1-CD-Album deluxe album with 72-page booklet, 30 tracks. Playing time: 78:14 minutes.
It was the year that the floodgates opened. Inside and outside the music business, rock 'n' roll was on everyone's mind. The trade papers didn't know what to make of this "mongrel music," as they called it. The industry liked pigeonholes, and rock 'n' roll wasn't easily pigeonholed until it became its own pigeonhole. But sales were booming. Really, really booming. There were more million-sellers than ever before. In late 1955 and the early months of 1956 Capitol Records alone sold 5.75 million copies combined of Tennessee Ernie's Sixteen Tons, Dean Martin's countryish Memories Are Made Of This, and Les Baxter's Lisbon, Antigua. The labels decided that if everyone wanted their product, they should charge more for it. Singles went up from 89 cents to 98 cents, and 78s went up even more in an attempt to persuade consumers to buy 45s.
Rock 'n' roll had almost been invented on independent labels, and by early 1956, indies accounted for twenty-five percent of all pop singles sold. That never was (and never would be) the case in country music, although the pendulum swung slightly in 1956 when Sun, Starday, and a few other independents came to the fore.
Underscoring Nashville's position as the hub of the country music business, Charlie Lamb launched the first country music trade journal, 'Country Music Reporter,' from Nashville in September 1956. ABC-Paramount had only been in business a few months when it set up a country division in Nashville headed by Dub Albritten, who later managed Brenda Lee and Red Foley. In 1955, Chet Atkins became RCA's local representative, and began overseeing RCA's plans to become the first major label with its own custom built Nashville studio. Even so, the labels' country music divisions were still headquartered in New York and Los Angeles. Atkins' boss, Steve Sholes, operated out of New York. Columbia's Don Law and Decca's Paul Cohen still commuted between Nashville, New York, and regional centers. Capitol's Ken Nelson was HQ'd in Los Angeles. Sholes, as noted, had Atkins in Nashville, while Cohen had Owen Bradley as his local eyes and ears. Don Law had Troy Martin looking out for him in Nashville. As a matter of preference, Law would have recorded in Dallas at Jim Beck's studio, but Nashville's position was further enhanced when Beck died in 1956. So there was no question that country music and Nashville were becoming synonymous, but the industry was on the verge of profound change.
Because Elvis Presley had been signed by RCA's country division, the head offices of the other major labels (Decca, Columbia, and Capitol), brought pressure upon their country A&R men to find the 'next Elvis.' Hundreds of young hopefuls were sucked in and spat out of Nashville. A few, such as Buddy Holly, Johnny Burnette, and Conway Twitty, would resurface another place another time, but they... along with most of the others... were cut loose after one or two sessions in 1956. There's a cult for the rockabilly records made in Nashville circa 1956, but at the time they sold no better than attempts by older artists to cut rockabillly. The generational divide that saw the musical tastes of adults and teenagers diverge was felt as keenly in country music as in pop. RCA's Steve Sholes wrote, "Your older listeners who want old country music sounds are wonderful people. They're the backbone of this country, loyal radio listeners (when the kids aren't around), but they don't buy records. Not enough to keep us in business. Not enough to keep the old fashioned country artist in guitar strings. It's the kids who want and buy the newer sounds." Sholes had identified the problem and found the answer: Elvis Presley. Now the rest of the business had to play catch-up, and come to terms with the tumult that was Elvis '56.