IN TWO RECENT ESSAYS here on A Touch Of Gold, I addressed issues regarding Elvis Presley’s 1959 album ELVIS’ GOLD RECORDS VOL. 2 (RCA Victor LPM-2075). Specifically, I examined how the record was titled in its Wikipedia entry, where it is referred to as by the phrase “50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong,” as if that was the record’s title.
I argued that the phrase was a bit of hyperbole tagged to the record to promote sales. With this third essay, I have a look-see at the origin of that blurb (and the use of “fifty million” instead of “50,000,000”).
The phrase “50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong” is printed in large, bold, red type at the top of the front cover of LPM-2075, in the left corner. So it is easy to see why anyone would interpret that as the album’s title.
At long last, the secret behind the coining of the phrase “50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong” is revealed here at A Touch Of Gold! 1
After all, we all read the English language from left to right, and we all start at the top of the page, usually with the first word on the left.
But I am not “anyone,” either here at A Touch Of Gold—where I am editor, writer, and chief-book-and-cottlewasher—or there at Wikipedia, where I had been a contributing (if lax) editor for years.
And as a collector of records and author of articles and books on the topic of records, I know better: when the title on an album’s jacket conflicts with the title on the album’s record, we go with the title on the record.
After all, we are buying the record for the music, nein?
This is the original front cover to jacket for LPM-2075 in 1959. It featured made the photo of Elvis in his gold suit from early 1957 famous and a rock & roll touchstone. Reading this front cover, the title of this album appears to be 50,000,000 ELVIS FANS CAN’T BE WRONG (ELVIS’ GOLD RECORDS – VOLUME 2) instead of the other way around.
And what is the title on the record?
The title of the album on the record’s labels upon release was ELVIS’ GOLD RECORDS VOL. 2. And despite the on-again-off-again changes to the record’s labels over the years, they have always carried ELVIS’ GOLD RECORDS VOL. 2 on them.
I argued that point first to those editors at Wikipedia, and then here on my site that the title of the album is ELVIS’ GOLD RECORDS VOL. 2. If you have not read the two earlier articles here, I suggest a quick perusal of them is in order at this time. 2
Like other Elvis fans and collectors, for decades I assumed that “50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong” was the work of someone at RCA Victor—either an anonymous person in the company’s promotions department (who should have gotten a helluva bonus for coining the phrase) or a more-clever-then-usual executive.
Neither is the case!
Enter mein freund Frank Daniels, who read my posts on LPM-2075 and, proactive gent that he is, stepped in and made some amendments and additions of his own to the Wikipedia article.
He then did some spelunking in the nether regions of the worldwide web (at which he is consistently adroit) and forwarded this finding to me.
On top is a first pressing from RCA Victor’s plant in Hollywood, California. On the bottom is a first pressing from the Rockaway, New Jersey, plant. On both, the title of the album is ELVIS’ GOLD RECORDS, VOL. 2.
Elvis is the biggest seller that ever existed
In an interview with Rebecca Franklin for “Stars In A Golden Spin” (Chicago Tribune, October 26, 1958), Presley’s producer Steve Sholes bragged,
“Every record Elvis has made for us has sold over a million. Since January 1956, we’ve sold 50,000,000 Elvis Presley records in this country alone, not counting foreign sales or albums. Elvis is the biggest money-maker and the biggest record seller that ever existed in any age.”
We all know we can never ever take the word of anyone associated with any recording artist concerning how many records they sold or how many drugs they didn’t do. So here is my interpretation of Sholes’ words:
• The phrase “every record Elvis has made for us” refers to each new single from Heartbreak Hotel (January 1956) through Hard Headed Woman (June 1958).
• The phrase “not counting foreign sales” is self-explanatory.
• The phrase “not counting albums” is not self-explanatory: I interpret “albums” to mean both 33⅓ rpm long-play LP albums (of which there were six that had probably sold around 3,000,000 at that point) and 45 rpm extended-play EP albums (probably another 7,000,000). 3
So then, based on freewheelin’ Frank’s first fabulous find of Ms Franklin’s article, the “50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong” blurb on LPM-2075 could be traced to an interview with Steve Sholes in 1958! 4
Could be, but it goes back even further …
The record on top is a Hollywood pressing from 1960, while the one on the bottom is a Hollywood pressing from 1963-1964. If we want to accept the blurb as part of the album’s title due to its appearance on this label, then we have yet another title, as the singer’s surname has been added to the blurb: 50,000,000 ELVIS PRESLEY FANS CAN’T BE WRONG.
Can fifty million Americans be wrong?
Finding the Stars In A Golden Spin piece could have been a victory for most researchers—but not Herr Daniels! He continued excavating and found something even earlier and even more meaningful in the September 19, 1956, issue of Down Beat.
Down Beat was a magazine dedicated to the hipness of jazz (which was arguably true then) and its superiority over other genres of popular music (also arguably so). In that issue, well-known clarinetist, bandleader, and editorialist Les Brown contributed a piece titled, “Can Fifty Million Americans Be Wrong.”
The article was an unfavorable look at Elvis and his fans, with Brown bemoaning the lack of appreciation of the “fine talents” of such “serious vocal artists” as Jerri Southern and Dick Haymes.
The article concludes, “The educational responsibility seems to fall mainly on the disc jockey, who still has the greatest proximity to, and the greatest influence over, the record-buying public. Fifty million Americans can easily be misled.” 5
And what inspired Brown’s title? Elvis had appeared on Ed Sullivan’s television show on September 9, 1956. The audience for that show was 82.6% of the people watching television in the United States that night! 6
This was estimated to have been 54,000,000 Americans—the largest viewing audience in the medium’s history at the time and one that would last until February 1964.
Hence Brown’s real question isn’t “Can fifty million Americans be wrong?” It’s “Can fifty million Elvis fans be wrong?”
Hence RCA Victor’s hyperbolic but absolutely perfect answer: Hell, No! 50,000,000 Elvis fans can’t be wrong!
FEATURED IMAGE: Elvis on stage at the Memorial Coliseum in Buffalo, New York, on April Fool’s Day of 1957. He has the gold jacket and shoes (and socks?) but a more comfortable, durable pair of black slacks—which actually looks a helluvalot better as it sets off the gold top.
Finally, a tip of my Akubra Snowy River to Frank Daniels for the information above, including several of the photos! If you want to see his fabgear website devoted to identifying first and later pressings of Beatles records (45s, picture sleeves, EPs, LPs, tapes, and more), then you absolutely must check out Across the Universe.
POSTSCRIPTUALLY, I have included a jpeg image of the page from the Down Beat issue with the Les Brown article (see below). Also, while it may seem that I have milked this issue (the title of Elvis Presley’s ninth long-playing alum) a wee bit dry, I do believe I have one more chapter in me somewhere …
1 Well, actually, I sorta let the cat out of the bag with some of my contributions to the Wikipedia entry for this album, namely the info about the Down Beat article. But my pull-quote reads better if I make it sound like it’s heralding a groundbreaking, you-read-it-here-first article, hennah?
2 And my argument is clear, even if the issue isn’t because of RCA Victor’s wishywashiness over the years. (Read the articles: “50,000,000 Wikipedia Contributors Can’t Be Wrong (Hah!)” and “50 Neal Umphred Fans Can’ Be Wrong.”
3 If my interpretations are correct, then sales of all Presley platters topped 60,000,000 domestically, making Sholes’ statement conservative indeed!
4 Ms Franklin’s article attempted to tie poverty in with ambition and success, and got to Sholes to opine on that dubious connection: “It’s an advantage to be born poor. The poor boys seek desperately for avenues of escape. Perhaps they try records because no particular education is required.”
Sholes also delivered the standard take on the young Presley’s background: “Elvis loved his mother very much. They used to sing hymns together at home and in church. He thought it would be nice to make a record for her, so he went to a place in Memphis and had a recording made. The man there liked his voice and later asked Elvis to make a record for him.”
Franklin concluded her column by noting, “In the year ahead, two, three, maybe four singers will be hailed as brand new stars of pop music. Chances are they’ll be men, because teen-age girls buy most pop records and they prefer male singers. Only one thing is certain: The new stars will offer something different.”
Here she is spot-on accurate.
5 So fans of junkie jazz musicians were clear-headed and open-eyed, while fans of rock & roll needed an edjicayhsun?
6 The expression “Fifty Million Americans Can’t Be Wrong” is almost certainly a reference to the song “Fifty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong,” a hit in 1927 for several serious vocal artists, including the fine talents of Sophie Tucker.
This is the one-page article “Can Fifty Million Americans Be Wrong?” by Les Brown in the September 19, 1956. issue of Down Beat magazine. I cropped the two columns of text from the article and set them below the main image. Click on them and they will enlarge to a readable level. Then read it and laugh!