In 1954,an electric company employeedropped into a Memphis-based recording studio to record a song he had written. Watching him work in the studio was the owner, Sam Phillips, who was curious about the would-be performer. Seeing some potential, he persuaded the young man to lay down vocal tracks to songs others had written. One of them, That's Alright,received radio attention and the rest is history.
And so began the legacy of Elvis Presley, who eventually became the undisputed King of Rock 'n' Roll with chart-topping hits like Heartbreak Hotel, Hound Dog, Suspicious Minds and dozens of others. Before his death in 1977 at the age of 42, Presley's name was on roughly 100 albums (most of them compilations) which sold an unprecedented 139 million copies.
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Distorting that tallyis a plethora of greatest hits packages (including several released posthumously) which easily make up more than a third of his discography. In this roundup of 10 highest-grossing releases, every effort was made to stick to figures associated with original issues. Butif you're curious, his best-selling compilation was the 1958 release of Elvis' Golden Records, which moved six million units.
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10 Elvis Presley (1956) ~ 1.3 Million
To really get a feel for how Elvis Presley changed the music landscape forever, consider the bulk of singers dominating the scene at the time. It was a world of safe and sedate warblers like Doris Day, Pat Boone and Perry Como who anesthetized listeners until Elvis shook the foundations with his very first release that containedupbeat rockers like Heartbreak Hotel and Don't Be Cruel.
So iconic was the album design, it was later adopted by punk rockers The Clash for its London Calling breakthrough in 1979. But in listening to the Elvis Presley opener Blue Suede Shoes, you could tell he wasready to rip with the telltale line, "Now, go cat, go!" Boy, did he ever.
9 Elvis (1956) ~ 1.3 Million
Quick to cash in on the frenzy of the debut, RCA rushed out this second offering that same year.Every bit as energetic as the first album, this one containedthree Little Richard covers(Long Tall Sally, Ready Teddy and Rip It Up) as well as the onlysongwriting credit he contributed tothe outing,a reworking of the Otis Blackwell hitParalyzed.
Remarkably, this collection was recorded in only three days, to avoid scheduling conflicts with his first movie venture, Love Me Tender.
8 G.I. Blues (1960)~ 1.3 Million
One of Presley's more successful movie soundtracks, G.I. Blues was instrumental in killing his badass, pelvis-swinging reputation that had hardcore fans rocking back in the '50s. Released after the singer completed a two-year stint in the army, fans had hoped he'd get back to his old rebellious form, but it was not to be.
Gone were the sideburns and his swivel dance moves, and the soundtrack didn't exactly have the same impact as those other hits only a few years earlier. Despite the album and film doing relatively well, it was clear that the honeymoon with some of his devout fans was over.
7 Moody Blue(1977) ~2.3 Million
An uneven mishmash of studio material Presley recorded late in 1976 at his Graceland mansion and live tracks from one of his last tours, Moody Blue was a tepidly-received outing when issued during the summer of 1977.
Sadly, the release, his 24th studio outing overall, would become monumental a month after it dropped when news broke that Presley died Aug. 16 of a heart attack. Almost overnight, Moody Blue shot to third place in the album charts, capping his career withit becoming hisbest-selling studio release.
6 Blue Hawaii(1961) ~ 3 Million
During his lifetime, Presley starred in 31 movies and while every soundtrack issued from each film managed to sell a million copies, this one stood out the most.
Most fanswouldcall Blue Hawaii the definitive Elvis movie and with the soundtrack occupying the top spot in the charts for a staggering 20 weeks, it's a tough declaration to dispute. While kitschy, it does have one moving track, the top-selling single Can't Help Falling In Love.
5 How Great Thou Art(1967) ~ 3.3 Million
According to USA Today, Elvis never made it a secret about his religious ties, having been baptized twice as a Pentecostal, with devout Mormons baptizing him in their faith posthumously. It also explains the passion he put into this offering, one of his best-selling gospel albums, whichincludeshis favorite faith-based ode, Cryin' in the Chapel.
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The album would even influence fellow rockers like Paul McCartneywho was reportedly so inspired bythe title track, he used it as atemplateto arrange The Beatles classic Let It Be.
4 As Recorded At Madison Square Garden(1972) ~ 3 Million
Launching his set with That's Alright and finishing it off with Can't Help Falling In Love, thislive outing was a total rush job with RCA recording the concert, mixing the tracks, pressing the viny and delivering the finished product less than a week after the final curtain fell June 9, 1972.
The event itself was monumental for the Big Apple audience in that it was the first time Elvis played New York in more than 20 years.
3 ElvisOn Tour (1977) ~ 3 Million
Because touring was, and still is, an expensive proposition, "rockumentaries" were created to treat remote audiencesto a live concert vibe via motion pictures in the early '70s.
Taking a hint from rock movies like Woodstock and the Rolling Stones' Gather Moss, Elvis On Tour captured moments from a 15-night junket from 1972. Those who preferred the top-selling soundtrack instead of themovie were spared footage of excesses affecting Presley's obese body. It would alsomark that last time he'd ever appear on film.
2 Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite(1973) ~5 Million
Back in the '70s, live broadcasting viaouter space was a tricky endeavor with technicians having to bounce signals off orbiting satellites and relay stations.
Fortunately, the transmission, which showcased Presley's Honolulu show on Jan. 14, 1973, was successful as it reached an estimated 1.5 billion people worldwide. It was also fortunate that the label didn't use the TV feed for the soundtrack, which was also taped on location at the Honolulu International Center Arena.
1 Elvis' Christmas Album ~13 Million
For some reason, the holiday season wouldn't be complete without Elvis crooning Blue Christmas, and it's easy to see why. The singer was big on all things Yuletide having attached his name to a dozen Christmas outings, the most popular beingElvis' Christmas Album.
It sold three million in its initial pressing,then hit a staggering 10 million in sales when reissued in 1970. Reasons are unclear but considering that year also signaled the end of the Beatles and rock pioneers Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, it seemed that we really needed a bit of Christmas cheer to make it through to 1971.
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Gene Kosowan (210 Articles Published)
Gene Kosowan has been a writer and editor for more years than he cares to admit, having contributed to Music Express, Avenue Edmonton, Alberta Venture, YP.ca, gigcity.ca, Edmonton Journal and several satellite television publications across the continent. He’s also been managing editor at alternative newsweeklies SEE Magazine and Vue Weekly as well as a stay-at-home copy editor for Avenue. That was until he stumbled upon Valnet Inc, to which he contributes to several of its sites regularly. During downtime, Gene likes to experiment with guitars and synths, his way of deflecting the fact that he has no talent whatsoever on those instruments.
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