1954: Elvis And The Billboard
By Bob Pakes
When it comes to an artist’s achievements on the charts, THE BILLBOARD magazine has certainly set the standard for any artist’s succes to be measured by.
In the following topic, we will chronologically go through the impact Elvis had on the charts, and also focus on the role The Billboard played in Elvis’ career. Most of all however, we will learn that it was not just a case of ‘in the right place, at the right time’. Elvis, Scotty and Bill had worked very hard for their success, promoting the sale of their records by appearing all over the place.
TO THE RIGHTSIDE of this topic we have all articles and charts published in The Billboard in 1954 that either mention Elvis’ name or include direct Elvis-related information.
And 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), I’ve added the images that are displayed ON THE LEFTSIDE of this topic.
Sit back, and 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 …
July 17, 1954
In the same week that Elvis’ first single was released, a certain person by the name of Tom Parker bought himself 7 ponies.
This ‘Colonel’ will soon meet up with the boy from Tupelo, and together they will change the face of entertainment forever.
August 7, 1954
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 of the Newman family business in Philadelphia.
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.
August 14, 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.
August 28, 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.
September 4, 1954
September 11, 1954
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
September 18, 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
September 25, 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.
October 2, 1954
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.
October 9, 1954
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.
October 16, 1954
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.
October 23, 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 later refer, in strong language, to Opry boss Jim Denny as the person who “kicked me off the Grand Ole Opry”.
* Hank Snow was the big attraction at the Opry. And Snow 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.
October 30, 1954
With Blue Moon Of Kentucky still going strong, we have two noteworthy premieres this week:
* The 2nd single, Good Rockin’ Tonight, has entered the charts in Memphis.
* 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.
November 6, 1954
Another very interesting article. We can see how some important foundations for Elvis’ career were being laid (without Presley being aware of any of it):
* We learn that Colonel Parker has arranged a 10-day C&W tour through some southern states 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 will bring the tour to Memphis.
* And last but not least: two representatives from RCA Victor accompanied the tour. Eddy Arnold of course recorded for RCA.
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
November 13, 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 sort of ‘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.
In a poll among Disk Jockeys, Elvis took the nr. 7 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.
November 20, 1954
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.
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 the man who had put it together 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.
November 27, 1954
December 4, 1954
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.
December 11, 1954
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”.
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.
He 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.
And that concludes the round-up of Elvis’ first year on The Billboard charts.
And what a year it’s been!
Elvis will now have to wait until May of 1955 before one of his records is climbing the charts again (when I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone will enter the Memphis chart).
1955 will be an extremely busy year for Elvis, constantly on the road touring 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!
THE BILLBOARD ’55 … coming SOON !!
1954-07-27 Jim Reid (Memphis) (photo topright, 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 Billboard articles and charts, of course, go to BILLBOARD MAGAZINE.
For more information, and tons of images, on the venues Elvis, Scotty and Bill played in 1954, please visit James V. Roy‘s extraordinary website: