Monday, February 07, 2022

Under The Influence • Songs of 1956-1959

Songs of 1949-1951 • 1952-1955 • 1956-1959 • 1960-1962

Elvis Presley's first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (September 9, 1956).
Scottie Moore is on guitar, Bill Black is on bass.
1956 through 1959 is Elvis Presley. As a young good looking white singer from Memphis, Elvis has a ton of charisma and sex appeal with the ability to take other people's songs and make them his own. More than anyone in the 1950's, he makes 'the devil's music' mainstream in the bible belt and the rest of the world. In England, guys like Keith Richard are listening and watching too. Elvis' guitar player Scottie Moore is Keith's blueprint and nine years later will be in the same role opposite Mick Jagger on the Ed Sullivan stage.

Rock 'n' roll is by its various influences a force of integration. The music becomes an instrument of change beginning with radio stations who stray from their local programming format. Black and white artists and groups from Pop, R&B, Country, and Rock 'n' Roll start to appear on a single radio station's rotation. Listeners across America tune in and absorb the impact. In the years ahead, live performance shows and concerts will slowly evolve into integrated audiences all loving the same music. In 1956 I'm literally a baby, as the post World War II generation known as the "boomers" feed off this pioneering group of rock 'n' rollers, including: B.B. King (born in 1925), Chuck Berry (1926), Fats Domino (1928), Bo Diddley (1928), Little Richard (1932), Carl Perkins (1932), Johnny Cash (1932), Elvis Presley (1935), Gene Vincent (1935), Buddy Holly (1936), Eddie Cochran (1938), Duane Eddy (1938), The Everly Brothers, Don (1937) and Phil (1939), Ricky Nelson (1940), and Richie Valens (1941) .

Note- All dates and timeline descriptions below in italic are from Wikipedia (1950's in Music). What I have done in this cut and copy exercise is to only include the interesting and influential stuff (from my perspective) from 1956-1959. I have also interjected some commentary of my own in regular text.

1956 in music

  • January 26
    • Buddy Holly's first recording sessions for Decca Records take place in Nashville, Tennessee.
    • Roy Orbison signs with Sun Records.
  • January 27 – Elvis Presley's single "Heartbreak Hotel" / "I Was the One" is released. It goes on to be Elvis's first #1 hit.
  • March – The Coasters' recording career begins, with "Turtle Dovin'".
  • March 10 – Carl Perkins' single "Blue Suede Shoes" enters the R&B charts, the first time a country music artist has made it on the R&B charts. Carl Perkins would never get his due in my opinion.
  • March 24 – The first regularly scheduled nationally broadcast rock & roll show, Rock 'n Roll Dance Party, with Alan Freed as host, premières on the CBS Radio Network.
  • March 26 – Colonel Tom Parker formally becomes Elvis Presley's manager. This would probably be one of Elvis' biggest mistakes as agents like Parker stole from both white and black artists alike.
  • April 6 – Paramount Pictures signs Elvis Presley to a three-picture deal. Elvis is too young and stupid to see 'the big picture.' Most of all his movie roles will not bode well on his image now and into the 60's. Again, Tom Parker is only there for the quick buck and not helping Elvis for the long run.
  • April 10 – A group of racial segregationists (followers of Asa Earl Carter) rush the stage at a Nat King Cole concert in Birmingham, Alabama, but are quickly captured.
  • May 2 – For the first time in Billboard magazine history, five singles appear in both the pop and R&B Top Ten charts. They are Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" (#1 pop, #6 R&B), Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes" (#4 pop, #3 R&B), Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally" (#9 pop, #1 R&B), the Platters' "(You've Got) The Magic Touch" (#10 pop, #7 R&B) and Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers' "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" (#7 pop, #4 R&B). Presley's and Perkins' singles also appeared on the country and western Top Ten chart at #1 and #2 respectively.
  • June 5 – Elvis Presley introduces his new single, "Hound Dog", on The Milton Berle Show, scandalizing the audience with his suggestive hip movements.
  • July 9 – Dick Clark hosts American Bandstand for the first time. He essentially looks the same for the next 50 years. 
  • July 22 – The first UK Albums Chart is published, in Record Mirror; Frank Sinatra's Songs for Swingin' Lovers! tops it for the first two weeks. Frank had the girls screaming in the 40's, Elvis in the 50's, who would be next?...
  • Summer – John Lennon forms a skiffle group, The Quarrymen, with friends from Quarry Bank High School in Liverpool, England, originally Eric Griffiths and Pete Shotton.
  • November 5 - Nat King Cole becomes the first major black performer to host a variety show on national television, when The Nat King Cole Show is broadcast. Racism is alive and well as Cole gets NO national corporation brand sponsors.
  • November 28 – Yoko Ono, recently divorced from Japanese composer Toshi Ichiyanagi, marries Anthony Cox. How old is Yoko now? 88.
  • December 4 – Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash record together at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. The sessions are later released under the name "the Million Dollar Quartet." I'm sorry folks, I cancelled Jerry Lee way back when I was a teenager in the 70's. I always thought he was an ass, and then you find out the perv married his 13 year old cousin when Lewis was 22 at the time in 1958. 
  • December 19 – Breaking the record for the highest number of concurrent singles by a single artist, Elvis Presley holds 9 positions on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Presley would hold the record until 1964 when the Beatles hold 14 positions on the chart.

1957 in music

  • January 16 – The Cavern Club opens in Liverpool, England, as a jazz club.
  • January 6 – Elvis Presley makes his final appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. I find this shocking. I think Colonel Tom Parker thinks he doesn't need Sullivan's show (the most influential gig in the world) anymore because he's got all the record and movie contracts making himself rich.
  • February 8 – Bo Diddley records his songs "Hey Bo Diddley" and "Mona" (aka "I Need You Baby").
  • March – Chicago's Cardinal Stritch bans all rock and roll and rhythm and blues music from Catholic-run schools, saying that "its rhythms encourage young people to behave in a hedonistic manner." Meanwhile the Catholic priests are...
  • March 1 – The Everly Brothers record in Nashville their first single "Bye Bye Love" for Cadence Records. In an era that is often time-locked, The Everly Brothers are timeless and relevant in any era.
  • March 19 – Elvis Presley purchases a mansion in Memphis, Tennessee, and calls it Graceland. Elvis keeps his bedroom dark and at deep freeze temperature, yeah come on in Priscilla!
  • March 26 – Ricky Nelson records his first three songs. Ricky did have a leg up when he started performing on his parents TV show, but he did have real talent and think he was swept under the 60's rug. A very underrated talent. In fact, how many artists who became stars in the 1950's would be stars in the 1960's? Johnny Cash and Ray Charles. Muddy Waters and B.B. King finally got their due in the 60's when the white kids finally discovered them, but artists like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Rick Nelson would have to wait to the 1970's to be seen and heard again.
  • July 6 – John Lennon and Paul McCartney of The Beatles first meet at a garden fete at St. Peter's Church, Woolton, Liverpool, England, at which Lennon's skiffle group, The Quarrymen, is playing (and in the graveyard of which an Eleanor Rigby is buried).
  • August 5 – American Bandstand begins its 30-year syndicated run on US network television.
  • August 7 – The Quarrymen first play at The Cavern Club in Liverpool in an interlude spot between jazz bands; when John Lennon starts the group playing Elvis Presley's "Don't Be Cruel", the club's owner at this time hands him a note reading "Cut out the bloody rock 'n roll".
  • Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel name themselves Tom and Jerry and begin their recording career. Their first single, "Hey, Schoolgirl", backed with "Dancin' Wild", hits #49 on the Billboard pop charts. Garfunkel is Tom Graph (so called because he likes to write the pop charts out on graph paper) and Simon is Jerry Landis, a pseudonym he used during his early 1960s solo recordings. They tour for eighteen months before retiring to become college students and then reforming in 1963 as Simon & Garfunkel.

1958 in music

  • January 1 — Johnny Cash performs at San Quentin Prison. One of the audience members is Merle Haggard, in the midst of a two-year prison term for burglary.
  • January 24 – Paul McCartney makes his first appearance at The Cavern Club in Liverpool with The Quarrymen.
  • February — Struggling singer-songwriter Don Gibson finally gets a career break when his first major hit, "Oh Lonesome Me" reaches No. 1 on Billboard's "C&W Best Sellers in Stores" and "Most Played C&W by Jockeys" charts. The flip side of the single is "I Can't Stop Loving You," which went on to be recorded more than 700 times. Gibson is considered by many to be one of the originators of the Nashville Sound, a form of country music that uses pop music-styled arrangements (such as orchestrated strings) rather than traditional honky-tonk sounds.
  • February 19 - Motown released its first record Got a Job (Smokey Robinson and The Miracles).
  • March 24 – Elvis Presley enters the U.S. Army.
  • July 12 – The Quarrymen (Paul McCartney, John Lennon (lead vocals), George Harrison, Colin Hanton (drums) and John Lowe (piano)) record a single 78 rpm shellac acetate disc at Phillips' Sound Recording Services in Liverpool: "In Spite of All the Danger" (McCartney–Harrison) and a cover of Buddy Holly's "That'll Be the Day".
  • August 4 – Billboard magazine launches its "Hot 100" singles chart, with Ricky Nelson's "Poor Little Fool" as the #1 record.
  • Marvin Gaye begins recording with his first group.
  • Otis Williams & the Distants begin their musical career. They will later join with The Primes and become The Temptations.
  • Phil Spector begins his recording career. Underneath that hairball is a psychopath.
  • RCA introduces its first stereo LPs.
  • The major record labels begin to cease production of 78 rpm records.
  • Bob Bogle and Don Wilson founds the surf instrumental group The Ventures.
  • The Country Music Association (CMA) is founded as the first trade association dedicated to a single music genre.

1959 in music

  • January 22 – Buddy Holly records some acoustic demos in his New York City apartment, the last songs he will record. Songs included "Peggy Sue Got Married", "Crying, Waiting, Hoping", "Learning the Game", "What to Do", "That's What They Say", and "That Makes It Tough."
  • February 3 – "The Day the Music Died": Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper are killed in a plane crash in Iowa. Future country star Waylon Jennings was scheduled to be on the plane, but instead gave his seat up to The Big Bopper. What was incredible in doing the blog this week is to realize that Buddy Holly was only 22, and Riche Valens was only 17!
  • March 2–April 22 – The recording sessions for the extremely influential Miles Davis jazz album Kind of Blue take place at the CBS 30th Street Studio in New York City. 
  • May 4 – The 1st Annual Grammy Awards are held in Los Angeles. Henry Mancini's The Music from Peter Gunn wins Album of the Year,.
  • November 29 – Though they are held in the same year as the inaugural ceremony, the 2nd Annual Grammy Awards are held in Los Angeles and New York and are notable for being the first televised Grammy Award ceremony. Frank Sinatra's Come Dance with Me! wins Album of the Year, Bobby Darin's version of "Mack the Knife" wins Record of the Year and Jimmy Driftwood's song "The Battle of New Orleans" wins Song of the Year. Darin is also awarded Best New Artist.
  • Joan Baez performs at the first Newport Folk Festival as a surprise guest and becomes an underground favorite.
  • The Supremes are founded as a quartet ("The Primettes").
  • Jimi Hendrix buys his first electric guitar: a White Single pickup Supro Ozark 1560 S. So in 1959 Jimi Hendrix gets his first electric guitar and 8 years later he's the best electric guitar player in the world! 
The trio starting out left to right in 1955,
Scottie Moore, Elvis, and Bill Black
In the early 1960's, I remember as probably a 7-9 year old going over to my friend, Albert Lopez's house. Albert had a much older brother named Frankie. Frankie was way ahead of his time because he had converted a backyard shed into his personal man cave. Frankie had carpet in this room, painted the walls, a record player, and hung every one of his Elvis Presley records on the walls of his pad. Albert and I would sneak in there and play Elvis, Chuck Berry or other records from Frankie's collection when he wasn't home. I remember thinking, why is this Elvis guy Frankie's idol? 

Now from my perspective and from my peer group – the later boomers born in the mid-1950's, Elvis Presley was always an old guy. As a 9 year old, my experience with rock 'n' roll begins in 1964 with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones being on The Ed Sullivan Show. How did Elvis become so irrelevant by 1964? 

A couple years back, I ran across a Bob Dylan song that was first recorded on the New Morning album in 1970, Went To See The Gypsy. This song is a supposed scenario about Dylan meeting 'The King' in a hotel. Now Dylan's far too smart or coy to say, Went To See The King, as songs are written for our own interpretation. Anyway, I like to think it's about Elvis although Dylan actually never met Presley as he says, and we'll take him at his word on that. In 2009, he did give Rolling Stone magazine an interview that does land on the subject. I love this following quote here as I think Dylan captures my and many other's thoughts about Elvis Presley.

“I never met Elvis, because I didn’t want to meet Elvis. Elvis was in his Sixties movie period, and he was just crankin’ ’em out and knockin’ ’em off, one after another. And Elvis had kind of fallen out of favor in the Sixties. He didn’t really come back until, whatever was it, ’68? I know the Beatles went to see him, and he just played with their heads. ‘Cause George [Harrison] told me about the scene. And Derek [Taylor], one of the guys who used to work for him. Elvis was truly some sort of American king. His face is even on the Statue of Liberty. And, well, like I said, I wouldn’t quite say he was ridiculed, but close. You see, the music scene had gone past him, and nobody bought his records. Nobody young wanted to listen to him or be like him. Nobody went to see his movies, as far as I know. He just wasn’t in anybody’s mind. Two or three times we were up in Hollywood, and he had sent some of the Memphis Mafia down to where we were to bring us up to see Elvis. But none of us went. Because it seemed like a sorry thing to do. I don’t know if I would have wanted to see Elvis like that. I wanted to see the powerful, mystical Elvis that had crash-landed from a burning star onto American soil. The Elvis that was bursting with life. That’s the Elvis that inspired us to all the possibilities of life. And that Elvis was gone, had left the building. from Bob Dylan’s Late-Era, Old-Style American Individualism, Rolling Stone, May 14, 2009.

But let's remember here as Bobby says so eloquently, "the powerful, mystical Elvis that had crash-landed from a burning star onto American soil"... and in song, "So I watched that sun come rising from that little Minnesota town."

In putting together the playlist this week, I hear and see the brilliance of all these burning stars and their impact on Frankie Lopez and the youth of the world in the 1950's. Long live the king.

Update - 2/26/22
On a run the other day, a song came up on my phone from Bruce Springsteen's Broadway show, Growin' Up that just completes this whole blog post and playlist. It's a 12 minute song/dialogue that I've now included as the last song on the playlist. Bruce tells a wonderful story about the 7 year-old Bruce Springsteen watching Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan ShowSeptember 9, 1956 and the impact it had in that moment and time.


  1. A really fascinating blog today, Doug. Thanks so much. I was into Elvis for a couple years thanks to Mike Nelson (remember him? we were in cub scouts together in the early 60s)....but as soon as the Bee-at-ils came along...bye bye Elvis.

  2. Enjoying these songs. Between my dad buying Johnny Cash and Fats Domino and my brother buying Elvis and Little Richard we had four of the first ten on the playlist this week. When we were visiting relatives in Boulder City, Nevada when Elvis came to the Las Vegas premiere of Love Me Tender and my dad took David and Cassie and my cousins to see him stand on a car and wave to the crowd. Sally and I were too young and didn’t get to go. Great history lesson in this blog. Really well done Doug!

  3. Music brings joy to life. As a musician, creating physical formats adds a tangible touch to the passion, connecting deeply with fans and making memories last beyond the melody.


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