ELVIS WAS ALREADY A STAR when RCA Victor acquired his contract in November 1955. The record company had won a bidding war for the right to purchase his contract from Sun Records. They paid a king’s ransom for that contract but believed that Presley would be the biggest country & western record star of 1956!
The deal was complicated and included three obvious parties—RCA Victor, Sun Records, and Elvis Presley—along with two less obvious parties—Hill & Range Music and Colonel Tom Parker. The deal received a good deal of attention in the trade journals although most of that attention addressed the first three parties.
Much of what happened immediately after the deal was finalized has been obscured with the passage of time. Exactly when RCA Victor was able to place copies of Presley platters in retail shops across the country is not known. By exactly, I mean to the day. We have means of determining reasonably accurate dates.
This article is one in a series about collecting Elvis records from late 1955 and early ’56.
Collector Keith Flynn has been able to acquire mountains of documentation about RCA Victor and their Presley releases and make it available to fans, collectors, and researchers on his Elvis Presley Pages site. But he has not yet found the actual paperwork detailing when the first RCA Victor Elvis Presley record was shipped to dealers.
That record was a reissue of the final Sun single, I Forgot To Remember To Forget / Mystery Train. Released with the catalog numbers 20–6357 for 78 rpm records and 47–6357 for 45 rpm records, copies were definitely available to fans prior to Christmas 1955.
While we may not yet have access to RCA Victor’s listing notice with the shipping date for those records, we do have some other documentation.
Biggest C&W Record News of the Year!
There is RCA Victor Record Bulletin dated November 28, 1955, that was sent to company representatives. The memo’s title (in all caps) was “Biggest C&W Record News Of The Year!” It addressed the much-ballyhooed acquisition of Elvis Presley the company’s immediate plans.
Here is the full text of that memo with the capitalization and underlining the same as the original. (I have numbered each paragraph for ease in referring to it from my comments that follow).
1) “In Elvis Presley we’ve acquired the most dynamic and sought-after new artist in country music today, one who’s topped the ‘most promising category in every trade and consumer poll held during 1955!
2) Promotion is being spearheaded with disc jockey records to the entire Pop and C&W ‘A’ lists, an initial coverage of more than 4,000 destinations!
3) Page ads will appear this week in Billboard and Cash Box, with reprints about 10 days later. The issues will carry full publicity on Presley joining the label.
4) It’s imperative that follow up this all-market approach to every station receiving Pop or Country service. Use the trade articles to sell your dealers and one stops across the board!
5) The tunes: I FORGOT TO REMEMBER TO FORGET and MYSTERY TRAIN. The number: 20/47–6357. The name: ELVIS PRESLEY, one that will be your guarantee of sensational plus-sales in the months to come!”
The memo was signed by John Y. Burgess, Jr., Manager/Sales and Promotion/Single Record Department.
Sensational sales to come!
1) The first paragraph acknowledges that Presley was the most sought-after new artist in country music today.
2) The second paragraph announces the company’s plan to manufacture and ship at least 4,000 disc jockey records (white label promos) to the entire pop and country & western “A” lists. I assume that “lists” refers to top radio stations, although I did not know that stations were categorized in such a manner. Nor did I know that there were so many stations that there could be 4,000 in the “A” category. How many more were there in 1955?
This statement would also appear to bolster the argument that the very first thing that RCA Victor did with their new artist was to get copies of his current hit single into record and department stores around the country as quickly as possible.
3) The third paragraph mentions ads that will appear this week in Billboard and Cash Box. The first such ads did appear in the issues of those magazines cover-dated for the first week of December.
4) The fourth paragraph basically urges wholesalers to order now and order big.
5) The fifth paragraph lists the titles of the Presley platter with its catalog number and accurately guarantees the reader “sensational plus-sales in the months to come!”
The only real surprise in the memo—aside from the number of copies of disc jockey records that RCA Victor manufactured—was the fact that it took RCA Victor seven days after acquiring Presley to reach this point.This article about the biggest country & western record news of 1955 is one in a series about collecting Elvis records from 1955 and early ’56. Click To Tweet
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is of the label for the white label promotional pressing of RCA Victor 47–6357, I Forgot To Remember To Forget. As there is no need for a larger or uncropped version of that image here, instead here is a photo of Elvis taken at the RCA Victor recording studio in New York. Taken on December 1, 1955, the visit and the photos were purely for publicity purposes. Elvis would not actually record a note for his new record company until January 10, 1956, and then it would be at RCA’s studio in Nashville.
The first fourteen articles in this series are almost completed and listed below with links to each. Should you access one of these articles and receive an Error Page, try back a week later.
01 RCA Victor’s “SPD” Series of Specialty Records
02 What Was the First Elvis Record That RCA Victor Released?
03 The Biggest Country & Western Record News of 1955
04 The First RCA Elvis Record Was “I Forgot to Remember to Forget”
05 The RCA Victor Cartoon Picture Sleeves of the ’50s
06 The Elvis “This Is His Life” Cartoon Picture Sleeve
07 RCA Victor 47–6357 Bootleg Picture Sleeves
08 The “Record Bulletin” Picture Sleeve for RCA’s First Elvis Record Is a Fake
09 Did RCA Release Other Versions of Elvis’ Songs to Compete With Elvis’ Records?
10 A New Kind of Hit Re-run With Elvis Presley
11 Was “E‑Z Pop Programming 5” the First LP to Feature an Elvis Track?
12 Was “E‑Z Country Programming 2” the First LP to Feature an Elvis Track?
13 Was SPD-15 the First EP to Feature an Elvis Track?
14 Is the Country & Western Jukebox Promotion Kit a Fake?
More articles addressing the early RCA Victor releases are planned. Each will contain the blockquote, “This article is one in a series about collecting Elvis records from late 1955 and early ’56,” like the one at the beginning of this article.
To find all the articles in the series, copy the blockquote, paste it into the Find option (the magnifying glass in the navigation bar at the top of each page), and then press Return or Enter on your keyboard.
Mystically liberal Virgo enjoys long walks alone in the city at night in the rain with an umbrella and a flask of 10-year-old Laphroaig who strives to live by the maxim, “It ain’t what you know that gets you into trouble; it’s what you know that just ain’t so.
I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn, and a college dropout (twice!). Occupationally, I have been a bartender, jewelry engraver, bouncer, landscape artist, and FEMA crew chief following the Great Flood of ’72 (and that was a job that I should never, ever have left).
I am also the final author of the original O’Sullivan Woodside price guides for record collectors and the original author of the Goldmine price guides for record collectors. As such, I was often referred to as the Price Guide Guru, and—as everyone should know—it behooves one to heed the words of a guru. (Unless, of course, you’re the Beatles.)