ELVIS PRESLEY OWNED 1956! That year he ascended the heavens of popularity to become the most talked-about new personality in the last ten years of recorded music! By the end of the year, he had six #1 records on various charts, sold more than 12,000,000 singles, and was universally known, both derisively and affectionately, as “Elvis the Pelvis.”
During those months, RCA Victor both promoted him through advertising and exploited his fame with products that also required advertising. Below find examples of ads that ran in various publications; I have divided them up beneath the records that were being promoted.
The catalog numbers for the singles below are for the 45 rpm version of the record; 78s had a “20” prefix with the same 6000 number. Album titles are in all capitalized letters.
This is a 15 x 20 inch, cardboard standee meant to be placed on record store shelves or counter-tops. It has a ‘leg’ affixed to the back that folds out so that it can lean back on that leg and stand alone as a display. This may have been manufactured by RCA Victor in the first weeks of 1956 or later in March for the release of the first album, but it’s so beautiful that I wanted it here as the first image in this article.
RCA Victor 47-6357
I Forgot To Remember To Forget / Mystery Train
This is not an RCA Victor ad, but a notice from their Sales and promotion department to wholesalers alerting them to the signing of Elvis Presley and the release of his first record on Victor, 20/47-6357, I Forgot To Remember To Forget / Mystery Train.
Although it’s not mentioned, this was a reissue of two sides that were already in the national C&W Top 10 charts as a Sun Records single. The notice states that 4,000 promotional copies of the record have been shipped to radio stations across the country.
This is RCA Victor’s first full-page ad for Elvis and his first Victor record, I Forgot To Remember To Forget / Mystery Train. It appeared in the December 3, 1955, issue of Billboard and may be where they dubbed him “The Most Talked-About New Personality in the Last 10 Years of Recorded Music.”
This Record Bulletin, dated December 19, 1955, announces the release of Presley’s other four Sun records on RCA Victor. They again refer to Elvis as “The Most Talked-About New Personality” and note that these four records had “spotty distribution” when originally released on Sun Records in 1954-1955.
RCA Victor 47-6420
Heartbreak Hotel / I Was The One
In a half-page ad in the March 10, 1956, issue of Billboard, RCA Victor announced Elvis as the “New Singing Rage.” At the time, Heartbreak Hotel and I Was The One were already hits and the first self-titled EP albums (RCA Victor EPA-747 and EPB-1254) and LP album (RCA Victor LPM-1254) were due for immediate release.
A special 12″ x 18″ double-sided ad/poster from Elvis and Colonel Tom Parker, thanking Milton Berle for having Elvis on his April 3, 1956 show. Elvis performed his hit single Heartbreak Hotel along with Blue Suede Shoes and Shake, Rattle And Roll. This was a very big step up from Presley’s previous appearances on The Dorsey Brothers Show. This poster also promoted Presley’s concerts at the San Diego Arena on April 4-5, 1956.
RCA Victor LPM-1254
Apparently, this was the first poster that RCA Victor printed for the first LP album, ELVIS PRESLEY (LPM-1254).
In March 1956, RCA Victor released the long-playing album ELVIS PRESLEY (LPM-1254). Within six weeks, it had sold 360,000 copies, making it the company’s fastest selling pop album to date. It carried a manufacturer’s list price of $3.98, but could usually be found for a dollar less in most stores.
But even $2.98 was a hefty sum for a teenager in the ’50s, when allowances were generally given in dimes and quarters. The top image is the first poster that RCA Victor issued for use on store walls, while the bottom image is a print ad.
RCA Victor EPA-821
In April, RCA Victor released the third Elvis EP album, HEARTBREAK HOTEL. The ad above uses the photo from the EP and LP albums issued the previous month, lists all six of Elvis’s singles, and highlights EPA-821. This ad appeared in the July 1956 issue of Hit Parader magazine.
RCA Victor 47-6540
I Want You, I Need You, I Love You / My Baby Left Me
For the first few weeks of its release, the two sides of this record vied for supremacy on the charts. I Want You, I Need You, I Love You clearly outperformed My Baby Left Me, but the latter reached #18 on the Cash Box Top 100.
In May 1956, RCA Victor released their second Elvis single of newly recorded material, I Want You, I Need You, I Love You / My Baby Left Me. The top image is a banner used for hanging on the walls of record shops, while the bottom image is a magazine ad.
RCA Victor 47-6604
Hound Dog / Don’t Be Cruel
In July 1956, RCA Victor released their third new Elvis single, Hound Dog / Don’t Be Cruel. This is a double-page spread from the August 18, 1956, issue of Billboard acknowledging that the previous single (I Want You, I Need You, I Love You) and the A-side of the new single (Hound Dog) had already sold a million copies in the US. It also claimed that the new record’s B-side (Don’t Be Cruel) was selling yet another million!
This another two-page ad for smaller magazines alerting readers to the fact that there were fifteen Victor singles, many of which could also be found on five EP albums and one LP album.
RCA Victor EPA-965
I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine
This October 1956 ad exclaims that I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine is stepping out from the pack, on its way to becoming a hit. The ad was placed by the Famous Music Corporation, holder of the rights to the song. While they list the catalog number for the single, it actually reached #74 on the Billboard Top 100 as the featured track for the EP album ANY WAY YOU WANT ME (EPA-965).
RCA Victor 47-6647
Love Me Tender / Any Way You Want Me
In September 1956, RCA Victor released their fourth Elvis single of newly recorded material, Love Me Tender / Any Way You Want Me. This banner/poster was used for hanging on the walls of record shops to promote the record.
RCA Victor EPA-992
ELVIS – VOLUME 1
In October 1956, RCA Victor released ELVIS, VOLUME 1 (EPA-992), which collected four tracks from the newly released LP album, ELVIS (LPM-1382). Disc jockeys played the EP and Love Me became a massive hit, reaching the Top 10 on the Billboard Top 100 singles survey! This pushed sales of EPA-992 past the million mark, the first EP to achieve seven-figure sales.
POSTSCRIPTUALLY: This sampling is not definitive, but representative of most of the advertising that RCA Victor did for their biggest record-seller in ’56. This is the first of several inter-related articles about the methods employed by Colonel Parker and RCA Victor to promote Elvis in 1956.
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is Elvis backstage at the Hudson Theatre in New York in July 1956. He was there to appear on the Steve Allen Show and cut a few sides at RCA’s studio in New York: Hound Dog, Don’t Be Cruel, and Any Way You Want Me were waxed in one session. Photograph by Alfred Wertheimer.