The transition in the music from Elvis's success at Sun records to the national exposure at RCA was a subtle one. But you can clearly hear the difference in the "rockabilly" Sun recording of "Good Rockin' Tonight" and the more polished "Don't Be Cruel" from RCA. "The Sun Sessions CD" is a great sampling of early Elvis that clearly shows the influence of country swing and rhythm and blues.
FROM "POP MUSIC 1956-1963: 1956 -- Introduction"
On January 10th, 1956, Elvis Presley entered the RCA studio in Nashville, Tennessee for his first recording session with his new label. Some would consider this the inaugural event of the rock and roll era in popular music, a bursting onto the music scene of the Hillbilly Cat with a new sound that would begin to dominate the popular music charts. Although it was , indeed a seminal point in the history of rock and roll, it was more of an evolution than a revolution. (see Prologue) Elvis Presley had been recording this new music at Sun Records in Memphis since 1953. By the time Elviss contract was sold to RCA for $35,000 in 1956, rock and roll was already a significant presence in popular music, even though it was largely ignored by the major labels and seen by many as merely a teenage fad. Rock Around the Clock had become the first rock and roll record to reach number one on the Billboard charts in 1955. R & B records such as the Penguins Earth Angel and the Platters Only You had crossed over to the pop charts. Fats Domino (Aint That a Shame) and Little Richard (Tutti Fruiti) had preceded Elvis onto the pop charts in 1955. The classic rock and roll guitar sound of Chuck Berrys Maybelline reached #5 on the pop chart in 1955. So, in a sense, Elvis was nothing new.
But Elvis was the catalyst through which rock and roll would become the dominant music of our culture. Sam Phillips plea of wanting to find a white boy who sounded black has become a cliché because from our perspective it seems so obvious. The race music of the early 50s was reaching an increasingly larger audience, but it was sometimes difficult to get airplay of stations listened to by a majority of the white audience. Sometimes, as was the case with the Platters recording of Only You (the second time), the record label wanted the music released as an R & B song, creating a barrier to its pop success. Elvis had already caused a media splash, with some success on the Country charts and great excitement at regional performances in the South. The rest of America got their first Elvis experience on January 28th when he performed on the Tommy and Jimmy Dorseys Stage Show for CBS. Dorothy Kilgallen would write in her column, the kid had no right behaving like a sex maniac on a national show. For it wasnt just the music, it was the performance that generated the excitement. And the energy of the performance could be experienced again and again through the recording. Teenagers who had not been on the cutting edge of the music, seeking out the race records, or demanding the real sound behind the Pat Boone cover of Aint That a Shame were enthralled. Many parents shared Ms. Kilgallens sentiments. The media (television and movies) saw dollar signs. In July, Elvis sang on the Steve Allen Show. And although Ed Sullivan had earlier declared that Elvis would never appear on his show, he eventually paid $50,000 for three Elvis appearances. By the end of 1956, Elvis had charted 17 songs and appeared in two movies. And what had been a trickle of rock and roll music onto the pop charts became a deluge. As Chuck Berry proclaimed, "Roll over Beethoven, tell Tchaikovsky the news."
2006 marks what I consider to be the 50th anniversary of Rock and Roll. Although there were certainly earlier recordings of songs that would be considered "rock and roll" ("Earth Angel" by The Penguins in 1954 and "Rock Around the Clock" in 1955 among many others) it was Elvis Presley's move in 1956 from Sun records to RCA and his appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" that vaulted rock and roll into the mainstream.
I never owned an Elvis Presley LP (see below). All of my Elvis records were 45's. I remember having "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You," "Return to Sender," and "Good Luck Charm." I didn't buy an Elvis LP until Elvis died in 1976. Most of his LP's were movie soundtracks -- most of those I consider to be poor music at best (and even worse movies). Immediately following Elvis' death, RCA advertized on television a "boxed set" of his recordings. I ordered the set and it contained many of his hit recordings along with several "country" cuts. There were five records in the box, with six songs on each side (total of 60 recordings). But I was disappointed when some of my favorite Elvis songs were not included, notably "King Creole" (which was never released as a single) and "One Broken Heart For Sale." As music entered the era of the tape cassette I was always disappointed that oldies collections rarely included any Elvis songs. When I bought my first stereo cassette recorder (I think around 1983) one of the first things I did was record selections from this set to an "Elvis" tape. Now my cd collection includes the two disk, "Top 10 Hits," and the two-disk, "The Elvis Presley Collection." A couple of my favorite "later" Elvis songs is on "The Elvis Presley Collection" -- his cover of the B.J. Thomas song, "I Just Can't Help Believin'" ("sing the song baby .... one more time .... one more") and the Willie Nelson Song "Always on My Mind." My favorite Elvis song? No contest -- "Don't Be Cruel" with second place going to "King Creole."