|Elvis Presley 1956|
Artist: Elvis Presley
Writers: Mae Boren Axton, Tommy Durde, Elvis Presley
Producer: Steve Sholes
April 21st, 1956, 3 weeks on top
I would argue that Elvis Presley, not The Beatles, is the center of the 20th century pop music canon. In his 1994 defense of the Western canonical tradition, Allan Bloom identifies several qualities that can place a specific Artist at the center of a canon of like Art. First, enduring popularity; Second, a unique kind of "strangeness" in the Art itself; Third, aesthetic mastery shown over the elements of the particular Art being created by the Artist. For Bloom this means exalting Shakespeare over Dante. For music fans, I think this same logic places Elvis Presley in front of The Beatles.
|Sleeping Elvis Presley 1956|
If you compare the number of #1 hits on the Billboard 100 chart, The Beatles top Elvis Presley, 20-17. BUT- if you look at the total number of weeks AT number one, Elvis Presley crushes The Beatles, 79-59, which would seem to indicate that Elvis Presley's number one hits were a bigger share of the total market for music.
|Elvis Presley 1956|
Thus, in terms of enduring popularity, you can't argue in favor of one or the other. In the second category, that of Artistic "strangeness," Elvis Presley wins hands down. The Beatles were crafted to do what they did- succeed with a Mass Audience- and Audience they already knew to exist, because of Elvis Presley. If you look at the Audience reactions to both Artists, Elvis Presley was much more of a strange experience for new listeners in both a positive and negative way.
Third, aesthetic mastery over the elements of the Art. Elvis Presley's hits speak a strong case on his behalf, starting with his first number one, Heartbreak Hotel.
An important event in Elvis Presley's life was his signing to RCA records on November 22nd, 1955.
Heartbreak Hotel was released on January 27th, 1956. The next day, Elvis made his network television debut on Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey's "stage show" on CBS. Over the next two months, he was a guest on the live show five more times, singing "Heartbreak Hotel" on his third, fifth and sixth appearances. On April 3, Elvis sang Heartbreak Hotel on NBC's "Milton Berle Show" with an audience estimated at one quarter of the population, Eighteen days later, Heartbreak Hotel became the 10th number one single of the rock era. At the end of 1956, Billboard rated it as the year's number one single.(1)
The first LP by Elvis Presley wasn't released until the following year, so Heartbreak Hotel was really his break-out moment, when he moved from being a regional artist to a national artist.
(1) Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, published 1997 by Billboard Books.