To celebrate the 80th birthday of The King of Rock and Roll, here is a countdown of Elvis Presley’s most popular selling singles of the 1950s. According to the RIAA, which certifies recording sales in the U.S., Elvis had six singles between 1956 and 1958 that went Multi-Platinum, meaning they sold over 2 million copies.
Elvis also had countless singles that went Gold (selling 500,000 copies) and Platinum (selling 1 million copies). In September 1958, right before he shipped out to Germany for his stint in the U.S. Army, Elvis declared at a press conference: “I have 25 million sellers and two albums that have sold a million each.”
Elvis had an uncanny ability not only for selecting the right songs to sing, but also in recording the songs with his own signature style. Elvis played a huge role in the production of his early hits to the point where fellow musicians and record executives acknowledged that he was virtually his own record producer.
He even insisted on hiring a gospel quartet, The Jordanaires, to be his backup singers, a seemingly odd choice for a rock and roll sound. But in true Elvis style, it worked. The Jordanaires can be heard on two of the songs on the list.
[Note: Elvis had two songs that went Multi-Platinum in the 1950s that were released on EPs, not 45s. These songs are not included in the countdown. Also, the RIAA sales reported here include sales from the decade of the 1950s. Additional sales of the singles in subsequent years are not included in these results.]
Elvis Presley sings “Jailhouse Rock”
For Elvis Presley’s third movie, Jailhouse Rock, the songwriting team, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, wrote the title track for the film. The choreography that Elvis performed while singing the song would be considered one of the best dance sequences in a movie. While Elvis appeared to be dancing spontaneously, the moves were actually choreographed by Alex Romero, who, with Presley’s urging, adapted Elvis’ natural stage moves into the dance sequence.
Recorded in April 1957 and released in September 1957, the “Jailhouse Rock” single would sell over 2 million copies.
Elvis Presley sings “Teddy Bear”
“(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear” was featured in Presley’s second film, Loving You. The Jordanaires provide backup vocals.
Recorded in January 1957 and released in June 1957, the “Teddy Bear” single would sell over 2 million copies.
Elvis Presley sings medley “Hound Dog/All Shook Up”
Written by Otis Blackwell, the song “All Shook Up” would hold the number one position for eight weeks. Recorded in January 1957 and released in March 1957, the “All Shook Up” single would sell close to 2.5 million copies.
Elvis sang a medley of his 1950s hits on his 1968 “Comeback” TV special which aired on NBC in December 1968.
Elvis Presley sings “Heartbreak Hotel”
Elvis was considered more of a country artist before his breakthrough hit “Heartbreak Hotel” which reached number one on the pop and country charts. It was also the first single released with Presley’s new record company, RCA Victor, after he left Sun Records.
Written by Mae Axton and Tommy Durden, the song “Heartbreak Hotel” was inspired by a newspaper article in The Miami Herald. Recorded in January 1956 and released the end of the same month, the “Heartbreak Hotel” single would be Presley’s first million-seller and go on to sell over 2 million copies.
The song was also credited as inspiring the next generation of rock musicians including John Lennon and Keith Richards. George Harrison called the song a “rock n’ roll epiphany.”
Elvis performed “Heartbreak Hotel” on The Milton Berle Show on the April 3, 1956 episode which was broadcast from the deck of the aircraft carrier, the USS Hancock, docked in San Diego, California.
Elvis Presley sings “Love Me Tender”
The title track from Elvis Presley’s first film, “Love Me Tender,” was actually an adapted version of the Civil War ballad, “Aura Lee.”
Recorded in August 1956 and released a month later, the “Love Me Tender” single would sell over 3 million copies.
Elvis Presley sings “Don’t Be Cruel”
The biggest hit for Elvis Presley in the 1950s is actually a complicated answer. His top-selling single in the 1950s was the release of “Don’t Be Cruel” with “Hound Dog” on the B-side. However, both songs were so popular that they are both considered hits.
The A-side, “Don’t Be Cruel,” was written by Otis Blackwell while “Hound Dog” was written by rock and roll hitmakers, Lieber and Stoller. Each songwriter contributed other million sellers to Elvis’ catalog as mentioned earlier.
With this winning combination of songwriters, it is not surprising that this particular “double-sided” single would become Elvis Presley’s biggest selling record of the 1950s. Most singles were usually released with a less popular song on the B-side. In the case of this “double-sided” single, Elvis Presley fans were getting two hit songs for the price of one.
“Hound Dog” reaches the top of the pop charts first selling one million copies in the first five weeks. Then “Don’t Be Cruel” takes over becoming the first single to reach number one on Billboard’s pop, country and R&B charts.
Recorded July 2, 1956 and released 11 days later, the “Don’t Be Cruel”/”Hound Dog” single would sell over 4 million copies. Elvis introduces “Don’t Be Cruel” on The Ed Sullivan Show in January 1957 as his “biggest record.”