If his album sales are subject to various utopic myths, Elvis Presley‘s singles sales aren’t a mystery at all. Fact is, he sold an insane number of them. More than anyone who debuted after him, that means more than the Beatles, among many others.
Of course, It’s Now Or Never is nowhere near the 20 million sales often claimed. One must understand that historically labels used to state sales of every record that ever contained a song as copies sold of that song. Bing Crosby‘s White Christmas was quickly reported at 30 million. Every time Elvis’ Christmas Album was selling a copy, that was incrementing that tally since White Christmas is covered on it. That’s why sales figures for Christmas favorites, like Silent Night or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, were massively overstated – and still are – because they were covered on most Christmas albums.
So, how many singles has Presley really sold? Since there is no pricing issue, no multi-discs troubles and almost exclusively RCA records concerned, their RIAA tally is fairly straightforward and clear. It stands at 50,5 million singles sold. The list can be viewed here, using the “More details” button.
One may consider 51,5 million singles have been certified. Both The Wonder of You and My Way got awarded for 1 million shipments during their promotional campaign but failed to get that certification confirmed during 1992’s comprehensive audit. It’s due to returns pushing net shipments back under the million mark.
Why do I say that his singles sales aren’t a mystery? Well, in the US, studying chart runs and RIAA awards gives us a total that will never differ much from the 75 to 80 million span. That includes the 361,000 units sold by Sun singles before the signing of Presley to RCA. In the UK, his official tally is slightly over 20 million physical singles. Here too, the margin of error small, checking every data concludes on 21 to 23 million sales. Sales in Canada, Germany, Japan, Scandinavia, France and Italy are also under control. Elsewhere, most of his singles weren’t even released and when they were, the market was very low back in the day. Career totals have also been quoted through the years by Jorgensen and NME while the Worldwide Gold Awards compilation listed every song that made it past a million globally. With all this information, it’s almost impossible to be very wrong.
Thus, instead of getting into each and every technicality backing numbers, this article presents results from several perspectives. page 2 includes sales per single, page 3 sales per market, page 4 sales per year of first release. As usual, I’ll be happy to answer questions and queries if something bothers you.