1954: Elvis and The Billboard
By Bob Pakes
When it comes to an artist’s achievements on the charts, THE BILLBOARD has certainly set the standard for any artist’s succes to be measured by. In this topic, we will chronologically go through the impact Elvis had on the charts, while also focusing on the role The Billboard played in Elvis’ career.
Presented in this topic are all articles and charts published in The Billboard in 1954 that either mention Elvis’ name or include direct Elvis-related info.
To help visualize and put into perspective what was actually going on during that remarkable year of Elvis’ breakthrough (and especially since The Billboard did not publish any photos of Elvis in 1954), images from this timeframe have been added to this topic.
Let The Billboard guide you through the first 6 months of Elvis’ career. We will start our journey in July of 1954, when SUN 209 was released …
In the same week that Elvis’ first single was released, a person by the name of Tom Parker bought himself 7 ponies. He will soon meet up with the boy from Tupelo, and together they will change the music industry forever.
This date marks the first time Elvis Presley’s name is mentioned in The Billboard. The Sun contract was actually signed on July 26, 1954.
Almost as if Elvis’ fate was sealed from the moment his name appeared in print for the very first time, also Parker‘s name popped up in the same magazine. The Sleepy Hollow Ranch was a Country & Western venue and amusement park that was known as the Grand Ole Opry of the East Coast. Big names, from Patsy Cline to Bill Haley, took to the stage at the Ranch.
And in the same edition Elvis gets his first ever review, in the Country & Western section of the magazine, Elvis is being introduced as a “strong new talent”.
SUN 209 was officially released on July 19, 1954.
A week later, the Sun contract gets another mention, and some additional information is given about Elvis. The appearance at Overton Park Shell took place on July 30, 1954, and this was only the 4th time Elvis, Scotty and Bill performed together.
Memphis DJ Dewey Philips premiered That’s All Right on July 8 on his Red, Hot And Blue radioshow. It was the first time Elvis Presley could be heard on the radio.
July 30, 1954
It’s the first time ever that Elvis’ name appeared on a chart when Blue Moon Of Kentucky debuted at nr. 3 in Memphis.
Notice how his name is spelled incorrectly as Prisley.
For the next 7 weeks, there will be no articles that mention his name. But we see him popping up on every Memphis chart.
A week later saw That’s All Right entering the chart as well, just behind Blue Moon Of Kentucky, holding the nr. 4 spot.
Yet another first for the 19 year old:
Blue Moon Of Kentucky takes over the nr. 1 spot!
That’s All Right dropped a few places, but it will stay on the Memphis chart for the next month.
September 9, 1954
Blue Moon Of Kentucky lost the topspot, while Jimmy & Johnny are the best selling act this week in Memphis.
In just two months time, Elvis Presley and Jimmy & Johnny will appear together at the Eagle’s Nest.
September 9, 1954
Blue Moon Of Kentucky has regained the nr. 1 spot!
And Elvis’ success has now also reached Nashville: we can see that That’s All Right found his way to the local chart in Music City.
While both sides of SUN 209 hold their ground in the Memphis area, Elvis left the Nashville chart after one week. But he will be back later this month.
The charts clearly indicate that Blue Moon Of Kentucky apparently was the more succesful of Elvis’ first two songs. Kentucky not just hit the nr. 1 spot twice, but it also had a longer run in the chart altogether.
Local Memphis DJ BOB NEAL got involved with Elvis right from the start (in July of ’54) when Sam Philips had asked him to help promote this promising new talent. Before the year was over, Bob would become Elvis’ manager, taking over from Scotty Moore who had acted as such for the first five months.
That’s All Right has now left the Memphis chart and it will not return. But Blue Moon Of Kentucky is still riding high.
October 16, 1954
A short but quite interesting article:
* Elvis had made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry on October 2, 1954. And from his point of view it had been a total disaster, though not so much because of the tame audience reaction to his ‘untraditional’ performance. According to George Klein, Elvis would refer, in strong language, to Opry boss Jim Denny as the person who “kicked me off the Grand Ole Opry”.
* Hank Snow, the big attraction at the Opry, was involved with Tom Parker.
* The article mentions a gig in Atlanta, but there is no proof this really took place. Apart from the Opry (Nashville), the boys, up until this point, had only performed in their own hometown.
* As some sort of insignificant footnote, the article also mentions Elvis’ first (and groundbreaking!) appearance on the Louisiana Hayride on October 16, 1954.
Blue Moon Of Kentucky is not just back on the Nashville chart, it is also climbing again in Memphis.
With Blue Moon Of Kentucky still going strong, we have two noteworthy premieres this week:
* Good Rockin’ Tonight, the 2nd single, has entered the Memphis charts.
* And maybe even more interesting is that Elvis has scored his first chart success in another state: Blue Moon Of Kentucky found it’s way to the chart in New Orleans. It is very likely this is the direct result of Elvis’ debut-performance on the Hayride 4 days earlier.
Another interesting article. We can see how important foundations for Elvis’ career were being laid:
* Colonel Parker has arranged a 10-day C&W tour through the south with Eddy Arnold (whom he had managed up until a year earlier) headlining. The line-up included a group that would soon back Elvis up: The Jordanaires.
* Two other names that Elvis will soon become familiar with are Tom Diskin and OSCAR DAVIS.
* October 31st the tour hits Memphis.
* Last but not least: two RCA reps accompanied the tour. Eddy Arnold of course recorded for RCA.
A perfect example of Tom Parker‘s “subtle touch” of (self-)promotion: he phoned The Billboard himself to let them know was he was up to.
Elvis’ 2nd single, SUN 210, was officially released on October 4, 1954. And once again, Elvis received a positive review from The Billboard when his new single was described as a “solid record”.
Blue Moon Of Kentucky remains on the Memphis chart, while Good Rockin’ Tonight took a short dive after it’s debut a week earlier, only to return on the chart for the rest of the month.
November 8, 1954
This week, the people who will become Elvis’ 2nd and 3rd manager both get a mention:
Bob Neal had held a poll among his listeners regarding their favourite “folk” singers. And Presley came in 10th. Not bad for this newcomer who only had one or two 45’s out at the time!
In the meantime, the Colonel, as well as Mrs. Colonel, apparently visited a hoedown in Florida. This ‘news’ is, of course, hardly worth a mention. Parker was most probably up to his selfpromoting antics again, making sure that the handful of people who did not notice him in the flesh in Tampa, now also knew that he had in fact been there. And that’s good to know.
The Browns and Elvis performed and toured together quite often throughout those early beginnings. On this very day, November 13, both acts appeared on the Hayride.
Sun 210 was already reviewed in last weeks edition of The Billboard (as a “Spotlight On …” record). It gets another mention in the regular section of this weeks edition.
Blue Moon Of Kentucky has taken a temporary absence on the Memphis chart (but it will return in a couple of weeks time) while Good Rockin’ Tonight is back on the list in the nr. 3 spot.
In a poll among Disk Jockeys, Elvis took the nr. 8 spot in the category Most Promising Hillbilly Or C&W Artist of 1954.
This is an amazing achievement since only SUN 209 had been released at the time of the poll’s result.
As mentioned in an earlier issue of The Billboard, Parker had taken over management of Hank Snow. According to this article Tom Diskin and Oscar Davis will become his associates.
The evergrowing line-up at the Louisiana Hayride now officially includes Elvis Presley.
On November 6, Elvis had signed a one year contract with the Hayride.
In the November 6 issue of The Billboard we learned that Parker had arranged a 10-day tour with Eddy Arnold headlining. And this week we can read that the tour was a huge succes. Thanks to one man of course: the Colonel.
From the Elvis point of view, it is interesting to note that through Bob Neal, Elvis had met with promoter Oscar Davis, and Davis had invited Elvis to attend the October 31 show in Memphis. Elvis did. And this is probably the first time he met with Tom Parker.
The “19-year-old comer” is now a regular on the Hayride and a “force” to be reckoned with.
Good Rockin’ Tonight remains on the Memphis chart.
Of his first four songs, I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine, was the only one not to chart.
November (23), 1954
Blue Moon Of Kentucky is back, and together with Good Rockin’ Tonight, this will be the last time this year Elvis has two songs on the Memphis chart.
Blue Moon Of Kentucky is in it’s last week on the Memphis chart.
But Presley is covering new territories:
So far New Orleans (Louisiana) had been the only non-Tennessee territory. But for the first time his 45’s have charted in Texas and Virginia!
Good Rockin’ Tonight found it’s way to the chart in Houston, while Blue Moon Of Kentucky ended up on the chart in Richmond.
More good publicity, from Shreveport, according to Bob Strack Elvis is “the hottest piece of merchandise” on the Hayride. He is referred to as “the youngster with the hilbilly blues beat”.
And here we encounter Tom Parker again, on the prowl for new talent …
That’s All Right has taken the place of Good Rockin’ Tonight on the Houston chart, while Blue Moon Of Kentucky is in it’s last week on the Virginia chart.
For the first time since Elvis had emerged on the music-front, he is not represented on the Memphis chart.
Elvis will still be on next week’s Houston chart with That’s All Right (sadly enough I do not have this chart myself and therefor cannot reproduce it here), but that will be the last time Presley’s name can be seen on any chart for almost 6 months.
This concludes our look at Elvis’ first year in The Billboard. And what a year it’s been! Elvis will now have to wait until May 1955 before one of his records will be in the charts again.
1955 will be a busy year for Elvis with constant tours throughout the south. And before the year is over, Elvis will score his first nationwide nr. 1 on the C&W chart. There is no stopping the boy from Tupelo!
1955: Elvis and The Billboard … COMING SOON!
1954-07-27 Jim Reid (Memphis) (1st ever publicity photo of Elvis)
1954-07-30 Bill Burk (Overton Park Shell, Memphis)
1954-08 Clettes Presley (Eagle’s Nest, Memphis)
1954-09-09 Opal Walker (Lamar Airways Shopping Center, Memphis)
1954-10-16 J. Kent (Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport)
1954-11-08 unknown (Memphis State University, Memphis)
1954-11 unknown (with a fan, Gladewater)
1954-11 (in a photobooth with Jeanette McDonald, Shreveport)
1954-12-27 Lou Lowry (Lou Lowry’s house, Memphis)
CREDIT for all articles and charts goes to BILLBOARD MAGAZINE.
For tons of information on the venues Elvis, Scotty and Bill played in 1954, please visit James V. Roy‘s incredible website: SCOTTY MOORE
Thanks a million, Just absolutely fascinating!
In 1954 I was twelve and had never heard of Elvis Presley.
I did not hear Elvis singing till 1957!!! Felt I had been robbed not knowing of him till then.
Nice reading this old stuff.
Absolutely great Research! Thanks a Million!!
Fantastic. Historic. Brilliant.
Just amazing research. A lot of information I was hoping to know.
So after all Blue Moon Of Kentucky was the hit in 1954.
Please, can we have a look at 1955?
Interesting how Blue Moon of Kentucky outstripped ‘That’s Alright’ fairly convincingly, boy it had legs! That seems to get forgotten with time. Perhaps old Bills clowning around with that song should get more recognition than in does in most quarters.
Enjoyed it Bob!
THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR THE EXCELLENT MATERIAL.
ALLOW ME TO GIVE A PIECE OF MY FEELINGS: IN THIS WORLD I THINK ELVIS SHOULD HAVE AT LEAST THE SAME EXPOSURE THE BEATLES HAVE IN THE GLOBAL MEDIA. DO YOU KNOW WHY PEOPLE SOMETIMES SAY ELVIS STOLE FROM NEGRO MUSIC BUT NEVER SAY A WORD ABOUT WHAT THE BEATLES TOOK FROM AMERICAN MUSIC (SPECIALLY FROM THE EVERLY BROS)?
THANK YOU AGAIN, FRIENDS. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.
A CORRECTION: IF THIS WORLD WERE JUST I THINK ELVIS…
Another great update.
A great historical update. Captured even better than in Peter Guralnick’s book about Sam Phillips.
Just fantastic. Keep it coming! We want more.
Thanks Bob! KOOL information as always!
Love the history lesson. Nice work. Shows the rise was quick but not certain. Even Elvis had to work.
Great work. It’s so cool to see the rise of Elvis through the pages of Billboard. The year 1955 will be a very exciting time ahead for Elvis.
I wish someone would do the same about the Beatles in Billboard from 1962 to say…. March 1964 …. after that it’s saturation.
Again, thanks for the effort to take on this Elvis project.
Wish there was a video of the Lake Ponchartrain show from September 1, 1955, Elvis with Jim Reeves. Is there audio?
When you have held the original August 7th billboard ad in your hands it gives you the goosebumps, I can tell you.
Nicely put together, Bob.
What a find! Is 1955 forthcoming? Man, I can’t wait! Thank you!
Fantastic. The best!.