|THE KINGS FORGOTTEN FIRST U.S. NUMBER ONE
September 09, 2015 - The Examiner / Elvis Express Radio
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Elvis Presley’s first No. 1 song is barely recognized today. Yet, without it, the world may have been much different.
As of September 8, 2015, Presley continues to set records with a count of 130 albums on the Billboard 200. This is the highest total in the chart's 58-year history. Frank Sinatra is in
second place with 82 albums. Even before his first released record, “That’s All Right Mama” was released by Sam Phillips on Sun Records, Presley actually recorded his first
country song “It Wouldn’t Be the Same Without You.”
Phillips, a high school dropout, opened the Memphis Recording Service at 706 Union Avenue in 1950. It didn’t take long before he was producing records for B.B. King, Bobby
“Blue” Bland, and Ike Turner. Although he began by producing Rhythm and Blues, Phillips found it more profitable to include country, gospel and other artists. As he became more
successful regionally, Phillips created Sun Records which emerged as a powerful and influential recording label.
The go-getting Phillips recognized that racial segregation would restrict his determinations to expand into larger markets because there were only a few stations and record stores
that pottered in black music. He told Sun studio manager Marion Keisker they needed to find a “white man who sounded black.” Phillips was committed to discover that someone with
the ability to bridge the gap of racial gap.
In walked Elvis Presley. The 19-year-old simply wanted to make a record as a gift to his mother, Gladys Presley. Keisker welcomed the determined Presley and arranged for the
recording with Phillips. During their conversation prior to Presley entering the actual studio room for the first time in 1954, Keisker sensed a respectable impression of him. Presley
recorded “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartache Begins.”
The legendary tale of how Phillips, Keisker, Scott Moore, Bill Black, and Elvis Presley produced and recorded six more singles has been told hundreds of times in music history
accounts. What most people don’t realize is that the song that put Sun Records and the future King of Rock and Roll on the national map to the top of the music charts was a
country music song. It’s somewhat challenging to realize now that the song was actually the only major Elvis Presley hit produced by Sam Phillips.
In 1954, Phillips favored Stanley Kesler as his country music steel guitarist so much, that the picker was hanging around enough to receive some of his mail at Sun Studios.
Because Phillips began expanding more into R&B, Kesler developed also by including stand-up bass into his repertoire.
“Besides switching to bass,” Kesler explained years later. “I started writing songs. I thought that if I could write the kind of things Sam was looking for, I could really cash in on this
new music Sam was recording.”
During this time period, the music industry had not developed enough to sell many blues records. But Phillips continued forward by producing songs he knew teenagers enjoyed.
The only way he could get Sun Records songs out there was to include Blues on one side and country on the flipside. This would insure more of his recordings were played on the
Phillips strategy and formula for Presley’s records was to feature a rockabilly upbeat song on the A side, complemented with a country music song on Side B. The few radio stations
that played “race” music could spin the R&B-Rock n’ Roll song, leaving something to broadcast for the country broadcasters.
Phillips and Presley were trying to find the right country song to back with “Mystery Train,” which would be destined to be the last record for Sun Records. Phillips was about to
reach an agreement with RCA for Presley for a monumental amount of cash at the time, $35,000. Kesler came to Phillips with a popping country-blues style song he co-wrote with
another local musician, Charlie Feathers. Phillips liked it and passed it on to Presley. This song would put Elvis Presley on the national Billboard charts for the very first time. Up until
then, it was just regional hits, like Kesler’s “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone.”
Phillips was again determined. He knew that if any of his singers at Sun could break into the national charts, it had to be Presley. But he need just the right songs. “Mystery Train”
might be good enough, but a country song was required for the flipside. Kesler tried, but just couldn’t satisfy Phillips until one day he walked out of Sun Studios and on to Union
Street. He heard two men talking and this conversation would change the music world forever.
“One man was complaining to the other about the other man failing g to make an appointment,” Kesler recalled. “The second man apologized by saying, ‘I just forgot to remember.’”
“At the time I was on the kick of catchy titles,” added Kesler. “When I began to think about that phrase, it just expanded into ‘I forgot to remember to forget her.’ From there I just
started working on it, and it all fell together.”
Kesler’s song was recorded by Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore, Bill Black and Johnny Bernero in July 1955. At first Presley didn't want to record it because he thought it was just too
country. Phillips brought in Memphis drummer Bernero from Memphis to give it a more upbeat feel. Presley liked it, with the small studio and these four men performing a unique
sound and style that no one had ever heard before. They invented it.
“I Forgot to Remember to Forget” is rarely mentioned with the likes of “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Hound Dog,” “It’s Now or Never,” “Blue Suede Shoes” “In the Ghetto,” or
“Burning Love.” But this song hold the distinction that no other Elvis Presley recording could be bragged about.
“I Forgot to Remember to Forget” was:
Elvis Presley’s first and only No. 1 record for Sun Studios.
A Country music song, not Rock and Roll.
On the Billboard charts for 39 weeks. The other songs to come even near that was Presley’s “Hound Dog” at 28 weeks, followed by “Don’t Be Cruel” at 27.
“I think the thing that surprises me most,” Kesler said. “Of all the hit songs he had and of all the records he cut, ‘I Forgot to Remember to Forget’ stayed on the charts longer than
Over the course of his career, Presley recorded more Kesler penned songs, including “Playing For Keeps,” “Thrill of Your Love,” and “If I’m a Fool (for Loving You).