quora is an unreliable source of information about records

Es­ti­mated reading time is 10 min­utes.

I HAVE WRITTEN ABOUT WIKIPEDIA and why it is an un­re­li­able source of in­for­ma­tion about pop­ular music and records. It seems that every time I look up any­thing about music and records, I find er­rors. Most are fac­tual errors—titles, dates, cat­alog num­bers, etc.—while some re­flect the con­trib­u­tors not un­der­standing the topic under discussion.

The former in­cludes in­cor­rectly noting a record’s re­lease date, its cat­alog number, its peak chart po­si­tion, its sales in the mar­ket­place, etc. An ex­ample of the latter is the con­fu­sion of many con­trib­u­tors about gold and plat­inum record awards. A common mis­take is writers be­lieving the term million-seller is the same thing as having been cer­ti­fied by the RIAA for a Gold Record Award. Other writers are clue­less to the many changes in the RIAA’s re­quire­ments to qualify for cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for an “of­fi­cial” Gold Record Award. 1

Quora is a “plat­form to ask ques­tions and con­nect with people who con­tribute quality answers”—well, maybe not always.

Now I am making the same warning here about using Quora as a source for re­li­able data. Quora boasts that it is “a place to gain and share knowl­edge. It’s a plat­form to ask ques­tions and con­nect with people who con­tribute unique in­sights and quality an­swers.” I am a reg­ular user of Quora and con­tribute an oc­ca­sional an­swer, usu­ally about music or records.

My ex­pe­ri­ence as a reader has been that while some Quora “ex­perts” in­deed know their stuff or do the req­ui­site re­search be­fore typing an an­swer. But many (most?) of the an­swers ap­pear to come from people who simply as­sume that what they know to be so is so and never bother to look anything up anywhere.

The ques­tion that was sub­mitted to Quora was, “How old was Elvis Presley when he started making records?” That’s a pretty straight­for­ward query and shouldn’t re­quire anyone trying to an­swer it to nav­i­gate any kind of tricky mental gymnastics.

The “best” an­swer would be simply stating his age at the time he cut his first sides. Nothing else is re­quired to sat­isfy the ques­tion. Yet there were many an­swers on Quora that gave in­cor­rect age ac­com­pa­nied by ex­tra­neous “facts” that were also in­cor­rect. The in­ternet seems to end­lessly verify the common un­der­standing of the Dunning-Kruger ef­fect: Many people think they are much better informed—and much smarter—than they are. 2

 

Unreliabe source: photo of Arthur Crudup's 78 rpm single "That's All Right" (RCA Victor 20-2205).

Unreliabe source: photo of Elvis Presley's 78 rpm single "That's All Right" (Sun 209).

Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right” (RCA Victor 22-2205) was a minor hit on the “race music” charts in 1947. Seven years later, Elvis Pres­ley’s “That’s All Right” (Sun 209) was a hit on the local Mem­phis charts in 1954.

The question and the right answer

Here is the req­ui­site in­for­ma­tion to an­swer the ques­tion How old was Elvis Presley when he started making records? First, Elvis was born on Jan­uary 8, 1935, so you can do the math on his age when he started making records. Second, there are two rea­son­able in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the ques­tion­er’s intent:

  When did Elvis Presley make his first record?
  When did Elvis Presley make his first com­mer­cial record?

I tend to take written state­ments and ques­tions things lit­er­ally un­less in­structed oth­er­wise, so I’d go with the first in­ter­pre­ta­tion above. The an­swers below go both ways. Many of them wander from Pres­ley’s first visits to Sun Records and men­tion his first records for RCA Victor in 1956.

So, here is a time­line ad­dressing a few facts about the first few years of Pres­ley’s ca­reer as a recording artist. 3

July 18, 1953

Elvis vis­ited the Sun Records studio and paid $3.98 to record two sen­ti­mental bal­lads, My Hap­pi­ness and That’s When Your Heartaches Begin. These were cut onto a ten-inch, 78 rpm ac­etate, a one-of-a-kind record that he took with him.

January 4, 1954

Elvis re­turned to Sun Records and paid an­other $3.98 to make an­other record. He paired two more bal­lads, I’ll Never Stand In Your Way and It Wouldn’t Be The Same (Without You).

June 26, 1954

Sam Phillips was given Without You, had a newly written song that he thought could be a hit. He brought Elvis into the studio and to give it a try but without success.

July 5, 1954

Phillips brought Presley back into the studio. After la­boring over some more bal­lads (in­cluding Harbor Lights and I Love You Be­cause), Elvis recorded the up­tempo, blues-based That’s All Right. Sam deemed this worthy of release.

July 7, 1954

In need of a flip-side for That’s All Right, Elvis cut a rol­licking ver­sion of Blue Moon Of Ken­tucky.

July 10, 1954

Sam de­liv­ered demon­stra­tion copies of the two sides to a pair of local disc jockeys. Both Uncle Richard at WPMS and Dewey Phillips at WHBQ played the record with lis­teners over­whelm­ingly pre­fer­ring That’s All Right.

July 19, 1954

Sun Records re­leased the first com­mer­cial Elvis Presley record, That’s All Right / Blue Moon Of Ken­tucky (Sun 209).

November 20, 1955

RCA Victor ac­quired Elvis Pres­ley’s con­tract from Sun Records and signed the singer to a new, three-year con­tract. Nothing has been the same since.

 

Unreliabe source: photo of Arthur Crudup in RCA's studio in New York in the late 1940s.

Unreliable source: photo of Billy Crudup for the movie "The Stanford Prison Experiment."

This is mu­si­cian Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup at RCA’s New York studio, prob­ably in the late ’40s. This is actor Billy Crudup, posing for a photo to pro­mote the movie “The Stan­ford Prison Ex­per­i­ment” in 2015.

Their answers

For this ar­ticle, I copied each an­swer from Quora and then did my usual ed­i­to­rial tweaking to make the text fit the format of my blog. This in­cludes changing song ti­tles to ital­i­cized, upper/lowercase let­ters while changing album ti­tles to all caps and also ital­i­cizing them. I also cor­rected spellings and punc­tu­a­tion errors—of which there were many—and cor­rected what I per­ceived as typos (and we all make typos).

This way, you, my reader, are not dis­tracted from fo­cusing on the fac­tual er­rors. Un­for­tu­nately, doing this elim­i­nated the type of gross er­rors that would call into ques­tion a few of these an­swerers’ claim to being a writer of any sort based on basic writing skills alone. 4

Below, each an­swer is fol­lowed by a com­ment by me crit­i­cizing the answer.

 

Elvis Sun209 ThatsAllRight 78 150

 

Answer: “I be­lieve he was about 18 when he made his first record. He went into a local place where you could pay to make a record. He recorded ‘That’s Al­right Mama’ for his mother.”

This com­ment was con­tributed by someone claiming to be a jour­nalist. I hope that any real jour­nalist would not write “I be­lieve he was about 18” when he could use the in­ternet to look up Pres­ley’s birth date (Jan­uary 8, 1935) and the time he recorded his first sides (July 18, 1953) to ar­rive at the cor­rect figure.

He could have also looked up where the record was made (Sun Records) and found the cor­rect ti­tles (My Hap­pi­ness and That’s When Your Heartaches Begin). He might have also learned that most ex­perts do not be­lieve that Elvis made the record for his mother but for him­self. It seems that Presley wanted to hear how he sounded on a record and pos­sibly at­tract the at­ten­tion of Sam Phillips. 5

 

Elvis Sun209 ThatsAllRight 78 150

 

Answer: “ My Hap­pi­ness’ was the first record he ever made [in] 1953 at Sun Records as a gift for his mother. He was 18 at the time. ‘That’s Al­right’ came out in 1954—I think it was a Billy Crudup song—[and] he was 21 at the time.”

This com­ment was con­tributed by someone claiming to be a his­tory buff. He re­cy­cles the gift legend, mis­spells the title of his first com­mer­cial record, gets the wrong first name for that song’s orig­i­nator (and as a typo, it’s too funny to cor­rect), and then ad­vances Pres­ley’s age by three years from 1953 to 1954.

 

Elvis Sun209 ThatsAllRight 78 150

 

Answer: “Elvis was 19 and dri­ving a truck when he drove to Sun Records and [recorded him­self and] Sam Phillips’s as­sis­tant Marion Keisker saved a copy of the recording for Sam, as she was blown away by Elvis’s voice and pres­ence. He just made that first ten-inch record as a present for his mother Gladys. The first Elvis song com­mer­cially recorded and pro­duced was ‘That’s All Right, Mama,’ which went out over local then na­tional radio sta­tions be­fore the record was even cut by Sam Phillips.”

This com­ment was con­tributed by someone claiming to be an ex­pert in his­tory. Elvis was 18 when he first paid to record him­self in July 1953, he was four days shy of his 19th birthday when he paid to make a record the second time in Jan­uary 1954, and he was 19 when he got a job dri­ving a truck for Crown Elec­tric in April 1954.

The final sen­tence may be the most con­fusing on the en­tire Quora page: A record could not have “went out” over the radio be­fore it was “cut” (that is, recorded). He prob­ably means that Sam gave ei­ther ac­etates or ad­vance copies of the record to local disc jockeys to play on Mem­phis radio be­fore any copies of the record were man­u­fac­tured for sale. (And, yes, the song title is incorrect.)

 

Elvis Sun209 ThatsAllRight 78 150

 

Answer: “Elvis Presley was born on Jan­uary 8, 1935, and his first record, called ELVIS PRESLEY, was re­leased in March 1956, so the math tells us he was 21 years old by the time he started making records. How­ever, this is not ex­actly when he started recording be­cause his first single, ‘That’s All Right,’ came out in 1954 when he was just 19 years old. . . .”

This an­swer was made by a con­trib­utor who did not make any claims to any kind of back­ground in writing or his­tory. His an­swer is the most baf­fling in that he seems to be rather con­fused as to the ter­mi­nology of the record in­dustry and record collecting.

He states that Pres­ley’s “first record, called ELVIS PRESLEY, was re­leased in March 1956.” The records that were re­leased in March 1956 were three al­bums: two seven-inch, 45 rpm EP al­bums (EPA-747 and EPB-1254) and one twelve-inch, 33⅓ rpm LP album (LPM-1254). Each was ti­tled ELVIS PRESLEY.

The writer may be re­fer­ring to one or all of these as the “first record” by Elvis. He then writes that Pres­ley’s “first single, That’s All Right, came out in 1954.” As we all should know, That’s All Right was not only Elvis’s first single, it was his first com­mer­cially is­sued record.

The weird wording of the an­swer could mean that this person be­lieves that the term record is re­served ex­clu­sively for al­bums and that sin­gles are not records. This is a brand new co­nun­drum for an old-timer like me, es­pe­cially as I still cringe when­ever I hear or see some young whip­per­snapper refer to records as vinyls. 6

There is more to this con­trib­u­tor’s an­swer, hence the el­lipsis fol­lowing “19 years old.” But to read it and his an­swers to other ques­tions, readers must pay for a sub­scrip­tion to Quo­ra’s sister plat­form, Quora+. That is, this in­di­vidual thinks so highly of his “ex­pert­ness” that he has de­cided that we should pay to read his an­swers! 7

 

Unreliable source: photo of Elvis Presley's boxed CD set THE COMPLETE WORKS 1953-1955 from Memphis Recording Service (2016).

This is the front cover for THE COMPLETE WORKS 1953-1955, re­leased by Mem­phis Recording Ser­vice in 2016. It is a boxed set that com­piles 47 record­ings that Elvis made during those years, most of them at Sun Records in Mem­phis, Ten­nessee. Pres­ley’s first record­ings—My Hap­pi­ness, That’s When Your Heartaches Begin, I’ll Never Stand In Your Way, and It Wouldn’t Be The Same (Without You)open the set.

Another unreliable source

There were ten an­swers at the time that I found this page on Quora, of which I chose only four. There may be more an­swers now and they may be even more “in­ter­esting” than the four above. To read the other an­swers on Quora, click here.

The amount of in­cor­rect in­for­ma­tion on Quora is not con­fined to this topic or to Elvis. I come across it reg­u­larly but usu­ally just walk on by. But this par­tic­ular ques­tion and the an­swers it in­spired seemed in need of ad­dressing and so I did.

And so it goes . . .

Quora is a ‘plat­form to ask ques­tions and con­nect with people who con­tribute quality an­swers.’ Well, maybe not al­ways as the ig­no­rance and mis­in­for­ma­tion that is every­where on the in­ternet is readily avail­able on Quora. Click To Tweet

Unreliable source: photo of the Sun Records building in Memphis, Tennesse.

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is of Sam Phillips’s now-legendary Sun Records studio and of­fice at 706 Union Av­enue in Mem­phis, Ten­nessee. This is about what it looked like when a young Elvis Presley walked in 1953 with a guitar in his hands and a few dol­lars in his pockets.

 

____________

FOOTNOTES:

1   I am a bit more for­giving of this one as even the people who com­piled the data in the Gold & Plat­inum sec­tion on the RI­AA’s own web­site ap­pear not to be well-versed in the his­tory of the RI­AA’s cri­teria for certification.

2   In psy­chology, the Dunning-Kruger ef­fect is a “cog­ni­tive bias whereby people with lim­ited knowl­edge or com­pe­tence in a given in­tel­lec­tual or so­cial do­main greatly over­es­ti­mate their knowl­edge or com­pe­tence in that do­main rel­a­tive to ob­jec­tive cri­teria or to the per­for­mance of their peers or of people in gen­eral.” (Bri­tan­nica)

3   But leaving them in makes me look kinda petty, if not out­right nasty, for “showing up” their ig­no­rance as writers.

4   The time­line is re­stricted to the so-called “Sun Years” (1953-1955), de­spite sev­eral an­swers con­taining mis­takes about Pres­ley’s first year and ini­tial re­leases with RCA Victor.

5   Elvis never pre­sented the record to his mother. Rather, he took it to his friend Ed Leek’s house as his family owned a record player. There, the young singer heard his recorded voice for the first time. For un­known rea­sons, he left the record with the friend.

6   Hah! Even Gram­marly re­fuses to rec­og­nize vinyls as a le­git­i­mate word.

7   Quora+ (“Quo­raPlus”) is al­ready causing con­tention among Quora reg­u­lars. For one of many rea­sons, a user could easily end up paying for an an­swer from an “ex­pert” such as this con­trib­utor whose ex­per­tise may be a delu­sion caused by the ol’ Dunning-Kruger effect.

 


 

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Thx for con­firming why I don’t use Quora.

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