Back in late 2005, I was trying to think of something to write for the upcoming Birthday Tribute Issue of Elvis International magazine.
I always try to submit something for each issue, and Darwin Lamm, the publisher, likes to do anniversary themes. So, I checked out what went on with Elvis fifty years earlier in January, 1956. I quickly realized that lots of important stuff happened, and I had my story idea. The result was an article with a short title and the longest subtitle I ever used:
Fast forward five years, and my buddy, Alan Hanson, posts an article on his Elvis-History-Blog. Check out his title:
Hot dog, I thought. Alan is pushing a different month. I couldn’t wait to compare both arguments and see which month won. In all honesty, it seems like March 1956 probably was the most significant, or pivotal, month in Elvis’ career. Congratulations, Alan. However, let’s look at Alan’s summary of life-changing events for Elvis in March and see how those in January 1956 compare.
First Hit on the Charts: That, of course, was “Heartbreak Hotel,” and it appeared on the Billboard Top 100 pop chart at #68 on March 3.
Elvis’ first national hit was a big event for sure. But, not so fast. When was it recorded? On January 10, Elvis had his first recording session for RCA in Nashville. Before that, all his recording had been at Sun Records in Memphis, and they were mostly Rockabilly numbers.
At RCA’s famed Nashville Studio B, Elvis recorded two songs that had previously been hits for other performers: “Money Honey” (Drifters) and I Got A Woman” (Ray Charles). But he also recorded one new song, a slow, bluesy number unlike anything he had done at Sun. America’s teenagers would ultimately take “Heartbreak Hotel” to #1.
So, which month wins? I’m sticking with January. If you are talking about a pivotal event, you can hardly beat changing your record company, your studio, your musical style, and the make-up of your backing band – and getting a #1 hit out of it. Sure, “Heartbreak Hotel” first reached the charts in March, but that wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been recorded in January.
First LP Release: Alan correctly notes that Elvis Presley was released on March 23, and it quickly rose to the top of the charts where it stayed for ten weeks.
But once again, we can ask which is more important – when it was recorded or when it was released? Elvis Presley contained twelve songs, but five of them had been recorded at Sun Records in 1955. The other seven were all recorded in January 1956. If all twelve had been recorded then, this would be another win for January. So, we’ll be generous and call this a tie.
There is one interesting side note on the album Elvis Presley. It did not contain the huge hit “Heartbreak Hotel.” Apparently, Col. Parker decided the fans would buy the album anyway, and he was certainly correct. He followed the same plan with the second album, Elvis, which did not contain the huge hits “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel.”
Final Appearance on the Louisiana Hayride: In addition to new firsts for Elvis, March also contained some lasts. However, so did January. On January 2, 1956, Elvis performed at a high school auditorium in Charleston, Mississippi. This was his last show in small venues. From then on, it was all big theaters and arenas. Is this more significant than the last of a long run at the Louisiana Hayride? I think so.
However, there was one other important last for Elvis in January. On January 20 in Fort Worth, he did his last appearance as a supporting act. From then on, Elvis would always be a headliner. That’s a pretty pivotal event.
Elvis had seventh billing on May 10, 1955
Final Appearance on Stage Show on TV: Elvis made six appearances on the Dorsey Brothers Stage Show on CBS, and the last was on March 24. How could that be more pivotal than his first appearance on the show on January 28? Chalk up another win for January.
Elvis’ on His First TV Appearance – Jan 28, 1956
Ever Explosive Personal Appearances: Okay, you have to give it to March on this one, but just barely. Elvis did plenty of very explosive personal appearances in January, too. Of course, this trend started before January 1956 and continued well beyond March, so it’s impossible to pick any month as the pivotal one. Maybe this category should be skipped.
Hollywood Screen Test: January had nothing similar to this for Elvis, so March gets the nod again.
Elvis Hooks Up With Colonel Parker: This was a major significant event, and nothing occurred in January of comparable importance.
It looks like Alan’s last three points tipped the scales in favor of March 1956 as the most pivotal month in Elvis’ history. If my focus had been different five years ago, I would have picked the same month as Alan, but, I was searching for a fifty-year anniversary theme to publish in January 2006. If I had been searching for the Elvis’ most significant month, I would have written about March 1956, but I couldn’t have done any better job presenting the case than Alan Hansen did. Be sure to check it out.
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