BACK IN JANUARY, I was asked to answer a question on Quora: What was the first British #1 hit for Elvis Presley? My answer was short although not necessarily simple: I noted that some UK charts listed Heartbreak Hotel as reaching #1 while others only placed it at #2. The first single to reach #1 on all the major charts was All Shook Up.
My answer was derived from Elvis UK – The Ultimate Guide To Elvis Presley’s British Record Releases 1956-1985. Authored by John Townson, Gordon Minto, and George Richardson, it is an extraordinarily detailed look at every known variation of every known Elvis record released in the UK through 1986. Here is what they wrote:
“Some charts credited Heartbreak Hotel with reaching the number one position, although in the most important charts, for example, the New Musical Express, it only made number two.”
The authors didn’t go any further so I didn’t know which charts (plural) credited the record as reaching the toppermost of the poppermost. So my answer to the Quora question played it safe and offered two answers.
Another Quora user, Adam Begun, recently chimed in and concurred: “Yeah. All Shook Up according to my source, The Great Rock Discography by Martin Strong. And ROCK’N’ROLL #1 was his first number 1 LP. Cheers.” 1
The cover of the first Elvis LP album in the UK (His Master’s Voice CLP-1093) looked like the US version (RCA Victor LPM-1254) and the title appears to be ELVIS PRESLEY. But albums are known by the title on the record’s labels and this one’s labels list the title as “ROCK ‘N ROLL.” There were quotation marks around the entire title with only one apostrophe around the N.
Pop charts in the US
Adam’s answer initiated two responses from me: the first about pop charts, the second about the titles of the first two Presley LPs in the UK (which are addressed in the captions to the photos below). But first, here is a little background information.
In the US in the ’50s, we had four national pop music surveys. I listed them chronologically in order of their first appearance with the years of each magazine’s publication in parentheses:
• Billboard (1894-2020)
• Variety (1905-2020)
• Cash Box (1942-1996) 2
• Music Vendor/Record World (1946-1982) 3
The Billboard charts have always been the most widely read of the four. The magazine used a weird system to determine chart position that combined a record’s sales with jukebox play (for a nickel per play) and radio airplay (which was actually a form of advertising). Consequently, the best selling single did not always make it to #1 on the Billboard pop chart. 4
Cash Box was a close second but its pop chart was based on sales and was therefore far more reliable. That is, if the actual sales of records were what mattered to you. Music Vendor/Record World was a distant third. I don’t know anybody who paid any attention to the Variety survey. 5
While the competition dwindled away, Billboard survived and promoted their place in industry history so effectively that the other magazines are ignored by all but a few die-hards. It is by far the most widely quoted today. In fact, it seems to be the only source many readers and writers are even aware of.
Elvis UK by John Townson, Gordon Minto, and George Richardson was a massive endeavor that took years to compile and write. It is also a massive book, being 9 x 13 inches and 576 pages. If you think that collecting US pressings of Elvis records is a massive undertaking, you need to see what UK collectors are up against!
Pop charts in the UK
In the UK, there were also four prominent charts published in the UK in the second half of the ’50s. I listed them chronologically in order of their first publication:
• Melody Maker (1926-1999) 6
• New Musical Express/NME (1952-1999) 7
• Record Mirror (1954-1991) 8
• Disc (1958-1975) 8
I am uncertain as to which magazine was the most important at any given time. Each magazine used a similar system of sampling retail shops and relying on the shop owners to provide them with accurate feedback on sales.
For any given record, a historian or fan can choose to use just one of those sources, all of them, or a consensus of the four. The Guinness Book Of Records chose to cite the New Musical Express charts for the ’50s thereby making the NME charts semi-“official.” 9
The cover of the second LP in the UK (His Master’s Voice CLP-1105) looked nothing like that of the US album (RCA Victor LPM-1382). On the cover, the title appears to be ELVIS PRESLEY NO. 2 but on the record’s labels, the title is “ROCK ‘N’ ROLL” (NO. 2). There were quotation marks around the first three words of the title, two apostrophes around the N, and No. 2 was in parentheses.
You wrote it
While I knew that Elvis UK was not referring to the NME survey as it is now the “official” source for chart data in the ’50s via Guinness, I was also uncertain which of the other charts that Elvis UK was referring to. So I reached out to Gordon Minto, one of the authors, and asked him what I thought was such an easy question: Which UK charts credited Heartbreak Hotel with reaching number one?
“The short answer to your question is that neither of us knows for sure! It was all a very long time ago. I asked John [Townson] and he batted it back to me and simply said, ‘You wrote it!’ Remember, the book was published in 1987 and most of the writing had been completed about two years before that.
And of course, as it was all done by hand [so] we don’t have digital copies of our notes. However, my best guess would be either Record Mirror or Melody Maker, as they were the main rivals [of the New Musical Express] at the time, but I can’t be sure. Certainly, we must have had some evidence of this as we tried very hard not to speculate about factual detail.”
So, while the Guinness editors chose to cite only one of the national surveys, that does not delegitimatize the other charts.
This is the sheet music for All Shook Up published by Belinda Music of London in 1957. If I did the conversion accurately, the two shilling price on the cover was worth a little bit more than 50¢ in US currency at the time.
So, answer to the question already
So, what is the answer to the question, What was the first British #1 hit for Elvis Presley?
• All Shook Up if you want a unanimous selection and you don’t like arguing and you want to win when playing Rock & Roll Trivial Pursuit because the game says the answer is All Shook Up.
• Heartbreak Hotel if you’re a stickler for accuracy and an egalitarian who doesn’t give a hoot about “officialness” (especially when it is bestowed years after the fact) and you want to really impress people when playing Rock & Roll Trivial Pursuit even though you may lose because the game says the answer is All Shook Up.
Me? I’m the stickler-egalitarian type . . .
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page was cropped from the front cover of the second Presley long-player in the UK. I chose this album instead of the first LP (ELVIS PRESLEY in the US but ROCK ‘N ROLL in the UK) because it featured a completely different photo than the oh-so-familiar photo on the American LP album (ELVIS, RCA Victor LPM-1382).
1 I modified Adam’s text to match the style of this blog.
2 In 2006, Cashbox Magazine returned as an online magazine with weekly charts.
3 Record World was originally published as Music Vendor and didn’t change its name to Record World until 1964.
4 Two notes here: (A) Billboard actually had a “Best Sellers in Stores” chart that did, in fact, attempt to place records based on sales. The results of that chart showed the problems with referring to their pop chart. For example, I Want You, I Need You, I Love You spent one week at #1 on the Best Sellers survey but only got as high as #3 on the Top 100 chart. This would seem to indicate that at least two other records were placed above the Elvis record based on having more jukebox plays and/or spins on radio stations. (B) The Billboard pop chart was known as the Top 100 through into 1958 then changed its title to the Hot 100.
5 But I did.
6 In 2000, Melody Maker was absorbed by New Musical Express.
7 In 2018, NME became an online magazine with weekly charts.
8 Record Mirror and Disc have complicated histories, each with several name changes and the two merging into one in 1975.
9 And the Guinness books are where Martin Strong took his info for The Great Rock Discography.