings that stalled out at #2. So, when you combine #1s and #2s it narrows the gap. Elvis had a total of 21 and The Beatles 23. As the search field expands, the advantage swings more and more toward Elvis. For example, Elvis placed 32 recordings in the top 5 of the Hot 100, while The Beatles put 28 titles in the top 5. Elvis had 38 top 10 records to The Beatles’ 31. Finally, overall The Beatles charted a total of 62 recordings in the Hot 100; Elvis had over twice as many with 134.
So, there you have it. Once the preoccupation with #1s is set aside, Elvis emerges as the undisputed King of the Charts. Numbers don’t lie, but sometimes you do have to convince them to look in your direction. | Alan Hanson (February 2010)
"Normally, little recognition is given to records that stalled out at #2 on the Hot 100. In Elvis’s case, however, several of his most memorable recordings did just that. They were bridesmaids on the charts."