Written By: Ben Cosgrove

In August of 1956—a year in which Elvis Presley released five No. 1 hits—LIFE magazine published a feature on Presley who was 21 years old and  at the height of his  powers. Elvis’s voice, looks and live performances were causing girls to scream and swoon; armies of boys to pick up guitars of their own; and legions of commentators, guardians of public morals and pop-culture critics to predict the end of civilization as they knew it if Elvis’ ungodly onstage gyrations were allowed to continue.

LIFE reported rather drily on the uproar in ’56, choosing to remain above the fray perhaps in hopes that Elvis would, eventually, just go away:

Up to a point the country can withstand the impact of Elvis Presley as a familiar and acceptable phenomenon. Wherever the lean, 21-year-old Tennessean goes to howl out his combination of hillbilly and rock and roll, he is beset by teenage girls yelling for him. They dote on his sideburns and pegged pants, cherish cups of water dipped from his swimming pool, covet strands of his hair, boycott disc jockeys who dislike his records (they have sold some six million copies). All this the country has seen before with Ray, Sinatra and all the way back to Rudy Vallee.

But with Elvis Presley the daffiness has been deeply disturbing to civic leaders, clergymen, some parents. He does not just bounce to accent his heavy beat. He uses a bump and grind routine usually seen only in burlesque. His young audiences, unexposed to such goings-on, do not just shout their approval. They get set off by shock waves of hysteria, going into frenzies of screeching and wailing, ending up in tears.

In Miami, one newspaper columnist called Presley’s performance “obscene.” In Jacksonville, he was threatened with jail. His impact had brought Presley a welcome taste of wealth and fame. But now it was bringing him some unwelcome attention.

Here, LIFE.com presents photos of Elvis—several of which never ran in LIFE magazine—when he was a young, reckless, charming, thrilling and, for some, downright unnerving rocker.

Elvis Presley in Florida, 1956.

Elvis Presley in Florida, 1956.

Robert W. Kelley The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Elvis Presley fans in Florida 1956

In Jacksonville, fans yelled their heads off at Presley’s performance.

Robert W. Kelley The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Elvis Presley critic in Florida 1956

Presley was on the mind of Baptist preacher Robert Gray.

Robert W. Kelley The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Elvis Presley fans in Florida 1956

Presley fans in Florida, 1956.

Robert W. Kelley The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Elvis Presley fans in Florida 1956

A 13-year-old, Steve Shad, imitated Presley’s moves in a Jacksonville record shop.

Robert W. Kelley The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Elvis Presley promoter in Jacksonville is the side-burned drummer and disk jockey Scotty Ferguson.

The Presley promoter in Jacksonville was the side-burned drummer and disk jockey Scotty Ferguson.

Robert W. Kelley The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Elvis Presley-style haircut in Florida 1956

Barber Joe Governale in Jacksonville gave Ronny Turner, 16, the duck-tail cut Elvis favored, leaving a rich overhang of hair in back of head.

Robert W. Kelley The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Elvis Presley in Florida 1956

An antidote to Elvis was a church social at Murray Hill Methodist church two nights after Presley left. Before this dance, the group heard Presley denounced in a sermon on ”Hot Rods, Reefers and Rock ‘n Roll.”

Robert W. Kelley The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Civic leaders meet with a Jacksonville, Fla. judge to discuss ways of "curbing" Elvis Presley's influence on local teens, 1956.

Civic leaders met with a Jacksonville judge to discuss ways of “curbing” Elvis Presley’s influence on local teens.

Robert W. Kelley The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Praying for Elvis Presley in Florida 1956

Teenagers in Trinity Baptist church, led by Revered Gray, prayed for the salvation of the soul of Elvis Presley.

Robert W. Kelley The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Elvis Presley fans in Florida 1956

Fans lined up outside a Florida theater before an Elvis concert, 1956.

Robert W. Kelley The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Elvis Presley in Florida 1956

Elvis Presley in Florida, 1956.

Robert W. Kelley The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Elvis Presley in Florida 1956

For each of Presley’s six shows in two days in Jacksonville, 2,200 teenagers turned up. A line of uniformed cops and shore patrol seated in the orchestra pit kept the audience from storming over the footlights when Elvis sang his closing number, ‘Hound Dog.’

Robert W. Kelley The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Elvis Presley in Florida 1956

Andrea June Stephens came to Jacksonville from Atlanta, Ga., after writing a prizewinning letter on why she would like to meet Elvis. Promised a dinner date with Elvis, she got instead a cheeseburger in a Jacksonville diner.

Robert W. Kelley The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Elvis Presley in Florida 1956

Elvis Presley in Florida, 1956.

Robert W. Kelley The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Elvis Presley in Florida 1956

Elvis Presley in Florida, 1956.

Robert W. Kelley The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Elvis Presley in Florida 1956

Elvis Presley in Florida, 1956.

Robert W. Kelley The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Elvis Presley Life Magazine August 27, 1956

Life Magazine, August 27, 1956

LIFE magazine, August 27, 1956.

Life Magazine, August 27, 1956

LIFE magazine, August 27, 1956.

Life Magazine, August 27, 1956

LIFE magazine, August 27, 1956.

Life Magazine, August 27, 1956

LIFE magazine, August 27, 1956.

Life Magazine, August 27, 1956

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