WHEN RCA VICTOR STRUCK GOLD with Elvis in 1956, the only medium that mattered to the people most likely to buy his records was the 45 rpm single. In the first twelve months after signing Presley in November 1955, the record company released an unbelievable sixteen singles in the United States! These 45 and 78 rpm records sold over 12,000,000 copies, with approximately 90% of those sales being 45s.
During the same time, RCA released two twelve-inch, 33⅓ rpm LP albums, ELVIS PRESLEY (LPM-1254) and ELVIS (LPM-1382). The first one sold 362,000 copies in six weeks, which was a mind-boggling number at the time. The second one was equally successful. In fact, these may be the two biggest selling rock & roll LPs of the ’50s that weren’t greatest hits compilations. 1
Victor also released nine seven-inch, 45 rpm Elvis EP albums. Both of the EP and LP formats were unproven with rock & roll and teenaged record buyers in the mid-’50s. The EP was the newer format and hadn’t caught on with either teenagers or their parents.
Is this the rarest commercially issued Elvis record in the world? There’s no way to know.
That changed with Elvis’ EPs in 1956, especially when ELVIS, VOLUME 1 (EPA-992) sold a million copies within weeks of release at the end of the year and kept right on selling through the next ten years! That was a figure that no EP or LP had achieved up to that time in any genre of music. 2
In 1956, Presley’s LP and EP sales combined were almost 3,000,000 in the US. This was also a phenomenal number and their success hinted that these formats could be a viable outlet for rock & roll. 3
As Elvis had established the EP as an important part of marketing his music in 1956, RCA Victor’s plans for 1957 included more EPs.
The EPs as scheduled
Above are the covers of the first six Elvis EPs of 1957. They were assigned catalog numbers and scheduled for release as they were recorded. Here is their scheduled release by month: 4
EPA 4054 April
Now let’s look at the same album covers as they were actually released, which did not exactly follow their scheduled release:
The EPs as released
The covers above are in the order in which they were actually released in 1957. This order does not follow the chronology showed by their catalog numbers. Here is their release schedule by month: 5
EPA 4054 April
EPA-4041 is out of order: RCA scheduled it to be released in April but it didn’t find its way into record stores until August. So it moved from second place to fifth. Aside from the chronology, there is another difference: Five of the covers have a border (or title-strip) across the top that lists the titles of the four songs on the album. 6
Except for EPA-4041.
Instead of song titles at the top of the cover, it has the album’s title JUST FOR YOU. This is the version of EPA-4041 that is usually found in most collections.
This means that there are two different versions of the cover for EPA-4041!
I have known of the difference between this album and the other EPs of 1956-1957 for decades. I have seen many copies of EPA-4041 over that time and every one of them had JUST FOR YOU on the front cover.
Like most collectors, I never questioned it.
The image on the top is the front cover of the jacket of the unreleased version of EPA-4041 with the song titles at the top. The image on the bottom is the front cover of the jacket of the released version of EPA-4041 with the album’s title at the top.
Two versions of one album
As stated above, there are two different versions of the cover for EPA-4041! But the difference is even greater than merely having the song titles of the album’s title at the top: In 2012, a copy of EPA-4041 was found with a jacket with the song titles at the top of the front cover instead of the familiar JUST FOR YOU.
This alone made it a significant find for Elvis collectors, but there was a second difference. Instead of the usual Is It So Strange, it listed Don’t Leave Me Now as the second song on Side 2. But the record was the usual pressing that lists and plays Is It So Strange.
In 2017, a second copy of EPA-4041 with a jacket with the song titles on the front cover was found but this time the record listed and played Don’t Leave Me Now as the second song on Side 2 instead of the usual Is It So Strange. Finding this album is a major development in the field of collecting Elvis, especially to long-time collectors who thought such finds were a thing of the past!
Is this rather rare Elvis record worth $1,000 or is it worth $10,000? There’s no way to know.
Here are the differences between the two versions of EPA-4041. Because little is known at this time, I refer to the album with Is It So Strange (with the album’s title on the cover) as the released version and the album with Don’t Leave Me Now (with the song titles on the cover) as the unreleased version:
• The front cover of the released version has the title of the album at the top. The front cover of the unreleased version has the album’s song titles at the top.
• The back cover of the released version lists the album’s four songs on the album at the top. The back cover of the unreleased version does not list the album’s songs at all.
• The record of the released version lists and plays Is It So Strange as the second song on Side 2. The record of the unreleased version lists and plays Don’t Leave Me Now as the second song on Side 2.
The label on the top is the record from the unreleased version of EPA-4041 with Don’t Leave Me Now. It is a Rockaway pressing. The label on the bottom is the record from the unreleased version of EPA-4041 with Is It So Strange. This is a Hollywood pressing but there were lao pressings from Indianapolis and Rockaway.
What we know
Information about the unreleased version of the album with Don’t Leave Me Now is minimal. Here is a list of what we know to be so:
• It exists.
That’s about it. Here is a list of what we do not know:
• We don’t know its story.
• We don’t know how many copies RCA manufactured.
• We don’t know how many copies RCA distributed if any at all.
In researching this album, I looked at the advertisements on Popsike for 333 copies of EPA-4041 that have been sold on eBay over the past fifteen years. I also looked at 282 ads on Gripsweat. Here is a list of what I found:
• Not one of them was listed with a cover with the song titles on top.
• Not one of them was listed as including Don’t Leave Me Now instead of Is It So Strange.
• Not one of them was listed as being unusual or unusually rare.
The image on the top is the back cover of the jacket of the unreleased version of EPA-4041 with Don’t Leave Me Now; it does not have the song titles at the top. The image on the bottom sais the back cover of the jacket of the released version of EPA-4041 with Is It So Strange; it does have the song titles at the top.
So, Neal, what is it worth?
Many eBay sellers are neither record collectors nor record dealers and know next to nothing about the records they advertise. They wouldn’t even notice the song titles on the cover of a copy of EPA-4041 that they were selling. Many sellers don’t even bother taking photos of the items they advertise but lift an image of the record off the internet from someone else’s website or eBay ad.
So it is possible that another copy of the unreleased version of EPA-4041 has been advertised and sold. But we will probably never know. For the listing of the unreleased version of EPA-4041 on his Elvis Records website, Paul Combs states:
“There are no recorded sales of a complete package of this catalog number with Don’t Leave Me Now, but based on other oddities and one-offs, this one by our accounts should be in the conservative range of $3,500 to $5,000 in value.”
That’s a reasonable estimate, but my predilection when assigning an estimated value to an item with so little history is to give a much wider spread. For this, I’d go as low as $2,000 and as high as $10,000 for the jacket with Don’t Leave Me Now and the record with Don’t Leave Me Now in near-mint condition.
So, I am more conservative than Paul on the low end (an adjective few who know me would apply to much of anything about me) yet more adventurous on the high end (something few consider me to be at this point in my life). 7
During the third week of January 1956, RCA Victor scheduled a photoshoot for their newest recording artist. According to RCA Country & Western Promotions Manager Chick Crumpacker, “RCA had a man on staff named David Hecht who had a studio in Carnegie Hall. It had the northern light that Hecht liked. We did the photo shoot, then went for milkshakes across the street.” From this shoot came one of the most iconographic photos of the rock & roll era (above) that was used on the front cover of the million-selling LP album ELVIS (LPM-1382) and the million-selling EP album ELVIS VOLUME 1 (EPA-992) along with ELVIS VOLUME 2 (EPA-993). Other photos from this shoot were used on STRICTLY ELVIS (EPA-994) and EPA-4041.
Where did it come from?
When RCA’s pressing plant at Rockaway, New York, turned on the machines to press the records with Don’t Leave Me Now, they pressed hundreds if not thousands of copies. For these, they had an equal number of jackets assembled. Where are they?
After forty years of involvement with buying and selling used and collectable records and observing new one-of-a-kind records being uncovered regularly, my experience would lead me to say this:
Because records are mass-produced, if there is one, there are probably two.
If two, then there are probably twenty.
And if twenty?
Who knows . . .
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is from a scene in the 1957 movie Jailhouse Rock where Elvis’s character is preparing to record Don’t Leave Me Now. With him in the studio are Bill Black (upright bass), D.J. Fontana (drums), Judy Tyler (smiles), Mike Stoller (piano) and Scotty Moore (guitar).
POSTCRIPTUALLY, I want to thank “Tommy” (a fake name for a collector who prefers anonymity) for making me aware of this super-duper rare record. He contacted me here at A Touch Of Gold in June 2018 after he had previously contacted several other people in the Elvis world (including Paul at Elvis Records). We discussed this record and its origin and whether or not anyone connected with Elvis or RCA Victor could officially clue us in on it. I told Tommy:
“I am not aware of anyone remotely associated with RCA in the 1950s contributing to information about Elvis records sixty years on. Unless RCA documents show up somewhere, the best we can do when things like this are found is to consider the evidence and make educated guesses.”
I am already working on a follow-up article about this version of EPA-4041 I will consider the evidence and make a few educated guesses about its origin. That article is almost at the top of my to-do list—it’s just right behind my rewriting nine old articles about the Gold Standard Series of 45 rpm records that I promised everyone a few posts ago.
1 The biggest selling LP of the ’50s appears to be ELVIS’ CHRISTMAS ALBUM, but most of that title’s sales were accrued in the ’60s.
2 In fact, rock and pop LPs did not consistently sell over a million copies until the mid-1960s, and then only by a handful of artists, primarily the Beatles, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, the Monkees, and, reputedly, The Mamas & The Papas.
3 The March 9, 1957, issue of Billboard carried an article titled “RCA ’56 Sales 7% Over 1955″ in which RCA claimed that Elvis sold 12,500,000 singles and 2,750,000 EP and LP albums in 1956. Little was known about the individual sales figures for the EPs until March 27, 1992, when RCA held a ceremony to announce over one hundred RIAA certifications for Presley’s catalog. Seventeen EPs were officially certified for Gold (250,000 sales) and Platinum (500,000 sales) Record Awards for the first time.
4 I did not include the seventh EP album of 1957, Jailhouse Rock, as RCA Victor made a change in their cover design that is not germane to this article.
5 Dates in this article were taken from Keith Flynn’s website Elvis Presley Pages, although I double-checked some of them against those in Peter Guralnick and Ernst Jorgensen’s Elvis Day By Day – The Definitive Record of His Life and Music and Lee Cotten’s All Shook Up – Elvis Day-By-Day, 1954-1977.
6 The first fifteen Elvis EPs issued in 1956-1957 had a black or a white border across the top with the album’s song titles. With the release of EPA-4114, JAILHOUSE ROCK, in late 1957, the border was dropped as part of RCA Victor’s preferred look for all subsequent EP albums.
7 Well, I am rather straight-laced about the rules for the use of good old-fashioned grammar and punctuation.