As a weekly entertainment trade magazine, Variety has been published continually since its founding in 1905. Although primarily known for its coverage of motion pictures, the tabloid also has reported on many other fields in the entertainment industry. When Elvis Presley exploded on the scene in 1956, Variety's weekly issues contained a section devoted to recorded music. Included were updated charts and reviews of recently released records. Starting with "Heartbreak Hotel" in 1956, Variety reviewed most RCA Presley single releases through 1971, when the magazine scaled back its coverage of recorded music.
Below are Variety's brief reviews of Elvis Presley's four major single record releases in 1956. In reading them, it is important to keep in mind that the journal's subscribers were record sellers. The reviews were intended to help retailers decide which records to stock in their stores. Also, since a good portion of the magazine's advertising space was purchased by record companies, Variety's reviewers were mindful to keep criticism to a minimum, lest RCA and other labels take their advertising dollars elsewhere.
Variety, February 1, 1956:
Elvis Presley: "Heartbreak Hotel"-"I Was the One" (RCA Victor). Elvis Presley, country singer, is a compelling stylist who tears his tunes to tatters a la Johnnie Ray. "Heartbreak Hotel" is an ideal piece of material and he goes to town with the help of an excellent background. It could establish Presley in the pop picture. "I Was the One" is a slow rhythm ballad, also with a good idea and potently rendered.
Variety, May 9, 1956
Elvis Presley: "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You"-"My Baby left Me" (RCA Victor). The current phenom of the music biz, Elvis Presley probably could have a hit if his name were on a blank disk. This coupling is sure of a big ride even though the material is not up to the level of his "Heartbreak Hotel" smash. "I Want You" is a slow ballad with a strong beat and Presley belts it with his identifying vocalisthenics. Flip, in a traditional blues vein, also gets an energetic workout.
Variety, July 15, 1956:
Elvis Presley: "Hound Dog"-"Don't Be Cruel" (RCA Victor). Like Ed Sullivan found out, you can't fight statistics. Elvis Presley may not be the most polished singer but he's the most popular and these new sides will ride along the top of the wave. He gives "Hound Dog" a typical word-swallowing, beat-belting workover with some machine-gun drums in the background. "Don't Be Cruel" is another uptempo ballad with equal chances. The controversy still will go on between those who think he's not even a beginner and those who say he's the end.
Variety, October 13, 1956:
Elvis Presley: "Love Me Tender"-"Anyway You Want Me" (RCA Victor). Like his previous disks, this Elvis Presley platter is an automatic hit. But "Love Me Tender," the title song from the 20th-Fox pic in which Presley is making his film bow, is a change-of-pace material for this singer. Instead of the frantic, note-breaking style which has characterized Presley's other vocals, he makes an effort to sing in a legit ballad style. The result is not too striking, but the Presley fans will undoubtedly go for it. On the flip, Presley reverts back to his normal style, and this side could be the one to step out as the top side.
In the September 5 article, Variety acknowledged that Elvis Presley was "the hottest disk name to turn up in this era." On track to sell 10 million records during his first year on the RCA Victor label, Presley's royalty payoff was estimated at $400,000 in 1956. Those 10 million records sold would also mean a gross income of $5 million for RCA. And sales would only get better during the following year.