On March 23, 1956, Elvis Presley’s self-titled first album was officially released by his new record company, RCA. The album featured new songs recorded at RCA studios in January 1956 as well as songs Elvis recorded in 1954 and 1955 for Sun Records. Elvis Presley became the first album in the history of RCA Victor to sell over 300,000 copies, at a time when singles were much more popular than albums.
On the same day of the album release, RCA also released a single EP and a double EP version of the Elvis Presley album – and none of them, including the album, contained Presley’s number one hit, “Heartbreak Hotel.”
“Heartbreak Hotel” was intentionally released by RCA only as a single in January 1956, and then later on the Heartbreak Hotel EP in May 1956. In the 1950s, the artist’s best songs were released as singles since more people bought singles compared to albums then. An LP was considered successful in the 1950s if it sold over 10,000 copies, while singles sold much more.
Watch when Elvis performed “Heartbreak Hotel” on The Milton Berle Show in April 1956:
One song that was featured on all three records was “Blue Suede Shoes” written by Carl Perkins. Elvis was hesitant to record the song by his former Sun Records colleague, fearing it would take away sales from Perkins’ own single. RCA convinced Elvis to record the song for his debut album, promising not to release the song as a single until after Perkins’ version had run its course. RCA eventually released Presley’s version of “Blue Suede Shoes” as a single on September 8.
The cover photograph for the Elvis Presley album was taken on July 31, 1955 at a performance in Tampa, Florida. The picture was taken by William V. “Red” Robertson and was also used for the Elvis Presley single EP and double EP covers. The pink and green-letter overlay design would be mimicked by The Clash on their 1979 album, London Calling.
The album hit number one on May 5, 1956 and spent 10 weeks in the top position. It would become the first million-selling rock and roll album. It was certified platinum in 2011.
Rolling Stone ranked the album number 55 on their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time saying: “On tracks such as ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, that meant revved-up country music with the most irresistibly sexy voice anyone had ever heard.”
The album has been reissued several times over the years with bonus tracks. The latest reissue was released as a Legacy Edition in 2011.