iTunes Speedway: Race for the Elvis Cup

Elvis Presley is Steve Grayson in SPEEDWAY (1968)

Elvis Presley is Steve Grayson in SPEEDWAY (1968, MGM)

On the iTunes Speedway

Ever since I finished backing up all of my Elvis music to iTunes, I have been wanting to do some number-crunching. I usually rate a song when I first place it on iTunes, using the built-in star ratings of 1-5 (I reserve 0 stars to mean “not yet rated”). I then update the rating, if necessary, whenever the track plays.

For updates, I only allow myself to move the song one star rating in either direction per play. That way, if I am in an extremely bad or good mood, it will not overly influence the rating of a given song.

I now have nearly five years worth of data about how I really feel about the songs within my Elvis collection. This will allow me to determine which individual years and multi-year spans are truly my favorites, at least according to the numbers.

My Picks

Before crunching those numbers, though, I used my heart to answer some basic questions. I thought this would make for an interesting comparison against the iTunes race results.

Favorite Elvis Year: 1970
Top Five Elvis Years: 1970, 1968, 1969, 1957, 1955
Favorite 5-year Elvis Span: 1968-1972
Elvis Decade Ranking: 1970s, 1950s, 1960s

Race for the Elvis Cup: The Rules

For this analysis, I eliminated any years for which I had less than 40 Elvis tracks. This resulted in the removal of 1953 (2 tracks) and 1959 (19 tracks). I also eliminated all non-musical tracks (e.g., “Introductions By Elvis,” “Elvis Talks”).

For each of the remaining 23 years, I determined the average star rating for all applicable tracks. I also determined the percentage of tracks from that year that earned a perfect 5-star rating. For instance, the results for 1956 were:

Total Tracks: 164
Average Rating: 3.91 (out of 5)
Perfect 5-star Tracks: 40.24%

The year with the highest average rating received 23 points on down to the year with the lowest average rating, which received 1 point. I then applied this same logic down the line by year for the percentage rankings for perfect 5-star tracks.

This gave each year a score ranging from a low of 2 to a high of 46. However, there were several ties down the line. The tie-breakers were:

1.) Average Rating (i.e., the tied year with the highest average rating wins the position)
2.) (If necessary) Perfect 5-Star Tracks (i.e., the year with the highest 5-star tracks percentage wins the position)

Victory Lane

The results were interesting. Leading the pack was the year 1968, with a perfect score of 46 points.

Nearly 85% of the Elvis tracks I had from 1968 were connected to the ELVIS television special project in some way, so that definitely helped stack the deck. Among them were “If I Can Dream,” one of my all-time favorite songs, and other tracks from Memories: The ’68 Comeback Special, a stellar album that includes the full June 27, 6 PM “Sit Down” show.

Top Five Elvis Years
#1 1968 (46 points)
#2 1970 (43 points, wins 2nd position over 1969 on Average Rating tie-breaker)
#3 1969 (43 points)
#4 1967 (38 points)
#5 1955 (37 points, wins 5th position over 1957 on Average Rating tie-breaker)

The real surprise for me was 1967 making the Top Five. Highlights for 1967 included the September sessions in Nashville that produced standouts like “Guitar Man,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and “You Don’t Know Me.” In fact, alternate takes from that session, many of which are collected on FTD’s Elvis Sings Guitar Man, helped propel 1967 ahead due to the number of five-star ratings.

1965 came in last place, with a minimal score of 2 points (no surprise there). I was surprised that 1977 (5 points) was not able to overtake 1964 (8 points) and wound up as Elvis’ second-worst year.

5-Year Mission

I was also interested in determining my favorite 5-year span. As noted above, I usually say my favorite Elvis time period is 1968-1972, with 1954-1958 running a close second. How did the numbers match against my picks?

To my surprise, it turned out that my favorite 5-year Elvis span was actually 1966-1970, which came in at a whopping 198 points. 1968-1972 earned a collective 183 points, while 1954-1958 came in at 146 points. In other words, this race was not even close.

I often state that the opening salvos of Elvis’ comeback were actually fired in 1966 during the How Great Thou Art sessions, so perhaps I should have seen this coming. 1969 included the Memphis sessions that produced “Suspicious Minds,” “Kentucky Rain,” and “In The Ghetto,” his return to live performances, and even a strong soundtrack on the Change of Habit film. 1970 featured the That’s The Way It Is project, including the Nashville sessions, the summer rehearsals, and the August live performances.

The five-year span that earned the least points was 1961-1965, with a combined total of only 50, barely more than the single year of 1968.

Elvis Decades

Now, to answer that age-old question, what is your favorite Elvis decade? Though 1964 and 1965 are hard to love, I otherwise enjoy Elvis’ entire career. When pressed, however, I state that my favorite decade is the 1970s. What did the numbers say?

Again, they proved me wrong. The 1950s won out, with an average of 29.2 points. Second place was the 1970s, well behind at an average of 22.88 points. This barely edged out the 1960s, which had an average of 22.3 points.

Elvis professionally recorded during only five years in the 1950s, and the quality of his output was much more consistent in that time than in the 1960s and 1970s. The 1970s were brought way down by outliers like 1977 (5 points) and 1974 (10 points), while the same occurred for the 1960s with 1965 (2 points), 1962 (8 points), and 1964 (8 points). However, even the 1950s had its own outlier of 1958 (10 points).

Awarding the Elvis Cup

The analytical side of my personality loved reviewing these numbers. The emotional side of me, though, still believes that 1970 is my favorite Elvis year, no matter what iTunes says.

For me, feelings always rule out in the end, so the Elvis Cup is hereby awarded to 1970, the reigning champion.

12 thoughts on “iTunes Speedway: Race for the Elvis Cup

  1. Wow fantastic blog indeed, very well put together by the numbers. Since I’m not a huge fan of itunes i have no such rating system suffice to say at this current point in time I would agree 100% that 1970 would be my favorite also.. I recently purchased “The Lost Performances” on DVD (apparently the source was a laserdisc?) and it has to be said an improvement on the old VHS tape both audio and video, I am playing it to death and loving it…If I’m pushed I’d rate early 70’s #1, majority of the 50’s #2 and late 60’s #3 first 2 years of the 60’s #4 followed by the remaining years at #5. Cheers for the blog Ty…Great stuff.


    • Thanks, Ray. Elvis: The Lost Performances video was a highlight of my early Elvis fandom and certainly contributed to making me the insane fan I am today. if only Warner Home Video would get their act together and release more from his 1970 and 1972 documentaries.


  2. Ty……Reading your thoughts this morning were a pleasant start to my day! The added fact that ’67 made your top five……thus mentioning the song…..’You Don’t Know Me’……….brought a smile to my heart! TYVM!


    • Thanks, Clementine. That’s one of my favorites as well, particularly the version/arrangement that was not used in the film. I think I’ve told the story before that I first heard Ray Charles’ excellent version and I wished Elvis had recorded it, only a couple years later to find out he did!


    • Thank you, Joe. I don’t give the Christmas songs any special treatment in regards to ratings. I do filter them out of my smart playlists until that time of year, though, so they do not get played as often as typical songs.

      In that sense, they might have a slight advantage in that they do not become as “common” to my ears. On the other hand, my “carefully planned” random playlists actually alleviate most of that issue on even non-Christmas tracks.


      • Not giving Christmas songs any special treatment might have you on another list. If you don’t tell Santa, I won’t. But he has a way of finding out anyway.


        • You’ve got that all wrong, Joe. Santa’s an old friend of mine. He needs a break from all that Christmas music sometimes, too. He prefers 1950s rock ‘n’ roll, actually. Santa cuts up.


        • I’m going to see how my numbers compare to my favorites…

          Favorite Elvis Year: 1960
          Top Five Elvis Years: 1960, 1956, 1969, 1967, 1968
          Favorite 5-year Elvis Span: 1957-1962
          Elvis Decade Ranking: 1960s, 1950s, 1970s

          My 5-year Span, I think Elvis could sing basically any kind of music: Rock N’ Roll, Blues, Operatic etc.

          Choosing ’66 or ’67 was a tough one to pick. Well, really they all were tough picking but although love the How Great Thou Art sessions went with the Guitar Man sessions. The Guitar Man Sessions is when Elvis finally seemed to rediscover Rock N’ Roll imo.

          Agree with you, “70s were brought way down by outliers like 1977.” But hopefully I don’t Spinout by having no 70’s.


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