Episode 2: Elvis and the Rise of Television


Archaeology is the study of human activity in the past, looking at lots of different things from lots of different angles. We take that approach with Rock N Roll.

We recap episode one, and open in Memphis, 1954. Sun Records owner Sam Phillips has found his elusive crossover sound—and the artist who can deliver it. Elvis breaks out; in just a few months he’s on the cusp of national stardom.

We get to know Sam Phillips better; we find he shares affinity and common ground with his young star. Sam will be showing up again as we go through our story.

Elvis gets his first big break on the Louisiana Hayride radio show. Young Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly see him on his first big tour, opening for the country singer Hank Snow.

Elvis and Col. Tom Parker meet for the first time.

We move to a detailed discussion of the rise of American television in the 1950s: technical advances, the economic and social impacts, and how it affected and was affected by the rise of Rock N Roll.

We bring it back around to Bill Haley’s appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in August of 1955.

In early 1956, Elvis gets a big-time deal with RCA Records. Col. Parker buys out Sam Phillips’ management contract and the Presley/Parker business relationship is formalized—for better and for worse.

The self-titled debut album is released that spring. It’s a smash; the first modern rock album and it has stood the test of time.

Our storylines merge on Sept 9th 1956: Elvis makes his historic debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. We dig into some of the back story and do a little mythbusting.

Then we assert something a bit controversial, which might make some Elvis fans angry.

Finally, we profile two artists who are challenging Elvis, taking Rock N Roll in new directions: Chuck Berry and Little Richard. We learn the succinct definition of Rock N Roll, and spend a hungover Sunday morning in church.

We close the show with a brief introduction to Buddy Holly, to set up Episode Three.

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Songs from Episode Two

Mojo Nixon: “Elvis is Everywhere,” from Bo-Day-Shus!!!, 1987 Enigma Records

Marc Cohn, “Walking in Memphis,” from Walking in Memphis, 1991 Atlantic Records

Elvis Presley, “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” single released 1954, Sun Records

Jackie Brenston and The Delta Cats, “Rocket 88,” single released 1952, Chess Records

John Fogerty, “I Saw it on TV,” from Centerfield, 1985 Warner Brothers Records

Genesis, “Turn it on Again,” from Duke, 1980 Charisma Records

Elvis Presley, “Heartbreak Hotel” from Elvis Presley, 1956 RCA Records

Elvis Presley, “Hound Dog,” audio clip from “The Ed Sullivan Show,” first aired on CBS Television, Sept. 9, 1956

Howlin Wolf, “Smokestack Lightning,” single released 1956, Chess Records

Muddy Waters, “I’m a Hoochie Coochie Man,” single released 1954, Chess Records

Chuck Berry, “Maybellene,” single released 1955, Chess Records

Chuck Berry, “Johnny B. Goode,” single released 1958, Chess Records

Little Richard, “Long Tall Sally,” single released 1956, Specialty Records

Little Richard, “Tutti Frutti,” single released 1955, Specialty Records

Buddy Holly, “Everyday,” single released 1957, Coral Records

Watch and listen on YouTube



Brown, Peter Harry; Broeske, Pat H. (1997). Down at the End of Lonely Street: The Life and Death of Elvis Presley.

Cohodas, Nadine (2005). Spinning Blues into Gold: The Chess Brothers and the Legendary Chess Records.

Guralnick, Peter (1995). Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley.

Miller, Scott (2011). Music: What Happened?

Morrison, Craig (1996). Go Cat Go!: Rockabilly Music and Its Makers.

Norman, Phillip (2014). Rave On: The Biography of Buddy Holly.

Pegg, Bruce (2002). Brown Eyed Handsome Man: The Life and Hard Times of Chuck Berry

White, Charles (2003). The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Authorized Biography.

Movies and Television Shows

30 Rock, “The Head and the Hair,” Season 1, Show 11, NBC Television

This is Spinal Tap, directed by Rob Reiner, 1984 Embassy Pictures

Link to Elvis Presley’s 1968 comeback special, aired on NBC:


Cadillac Records, directed by Darnell Martin, 2008 TriStar Pictures

Online Sources, By Topic in Order of Appearance



Sam Phillips and Sun Records:


History and Impact of Television:





Ed Sullivan Show:


Magazine Articles

Olsen, Eric P. "Founding Father: Sam Phillips and the Birth of Rock and Roll." The World and I, May 2001.

Sound by John Michael Berry 

For more info please visit - http://www.milliondollarsmusic.com/

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