Daily Archives: March 21, 2010

So, Was “Hound Dog” A Number 1 Hit, Or Not?

If you were asked to guess what Elvis’ ten biggest hits were, would you have “Hound Dog” on your list?  Certainly.  How about one of his five biggest hits?  Very likely, as well.  So, it may come as a surprise to you that “Hound Dog” was never credited as a Number 1 hit on the esteemed Billboard list generally considered the official word on this sort of thing.  How can that be?

I asked myself that question when a recent article appeared on the Elvis-History Blog, written by my friend Alan Hanson.  It was titled, “Elvis's #2 Recordings Help Make Him #1 on the Charts.”  Alan started his wonderful blog two years ago.  He read a number of ElvisBlog columns as part of his research in deciding to start his own site, but he did not go back to my June, 2007 article titled “Elvis – King of the Number 2 Hits.”   So, in our efforts to come up with another new topic each week, we both thought of the same idea — independently and years apart.

The weird thing was that Alan’s list of Elvis’ Number 2 hits and mine had different songs on them.  We both agreed on four songs:

“Burning Love”
“Return To Sender”
“Can’t Help Falling in Love”
“A Fool Such as I”

I had two Number 2 songs in my blog that Alan did not:

“Wear My Ring Around Your Neck”
“Love Me”

And he had three songs in his list of Number 2 hits that I had at Number 1.

“Hard Headed Woman”
“Too Much”
“Hound Dog”

Here’s why this occurred.  On August 4, 1958, Billboard magazine first published their Hot 100 chart, and it has continued for more than a half-century to be the industry standard for reporting hit songs.  However, Billboard originally got into ranking the hits on January 1, 1955, when it started publishing three lists:

Best Sellers in Stores
Most Played by [Disc] Jockeys
Most Played in Juke Boxes

I found a complete copy of the January 26, 1957 issue of Billboard magazine on line, Here is a look at these three charts

These were short charts, containing just 20 or 25 top hits.  Do you remember, in the movie Jailhouse Rock, what job Judy Tyler’s character had when she met Elvis?   She went around and collected the statistics about song plays on jukeboxes.  Although she was reporting to a record company, I imagine it was people like her who provided Billboard with the data they used to compile their Most Played in Juke Boxes chart.

On November 12, 1955, a little more than ten months after the first three lists were born, Billboard added a fourth: the Top 100 chart.  Gradually, over the next few years, this became the most definitive list, because it generally reported the aggregate positions of songs on the other three lists combined.

By the time Billboard changed the name of the Top 100 chart to the Hot 100 chart in August 1958, the other three charts were either recently eliminated or would be soon thereafter.  However, they lasted long enough to confuse the tally of Elvis songs that made it to Number 1.

Alan and I used different references to come up with our reports on Elvis’ Number 2 hits.  He actually went to his local library and accessed the microfiche records for every weekly Billboard Top 100/Hot 100 chart from 1956 to 1977 and recorded the rankings of the Elvis songs.  It took him almost a year to gather all this information.  I simply used a book titled The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits by Joel Whitburn.  Every singer or group who ever had a hit is listed, along with a discography of their hits.  In the book, Whitburn acknowledged that for the period 1955 through July 1958, the highest chart position indicated for each song was its highest on any of the four Billboard charts.

So, to determine the highest rank that Elvis’ early records reached, I referenced all of the Billboard charts.   Alan referenced only the Top 100 chart, which is reasonable because it ultimately morphed into the Hot 100 chart that endures to this day.


Original 1956 Picture Sleeves

I wouldn’t argue adamantly about the proper top ranking for most of the records where Alan and I had it different, but I would for “Hound Dog.”  As you may know, it was half of the biggest two-sided hit record in history.  Depending on how you look at it, “Hound Dog” was on the flip-side of “Don’t Be Cruel,” or vice-a-versa.  For this reason, Whitburn’s book went into great detail about how long both songs stayed at Number 1 on all four lists.  “Hound Dog” was Number 1 for four weeks on the Jukebox chart and five weeks on the Stores chart.

So, I rest my case.  “Hound Dog” spent nine weeks as Number 1 on two of the Billboard charts in operation during the period of its run.  They were well-established charts that had over a year-and-a-half of pedigree behind them.    In the summer of 1956, the Top 100 chart was only nine months old, and it is uncertain where it stood at that point in its ultimate elevation to top dog status.  So, if a song achieved Number 1 then on any of the four charts, it should be enough to claim that rank.  “Hound Dog” made it to the top on two of the charts, so that settles it for me.

If you aren’t convinced, call the folks at Graceland and see if they count “Hound Dog” as a Number 1 hit for Elvis.  They will probably laugh that you would even have to ask.

 Re-Release from 1959

[Editor's note:  Alan Hanson has since published a difinitive history of the chart positions of “Hound Dog” and “Don't Be Cruel” on his Elvis-History-Blog.  Check it out.]


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