Elvis RockNRoll2 UK LP 1500 crop

elvis’ first number one hit record in england

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

 

Elvis ElvisPresley RockNRoll UK LP 1956 600

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-1254and 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.

 

ElvisUK book 600

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

 

Elvis RockNRoll2 UK LP 600

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?

Gordon re­sponded:

“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.

 

Elvis AllShookUp sheet music UK 500

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 …

Two of Elvis Pres­ley’s records, ‘Heart­break Hotel’ in 1956 and ‘All Shook’ in 1957, can be given the dis­tinc­tion of being the singer’s first chart-topper in the UK. Click To Tweet

Elvis RockNRoll2 UK LP 1500 crop

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).

Fi­nally, if you want to follow this con­ver­sa­tion on Quora (be­cause you never know when someone else will add some­thing to it in the fu­ture), click HERE.

 


FOOTNOTES:

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.

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