Rock History

Cover Story – Elvis Presley – “50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong”, artwork by Bob Jones


Subject 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong: Elvis’ Gold Records – Volume 2 – a 1959 recording by Elvis Presley, released on RCA Records and featuring design and art direction by Bob Jones.

With the marking this week of the 30th anniversary of the untimely death of Elvis Presley, this week’s Cover Story will be presented in a slightly different format, with the details behind the making of this iconic record cover coming from a variety of different sources, most notably the descriptive literature produced along with a series of lithographs produced in the early 1990s by a now-defunct publisher called “Record Art”.

Released just prior to Elvis’ return from his stint in the Army, this record was the first “Greatest Hits, Volume 2” rock & roll compilation (with his first Greatest Hits album coming out in early 1958, just before he entered into his military service) and consisted of all five of his Top 5 singles released in ’58-’59 (both “A” and “B” sides). His records sold so well that even the “B” sides charted in the Top 40!

Included in the compilation were a number of songs that showed just how mature a performer he had become while still being able to rock the socks off his competition. All the more impressive was the fact that these songs were recorded while Elvis was in the Army (when the set was re-released in the late 1990’s, the re-mastered recordings improved the sound dramatically), so you’d think that he’d have been slightly distracted, but cuts such as “I Need Your Love Tonight” and “A Big Hunk of Love” proved that he’d be even more formidable once he was out of the Army and back in the studio.

According to Bob Jones, who served as art director for RCA Records for this (and many other) recordings – “To the best of my knowledge, Elvis was indifferent to his image and to the graphics on his covers…the overwhelming number of Elvis Presley’s album covers were produced according to a formula – a large color photo of his head; a bold, horsey hand-lettered ELVIS, a title and the repertoire. During my brief and infrequent visits with him, the subject of covers never came up. It was just another matter of business that The Colonel (Tom Parker) took care of.

For several years during his career, the sales of Presley product accounted for well over 20% of all of RCA Victor Records’ gross income. At the time, RCA had at least one hundred contract recording artists on the label, and my department was producing over 400 LP and 45EP covers each year. The ‘man behind the man’ was Colonel Thomas A. Parker, and he was a far more interesting and complex character than his artist. As the music and motion picture industry knew, he was an aggressively shrewd and calculating man. He sensed from the beginning that Elvis was “product”. The Colonel was a master of promotion, merchandising and exploitation.

Of the more than 70 combined LP and 45EP covers I was responsible for, the only departure from the Parker formula was the 50,000,000 Elvis Fans cover. My final stab at trying to bring a fresh look to Presley’s covers came when I took samples of some big name illustrators to the Colonel in L.A. I took portraits by Bob Fawcett, Austin Briggs, Al Parker, Victor Kalin and even young Andy Warhol. I had hardly started my pitch when it was brought to a screeching halt. ‘Damn it, I’ve told you I don’t want any of your artistic stuff!’ However, The Colonel had been unable to come up with a single gimmick to promote the album. He then gave me a picture of Elvis in a gold lame suit and told me to come up with something.

While Tom and Harry Jenkins – the RCA V.P. – started discussing merchandising schemes, I started making a few thumbnail sketches for a cover. The Colonel looked over to me and asked to look at what I had been doing. With barely a glance at the sketches, he chose the one with the full figure surrounded by the six or eight smaller ones. He said ‘That’s it, but I want at least a couple of dozen of the little pictures in there’. I later sent him a mechanical and he approved the image with less than two dozen figures (ed. note – there are 16 pictures of Elvis on the record cover).

The album sold well over $1,000,000 worth of product. The Colonel loved that gold lame suit. He kept it in one of his closets in his home for years. Elvis Presley hated the damned suit from the first time he put it on…”

The now-famous cover photo montage of multiple Elvises (or would that be Elvi?) dressed in his gold lame’ “Nudie Suit” – as well as the record’s title – has inspired many knock-offs record packages, including (in descending order) Bon Jovi’s 100 Million Bon Jovi Fans Can’t Be Wrong, 1,000,000 People Can’t Be Wrong by Blues Traveler, 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong by The Fall, and Phil Och’s 50 Phil Ochs Fans Can’t Be Wrong!.

About the artist – Bob Jones

Bob Jones – Art Director, RCA Records – won a Grammy Award in 1965 for “Best Album Cover, Photography” for Jazz Suite on the Mass Texts, an RCA recording featuring a shot by photographer Ken Whitmore. Other credits include covers for Hall & Oates (Rock ‘n Soul: Part 1 – Greatest Hits) and many other RCA artists. He is considered one of the early pioneers of LP/45 cover design, working at various points with other classic cover artists such as Jim Flora and Alex Steinweiss.

To see more of the Bob Jones lithograph that is available for sale at the RockPoP Gallery, please follow this link.

About “Cover Stories” – Our weekly series will give you, the music and art fan, a look at “the making of” the illustrations, photographs and designs of many of the most-recognized and influential images that have served to package and promote your all-time-favorite recordings.

Every Friday, we’ll meet the artists, designers and photographers who produced these works of art and learn what motivated them, what processes they used, how they collaborated (or fought) with the musical acts, their management, their labels, etc. – all of the things that influenced the final product you saw then and still see today.

We hope that you enjoy these looks behind the scenes of the music-related art business and that you’ll share your stories with us and fellow fans about what role these works of art – and the music they covered – played in your lives.

Interview tex Copyright 1991 – Record Art

All other text Copyright 2007 – Mike Goldstein & RockPoP Gallery – All rights reserved.

“Elvis” and “Elvis Presley” are Registered Trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.