THE ELVIS PRESLEY - BING CROSBY COMPARISON PAGE

 
UPDATED IN 2014!!!

 

Because Elvis Presley dominated the entertainment world in the second half of the 20th century to the same degree Bing Crosby did in the first half it is inevitable that comparisons between these two giants be made. This page is intended to provide data about both performers to make such comparisons easy, specifically regarding their relative popularities during their careers. No conclusions are made as to which was the greatest, most influential, most popular, or most successful personality. Those are left to the reader.

I am not trying to imply with these lists that Bing Crosby is as popular as Elvis. He isn't even close. All this list is trying to do is provide a sense of how popular each performer was in his own era. Musically, for the purposes of this page, in his own era is defined to mean the years over which the artist had new songs appearing in the top 30 popular music hits as listed in Billboard's charts: 1931-1957 for Crosby, 1956-1977 for Elvis. For movie data it goes to their last live-starring theatrical release.

Most of the information on this page comes from The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 8th Edition (2004) and Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Memories (1986.) I used them because they provide what many consider the most comprehensive and consistent analysis of popular music from 1890 to the present. However, they rely on the music charts available in each era and as time passed, some charts ended and others started. Consequently the charts used in both books are not the same so a perfect correlation can not be claimed. As far I have been able to determine the methodology used to reduce the raw chart data was the same in both books.

I wish to express my appreciation to Ms. Kelly Black of the United Kingdom for providing the inspiration for this page and using her extensive knowledge of Elvis Presley to supply much of the data below. (Thanks, Kelly!)

Additionally, Jay White, another Elvis fan, provided an enormous amount of support in layout and content. (Thank you, Jay!)

NEW!!! I feel it necessary to acknowledge that as a child of the early rock and roll era, I have a strong preference for Elvis Presley's music over Bing's. I have CDs of both artists and enjoy listening to them. However, for every once I listen to one of Bing's songs I'll have easily listened to ten times as many Elvis songs. I worked very hard to prevent this preference for coloring the following comparison. I collected the historical data and let the numbers fall where they may.

The bottom of this page contains background about many of the statistics and why certain statistics weren't or couldn't be used.

 

THE NUMBERS:

 
...........................................ELVIS PRESLEY................BING CROSBY

Number of Top 30 Hits.................... .85................................383

Number of Top 10 Hits......................38.................. ............ 203

Number of Number 1 Hits........... ..... .18................................ 41

Longest Consecutive Run
at the #1 Position --.......................-16 weeks (1956) --------- 23 (1944)

Total Weeks at #1..................... ..... 80.............................. 173

Most Top 30 songs in 1 Year........ ..... 10 (1956)............. .........27 (1939)

Total Number of Recordings............. .665....................... ......1700

Total Popularity Number
(Billboard System) ----...........-..---- 7,190 --------...........--.27,465

Total Popularity Number
(My System) ----..........-.....--........-33,415 -----.....-........--125,899

 

Popularity Profiles based on annual charted song successes:

This chart shows how each artist's popularity fluctuated over his career. The vertical axis is the total popularity number per year. The horizontal axis is in years. Both profiles are to the same scale. Elvis' followed a very typical profile of an initial massive popular appeal followed by a gradual decline as newer artists took over. Bing Crosby's is unique among all performers in that he maintained an unprecedented high level of popularity over almost his entire career.

 
......................................................ELVIS PRESLEY................BING CROSBY

Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award..............yes................................yes

Grammy Hall Of Fame Awards....... ................. 5...................................5

Golden Globe Awards....... .............................. 0...................................2

Hall of Fame Inductee....... .... Rock and Roll, Gospel, Country.........Radio, Popular Music

 
(The following movie data provided by IMDb.)

........................................................ELVIS PRESLEY................BING CROSBY

Number of Movies.(credited and noncredited).....33..................................79

Number of Movies Receiving
Academy Award Nominations ....... ................... 1..................................26

Total Number Academy Award
Nominationsss........................ ................... 0 .1..................................70

Total Number Academy Awards Won
by Movies they were in.....................................0.................................19

Academy Award Nominations
For His Acting and/or Singing............................. 0..................................8

Academy Awards Won...................................... 0..................................5

Number of Years Ranked #1 Box Office Draw..........0..............................5 (1944-49)

Number of Years in the Top 10 Stars
Based on Box Office Earnings..............................0.............................15 (1934, 37,.40, 43-54)

Number of Years he was the lead star
in that year's #1 box office grossing movie............0...............................3

Total Box Office Movie Gross
Corrected for Inflation to 2005 dollars........$438 million......................$2,444 million
..........................................................................................(That's $2.44 billion.)

 

 
Additional Background:

 
UPDATE!!! Why No Mention of Current Sales? Elvis Presley outsells Bing Crosby in modern times many, many times over. People often comment that this reflects his much greater lasting influence. The problem with this is that it ignores that fact that sales are not determined by talent or popularity but by style. Bing Crosby's music is grossly out of style in today's rock era music so he is at an enormous disadvantage. Imagine what would happen to Elvis' sales if a second music revolution took place as great as the rock and roll revolution and rapp became the only music anyone listened to. His sales would plummet just as quickly as Bing's as his fan base died out.

 
Albums: One category that was not used was album sales. In his Top 40 Hits book, Joel Whitburn, the world acknowledged expert on all things related to music charts, states that, "-the Hot 100 (the chart upon which much of the book is based) has stood the test of time as the premier monitor of the most popular songs in America each week." If Joel Whitburn states that this is the most accurate measure of a song's, and therefore artist's, popularity it's good enough for me. Besides, there are no album sales records for Bing Crosby's era so no comparison number for him is available.

Whitburn himself acknowledges that starting in the 1990s album sales have taken over as a measure of a star's popularity. This doesn't effect the content of this page because as stated before it's limited to comparing the popularity of the artists during their eras of having new songs listed in the top 30 charts, 1931-1957 for Bing, 1956-1977 for Elvis. Since both periods are well within the credible period for his data I accept their validity.

Visitors wishing to look into album sales may do so at the URLs:

http://www.msnusers.com/ElvisInternational/elvislongestchartingalbums.msnw

http://www.elvis.com/elvisology/elvis_records.asp

http://www.riaa.com

But please note that before accepting the raw numbers for album sales of both men at face value, be sure that they include all of Bing's career. The RIAA site, for example, only lists his gold and platinums from 1958 on, during which he was all but retired. To be fair you need to find records that go back to 1931. Also, how economical, technological and political differences between the artist's eras effected record sales must be carefully researched and factored into any comparisons. This bookmark takes you to the bottom of this page and an explanation of some of these factors.

 
UPDATE!!! About Bing's Hall of Fame Awards: His Radio Hall of Fame induction is, or at least at one time was, even more significant than Elvis' induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It has to be remembered that in Bing's era, radio was the dominant form of entertainment, just like TV is today. It's like Bing today winning a Television Hall of Fame Award, if there was such a thing, which would have to be more important that winning an award for a single style of music.

Bing's induction to the Popular Music Hall of Fame is, when considered in reference to its time, even more significant than Elvis's gospel and country awards. The reason is that to make it into the Popular Music Hall of Fame, a performer had to establish him or herself as a dominant success and influence in a more general sense. Bing was so popular that his recording company pushed him into virtually every music style that existed at the time, jazz, country, religious, whimsical, opera, foreign language, etc. No other artist before or since released successful albums over such a broad range of venues. Winning the Popular Music Hall of Fame award would be comparable today for a singer winning individual awards for rock and roll, rock, hard rock, rapp, new wave, country, heavy metal and several more all at the same time.

 
Why Didn't I mention Total Record Sales?: This page compares each performer's popularity during his era. Total records sales are more of a measure of popularity for all time, something I readily agree that Elvis wins without question.

However, for those interested in these numbers, here are the most accurate values I've been able to find:

................................................ELVIS PRESLEY................BING CROSBY

Total Record Sales.......................... .1.1 billion....................... 900 million

Greatest Single Song Sales..............310 million ........................45 million
..............................................(It's Now or Never)........... (White Christmas)

While most Elvis sites claim he's sold 1 billion records, I noticed that this number was reported in references dating as far back as 2001. I increased it to 1.1 billion to allow for his sales over the last 4 years.

The most commonly reported number for Bing's total record sales of 300 million songs sold (30 million for White Christmas alone) originated in 1963 and as such is out of date by 42 years. The only other study I found that quantifies his total sales was from 1977 by Steve Schoenherr (http://history.acusd.edu/gen/recording/derbingle.html), which credits him with total sales of 500 million and sales for White Christmas of 35 million. Extrapolating the differences in the '63 and '77 numbers to 2005, and assuming a constant sales rate equal the the '63 to '77 period, Bing's total sales add to 900 million. White Christmas totals 45 million by itself.

Two opposing factors effect these numbers. First, for some time after his death demand for his records soared. (MCA couldn't keep up with the demand and had to farm out work on the order of 1 million pressings per day to meet it.) This transient increase, which could add significantly to the total, was not included in the estimate. Second, the assumption of a constant sales rate may be over optimistic. It's likely that as he passed further from the public's memory his sales declined, which would reduce the estimate. The absolute effect of both influences is impossible to estimate. However, the fact that they effect it in opposite ways creates a balancing effect that cancels them out and makes the 900 million estimate reasonable, or at least in the ballpark. I will continue researching both Elvis' and Bing's grand totals and report them here when more accurate numbers are available.

Finally, Elvis' total sales figure is the combined total of his Rock and Roll, Gospel, and Country songs. The figure for Bing only reflect sales from the popular music scene (the equivalent in his time of Rock and Roll or modern popular music scene.) If I can find any reliable records for Bing's songs in other music venues, such as all of his many jazz recordings during the 1930s, I will add them to his total.

 
Why wasn't Elvis' megahit Hound Dog mentioned in the Article Above?: The source for Elvis' biggest selling song, It's Now or Never was Everyhit.com. This site lists Hound Dog as his second-best selling hit with 9 million.

 
UPDATE!!! Why no mention of gold or platinum records?: The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) did not create the Gold/Platinum award system until 1958, one year "after" Bing Crosby had his last charting single. He can't be considered a lesser star for not winning awards that simply did not exist during his career.

Crosby is occasionally acknowledged by some experts as having won 20 gold records, suggesting he was eligible for the RIAA awards. These gold records were not part of the RIAA system, but rather informal awards created by his record company to acknowledge particular songs that sold over 1,000,000 records, which, by the way, was twice the future RIAA requirement of only 500,000. The problem with them is that it makes it appear that Bing was part of the same award system as Elvis.

RIAA awards are not automatic. A record company has to apply for them and provide extensive statistical data to support their nomination. Bing's record company never did so because he had all but retired from the popular music scene before the award system was initiated.

 
Why were only US sales considered?: The only references available on both stars are for the US. Also, during the bulk of Bing's era technology and politics made the US market all that was open to him.

 
Where Did the Box Office Gross Numbers Come from?: Mostly from IMDb, the entertainment industry standard.

The IMDb site lists the total box office recepts for all of Elvis' movies, not just the dozen or so broken out with individual statistics, at $67 million. This number is closely corroborated by the www.the-numbers.com box office gross information site that states he earned $63 million at the box office. I used the larger of the two figures and after using the cost of ticket price increase (from www.natoonline.org) between 1964 (center year for his movies) and 2005 to adjust for inflation, his gross becomes $438 million in 2005 dollars.

Several sites I visited listed Elvis' total movie revenues as $150 million but not one of them broke it down or provided a source to check it. I believe this number includes earnings from his TV specials. Because TV wasn't a venue open to Bing during his era I couldn't fairly count them any more than I could have counted the millions of dollars Bing earned as a radio host because that was a venue not open to Elvis.

www.the-numbers.com provided similar data on Bing. His movies grossed $3 million in the late 1930s, $75 million in the 1940s, $73 million in the 1950s and $19 million in the 1970s. Correcting each decade's total with the same technique used for Elvis' grosses adjusts Bing's total to $2.44 billion in 2005 dollars. I did not include movie earnings from films in which he had only cameo rolls like That's Entertainmet Part I because his presence was not a significant factor in the movie's box office gross.

If this number surprises people unfamiliar with Bing as a star, knowing that his movie Going My Way ($16.3 million) was the number one box office hit in 1944, The Bells of St. Mary's ($21.3 million) was the #1 in 1945 and Welcome Stranger ($15.3 million) was #1 in 1947 should help explain his success. Many of his other movies regularly ended up in the top ten box office earners for their respective years.

So how did Elvis' movies do ranking-wise? The following is from boxofficereport.com, the most complete data base I was able to find on the Internet:

Year...............Title.......................Box Office Sales Ranking

1956.......Love Me Tender..............................20th

1957.......Jailhouse Rock ..............................12th

1960.......G.I. Blues.......................................15th

1961.......Blue Hawaii.....................................13th

1962.......Girls, Girls, Girls................................19th

1964.......Viva Las Vegas................................11th

These were his most successful box office earners. None of his other movies made it into the top 20 films for the years in which they were released.

For a more complete comparison of Bing's and Elvis' movie grosses, please see my BING CROSBY MOVIE PAGE, but beware... what the numbers imply is undeniable and I make a conclusion based on them and the numbers on this page that Elvis fans will not like.

 
Why no fan club information? Ideally I would have liked adding in statistics of the total number of fans in fan clubs (a more accurate measure than the number of fan clubs - one man could have had one club with a million fans and the other ten clubs with only 100 in each one) during the period of their maximum popularity (1944 for Bing, 1958 for Elvis) but I haven't been able to locate this data.

 
Why only Top 30 songs?: I only used the songs from each singer that made it into the top 30 because that's all the lower my reference for Bing goes.

 
Total number of Elvis' songs: I obtained the value of 665 recorded songs for Elvis from the extensive research by Mr. Jim Lodig for his Elvis Lyrics site at http://www.elvis-presley-lyrics.com.

 
Bing's #1 Hits: Depending on your reference, Bing is credited with 38, 39 or 41 number one hits. The difference is the result of which songs are counted from his singing with other acts. I chose 41 because in all of them he was the star performer.

 
Why No Single Grammy Awards?: The Grammy awards didn't begin until 1958, after Bing had all but retired so his songs would not have been eligible. I did include the statistics for the Grammy's Lifetime Achievement and Hall of Fame Awards because both artists were eligible for them.

 
Why no mention of the Golden Laurel Awards?: These awards for musical performances were not started until after Bing had retired and does not recognize performers from the previous era so a comparison could not be made. Elvis won this award once, placed second twice, third once and 4th twice.

 
What Golden Globe Awards did Bing win?: A Best Actor award for Here Comes The Groom and the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award.

 
Why no Mention of TV specials or Radio shows?: Elvis televised a few of the most successful TV specials ever aired. Bing was a dominate radio personality and hosted a series of enormously successful radio shows for 31 years, the longest radio career in history. Both these achievements are noteworthy but I could find no way to compare them.

UPDATE!!! However, I feel it's important for the sake if history to make a few comments about Bing's radio popularity.

In 2014, the two most popular weekly television series were NCIS and The Walking Dead, with an average viewing audience of 14.5 million people each. These are universally acknowledged, even by people who don't like them, as being so enormously popular that they setting and breaking records. One wonders how popular the Bing Crosby radio show was in comparison.

At its height, Bing's show averaged 50,000,000 listeners every week for over ten years, over three times as popular as either of the TV hits just mentioned. But there's a problem with this comparison: populations. When Bing's show was going strong there were only 130 million people in the US. By 2014 the population had increased to 319 million, almost 2.5 times as many people. Correcting for this increase, which is the same as correcting for inflation to compare box office totals of movies from different eras, means that in 2014 the Bing Crosby show would have attracted 125 million people each and every week. That's more people than watch the super bowl... and he pulled numbers like that week after week for over a decade. There is simply nothing in recent times that comes close to this level of popularity.

 
Where the Total Popularity Numbers Came From: Total popularity numbers such as the ones above are calculated by adding the number of weeks an artist's songs are on the charts, the highest position they obtained, how long they remained there, and so on. They represent a measure of an artist's over all popularity summed over his or her entire career. Because they are based on factors that are not influenced by population or inflation, they are ideal for comparing performers separated by considerable periods of time and changes in music style.

The main difference between Billboard's point system and mine is that Billboard uses a linear equation for modeling the difficulty of maintaining hit at the #1 position for many weeks whereas I use a non-linear equation that more closely matches the real world. Also, they award fewer points per song than I do, hence their smaller number totals. However, if you divide Bing's total popularity number by Elvis', in each system you get ratios that agree within 1-percent, validating both.

 
About the Popularity Profiles: Instead of adding up all the songs for an entertainer's total career to get a single number, the sub-totals for each individual year can be used to create a graph of how that artist's popularity fluctuated over his career. The chart compared Elvis' music popularity profile to Bing's. Although their careers were separated by several decades, I overlapped them for comparison. On this chart the starting point on the left is 1931 for Bing and 1956 for Elvis. Both graphs are drawn to the same scale.

 
Bing's 5 Academy Awards: He won the Best Actor Academy award in 1943 for Going.My Way. Bing was also nominated for Best Actor two other times.

He also won four Academy Awards for the songs: Sweet Leilani, 1937,.White Christmas, 1942, Swinging on a Star, 1944, In the Cool, Cool, Cool.of the Evening, 1951. While the song awards officially go to the song writers, traditionally the credit for the song goes to the singer. For example, most people associate the Academy Award winning song My Heart Will Go On from Titanic with Celine Dion, not the people who wrote the song. I think this is proper because it's the singer's interpretation and performance that determine the song's impact and success.

Links:

If you like Bing Crosby you may be interested in the following URL, which is to the site associated with BING, a magazine devoted to him:

http://members.aol.com/macwilmslo/BING_magazine.html?f=fs

 
You may be interested in the following URL, which chronicles more of his achievements.

http://history.acusd.edu/gen/recording/derbingle.html

 

 
Other interesting considerations:

While Elvis Presley is considered the first super star of the Rock and Roll era, if you look at the other #1 songs from 1956 and 1957, his breakthrough years, you'll see that he was competing against the style of the pre-rock era. It could be argued that he actually had his initial success in the previous music era and continued on through the rock and roll era, validating his unique position in music history.

Both "Elvis" and "Presley" are listed in my computer's spell checker. "Crosby" isn't.

Just as Elvis is regularly considered the driving force for powering the rock and roll revolution, so Bing was largely credited with introducing Jazz singing to the popular music scene. He was, in fact, the first successful white singer to properly interpret true African American jazz forms. His success in the popular music venue often over shadows his influence in the world of jazz.

It was Bing Crosby who was the driving force behind the development of magnetic tape recordings and was the first entertainer to pre-record a program for later broadcast. He personally funded the research and development of magnetic tape recording equipment.

He was also the first performer to develop and master voice control techniques that provided entertainers the vocal tools needed to deal with the, then, new technology of electric microphones. It has been said that every singer who steps up to a microphone has to walk through Bing's shadow.

 
Having said all this about Bing, I readily acknowledge that Elvis' single-handed powering of the Rock and Roll revolution is almost certainly to remain the greatest and most far-reaching musical accomplishment of all time.

Visitors wishing to participate in an outstanding Elvis forum are invited to do so at the URL: http://www.elvisnumberones.com/index2.php.

Concerning the Economic, Technological and Political Differences Between Bing's and Elvis' Eras:

This admittedly long topic intends to address why if Bing was so popular he didn't have more million-selling records. It will sound like I'm making excuses for Bing. I'm not. The Great Depression and World War II are factors that had a profound effect on what people were able to buy. This article is an attempt to put the situation at the time into perspective. The information came from my mother, father-in-law, and step-father who lived through this period.

Regarding gold records, the most important is the fact to consider is that the first gold record for a song selling one million copies wasn't awarded until Bing was three-quarters the way through his career. It is unfair to say Elvis is better because he won more golds when gold records weren't awarded during the majority of Bing's career. Bing was selling million-copy recording a decade before this and they never got counted. Also, in 1989 the RIAA cut the number of sales required for gold a platinum records by half, making it even easier to earn them.

There were profound differences between Bing's and Elvis' eras. Elvis was at his zenith during times of prosperity. People had surplus money to spend. During the fifteen years of Bing's greatest popularity the US was first crippled by the great depression then followed by World War II. Simply put, these two facts meant that people did not have the money to spend on luxuries such as record albums... they were too worried about scraping enough together to buy a loaf of bread. This is not an exaggeration. The unemployment rate during much of the depression was 25 percent. The effect on record sales was staggering. They dropped from 140 million in 1927 to 6 million in 1932.

During Bing's time, the average age of record purchasers was ten years older than Elvis' era. This means that the people controlling the money were also those responsible for feeding and housing families. As such, record purchases would rate a lower priority than they did for the more youthful purchasers on the 1950s.

Additionally, there were 50,000,000 fewer people in the US during Bing's time. A smaller population means less demand and hence, fewer sales.

Technology is also an issue. In much of Bing's time there was only one record system: the 78 rpm record. During Elvis' era there were two: records and tape. Also, very few portable record players existed in Bing's era. The vast majority of players were large console units. Elvis enjoyed the benefit of having small, easily portable players. Ease and comfort of use increases demand. Music quality also plays an important part in demand. During Bing's time the fidelity of recorded music was much poorer than that available in Elvis' time. People aren't going to be interested in laying out a lot of money for something that doesn't sound good. And while we're on the topic of cost, the average record player in the 1930s cost over $100 (Adjusting for inflation that's $500 in the 1950s or over $1000 today). A 78 rpm record with two songs averaged $1.00 (That's 50-cents per song. When corrected for inflation, that means a fifteen song CD today would cost $50.00.) Additionally, during much of Bing's career, records were looked down upon as "music in a can." The more popular mode of listening to music was via the radio, which had the advantage of being free.

I believe that the combined effects of high cost, different population demographics and scarcity of money for luxuries are the principle reasons why Bing's record sales weren't high enough to earn him as many million sellers as Elvis. Let me attempt to put this into perspective. Imagine that instead of one Enron scandal, one hundred companies just as large had failed back in 2000. Also imagine that the impact of this was enough to send America into a second great depression starting in 2001. By 2002, one-quarter of the working force would have lost his or her job. The stock market would have collapsed and one hundred million people would have had their life savings wiped out. There are long lines of people waiting to receive free food from the government because they don't have the resources to feed their families. These aren't the homeless or poor we occasionally see today, but college graduates who had successful careers just 12 months ago. There is no work. There is no money. Worst of all, there is no sign that the situation is going to get better, ever. Now increase the price of a CD player to $1000 and a CD to $50. Finally, cut the population in half and take all of the money away from teenagers and put it in control of the 25 year old and older age group, the people responsible for their family's survival. Imagine being in that situation and ask yourself how much you'd be willing to spend on music. These were the conditions during the major part of Bing Crosby's career. I think they go a long way toward explaining why he didn't earn as many million sellers as Elvis.

 
 

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