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The Day Elvis Flopped In Britain!

19 Mar 2011

THE DAY ELVIS FLOPPED IN BRITAIN!

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“A shouting, screaming dervish!” One critic’s comment – and nobody bought his discs ...

ELVIS a flop in Britain ... it seems hard to believe – but it happened!

When did it happen? Just about six years ago. How did it happen? Let me give you the inside story ...

I remember going along London’s Tin Pan Alley – armed with all the facts about Elvis and carrying the first picture of him ever to be seen in this country. That was early in January 1956. Then, even to the music folk in the Alley, the name “Presley” meant nothing at all!

Soon after, I heard the first Presley disc to reach Britain – an advance copy of “Heartbreak Hotel.” I wrote at the time: “It has a savage rhythm which should shake the juke boxes of Britain till they come apart at the chrome.

“HEARTBREAK HOTEL” was released here on March 1 1956. I expected it to be a sure-fire sensation. But it was far from that.

Week after week then went by with no sign of “Heartbreak Hotel” in the top Twenty.

In those days El’s discs in Britain were issued by HMV – and those behind that label couldn’t understand the flop. In America, “Heartbreak Hotel” had sold 100,000 copies in its first week – and had never looked back. The name “Presley” was sweeping across the States like a prairie fire. But May arrived, and Elvis’s first disc still showed no signs of going places in Britain.

Now in the disc biz, when a new singer’s first release doesn’t “take off,” if you then issue a second record it usually means you’ve given up hope for the first . That is just what happened in Elvis’s case. In mid-May, El’s “Blue Suede Shoes” was announced.

THEN – whoosh! – Elvis happened! In the third week of May he suddenly came crashing into the picture. As if by magic, the fans began crowding the disc counters – demanding “Heartbreak Hotel.”

How come? There was no mystery about it. The reason was the reports about Presley which started appearing in the daily papers – reports of the fantastic, riotous scenes triggered by his personal appearances in America.

The most dramatic account said: “Above the howls of the fans, Presley works himself into a fever until – hair hanging over his eyes – he resembles a shouting, screaming dervish with St. Vitus’s Dance.”

That did it! Record fans just couldn’t wait to find out how this new sensation sounded! On May 19, “Heartbreak Hotel” was in the Top Twenty. A week later, it had climbed to the Top Ten. A week after that, it was joined in the charts by “Blue Suede Shoes.” And it was all over: Elvis’s first flop in Britain – and probably the last flop he’ll ever have.

Dick Tatham, 1962


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