Elvis Presley had a lot of hit singles.
A lot. Seriously. A lot.
If you’ve ever visited Graceland, you’ve no doubt been a little blown away by Elvis’ countless Gold, Diamond and Platinum Records. It’s fun to pick out your favorite songs on the walls and even snap a selfie with your favorite Gold Record.
To celebrate Elvis’ iconic and groundbreaking music, we’re going to cover Elvis’ #1 hits here on the Graceland Blog. We’ll share the backstory of each song, who played on it, where it landed on various charts and more. We’ll tackle a few at a time, and every few months or so.
Here are the stories of a few of Elvis’ #1s, picked at random.
“Don’t Be Cruel”
“Don’t be cruel to a heart that’s true
I don’t want no other love, baby, it’s just you I’m thinking of…”
Elvis recorded this song at RCA Studios in New York on July 2, 1956.
The track was written by Otis Blackwell. Elvis’ manager, Col. Tom Parker, struck a deal so that Elvis would receive a cut of the publishing ownership on many songs he recorded, so Elvis’ name appears in the writing credits for “Don’t Be Cruel.” Elvis was not happy with that deal, however, so soon this practice was scrapped.
For “Don’t Be Cruel,” Elvis was backed by his band: Scotty Moore on guitar, Bill Black on bass and D.J. Fontana on drums. Shorty Long played piano, and The Jordanaires performed backing vocal duties. Ernie Ulrich was the engineer.
Elvis asked for personal copies of the acetates from this recording so he could study them. He wanted to make sure his live performances had the same feel as his recordings.
The single “Don’t Be Cruel” shipped on July 13, 1956 (remember – he’d only recorded it 11 days earlier). It sold so quickly that five gold records were given to Elvis on one plaque. “Don’t Be Cruel” hit #1 on all three major U.S. charts, and it was #1 on Billboard’s pop single charts for 11 weeks, staying a total of 27 weeks on the chart. It also landed at #1 on the country singles chart, where it stayed for 10 weeks, with a total of 28 weeks on the chart. It stayed at #1 on the R&B singles chart for a week and spent 17 weeks on the chart.
In 2002, “Don’t Be Cruel” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
“Don’t Be Cruel” has been recorded by many other artists, such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Cheap Trick, Billy Swan, The Judds, Marty Stuart and Neil Diamond.
“One night with you
Is what I’m now praying for
The things that we two could plan
Would make my dreams come true…”
The sexy “One Night” was written by Pearl King and Dave Bartholomew. It was originally “One Night of Sin,” and was pretty risqué for the time. It was “one night of sin” he was now “paying for,” not “one night with you,” which he was now “praying for.”
He recorded the tamer version on February 23, 1957, at Radio Recorders in Hollywood (the more risqué version, recorded the previous month, was not released until 1983). For this session, Elvis was again joined by Scotty, D.J., Bill and The Jordanaires. “I Got Stung” was on the flip side of the single, which was released on October 21, 1958.
The song hit #1 on the British pop singles chart, where it stayed for 12 weeks. It reached #4 on Billboard’s pop singles chart and remained on the charts for 17 weeks. It remained on the country charts for three weeks, peaking at #24, and stayed on the R&B singles chart for 15 weeks, peaking at #10.
Tom Jones has also recorded his own version of “One Night,” and Fats Domino has his own take on “One Night of Sin.”
“(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame”
“Would you believe that yesterday
This girl was in my arms and swore to me
She’d be mine eternally
And Marie’s the name of his latest flame…”
This song was recorded on June 25, 1961, at RCA Studio B in Nashville. The track was written by Mort Shuman and Doc Pumus.
Working this session were Bob Moore on bass, Scotty Moore and Hank Garland on guitar, D.J. Fontana and Buddy Harman on drums, Boots Randolph on the claves and Floyd Cramer on piano and organ. Millie Kirkham and The Jordanaires provided backing vocals.
Elvis cut “Little Sister,” another Pomus/Shuman track, in this same session, so these two tracks were released together on August 8, 1961.
“(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame” peaked at #1 for four weeks in its 13-week run on the British pop singles chart. It hit #4 for 11 weeks on the Billboard pop singles chart.
Other artists who have recorded this song include Del Shannon, The Smiths and the punk band Misfits.
“In the Ghetto”
“As the snow flies
On a cold and gray Chicago mornin’
A poor little baby child is born
In the ghetto
And his mama cries…”
Mac Davis wrote this fan favorite Elvis tune. He recorded it on January 20, 1969, at American Studio in Memphis, with legendary producer Chips Moman at the helm. Chips used four of his eight tracks to record a session, keeping the rest for overdubbing additional vocals, strings and horns later. He wanted the lead artist’s voice on the track alone, and this arrangement gave him creative control to build and mix the song.
Playing on this session was Elvis and Reggie Young on guitar, Mike Leech and Tommy Cogbill on bass, Gene Chrisman on drums, Bobby Emmons on organ, Bobby Wood on piano and John Hugley on steel guitar. The backing vocals, horns and strings were all added later.
“Any Day Now” was chosen as the B-side, and it was released on April 14, 1969. It reached #3 on Billboard’s pop singles chart, where it enjoyed a 13-week run. It was on the country charts for 7 weeks, where it peaked at #60. It reached #1 on the British pop singles chart.
Dolly Parton, Bobbie Gentry and Bobby “Blue” Bland all released versions of the song – and each of them kept in Elvis’ ad-libbed line, “and his mama cries.”
“The Wonder of You”
“Guess I’ll never know the reason why
You love me like you do
That’s the wonder, the wonder of you…”
This beautiful track was recorded live at the International Hotel in Las Vegas on February 18, 1970. Written by Baker Knight, it was paired with “Mama Liked the Roses” for its release on April 20, 1970.
On stage with Elvis that night were James Burton on lead guitar, John Wilkinson on rhythm guitar, Jerry Scheff on bass, drummer Bob Lanning and Glen D. Hardin on piano. Charlie Hodge, The Sweet Inspirations and The Imperials sang back-up, with soprano vocal by Millie Kirkham added later.
It peaked at #9 on its 12-week run on the Billboard pop singles chart, and at #37 on its 10-week run on the country chart. It reached #1 for six weeks in its 20-week run on the British pop singles chart.
“The Wonder of You” was also recorded by The Platters, The Delltones and The Sandpipers.
Which of these tracks is your favorite?
If you want to learn more about Elvis’ music, you can’t miss Graceland. It’s the ultimate pilgrimage for rock ‘n’ roll fans. In March, we’ll open Elvis Presley’s Memphis, a new entertainment complex, and it will feature Elvis: The Entertainer Career Museum. That museum will be the largest and most comprehensive Elvis museum in the world, so you’ll definitely want to explore that and learn even more about Elvis’ hit songs.