“You aint never caught a rabbit and you aint no friend of mine." -- "Hound Dog"
by Mike Stoller, Jerry Lieber and Elvis Presley
The popular music charts of 1956 were clearly split between the new sound of “rock and roll” and traditional popular music. Ten of Gilbert & Theroux’s top 40 songs are purely rock and roll, while 18 would be considered typical recordings of the late 1940’s. But, significantly, the two top songs and four of the top ten would be labeled “rock and roll.” Dean Martin’s “Memories are Made of This” coexisted with the rock and roll of the Platters’ “Great Pretender.”

1956 began with “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford as the number one song on the Billboard chart. It was actually a holdover from 1955, having already been number one for five weeks. It would remain in the #1 spot for two weeks into 1956 before being replaced by Dean Martin’s “Memories are Made of This.” It was written by country performer, Merle Travis, in 1947. The song’s success was due, at least in part, to Ford’s regular appearances on NBC’s daytime schedule. The success of the song helped Ford get his own prime time series in October, “The Ford Show,” (named for the automobile sponsor, not Ernie).

Elvis Presley achieved the greatest chart success in 1956. Beginning with “Heartbreak Hotel” in January, he would have eleven songs in the top 40, four of them reaching number one. “Heartbreak Hotel” was Elvis’s first #1 record. Tommy Durden and Mae Borran Axton got the idea for the song from an article in a newspaper about a suicide note which was titled “I Walk a Lonely Street.” At the insistence of Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis would get a third of the song writing credit. “Heartbreak Hotel” was recorded during Elvis’s first session at RCA in Nashville. Accompanying him were holdovers from his performances for Sun records: Scotty Moore on lead guitar, Bill Black on bass, and D.J. Fontana on drums. Joining them were RCA’s standout Nashville musicians, Floyd Cramer on piano and Chet Atkins on guitar. Three members of the Jordanaires (who would soon become Elvis’s regular backing vocalists) would also sing on the recording. The “B” side of the release was “I Was the One.” Elvis would perform the song three times on Steve Allen's television show. Entering the Billboard chart on March 10, “Heartbreak Hotel” became #1 on April 21st and remained #1 for 8 weeks, being replaced on June 16 by Gogi Grant's “The Wayward Wind." It was cited by Billboard as the #1 song of 1956.

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In all, 18 songs would reach #1 on the Billboard Charts (Jockey / Best Seller / Top 100 / Jukebox) in 1956. The longest running was “Don’t Be Cruel” which would stay at #1 for eleven weeks. The song was written by Otis Blackwell, but Elvis would again take part of the writing credit in order to receive the royalties. Cashbox and G & T would both rank “Don’t Be Cruel” as the #1 song of 1956. “Hound Dog” was the “B” side to “Don’t Be Cruel.” While Cashbox lists it separately at #15, G & T make it the co-#1 song. Elvis also claims co-authorship for “Hound Dog” which was originally written by Mike Stoller and Jerry Lieber for R & B singer “Big Mama” Thornton, reaching #1 on the R & B chart in 1953. During his less than successful appearance in Las Vegas in 1956, Elvis heard a group, Freddie and the Bellboys, perform a comic version of the song which included a new lyric: “you aint never caught a rabbit and you aint no friend of mine.” Elvis had begun using the song in his stage act. He performed the song as a comic spot on the Steve Allen show on July 1st, dressed in a tuxedo and singing to a basset hound. Although he didn’t want to, he recorded it for RCA the next day.

Elvis was the only performer to have more than one #1 song in ‘56 -- he had four (five if you count “Hound Dog”). He was also the only performer to ever have a single as the #1 song simultaneously on the pop, country and R & B charts. The Platters were the closest rival to Elvis’s success in 1956 with two songs in Billboard's top 20 for the year, “My Prayer” (#4) and “The Great Pretender” (#12). In all, The Platters had five songs in Billboard's end of year chart. Pat Boone had four songs on Billboard's 1956 list, including a weekly #1, "I Almost Lost My Mind." Gale Storm had four records in Billboard's final 100, paced by "I Hear You Knocking" which peaked at #2 and was #20 for the year.

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Instrumentals had great success in 1956 with two reaching #1, “Lisbon Antigua” by Nelson Riddle on February 25th and “Poor People of Paris” by Les Baxter on March 24th. It was the only time in the rock era that a #1 instrumental would be succeeded by an instrumental. One of the first rock and roll instrumentals, “Honky Tonk” by Bill Doggett rose as high as #2 and was ranked #21 for 1956 by Billboard. “Moonglow / Theme From Picnic” by Moris Stoloff would also reach #2 and was ranked #11 song of the year by Billboard. George Cate’s recording of the same song reached #4 and was Billboard's #31. “Canadian Sunset” by Hugo Winterhalter was a #2 song that was ranked #17 by Billboard.

Rock and Roll had broken the race barrier in the early ‘50’s, in many instances through the “cover” record. In 1956, cover songs continued to often outperform the original versions. Pat Boone’s “I Almost Lost My Mind” (#1 and #13 for '56) was a remake of a recording by Joe Turner in 1949 (length of separation makes its label as a “cover” questionable). Cathy Carr’s cover of “Ivory Tower” reached #2 and #32 for Billboard. Gale Storm's version reached #6 while The “original” by Otis Williams & the Charms only reached as high as #11. Little Richard’s “Tutti Fruiti” reached only as high as #17 while Pat Boone’s cover went to #12. But Little Richard’s version of “Long Tall Sally” did out perform Pat Boone’s, achieving a #6 rank in comparison to Boone’s version at #8. Gale Storm (#9) and The Diamonds (#12) both covered Frankie Lymon's "Why Do Fools Fall in Love."

Popular music in 1956 continued a close relationship to the movies. Doris Day reached # 2 and #7 for '56 on Billboard with “Whatever Will Be, Will Be.” It was featured in the movie, “The Man Who Knew Too Much." It would become Doris Day’s “signature” song, her theme song for a television series from 1968 - 1973 and included in two other movies, “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” and “The Glass Bottom Boat.” It was awarded the Oscar for best song in 1956. “Friendly Persuasion” by Pat Boone from the movie of the same name reached #5. Elvis' first movie yielded a #1 song, “Love Me Tender." The original title for the movie was “The Reno Brothers” but it was changed to “Love Me Tender” to promote the song. Written by Ken Darby, "Love Me Tender" is credited to Verna Watson (Darby’s wife) and Elvis. The tune is based on the 1861 folk ballad, “Aura Lee.”

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While 45 rpm singles were the most popular medium for music in 1956, 33 1/3 rpm albums (“long playing”) were a significant part of the market. Harry Belafonte is credited by G & T for the top LP of 1956, “Calypso.” “Jamaica Farewell” was released as a single in November of 1956 and “Banana Boat” would be a top ten single for Belafonte in 1957. “Lisbon Antigua” was from the Ray Milland movie, “Lisbon,” and, of course, “Moonglow / Theme From Picnic” was from the movie, “Picnic.” Soundtracks from movies (“The Eddie Duchin Story”) and broadway (“My Fair Lady”) were most popular.

1956 had begun with a country song at #1 and it ended the same way as Guy Mitchell’s “Singing the Blues” reached the top spot on Billboard on December 8th. It would remain #1 for 10 weeks. But Billboard only gave it a #40 ranking for the year as its rating didn't include December. receiving a #7 rank in 1957. Guy Mitchell’s real name was Al Cernick. He was a winner on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts and got his big break when Frank Sinatra didn’t show up for a recording session. “Singing the Blues” was also a #17 song on the country chart for Marty Robbins.

Other notable successes in 1956 were:

•Buchanan and Goodman’s “Flying Saucer,” a novelty record which used clips from other recordings to tell a story which reached #3, #30 for '56.
• “Tonight You Belong to Me” by Patience and Prudence (#26 for '56), “Born to Be With You” by the Chordettes (#37 for '56) and “Eddie My Love” by the Teen Queens were forerunners of the Girl Groups of the early 1960’s.
• Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill,” release in October of ‘56 , reached as high as #2 and was on the charts for 21 weeks. It is probably Fats Domino’s “signature” song, but it was not ranked for the year due to its spanning the years 1956 and 1957. Cashbox ranked it #39 song of ‘56.

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"Sixteen Tons" was the first #1 song of The Elvis Era.
"I Hear You Knocking" was typical of many hits of 1956 and 1957 as it was a "cover." The original r & b recording was by Smiley Lewis in 1955.
On February 11th, Elvis Presley was introduced to the nation, singing "Heartbreak Hotel" on the Tommy Dorsey TV Show.
When Elvis appeared on the Steve Allen show, Allen (who disapproved of Elvis, but like the ratings) had him sing "Hound Dog" to a Basset Hound. Elvis later told of how he resented this "mocking" treatment.
With songs like "The Great Pretender," The Platters were the top vocal group of 1956. Their style was a mix of r & b and the pop stylings of groups like The Ink Spots.
While most of the time, the "covers" outsold the original, Little Richard's version of "Long Tall Sally" did chart higher than Pat Boone's version.
Elvis always wanted a movie career -- he was disappointed when he was required to sing in his first movie. But the result was a big hit, "Love Me Tender."
Harry Belafonte started a "calypso" craze in 1956 -- he would parlay that into a top 5 hit in 1957 with "The Banana Boat Song."
1956 ended with "Singing The Blues" at the #1 spot on Billboard.