A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Who was more popular, Elvis or the Beatles?

June 18, 1976

Dear Cecil:

From time to time the question of the relative popularity of Elvis vs. the Beatles comes up. What makes it more difficult is the fact that the Beatles had the most number one records but Presley had the most top ten records. Since Presley cheated by being around longer, it is impossible to resolve just who was really more popular. So the problem is, who was on top the longest with the most consecutive hits?

Cecil replies:

Elvis Presley first broke Billboard's top ten on February 22, 1956, with "Heartbreak Hotel," and stayed there through "Return to Sender" in the fall of 1962. Elvis had 29 consecutive releases in the top ten before he broke his streak with "One Broken Heart For Sale," which peaked at a miserable number eleven in the winter of 1963. Elvis regained the hearts and souls of his followers with his next release, "Devil in Disguise," but from there on it was all downhill for ol' swivelhips, who spent the next six years polluting the screen of drive-ins across the country in what is widely regarded as the most boring series of movies ever made. Elvis, his mind apparently irreparably damaged by the his Hollywood experience, returned to the top ten with the loathsome "In the Ghetto" in 1969.

The Beatles had eight consecutive top ten songs (from "I Want to Hold Your Hand" to "P.S. I Love You") when some shady operator at MGM records dug up the old Tony Sheridan tapes ("My Bonnie" and "Why") and tried to inflict them on the record-buying public. Knowing a ringer when it saw one, the aforementioned public held "My Bonnie" down to a deserved number 26. The lovable moptops recovered their equilibrium with "I Feel Fine" (December 1964) and hit 1.000 for the next six years, until "Let It Be" simultaneously spelled splitsville and the end of an era in 1970, leaving the score at 22 consecutive hits.

Since the Beatles' last single reached number one, it seems reasonable to assume that their string would have continued had they not broken up, whereas Presley clearly suffered a severe falling off in popularity after his six years in the limelight. But rationalize as we might, the final results remain Memphis 29, Liverpool 22.

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