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The Top 10 Elvis Hits of All Time

How the King got his biggest hits, ever

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It's no secret that Elvis made a phenomenal amount of chart noise during his time at the very top, especially from 1956-1962. But the numbers are still staggering. Of his 108 Top 40 hits, for example -- itself a record for a single performer -- only four didn't make the Top 40. A third of those made the Top Ten. And half of the top ten hits went to Number 1. Even more amazing, every one of the ten hits we're about to delve into were the most popular songs in the country for at least a solid month.

1. "Hound Dog / Don't Be Cruel"

July 13, 1956, RCA Victor 47-6604
The a-side was a groovy little number, boppish yet pop, written by R&B performer Otis Blackwell (who Elvis was familiar with due to his 1953-1955 sides on the RCA and Jay-Dee labels). Elvis loved this one upon hearing the acetate and agreed to cut it immediately, but it was the flipside that arguably rocketed this double-sided hit to the top. A version of a Lieber-Stoller blues that was originally a hit for Big Mama Thornton, Elvis took his cue from a Vegas show band called Freddie Bell and the Bellboys; once he heard their wonderfully showy, gimmicky version at the Sands, he knew he wanted to cut their arrangement. By the time the release date had rolled around, however, Elvis had done a raunchy promo version on The Milton Berle Show, horrifying America and guaranteeing a smash. Both sides of this 45 went to #1 on pop, country, and R&B, and stayed there for three solid months, and before Billboard changed the way they charted hits, no artist had come close to matching that feat for 35 years.

2. "All Shook Up"

March 22, 1957, RCA Victor 47-6870
The success of "Don't Be Cruel" would be a hard one to duplicate for any songwriter, and Otis Blackwell had quite a time of it, too, until one of the owners of his publishing company approached him, shaking a bottle of Pepsi, and asked him to write a song called "All Shook Up." Get it? Elvis did, and he rushed into the studio to record it. This one "only" stayed at the top for two months, which disappointed no one, especially since it also had an equally lengthy stay at the top in the UK, breaking Presley for good in that country. Unfortunately, Otis had to give Elvis partial songwriting credit, even though he didn't write the song: this was standard practice for superstar names of the day, who figured half of a monster was better than all of nothing. Folks usually agreed.

3. "Heartbreak Hotel"

January 27, 1956, RCA Victor 47-6420
Mae Axton, high school teacher and mother of country singer/songwriter Hoyt, hand-delivered this one to Elvis in his dressing room while on tour in Jacksonville, FL, certain it was the single destined to break him nationally. While critics found fault with its overblown attempts to sound like a real blues (too much echo) and real jazz (that piano solo), the fans didn't care: it was the perfect sultry, weepy song -- based on the tragic story of a real hotel jumper! -- to simultaneously entice America's teenage girls to a) lust after and b) protect the King. Suddenly, the people who considered Sam Phillips a genius for getting $35,000 for Elvis began to consider him a fool for letting him go.

4. "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear"

June 11, 1957, RCA Victor 47-7000
The fourth song on this list to top the pop, country, and R&B charts, "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear" was originally planned to be the b-side of the song "Loving You," which was thought to do for Elvis' second film (and first as a headliner) what the ballad "Love Me Tender" did for his first. Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed. Even though it was a movie track, and written by the Kal Mann and Bernie Lowe team (best known for writing Chubby Checker novelty dance songs), the snap of the production, Elvis' sheer force of personality, and the always-welcome sound of the Jordanaires pulled it off. It also set off a wave of teddy bear Elvis merch that has not abated since.

5. "Jailhouse Rock"

September 24, 1957, RCA Victor 47-7035
The jewel in the crown of the Lieber-Stoller songwriting team, certainly from a sales standpoint, this one came hot on the heels of "Teddy Bear" and served as the centerpiece song for yet another Elvis movie -- and an iconic prison-themed dance number that still gets referenced in popular culture today. The duo produced this one themselves, with Mike Stoller playing piano, on the same day they met the King for the first time; "Jailhouse Rock" was actually created without his input, when the head of Elvis' publishing company gave them a copy of the movie script and locked them in a hotel room. Even crazier, they knocked out three more new Elvis songs before they were let out.

6. "Are You Lonesome To-Night?"

November 1, 1960, RCA Victor 47-7810
Elvis' infamous manager, "Colonel" Tom Parker, was notorious for not taking any interest at all in what his meal ticket was given to sing; as long as the money kept rolling in and he stayed in control, he was happy. However, this song, originally cut way back in 1927 and revisited a number of times since, was a favorite of Marie, the Colonel's wife, and so he asked the King to cut it as a personal favor. Presley loved romantic pop ballads and was happy to oblige, having every light in the studio turned off to create the proper mood and modeling his theatrical reading after the 1950 hit arrangement of bandleader Blue Barron. A notorious perfectionist, Elvis was unsatisfied with the results -- RCA A&R man Steve Sholes, however, knew better and had it released anyway.

7. "It's Now or Never"

July 5, 1960, RCA Victor 47-7777
Just because Elvis was stationed in the Army in 1959 was no reason for him to stop thinking like a professional musician. While on leave in Germany, the King heard singer Tony Martin's 1949 hit "There's No Tomorrow," which utilized the melody of the classic Italian aria "O Sole Mio"; he even recorded a private demo version. When his stint was up, Presley asked music publisher Freddy Bienstock about cutting a remake, but Freddy thought the English-language lyrics a little too downbeat for the singer's fanbase. So he marched into the offices of the publishing company, found the only two songwriters there, and asked them to come up with new lyrics. In 20 minutes, Elvis had the framework for his biggest-ever worldwide hit. (Although he had to work on the recording itself for some time before he was satisfied with the way he hit that high G note at the end!)

8. "Love Me Tender"

September 28, 1956, RCA Victor 47-6643
Elvis' first movie, a Civil War drama called The Reno Brothers, featured Presley in a minor role. At least, that's what was supposed to happen until the singer's popularity suddenly exploded into the stratosphere. The movie was then rewritten to give the King a bigger part, renamed after the ballad he performs in it, and then had its ending reshot when his character's death traumatized legions of young girls. That ballad, "Love Me Tender," was period-perfect in that it was also a rewrite, this time of the 1861 tune "Aura Lee." Once again the lyrics -- this time about the Girl He Left Behind -- were rewritten to reflect a simpler yet more modern time; the job went to Hollywood arranger and vocal coach Ken Darby. An odd choice for a single, yet Presley was so hot that this was the only song that could replace "Don't Be Cruel/Hound Dog" at #1!

9. "Don't"

January 7, 1958, RCA Victor 47-7150
The only song Elvis ever specifically requested to be written for him, "Don't" had its genesis on August 30, 1957, when the singer approached the Lieber-Stoller team on the set of Jailhouse Rock and asked them to compose "a real pretty song." That they did, finishing the song over the weekend, though it took a week of wrangling with Hill and Range, the King's music publishers, to convince them it was okay to submit a ballad to Presley without going through the Colonel. The result was a textbook example of how to hold an audience with silence, but "Don't" was probably a little too pretty for the country and R&B charts, neither of which allowed it to reach the top.

10. "Stuck On You"

March 23, 1960, RCA Victor 47-7740
One of the guys in the publishing office the day Elvis decided to rewrite "O Sole Mio," Aaron Schroder wrote or co-wrote a number of hits for the singer -- "It's Now Or Never," "A Big Hunk O'Love," "Good Luck Charm," and this midtempo track. All reached number one, but the last three aren't generally considered among the King's greatest numbers. "Stuck On You" had a giant ace in the hole, however: it was the first single issued upon Presley's release from the Army, this after a year and a half of tons of hype but no new music. Even more hype preceded his return, which is why this baby went straight to the top. And let's face it, rock fans were desperate: the song that "Stuck On You" knocked out of the top spot was "Theme From a Summer Place." The King would rule the charts for 17 weeks that year -- but only three weeks, total, for the rest of his life.
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