Name a favorite Elvis Presley song.
Now find a dozen friends and ask them to name a favorite Elvis Presley song.
Chances are, you’re going to come back with a lot of answers.
That’s because “The King of Rock and Roll” remains an icon, a legend, and, 61 years after his first professional recording session in Memphis’ Sun Studios – a record holder for the most No. 1 hit singles by a solo artist.
In the U.S., Presley notched 18 career No. 1s; in the UK, he hit 20. Talk about living up to a nickname.
In this first installment of our 60 at 60 series, we start at the very beginning: 1955. On Aug. 27 that summer, the first copy of the 198-page The Guinness Book of Records was bound by printers, ready to soon be released for the first time en route to becoming a UK bestseller by Christmas.
Exactly one week earlier, Sun 223 records released “I Forgot to Remember to Forget.” It would go on to be Presley’s first No. 1 hit single on any chart, as it hit the top of the Billboard country charts for two weeks the following February.
The single took the 20-year-old boy from Tupelo and placed him squarely in the national consciousness. But “The King” was just getting started.
By May 5, 1956, “Heartbreak Hotel” had climbed to the summit of Billboard’s Top 100 chart and stayed there for seven weeks. It marked Presley’s first outright No. 1 hit single and sparked arguably the most successful calendar year of his career.
The rest of Presley’s 1956 discography reads like a full career for most musicians: “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” arrived as his second No. 1, topping the Billboard chart for top store sellers.* “Don’t Be Cruel” was recorded next, followed by “Hound Dog” and “Love Me Tender.” All hit No. 1 and at least one of them is probably being hummed in your head as you read this.
*Before the formation of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1958, there were a number of chart varieties gauging No. 1 songs, including sales in stores, plays on the radio, and even plays on jukeboxes, the YouTube of the 1950s.
How could anyone follow up such a year? With another just like it.
“Too Much” kicked off the No. 1 singles parade of 1957, followed by “All Shook Up,” “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear,” and “Jailhouse Rock.”
Presley followed that up with “only” two No. 1 American singles in 1958, before accumulating six more over the next four years. He would return to the top of the Billboard charts for the last time with “Suspicious Minds” in 1969.
Presley, of course, met a tragic end with his diminishing health and eventual death in 1977 at age 42. But his legacy endures like few in pop culture’s ever have.
To wit, he’s had his No. 1 singles record in the U.S. since matched by Mariah Carey. But Mariah doesn’t have an entire week devoted to her, like Presley does at Graceland in Memphis each year, attracting tens of thousands of fans.
Elvis also got to meet Forrest Gump.
And, of course, very few artists – or celebrities of any kind – can say they have world records fashioned strictly after them, as Presley does.
Records honoring The King range across everything from the longest marathon singing Elvis Presley songs to the longest career as an Elvis impersonator to the largest gathering of people dressed as Elvis.
Just like with the first The Guinness Book of Records, the arrival of Presley marked a cultural turning point, providing every generation thereafter a touchstone to mark an institutional legacy that continues to this day.
As we celebrate 60 years, we salute the icon who first hit the scene the very same year, and has continued influencing the world decades after death.
Long live The King.