ut of Tupelo, Mississippi, out of Memphis, Tennessee, came this green, sharkskin-suited girl chaser, wearing eye-shadow – a trucker-dandy white boy who must have risked his hide to act so black and dress so gay. This wasn’t New York or even New Orleans; this was Memphis in the ’50s. This was punk rock. This was revolt. Elvis changed everything – musically, sexually, politically. In Elvis, you had the whole lot; it’s all there in that elastic voice and body. As he changed shape, so did the world: he was a ’50s style icon who was what the ’60s were capable of, and then suddenly not. In the ’70s, he turned celebrity into a blood sport but, interestingly, the more he fell to Earth, the more godlike he became to his fans. His last performances showcase a voice even bigger than his gut, where you cry real tears as the music messiah sings his tired heart out, turning casino into temple. In Elvis, you have the blueprint for rock’n’roll: the highness – the gospel highs. The mud – the Delta mud, the blues. Sexual liberation. Controversy. Changing the way people feel about the world. It’s all there with Elvis. I was barely conscious when I saw the ’68 Comeback Special, at eight years old – which was probably an advantage. I hadn’t the critical faculties to divide the different Elvises into different categories or sort through the contradictions. Pretty much everything I want from guitar, bass and drums was present: a performer annoyed by the distance from his audience; a persona that made a prism of fame’s wide-angle lens; a sexuality matched only by a thirst for God’s instruction. But it’s that elastic spastic dance that is the most difficult to explain – hips that swivel from Europe to Africa, which is the whole point of America, I guess. For an Irish boy, the voice might have explained the sexiness of the USA, but the dance explained the energy of this new world about to boil over and scald the rest of us with new ideas on race, religion, fashion, love and peace. These were ideas bigger than the man who would break the ice for them, ideas that would later confound the man who took the Anglo-Saxon stiff upper lip and curled it forever. He was “Elvis the Pelvis”, with one hand on the blues terminal and the other on the gospel, which is the essence of rock’n’roll, a lightning flash running along his spine, electroshock therapy for a generation about to refuse numbness, both male and female, black and white. I recently met with Coretta Scott King, John Lewis and some of the other leaders of the American civil rights movement, and they reminded me of the cultural apartheid rock’n’roll was up against. I think the hill they climbed would have been much steeper were it not for the racial inroads black music was making on white pop culture. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater



Revival were all introduced to the blues through Elvis. He was already doing what the civil rights movement was demanding: breaking down barriers. You don’t think of Elvis as political, but that is politics: changing the way people see the world. In the ’80s, U2 went to Memphis, to Sun Studio – the scene of rock’n’roll’s big bang. We were working with Elvis’ engineer and music diviner, Cowboy Jack Clement. He reopened the studio so we could cut some tracks within the same four walls where Elvis recorded “Mystery Train”. He found the old valve microphone The King had howled through; the reverb was the same reverb: “Train I ride, 16 coaches long”. It was a small tunnel of a place, but there was a certain clarity to the sound. You can hear it in those Sun records, and they are the ones for me – leanness but not meanness. The King didn’t know he was The King yet. It’s haunted, hunted, spooky music. Elvis doesn’t know where the train will take him, and that’s why we want to be passengers. Jerry Schilling, the only one of the Memphis Mafia not to sell him out, told me a story about when he used to live at Graceland, down by the squash courts. He had a little room there, and he said that when Elvis was upset and feeling out of kilter, he would leave the big house and go down to his little gym, where there was a piano. With no-one else around, his choice would always be gospel, losing and finding himself in the old spirituals. He was happiest when he was singing his way back to spiritual safety. But he didn’t stay long enough. Self-loathing was waiting back up at the house, where Elvis was seen shooting at his TV screens, the Bible open beside him at Saint Paul’s great ode to love, Corinthians 13. Elvis clearly didn’t believe God’s grace was amazing enough. Some commentators say it was the army, others say it was Hollywood or Las Vegas that broke his spirit. The rock’n’roll world certainly didn’t like to see their King doing what he was told. I think it was probably much more likely his marriage or his mother – or a finer fracture from earlier on, like losing his twin brother, Jesse, at birth. Maybe it was just the big arse of fame sitting on him. I think the Vegas period is underrated. I find it the most emotional. By that point Elvis was clearly not in control of his own life, and there is this incredible pathos. The big opera voice of the later years – that’s the one that really hurts me. Why is it that we want our idols to die on a cross of their own making and, if they don’t, we want our money back? But, you know, Elvis ate America before America ate him.






Elvis’ 20 greatest songs as picked by Uncut Legends’ esteemed panel of experts


Music takes a back seat as Elvis’ movies conquer the globe. But trouble is stirring…


From the fateful day he walked into Sun to becoming the biggest star of rock’n’roll


Exploring the allure of Elvis’ leading ladies


How faith kept Sam Phillips going when Elvis was going nowhere

How Elvis wrested control of his career from the Colonel, before having it snatched back


America’s love affair with Elvis begins

The incredible story of the greatest comeback in the history of rock’n’roll

The Hillbilly Cat conquers the world

The amazing iconography of Elvis’ spectacular TV rebirth

A rare interview with Elvis from the Melody Maker archives


The secrets behind Alfred Wertheimer’s greatest photographs

From refreshed and renewed to divorce and death, Presley’s tragic decline

60 THE ARMY YEARS: 1958-62
Elvis’career goes on hold… almost

How the Colonel’s punishing tour schedule stymied the resurgent Elvis



The extraordinary and depressing death of The King

The startling consequences the US Army had for Elvis’ life and career


From The Beatles to U2: The King’s legacy

The trials of singing, angry parents and more in Elvis’ most revealing ever interview


All the Elvis facts you’ve never heard

The search for the British Elvis

All the CDs, books and DVDs you’ll need


Movies and marriage become Elvis’ priorities


Uncut Legends uncovers the story behind the pick of Elvis’ albums



Roy Carr on his struggle to compile Elvis’ earliest recordings… and what Sam Phillips said when he heard them

What should have been just another soundtrack albumcontained the roots of his revival, in the form of a Bob Dylan cover



38 THE VOICE by Nigel Williamson 96 THE ACTOR by Joe Cushley 114 THE LOOK by David Stubbs 124 THE INTERPRETER by Gavin Martin

The record that defined what rock’n’roll was, and could be

With his comeback rightly lauded around the world, Elvis completed his redemption, in style



After leaving the army, Elvis was fired up to prove that he’d lost none of his edge while in khaki


Re-invigorated by his Vegas residencies, The King proves that he’s the world’s greatest balladeer

by Barney Hoskyns by Mike Pattenden





EDITORIAL ENQUIRIES Uncut, IPC Media, 25th Floor, King’s Reach Tower, Stamford Street, London SE1 9LS Tel: 020 7261 6992 Fax: 020 7261 5573 EDITOR Anthony Thornton ART EDITOR Michael Chapman PICTURE EDITOR Monica Chouhan PRODUCTION EDITOR Nathaniel Cramp SUB EDITORS Eddy Lawrence, Andrew Winter, Victoria Rees EDITORIAL ASSISTANT Elizabeth Curran CONTRIBUTORS Stuart Bailie, Nathaniel Cramp, Joe Cushley, Stephen Dalton, Simon Goddard, Nick Hasted, Barney Hoskyns, Neil Howie, Sarah-Jane, Pat Long, Gavin Martin, Paul Moody, Paul McNamee, Mike Pattenden, David Stubbs, Adrian Thrills ELVIS CONSULTANT Simon Goddard EDITORIAL DIRECTOR Steve Sutherland GROUP ART DIRECTOR Rob Biddulph UNCUT EDITOR Allan Jones UNCUT ART EDITOR Kerrin Hands ASSISTANT PUBLISHER Emily Hutchings PUBLISHER Andrew Sumner MANAGING DIRECTOR Tim Brooks SPECIAL THANKS TO: Kelly Hill and everyone at Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc, Alfred Wertheimer and Photokunst Gallery, Joseph A Tunzi, Roger Semon, Peter Chapman, Joe Winfield, Jimmy Young, Victoria Rees, Judith Sharpin

28 119

100 63 42 87
into In your hands is a lovingly crafted magazine that delves away from the everything that made Elvis great, while not shying to the massive heartbreak. In putting this together we had access and Disc archives and we’re delighted to reprint NME, Melody Maker from the three extremely rare interviews with Elvis himself, all world was just amazing period between 1955 and 1960 when the have a first-hand getting used to the Big Bang of rock’n’roll. We even le to assemble the Sun sessions album, and the account of the strugg of experts. all-time Elvis Top 20 as chosen by Uncut Legends’ panel it too. This has been a pleasure to create. We hope you like

COVER PHOTOGRAPHY ©ELVIS PRESLEY ENTERPRISES INC, PICTORIAL PRESS, REX FEATURES, KOBAL, GETTY, REDFERNS COMMERCIAL DIRECTOR Karl Marsden 020 7261 5519 MUSIC & FILM MANAGER Mia Appelbrink 020 7261 7073, fax 020 7261 5504 mia_appelbrink@ipcmedia.com DIRECTOR OF IGNITE MEDIA SOLUTIONS Andrew Sanders 020 7261 7187, fax 020 7261 5504 andrew_sanders@ipcmedia.com CLASSIFIED SALES MANAGER Romano Sidoli 020 7261 5061, fax 020 7261 5353, romano_sidoli@ipcmedia.com AD PRODUCTION Alec Short 020 7261 5543 PRODUCTION MANAGER Sam Bishop SENIOR MARKETING EXEC Nick New 020 7261 6722 PR MANAGER Nicola Woods 020 7261 6108
© 2005 IPC Media. No part of this magazine may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form without the prior permission of the publishers. Repro by FE Burman, 20 Crimscott Street, SE1 5TF. Printed by Polestar Chantry Web Ltd, Bridley Way, 41 Industrial Estate, Wakefield, West Yorkshire WF2 OXO All reasonable efforts have been made to obtain copyright clearance and acknowledge the source of material used in the magazine. If you should have been contacted or credited please email farah_ishaq@ipcmedia.com

te his 70th Elvis is number one. To ram the point home, and celebra scintillating birthday, he scored his 19th UK Number One with the 1,000th UK “Jailhouse Rock”. A week later he had the landmark with “One Night”. A testament to his lasting appeal. Number One te in Without Elvis, rock’n’roll itself would have been a footno Bowie and all the American history. The Beatles, Dylan, Led Zeppelin, consciousness. rest would never have got a toehold on our collective ine all these legends tell how Elvis changed their lives In this magaz ever considered in an individual way… and the lives of anyone who picking up a guitar. t to everyone. But that’s the point, Elvis means something differen simply the biggest star of the 20th century and it’s He was quite impossible to escape his influence in the 21st.



The King’s 20 finest moments, as chosen by Uncut’s panel of musicians, artists, celebs and, most importantly, Elvis freaks

Much covered, but hugely likeable, pop ballad written by Edward Heyman and Victor Young. Elvis imbues the track with a rich vocal resonance and more genuine emotion than most other versions can muster. Released as a single in 1966.
JON SPENCER, BLUES EXPLOSION: “I’m not a particular fan of love songs, but Elvis’ version of ‘Love Letters’ is great. I'm a real sucker for that.” STEVE DIGGLE, BUZZCOCKS: “When you listen to songs like ‘Love Letters’ you can hear Elvis’ Roy Orbison influence. My mum and dad had an old radiogram that would blast things out and when that came on, everyone would just stop what they were doing and listen. The mixture of pain and pathos in that song is unbelievable.”



The song Elvis memorably sang to a basset hound on Steve Allen’s TV show in July 1956 also gave him a Number One on the US pop, country and black singles charts. Another classic rocker, this Leiber and Stoller-penned number had “Don’t Be Cruel” on its flipside.

LIAM WATSON, TOE RAG STUDIOS: “When I was very young, my best friend was an Elvis nut. He had the album 40 Greatest – which was a great compilation of the biggest RCA hits. ‘Hound Dog’ was one of my favourites (along with ‘My Baby Left Me’) and still is.” ANTHONY H WILSON: “Whenever I hear ‘Hound Dog’, it takes me back to being six or seven and hearing it for the first time. My dad was an out-of-work actor so I’d grown up going to lots of musicals and hearing Shirley Bassey, but I’d




never been subjected to any rock’n’roll. It was like the door to another world opening. I didn’t know what was behind it, but I knew it was radical and exciting.” ALICE COOPER: “It reminds me of Elvis as I knew him – young, lean, snotty, with a sneer on his face. The coolest guy in the world.”


ALAN MCGEE: “His greatest moment. Sums up for
me men, women and everything in between.”

One of Elvis’ most emotive moments, written by a trio of composers including Mark “Suspicious Minds” James.


Written by Ferdinand Washington and one of the last cuts ever recorded at the Graceland studio in 1976.

offered ridiculously good value for money – ‘Hound Dog’/‘Don’t Be Cruel’, ‘Jailhouse Rock’/ ‘Treat Me Nice’ – and here’s another case in point. Issued as the flip of ‘Way Down’, this version of Johnny Ace’s posthumous 1954 smash deserved a release of its own. Check out the even better alternative take on the Platinum box set.”


From the session that started it all, the original one-take masterpiece put a raw twist on ‘Big Boy’ Crudup’s standard.

went off to Hollywood or wherever. The pureness of sound all these years later… I put that on and go, ‘Why am I even trying? I can never better this.’ He does three Arthur Crudup songs and they’re all works of art.”

‘Little Sister’ – I like the whole story of this love triangle between a man and two siblings. Our single right now is called ‘Little Sister’ and it’s partially inspired by that song. I love the sexual tension of it, what it’s saying: ‘Little sister don’t you do what your big sister done?’ There’s a devilish nature to that. And I love the guitar line.” TREVOR CAJIAO: “A low down’n’dirty groover from the Pomus and Shuman team. Tailormade for The King in every way.”

CHRIS BAILEY, THE SAINTS: “My ultimate favourite.
Whatever you say about Elvis, he very much liked black blues music. His music was black before he


Elvis broke the mould with this sly and salacious hardrocking paean to sibling rivalry and sexual revenge.




JESSE MALIN on how The King united his parents and consequently brought him into the world
of the songs they played, but I didn't “My first memory really appreciate how talented of Elvis was Elvis was until I bought From Elvis In watching my dad Memphis a few years later. jump around our “People have resented Elvis living room. Aloha because he didn’t write any of the From Hawaii was songs he recorded, but neither did on and he had Frank Sinatra. The important thing every TV in the is, he took a song and put so much house blaring it soul and passion in there he made out. He was never it his own. It didn't matter if he was really a music dabbling in country or gospel or fan, but he was nuts about Elvis. He rock’n’roll, he made them all sound had lots of records, posters and an really effortless and easy because he Elvis bust. In fact, the one thing my had such a beautiful voice. parents seemed to bond on most was “Obviously Fats Domino, Chuck probably The King. They went to see Berry and Little him together in Las Vegas Richard had already and during the brief released great time they were records by the together, “Elvis’ legacy time he came I remember on the scene, them listening shows how the but he was the to his records. American dream first to kick I liked some the door open and really introduce rock’n’roll to white people. What the Beastie Boys did for hip-hop, he did for rhythm and blues. “I remember playing outside when the next door neighbour told me he’d died. It was a sad moment and it would have been interesting to see what music he would have made if he’d lived. I still listen to Elvis now and then, but I think the most interesting thing about Elvis’ legacy is what it says about the American dream and how fame and success can kill you and send you spiraling in isolation and addiction. “I went to the Andy Warhol museum in Pittsburgh yesterday and I stood underneath the Elvis painting. Just staring at his eyes and wondering how he felt about all the things he experienced from the army to his downfall. It’s an iconic image and he was an extremely iconic man.”


A potently sexual, full-tilt pop single that topped the British charts in 1959 and made Number Four on the Billboard charts (paired with “I Got Stung”).

STEVE DIGGLE: “It’s a very basic song, but I really like ‘One Night’. The music is really simple and stripped down, but when Elvis sings the chorus… man, it goes right down your spine.

and fame and success can kill you”


“Suspicious Minds”? “American Trilogy”? Or a rant about the DEA? ’70s Elvis takes care of business

The newlywed Elvis and Priscilla board their honeymoon jet, May 1, 1967

ALAN MCGEE: “Elvis had the blues. He was a black guy with white skin.” RICHARD HAWLEY: “I’m a big fan of ‘Burning Love’. It’s just a very sexy record. You can hear him get down.” TREVOR CAJIAO: “Coming amid a sea of ballads, this Dennis Linde rocker was a real breath of fresh air in 1972. I heard it on the car radio yesterday and almost blew the speakers when turning the volume knob to 32. Isn’t it strange how all your favourite records sound even better when you’re not expecting to hear them?”

It must have been a real turn-on for women. I bet they used to listen to it and just melt.” TREVOR CAJIAO: “Don’t let anyone tell you the blues is strictly for the black man. The passion and feel in El’s version of ‘One Night’ transcends all musical boundaries. Apart from, maybe, Duane Eddy’s ‘Peter Gunn’, has there ever been a dirtier sounding record?” the Lieber and Stoller song. At the time I had no idea why I liked it. It was just the sound and the way he sang. Now I know what was going on – the compression on his voice and the way they put it through the best equipment. But his confidence and his assertion were stupendous. If you can hear Elvis singing ‘Love Me’, then that’s a great introduction to the blues.”


Barnstorming update of James Arnold’s country blues number from 1935. Recorded in 1954 in one of Elvis’ early sessions for Sam Phillips at Sun. It was released as a single in the US, with “You’re A Heartbreaker” on the flipside, in 1955.



Recorded during Elvis’ classic mid ’60s resurgence, this cover did things to Dylan that he didn’t expect .

CARL BÂRAT, THE LIBERTINES: “Bob Dylan said it was his favourite cover of one of his songs ever. Considering how many people had a crack at doing ol’ Zimmerman’s stanzas, that says it all.”

In the middle of his breakup with Priscilla, Elvis wasn’t keen to even record this ebullient love song, dispatching it in six takes to concentrate on downbeat ballads. You’d never guess, though, as The King turns in a rapturous vocal performance on a song that, in 1972, became his biggest US hit in three years.

LIAM WATSON, TOE RAG STUDIOS: “This was the first song I heard from Elvis’ Sun sessions. When I was a teenager, I had it on a tape of stuff I had recorded off the John Peel show. It still sounds fantastic.” JON SAVAGE: “The song starts off really slowly like a traditional blues number, then it breaks into a 200 mph rockabilly track with a wonderful mathematical guitar solo from Scotty Moore. It’s just extraordinary.” BARRIE CADOGAN, LITTLE BARRIE: “I think songs like ‘Milkcow…’ have been overlooked compared to his RCA output and the Las Vegas years, and yet there’s something very special about the simplicity and rawness of those particular tracks. They’re so deceptively simple, they sound like anybody could play them.”


ROISIN MURPHY, MOLOKO, would have married Elvis if only her dad had got that magic wand
“I was a big Elvis fan as a kid. In fact, I was so obsessed with him that my father told me he was going to get a magic wand so I could change one of the living room chairs into Elvis and marry him. Whenever he came to visit me I’d ask where it was and he’d say, ‘I’ll bring it next week, I’m going to visit the fairies tonight.’ After about a year I realised I was never going to get it and would have to make do with watching him on TV. I used to watch a lot of his films with my mum and occasionally we’d dance round the living room to his albums too. “I bought the Comeback Special DVD a while ago and I’ve watched that loads. The live footage is fantastic and when you watch him interacting with the band and talking to the audience you realise what a dark sense of humour he had. “In the ’50s he seemed quite a two dimensional figure, but of course he was just as human as the rest of us and behind his showbiz smile there was obviously a lot of turmoil and complexity. I’d definitely like to find out even more about Elvis because I still find him an extremely fascinating character.”

ROBERT PLANT: “The Elvis track that really did it
for me was ‘Love Me’. Not ‘Love Me Tender’, but

“The live footage from the Comeback Special is fantastic, you realise what a dark sense of humour he had”


| 11


Leiber and Stoller penned “Love Me” as a country music ‘parody’, with a funereal pace and melodramatic lyrics. Elvis’ version, recorded in September 1956, transformed it into a romantic ballad showcasing his power and range. Never released as an official single, it nevertheless almost topped the US Billboard charts through radio play alone.


This Otis Blackwell-penned number went to the top of the Billboard pop, country and black music charts in 1956 and stayed there for weeks – and with sales estimated anywhere between four and nine million became Elvis’ biggestselling single to date. A perfect blend of pop and rockabilly, Presley first heard the song at a studio session in July 1956 and immediately agreed to record it.

RICHARD HAWLEY: “I still get chills when I listen to
‘Don’t Be Cruel’. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful song with incredibly pure sentiment. The older I get the less I can be arsed listening to modern music because hardly any of it comes close to songs like this.” GREG HATTON, THE EARLIES: “The thing that’s interesting about Elvis is he wasn't a songwriter. His talent was the way he emotionally connected with the material and made it sound like his. His version of ‘Don’t Be Cruel’, for example, is just awesome. It literally sounds like his heart is breaking in two.” CRISTINA MARTINEZ, BOSS HOG: “‘Don’t Be Cruel’ is the sound of Elvis on his knees, whispering and promising you he’ll never do you wrong.”


Written by Jerry Reed and recorded by Elvis in Nashville, September 1967, this was hailed as a return to form after years of artistic ennui. The transformative Comeback Special, which used this song as its centrepiece, was to follow in ’68.

TOM BAXTER: “I’ve got a fantastic live album of Elvis’ where he performs a brilliant rendition of ‘Guitar Man’. In fact, that track was probably the one that inspired me to buy a guitar and teach myself how to play.” JESSE MALIN: “‘Guitar Man’ reminds me of a Springsteen or Pogues song, the lyrics are very cinematic and emotive. It’s a very working class anthem too. It tells the story of an underdog who sees the guitar as his weapon against the world. These days being a musician is encouraged, but when I started playing music wanting to be a guitarist was like being a criminal.” JON SAVAGE: “I find it slightly irritating that all the singles are being reissued, but I’d love to see ‘Guitar Man’ at Number One again. It would knock spots off the music that passes for pop nowadays. It’s just so exciting and energetic.” BARRIE CADOGAN: “The vocal delivery on ‘Guitar Man’ is killer. It’s just as hooky as hell.”


Guitar man Scotty Moore levitates a young Elvis



SUNE ROSE WAGNER, THE RAVEONETTES: “I've always had a soft spot for ‘Guitar Man’. The phrasing is really interesting and Elvis sings it with real conviction.”

Recorded as a favour to Tom Parker (apparently, the song meant a great deal to the Colonel and his wife), “Are You Lonesome…” is an epic, unapologetically sugary ballad that went on to become one of Presley’s most recognisable songs. The track took Elvis just one full take to get down, and went on to hit Number One on both sides of the Atlantic.

the army managing to tap into their sensitive, sentimental side so easily. Elvis was a natural though, he just picked up the microphone and got on with it.” JON SPENCER: “I can’t listen to ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’. It’s been used and parodied in so many commercials and films, that it’s lost its redemptive power. I can’t hear it without thinking of all the baggage attached to it, unfortunately.” JOSH HOMME: “I love the quality of all those early recordings – they really recapture the attitude because they were played live. They’ve become a final photograph.”


GREG HATTON: “I’m not a fan of schmaltz, but
I think ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ is up there with some of the best Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells and Johnny Cash songs. There’s just so much longing and lust and emotion contained within the music and Elvis’ voice… it’s remarkable.” STEVE DIGGLE: “‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ is pure poetry. The way he breaks down in the middle of the song is just magical. I can’t imagine many other guys that had been in

A big, fat slice of gothic pop perfection, this was Elvis’ first UK hit, making Number Two in May 1956. Written by Tommy Durden and Mae Boren Axton, the song concerned a suicide they’d read about in a newspaper. Elvis’ voice had never sounded so desperate or desolate.

ALAN VEGA, SUICIDE: “I know critics have to put things into words, but it’s impossible to say what

ANTHONY H WILSON sees a lot of Elvis in Ian Curtis’ performances and Shaun Ryder’s weight-gain regime
“I have a friend who believes to really be in the music industry you have to have been born in 1950 and I agree with him. If you were born in 1950, you would have been introduced to Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis as a toddler, you would have witnessed The Beatles as you were beginning to hit adolescence and you would have seen LSD and rock’n’roll explode as you were going to university. If you were still interested in music five years later, you would have seen punk blow up and so on. “My own musical enlightenment came on a Saturday evening when I was sat watching Six-Five Special with my parents on the BBC. I don't remember actually seeing Elvis, I just remember hearing the line ‘You ain't fan of early Elvis and one day I plan to nothing but a hound dog’ and being make a pilgrimage to Sun Studio. I’m blown away. I was very aware of Elvis an academic and, for me, the whole from then on and the first adult movie point of rock’n’roll is it’s about black I saw at Carlton Cinema in Salford was meets white, Africa meets Europe and the one where he sailed down the rhythm meets melody. Sam Phillips river on a wooden barge. I’d probably understood that, Elvis understood hate it if I saw it now, but it had a that and together they made history. profound effect on me at the time. “A lot of people like to wash over the “Trying to say what made Elvis ’70s, but because I’m an old hippy special is like trying to say what made I actually enjoy the drug excesses of Ian Curtis special. I guess the answer Elvis’ last few years. is that they were both unique and “Incidentally, when people were individual performers who were phenomenally exciting to see. interviewing Shaun Ryder about 24 “In Double Indemnity – his 2002 Hour Party People and seemed upset book about Elvis and Clinton – Greil by how bloated and ropey he looked, Marcus made the wonderful I asked when was point, if you want to know the last time they who a person is saw such rotting, “Trying to say ask if they like decaying, puffy, Elvis. If they say white skin? what made Elvis yes, ask them And the which Elvis. answer, special is like trying Personally, I’m of course, to say what made an enormous was Elvis.”


Ian Curtis special. They were both unique”

| 13

draws me to ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. It’s everything from the speed of the song to the words and the way Elvis sings them. I played a cover version of it once at Max’s Kansas City and had a blast.” RICHARD HAWLEY: “It’s one of the weirdest songs I’ve ever heard. It’s not a blues record, it’s not a country record and it’s not a pop record, it’s just this really gripping piece of completely otherworldly music.” JESSE MALIN: “It always sounds really intense and raw. The musicianship on that record is pretty amazing too, Scotty Moore sounds like he’s on fire. It’s a very cool song that I’m sure will sound just as fresh in another 30 or 40 years.” JON SAVAGE: “I really like ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ because it was the first rock’n’roll record to be Number One and when you really listen to it, you realise what an odd little song it was. It was almost gothic.” NEIL TENNANT, PET SHOP BOYS: “I love ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. When I was a kid I thought Elvis was creepy. We had The Beatles and Stones, but I read a book on him and it was amazing,”

haunting song about life in Chicago’s slums. An outstanding gospel ballad, the song was a highlight of 1969’s From Elvis In Memphis album.
ALAN MCGEE: “The greatest singer. The only other singer this good is Liam. Similar characters, actually.” RICHARD HAWLEY: “‘In The Ghetto’ was recorded when Elvis was going through his savage, fat bastard period. What’s incredible is that he still managed to sound totally on top of his game. I think it’s very sad he went the way of his mum, but then he never learned to eat with a knife and fork. He’d have had a job eating a bowl of soup, even.” JESSE MALIN: “This song could easily have sounded really corny and clichéd, but I think he manages to make it sound very soulful and gospel-like. To take a story like that and make it sound like it’s the first time you’ve heard it is no small feat.” ROISIN MURPHY, MOLOKO: “I like Elvis’ more gospel-based songs like ‘In The Ghetto’. I find them very moving and emotional. The music is really raw and intense and his vocals sound breathtaking.” SUNE ROSE WAGNER: “‘In The Ghetto’ is one of my favourite Elvis songs. I was smitten the

STEVE DIGGLE, anecdotal Elvis historian, can’t wait until The King’s next Comeback Special
“In the early ’60s, I used to live on a terraced street in north Manchester and my cousin, who lived two doors down, used to blare Elvis and Little Richard out of his bedroom window. I used to think the songs were really catchy, but it wasn’t until I started making music myself that I realised how great Elvis really was. “It’s hard to imagine these days, but TV programmes like The Ed Sullivan Show refused to shoot him below the waist in case viewers were offended by the way he thrust his hips. As for his crotch, that was way too wild to unleash on the public and everyone from Tom Jones to Michael Jackson has tried to imitate him. “I’ve always liked the early recordings, but as I’ve got older I’ve grown to appreciate the rhinestone suit years as well. There was a lot of humour in some of those cheesy ballads and I think Elvis was always quite bemused by how seriously people took him. It’s hard to nail down what made him so great, but I think it had something to do with his flexibility. He wasn’t just an animalistic rock icon, he was also a sensitive frontman who could reduce people to tears. Of course artists like Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison had already tried their hand at love songs, but when Elvis sung them you could feel the pain in his voice. “I’m not sure how he’d feel about his records being remixed and used to sell cars and stuff, but I’m sure Elvis would be delighted to know people still listen to his music. In fact, if he’s still alive somewhere, now would be the perfect time for his resurrection. If Morrissey can get away with making a comeback, Elvis has nothing to worry about!”


Poverty and hardship figured prominently in Elvis’ early life and that upbringing seems to inform his extraordinary, emotional vocal here on Mac Davis’

“I’ve always liked his early recordings, but I’ve grown to appreciate the rhinestone suit years, too”


first time I heard it, but never could find it on any of the albums I bought. When I finally found it and listened to it through headphones I was amazed. The way the music ebbs and flows is incredible and his vocals are astounding.” NEIL TENNANT: “I like ‘In The Ghetto’. I love lateperiod Elvis, but I think he had a sad life. I think his creative potential was stifled. He was an amazing singer.”


This Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart standard from 1933 became a thing of desolate, heart-rending beauty in Presley’s capable hands. Recorded at Sun in 1954, one reviewer was moved to comment that Elvis’ vocals “oozed like honey”.

TOM BAXTER: “There are lots of different versions

Elvis relaxes at his Goethestrasse home, 1959

of ‘Blue Moon’, but I think Elvis’ is the most haunting. His voice sounds really high and falsetto-like and whenever I hear it, I imagine him standing under the moonlight in Memphis with his sweetheart.” JESSE MALIN: “A lot of people see ‘Blue Moon’ as a love song, but to me it’s more of a lust song. The music is very sparse and spooky and Elvis’ vocals sound really sexy and desperate.”



With just some of the 3,500 straw boaters made for staff at the Vegas Hilton’s Elvis Summer Festival, 1970

CRISTINA MARTINEZ: “Elvis’ version of ‘Blue Moon’ may not be the definitive version of the classic, but it’s a great reminder of where he came from. Before his descent into solipsism there was an unadulterated exuberance that was infectious.” JOSH HOMME: “My favourite of all would be ‘Blue Moon’. When he goes up to the high note, it’s breathtaking. The way the sound is… it’s such a fucking blue moon. I’m almost personally insulted by the idea some people have that Elvis stole black music. I think, instead, a round of applause for bringing it into glaring relief and also doing it with such a natural passion and bringing the tribalist side out of it. It’s tough to convey the tribal side of rock’n’roll and, also, that blues is really influenced by drum and fife music. There’s no guitars in Africa. It’s drum and fife, and if

you listen, you hear the direct line. So the blues movement is something that should be shared culturally, and feelings don’t need to be credited to one person. It’s the mistake of an asshole to think that they should be.” ALEX KAPRANOS, FRANZ FERDINAND: “There’s a really weird version of ‘Blue Moon’ on an old 78 I bought years ago at a jumble sale. It’s saturated in slap-back echo and his voice is really thin and wobblysounding. It doesn’t sound like Elvis does on anything else. On all his other records he sounds so overly confident and at times even smug. It’s the only time I’ve heard him sounding a little bit unsure of himself and it’s brilliant. It’s a little glimpse of him before he defined that huge personality.”

SHIRLEY MANSON wishes Elvis hadn’t had to appear in all those movies. Except the ones where he’s in leather…
“I love flawed icons and the fact Elvis was plagued by these insane insecurities and dark secrets just makes him so much more real to me. I loved him when he did his Comeback Special dressed in tight leather trousers and jacket. Oh my god. . . he looked insanely sexy then. In fact, I’d go so far as to say, in that outfit at hat particular point in his career, he was the epitome of early rock’n’roll. “He worked his arse off too. Just imagine how many more albums he would have done if he hadn’t been contracted to make all those awful movies.”


“The fact Elvis was plagued by these dark secrets makes him so much more real to me”

Elvis, with Charlie Hodge and Jerry Scheff, at MGM Studios, 1970



pictorial press

A pensive Judy Tyler, Elvis and shapely pins in
Jailhouse Rock,



Perhaps the most alluring of Presley’s many ballads, “Love Me Tender” was also the title track to his first Hollywood movie and a song vital in spreading his appeal beyond the fans who had lapped up his earlier, more rock’n’roll-inflected singles. Went to Number One in the US, and 11 in the UK.

CRISTINA MARTINEZ: “‘Love Me Tender’ is a great example of what made Elvis so compelling and what made all the Bible-wielding conservatives so afraid of him. Here is this beautiful and unpolished country boy, dripping with sex appeal, making himself completely vulnerable. A wolf in sheep’s clothing is, in the end, what endears Elvis to millions; his little boy heart in a bad boy body.” SHIRLEY MANSON, GARBAGE: “Elvis recorded dozens of classics, but ‘Love Me Tender’ is a particular favourite of mine. It’s just such a timeless and beautiful love song.” ANTHONY H WILSON: “I have a soft spot for wonderful ballads and ‘Love Me Tender’ is one of the sweetest. It’s very syrupy and sentimental, but you can’t knock it.” NIC ARMSTRONG: “Some of Elvis’ songs have probably dated quite badly, but ‘Love Me

JON SPENCER only got into Elvis to keep his wife happy, but ended up basing a whole career around him
“I must have seen and heard Mr Presley as a child, but I only started to take him seriously in my early 20s when my wife introduced me to him. She grew up listening to Elvis and I remember her buying the compilations that came out to mark the tenth anniversary of his passing. We were living in a terrible apartment on 8th Street and Avenue D in the East Village in New York and we had an old record deck that she used to play the special editions on. “If I remember rightly, there was a collection of his Number Ones, a collection of his Top Tens and a double sang, but he was a brilliant interpreter. album of the Sun sessions. I didn’t mind Some people have suggested it was the first two, but it was the last one a shame he never got to stretch his that gave me a real education. I still wings as a songwriter, but I think if listen to it quite a lot and I’m a big fan it was in him to write it would have of the RCA stuff he did before and come out at some stage or another. after the army. The only thing I can’t Colonel Parker may have done some really get into is the tracks Elvis did in lousy things but he never stopped the late ’60s and ’70s. I’m sure there Elvis from picking up a guitar! are a couple of amazing songs, but in “I still think he’s one of the most general they’re very hit-and-miss. incredible singers to have emerged “From what I’ve read about him, in the last 50 years. He’s not Elvis was a strong producer too. only influenced The accounts I’ve read made me personally, it sound like he was the guy that “Colonel Parker but he’s been a massive source orchestrated and of inspiration produced most of may have done for Blues the RCA sessions. some lousy things, Explosion as Of course he a band. We didn’t write any but he never love him.” of the songs he


stopped Elvis picking up a guitar”




19 | 43

Tender’ still sounds incredibly sweet and emotive. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it played in a bar, but it’s the kind of jukebox song that would have everyone crooning along or crying in their beer.” JESSE MALIN: “I never liked ‘Love Me Tender’ as a kid and I still don’t like it because when I went to see a vocal coach it was one of the songs they made me sing over and over. I’d rather listen to his Christmas songs.” STEVE DIGGLE: “I thought ‘Love Me Tender’ was a bit simple and soft when I first heard it, but it’s grown a lot on me over the years. People talk about Charlie Chaplin being a good mime artist, but Elvis was fantastic. It didn’t matter how he felt at the time, whenever he sang ‘Love Me Tender’ you imagined him serenading some girl with a look of pure heartbreak and loneliness, pleading with them to love him. It’s such a convincing song.” SUNE ROSE WAGNER: “I don’t consider myself particularly sentimental, but ‘Love Me Tender’ has got to be one of the greatest love songs ever recorded. It’s just a really sweet, simple song with really tender instrumentation. I’ve heard a million different versions on various box sets and they all sound pretty good.” CHRIS BAILEY: “I can’t remember what it’s from – it’s one of his posthumous albums and it might be live in Las Vegas. But it’s the version where he loses it somewhat. It’s poignant and funny. He goes mental listening to one of his backing singers. She’s giving it all that gospel and he’s pissing himself.” ALICE COOPER: “This was the first Elvis song I heard in a movie, and it’s beautiful.”

Hog heaven: Elvis at the 1957 MississippiAlabama State Fair And Dairy Show

US country chart in 1955. Its clattering rhythm and echoing Elvis vocal making it one of his most instantly memorable and haunting songs.
RICHARD HAWLEY: “I love the original of ‘Mystery Train’ by Little Junior Parker. That was recorded at Sun Studio about two or three years before Elvis recorded it and I imagine he probably heard it on Sam Phillips’ radio show and thought ‘I’ll have a crack at that.’ What’s amazing is he managed to make his version sound even more mysterious than the original.”

“My first memory of Elvis is being bored out of my mind by ‘Return To Sender’ in 1962. It was Number One for ages and drove me crazy. I was really of the generation that didn’t like Elvis because he sounded so square next to The Beatles. The great revelation for me was buying The Sun Collection on vinyl when RCA re-issued them in 1975. I was so smitten

Elvis’ final Sun single – written and originally recorded by R&B legend Junior Parker – went to Number One on the

JON SAVAGE was way too hip for Elvis, until Presley’s early output made a him a late convert
that I went back and investigated his back catalogue and found I really appreciated some of his ’60s pop stuff too. There’s an enormous sense of self-discovery running through some of those songs and even now, they sound really fresh and exciting. Unlike a lot of people, the only thing I can’t really take is the fruity, Las Vegas stuff. It’s just unbelievably vulgar. People have made really good shots at reclaiming it, but it’s not for me. “Elvis was an incredibly sexy man and it’s a shame the ghoulish fascination with his demise overshadows what an extraordinary performer he was. If you watch any of the footage from the ’50s or late ’60s, you never knew what he was going to do next. He was the Johnny Rotten or Kurt Cobain of his day. Just completely wild and unpredictable. He looked fantastic, too.”



“If you watch any of the footage from the ’50s and ’60s, you never knew what he was going to do next.”


Elvis slates Jeremy Slate in Girls! Girls! Girls!, 1962

JON SAVAGE: “I’ve always had a soft spot for train songs from Kraftwerk’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ to all the old blues numbers. I like the playfulness of them and the way they try to interpret the sound and speed of the engine. What I love most about ‘Mystery Train’, however, is the way Elvis starts laughing at the end. It’s supposed to be a sad song, but he transforms it into something more playful and sexy.” BARRIE CADOGAN: “It’s a fantastic song. The rhythm running through it sounds like a train going at breakneck speed and the guitars are really intense and shimmery. Elvis’ vocals sound pretty incredible too.” TOM BAXTER: “‘Mystery Train’ will always have a special place in my heart because it was the first Elvis track I learned off by heart on the guitar.” ANTHONY H WILSON: “I love ‘Mystery Train’ almost as much as I love Greil Marcus’ book of the same name, I think he was the greatest pop writer in the world throughout the ’60s and ’70s, and the chapter he wrote on Elvis remains one of the finest pieces of music journalism ever written.” JON SPENCER: “‘Mystery Train’ is wonderful. In fact, that’s the song I’d recommend people listening to as an introduction to the real Elvis.”

SUNE ROSE WAGNER, THE RAVEONETTES, in defence – nay, celebration – of Elvis the crooner.
“I’ve been a fan of Elvis for as long as I can remember. I’m not so crazy about his last period, but I love the early stuff, the mid ’60s stuff and some of the soundtracks he did. “I was listening to Elvis a lot while we were writing our new album and his music inspired me to write the opening song, ‘The Heavens’. He has the most amazing rock’n’roll voice ever committed to tape, but when he croons his vocals are even better. I know my croon pales next to his, but I tried my hardest to do my best standard for The Cramps, The Stooges impersonation as a tribute. and every rock’n’roll band since. “One of the things I love most I’d love to pretend it was second about Elvis, besides his voice, is his nature for him, but I think he probably simplicity. He never tried to make appropriated things he liked. The the music really complex or disguise outfit he wore for the Comeback the meaning with lots of complicated Special in 1968, for instance, is almost metaphors. He understood identical to the one Vince Taylor that sometimes less is more. wore when he performed ‘Shakin’ I have to confess to being All Over’ in the early ’60s. Vince looked in awe of his presence pretty good in too. He was leather himself, extremely “He dressed good-looking incredibly stylishly. but he couldn’t move like Elvis.” and dressed “No-one incredibly He set the standard could. He was stylishly. for The Cramps, The King.” He set the



The Stooges and everyone else since”



A superb, soulful, up-tempo ballad written by Mark James, 1969’s “Suspicious Minds” showcases an older, wiser Elvis glorying in his decision to leave the movies behind and – finally – concentrate on his music. Funky, frantic and polished by legendary producer Chips Moman until he could see his face in it, this is The King at his most intense and clearly enjoying his return to recording in Memphis.


BARRIE CADOGAN: “The whole feel and mood of
‘Suspicious Minds’ is so timeless and brilliant, it sounds as relevant now as it did 30-odd years ago. I like the original a lot, but the live version is even better. When the song breaks down and he goes down on one knee, you can feel your heart beating… it’s just amazing. The strings on that song are incredible too.” NIC ARMSTRONG: “I’m not a big fan of the cheesy films he did, but I love the comeback era. The atmosphere is electrifying and his version of ‘Suspicious Minds’ is spine-tingling. You can tell he put every jolt of energy into singing it.” STEVE DIGGLE: “It’s impossible to listen to ‘Suspicious Minds’ without seeing Elvis in the big sunglasses and rhinestone suit. Of course he was probably too old and fat to dress so flamboyantly, but he was such a powerful, majestic man he got away with it. In a way, he was like the first and last showman. His costumes just got more and more outrageous.” JOSH HOMME: “Something that happened a little later that proves you can only be King if you can do it for longer than a couple of records. By the time it came out, what’s sandwiched in between that and his early material is more hits than anybody else and more sweet delivery. If it was food, I’d eat it every day.” CHRIS BAILEY: “In my humble opinion it’s one of the best-recorded songs I’ve heard. It’s one of the best-orchestrated songs too. The arrangement builds excitement in a quite simple song and I think that’s quite cleverly done. A lot of his records were very intelligently recorded.” GARY LIGHTBODY, SNOW PATROL: “‘Suspicious Minds’ made me re-think how important he was. It’s a song of incredible intensity and passion.”

RICHARD HAWLEY: “‘Suspicious Minds’ just has a life of its own. I’ve heard people say it’s well produced, but I’ve never listened to it and thought about the production. The point is it’s a phenomenal song. All that the producer had to do was switch on the mixing board and nail the right take. Elvis and his band took care of everything else.” JESSE MALIN: “I think ‘Suspicious Minds’ is one of Elvis’ best records. It always draws me in and conjures images of him, walking up and down the stage in Las Vegas, doing a few karate kicks. You can hear the way it influenced bands like Suicide and The Raveonettes too. Of course, they use a lot of crazy synthesisers, drum machines and feedback, but you can still hear echoes of Elvis in their songs.” GILES HATTON: “I’m a fan of big arrangements and ‘Suspicious Minds’ was written with that purpose in mind. From beginning to end, it’s just a really passionate, powerful, party record.” ALAN MCGEE: “Great pop music the way they used to make ’em.”

GILES HATTON, THE EARLIES, loves Elvis, despite The King’s death ruining his continental breakfast
“I love Elvis. He was my gateway into rock’n’roll and artists like Gene Vincent, Roy Orbison, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. I know there’s speculation over whether or not he was racist, but the fact is he totally changed taboos within America and made a whole generation aware of black music and how fundamentally important it was. “Of course he recorded some cheesy songs, but he also recorded lots of fantastic ones that influenced everyone from John Lennon to The Rolling Stones. It’s a shame Colonel Parker encouraged him to become a commodity and do all those awful films, but he bounced back with the Comeback Special. Some of those songs are astounding and, of course, he looks so heroic and iconic. Just watching him sit down and jam with his band is a sight to behold and you can see people in the audience are totally hypnotised by his presence. “We were sat around the breakfast table on holiday when they announced he’d died on the radio and my mum burst into tears. She worked in a record shop in Ashton-Under-Lyne and she’d always play Elvis and rockabilly at home. She loved anybody with a great voice, and Elvis had one of the best.”
The King of the road: Elvis in his element, 1956


“Some of the songs on the Comeback Special are astounding. And of course he looks heroic”



Lead singer with seminal Aussie punk band, The Saints Former co-lead singer of The Libertines, now pursuing a solo career


Lead singer of Snow Patrol




Lead singer of techno-rockers Garbage


Singer/songwriter and Uncut fave

Boss Hog and Pussy Galore singer and guitarist Lead singer with Moloko, solo album due out shortly



Lead singer and guitarist with Little Barrie Editor of periodical Elvis: The Man And His Music and Now Dig This, the respected rock ‘n’ roll magazine



Lead singer with the Pet Shop Boys


Rock legend and friend of Elvis

Former lead singer with Led Zeppelin Influential rock writer Lead singer and guitarist with the Blues Explosion Lead singer with electronic noise punks Suicide

Former lead guitarist with the Buzzcocks and solo artist Former Creation and now Poptones owner and discoverer of Oasis Producer/ programmer with The Earlies






Solo singer/ songwriter and one-time guitarist with Pulp Lead singer of Queens Of The Stone Age


Singer and guitarist with The Raveonettes Owner/producer at Toe Rag Studios, London, favourite of The White Stripes, Holly Golightly and Billy Childish



Lead singer of Franz Ferdinand

Factory Records supremo behind the success of Joy Division, New Order and Happy Mondays


Interviews by Sarah-Jane, Carol Clerk, Marc Hayward, Julian Marshall, Dan Martin, Vicky Roberts, Paul Stokes, Nigel Williamson, Alan Woodhouse



Bankruptcy, the blues and BB King: How the Sun Record Company and Colonel Tom Parker turn the boy born in a Mississippi shotgun shack into the world’s most valuable recording artist before his 21st birthday


1948 – 1953
The Presley family live in a succession of poor neighbourhoods in north Memphis. Life continues to be hard. Elvis works at various jobs to help support himself and his parents while attending LC Humes High School. He’s making a name for himself as a singer and guitar player among his community. He hangs around Beale Street blues clubs where he bumps into bluesmen like BB King. He is also a regular at the all-night gospel “sings” that are held downtown. He wears his hair comparatively long and slick, and lets his sideburns grow. He’s starting to stand out and is dropped from the school football team for refusing to cut his ducktail. In 1950, he plays in the annual Christmas talent show at school and is so popular he performs an encore.


Sam Phillips mentors the young Elvis at Sun Studios

Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Hick: Elvis and his parents

JANUARY 8, 1935

Elvis Aron Presley is born to Vernon and Gladys Presley in a two-room “shotgun shack” in Tupelo, Mississippi. His twin brother, Jessie Garon, is stillborn. Elvis is surrounded by a large and close-knit extended family.

Shep” in a youth talent contest at Tupelo’s Mississippi-Alabama Fair And Dairy Show.


1935 – 1948

Elvis gets his first guitar. It costs $7.75 (plus sales tax) from the Tupelo Hardware Company. He’d wanted a bike but the family couldn’t afford it.

The DA takes flight

4 Elvis drops in to Sun to record another acetate. Keisker makes her boss listen.



Elvis signs with Bob Neal, who becomes his manager.

Elvis attends Assembly Of God Church in Tupelo where a love of gospel music and spirituals grows. He also starts to listen to black bluesmen in the neighbourhood.



Ten-year-old Elvis makes his first public performance, singing “Old

Elvis plays his guitar and sings “Leaf On A Tree” for his Milam Junior High class in Tupelo at a farewell concert. Elvis and his parents pack all their possessions in a trunk, strap it to the roof of their old car and head to Memphis, Tennessee in search of a better life.


5 Phillips gets Elvis back into the studio to record with local players Scotty Moore (guitar) and Bill Black (bass). After an unproductive session, Elvis breaks into a sped-up version of Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup’s “That’s All Right”. This song, backed with “Blue Moon Of Kentucky”, becomes the first of five singles Elvis will release on the Sun label.


Drummer DJ Fontana joins Elvis’ band. He starts to become a phenomenon in the South where his live shows are electrifying audiences.


15 Elvis signs a one-year contract with Colonel Parker.


3 Elvis graduates from Humes High School. As soon as he leaves school, Elvis starts a job at Parker Machinists Shop.



LATE 1953

Elvis switches jobs, moving to Crown Electric Company where he drives a van. He also attends night school where he studies to be an electrician.
Even as a pre-teen, Elvis was very careful about his image

manager Bob Neal




18 Elvis stops in at 706 Union Avenue, the home of the Sam Phillips Memphis Recording Service (Sun Record Company), and records two songs “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin”. He wants an acetate pressed as a belated birthday present for his mother. Phillips isn’t in, so his office manager Marion Keisker handles the $4 session. She is intrigued by the young man’s voice, makes a copy of the session for her boss and writes ‘good ballad singer’ on the box.

Elvis, Scotty and Bill start performing together, with Scotty acting as the group’s manager. Elvis continues to work at Crown Electric as the group starts to play small clubs and other smalltime gigs throughout the South, enjoying moderate success.

20 Sam Phillips sells Elvis’ contract, plus the rights to his first five singles, to RCA for a then-record $35,000 (plus an extra $5,000 for Elvis himself).


2 Elvis’ only appearance on The Grand Ole Opry doesn’t go down well. One Opry official tells him to go back to driving a truck, criticism he takes hard. 16 Elvis and his band appear for the first time on The Louisiana Hayride, a live Saturday night country music radio show. It’s the main rival to the Opry, carried by 190 stations. He signs a deal for 52 appearances. It’s here he first meets promoter and future manager Colonel Presley with

All right now: Scotty Moore (l) and Bill Black (r) give emphasis to Elvis’ rhythm

ing illips had been search This was just what Ph s. emphis Recording ost blown his chance r since opening the M 5, 1954. Elvis had alm fo July s Sun, in 1950. Phillip ecords’ Sam Phillips rvice, which housed freakish spark Sun R Se The the nervous 19-yearan from Alabama who ght he’d glimpsed in as 28 then, a radio m w thou es of ly ready released the lik be found – after near ved R&B, and had al truck driver couldn’t lo old ing on his label. ips was thinking of owlin’ Wolf and BB K weeks of trying. Phill H two ral e radical vision, a cultu s started slapping his But Phillips had a mor ng it quits, when Elvi calli te dark he needed a whi azily, and singing a d musical leap in the hm guitar, shaking cr an rhyt s R&B sales climbed Crudup’s “That’s All ger to make for him. A k man’s song. Arthur sin blac outh as a sensual cry , segregated America’s ht” sprang from his m through the early ’50s Rig rm of re guitarist Scotty Moo on this vibrant new fo eedom. Startled, lead prejudice still kept a lid of fr hite kids] down their Cokes music.“[Southern w bassist Bill Black put and eren’t re gave liked the music, but w d started to play. Moo an ght to,” , as Black sure whether they ou phasis to Elvis’ rhythm em the he’d later explain. With at.“What ld down a violent be he , the lid asked.“We right white performer you doing?” Phillips are could blow off. ied.“Well,” he don’t know,” they repl ” Sunny side up: ordered,“do it again. Sam Phillips (l) and
Bob Neal (r) sign the young Elvis to Sun in July 1954

s All Right” y recorded “That’ When Elvis Presle g changed in 1954, everythin io at a Memphis stud NICK HASTED



History is made at Sun, with Elvis, Bill Black, Scotty Moore and Sam Phillips

lvis was not the weirdest creature walking the South that summer with rock’s atom-splitting secret in his bones. In Macon, Georgia, Little Richard strutted the streets with make-up and a marcel-waved pompadour. In Ferriday, Louisiana, Jerry Lee Lewis and his tumbling locks could be seen at rhythm and blues joints, absorbing black ways. In the small towns of the 1950s South, one of the most culturally conservative places in American history, they were like mutants, strange beings from the future. It was Sam Phillips’ luck that Elvis walked in his door instead. With his quiff slicked with three kinds of grease, sideburns and a penchant for black eye make-up and pink clothes, he was a truck driver from outer space. But where Richard was black and Lewis a true delinquent, Elvis’ look concealed a mother’s boy with an open musical heart the other candidates for rock’n’roll king couldn’t match. Though he loved R&B and had lived in a black Memphis neighbourhood for a time, he had white country roots the blues couldn’t obscure.

Nothing in Elvis’ visits to Sun prior to “That’s All Right” had hinted at the hybrid coalescing inside him. He first nervously poked his head round the door one weekend in August 1953. He was a pimply, gawky teen, holding a child’s guitar, looking to use the company’s acetate-making service “to surprise my mother” with a song, he said. “What kind of singer are you ?” Phillips’ partner Marion Keisker asked. “I sing all kinds,” he truthfully answered. For $3.98 plus tax, Elvis Presley made his innocuous recording debut with the Inkspots’ “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin”. Possessed by some instinct as she heard his plaintive voice, Keisker unusually taped him herself, later playing it to Phillips, who kept the boy in mind. Elvis recorded two more ballads in January 1954, and regularly returned to Sun over ten fruitless months, awkwardly asking Keisker if anyone needed a singer, unable to give up hope. On Saturday June 26, his chance came at last. Phillips had been intrigued by a black singer’s

demo song, “Without You”, but couldn’t locate him. Keisker suggested Elvis could give it a try. Nothing worked on his first day at Sun. After three hours of struggle, “Without You” was ditched. Elvis screamed “I hate it ! I hate it !” and punched the walls, as if the song stood in the way of his future. Phillips had quietly turned the tape off as he listened to the boy fail to spark. But, in the most mysterious moment of Elvis’s success, the producer kept trying – because there was something special hidden in him he could almost see, perhaps, and he badly wanted to find it. Whatever the reason, Elvis nagged at his mind. On Sunday July 4 he asked Scotty Moore to “audition” him at Moore’s house, with Bill Black. Black allowed: “The cat can sing.” The next evening, at 7pm, the trio turned up at Sun for Elvis’ final dice-roll. They tried Bing Crosby’s “Harbor Lights” and a tremulous, genuinely tender “I Love You Because”. But “That’s All Right” was Elvis’s lightning bolt, delivered from out of the blue, the moment that turned him from a mild-mannered trucker into the South’s Superman. The song just “popped into my mind”, he’d say later. From whatever subconscious place, as he felt his chance slipping from him, Elvis had seized hold of his destiny, and changed the world. But as yet, only Phillips knew it. Now this musical Manhattan Project had to be handled with care.




had to keep my nose clean,” Phillips remembered to Peter Guralnick of selling Elvis to Southern taste-makers. “They could have said, ‘This goddamn rebel… why should we give this nigger-loving sonofabitch a break ?’ It took some subtle thinking on my part.” His ace in the hole was Elvis himself. Despite the present-day belief by many that he was, as Public Enemy spat in “Fight The Power”, a “straight-up racist” cynically stealing black culture, the opposite attitude was being bred at Sun in 1954. Recording “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” a few days later, Elvis’ R&B inflections on a straight, classic country song made Moore break into parodic black screams. “What?” Elvis asked, not even recognising the line he was crossing in the heat of creation. “The lack of prejudice on the part of Elvis Presley had to be one of the biggest things that ever could have happened to us,” Phillips concluded. “It was almost subversive, sneaking around through the music.” With this

the point home. The phone burned off the hook. Elvis, who had gone to the movies rather than hear himself, thinking “people would laugh at me”, was dragged out of the dark for an interview. Pretending they were off-air, Dewey drew the most pertinent fact from him, his school (white, in still segregated Memphis): “I wanted to get that out, because a lot of people listening had thought he was coloured.” Hunch proved, Phillips set Elvis Presley’s first single in motion. B-side “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” was the result of three or four days painstakingly trying to relocate their first instinctive spark. “Every session came hard,” Marion Keisker recalled of all the Sun sides that now sound so primally natural. A 1946 Bill Monroe bluegrass standard, the song was meant as a canny commercial sop to white listeners, though it was hopped-up with black energy. Phillips finished it with an echoing, “slapback” effect (achieved by running the original recording through a second machine, causing a slight delay and bigger sound), a trademark Sun touch aped by fans from Lennon to Spector. Elvis cried as he Sam Phillips at watched his record being pressed. Released on the controls at July 19, it sold only 20,000, most DJs, Keisker Sun Studio recalled, baulking at one side or the other. But in Memphis, teenagers greeted each other with “That’s All Right”’s inarticulate refrain, “Ta dee dah dee dee dah”, like a secret dah”, code they were the first to crack. Now, the live side of Elvis’ simmering genius began to boil. Playing a country bill with Moore and Black at Overton Park on July 30, the rhythmic energy inside him reached the surface. Shivering with nerves backstage, when he stood at the mic one leg shook in a different way, jerking out the beat, rippling his loose trousers as if all manner of movement was surging inside. His lips hitched up into a sneer. His other leg kicked out straight. The girls started to scream – and never stopped. Again, Elvis thought they were laughing at him, again weapon, Sun’s owner “went out into no-man’s land, he didn’t know what he’d done, at first; he’d always and I knocked the shit out of the colour line”. moved that way to music. But when the screams were Phillips’ first stop was Dewey Phillips (no explained, he did it more. As would happen with his relation), a wild, white taste-making Memphis records, what exploded as instinct was refined by DJ steeped in black him into conscious mastery. “If I do music. Dewey was something good, they let me know uncharacteristically it,” he said later, of his symbiosis quiet when Sam with the crowd. “He would look played him “That’s at them, see that he’d gotten All Right” the night through,” country manager it was made, struck Tillman Franks noted. “Elvis by the gravity of what masterminded the situation. he was hearing. On He was a genius at it.” July 8 he played it on his Red Hot And Blue show a dozen times straight, driving

ould Elvis’ unique version of rock’n’roll have emerged anywhere else than Memphis? Arguably not, for there were few other cities in America where racial lines merged to create quite such a potent cultural crucible. On a social level, segregation was as rife as it was anywhere in the South. But from the early years of the 20th century when WC Handy – “the father of the blues” – arrived, black and white musical influences swirled and mingled freely, both in the bars and saloons on Beale Street and in the more upmarket country clubs and riverboats. Although located in Tennessee, Memphis was so close to the Mississippi state line that it became, in effect, the capital city of the Delta, drawing literally hundreds of blues musicians from the rural regions to the South. Among them were Memphis Minnie, Memphis Slim, Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Bobby Bland and BB King. In one of his earliest interviews, Elvis spoke of how he had always “dug the real lowdown Mississippi singers”. But the Presley family was also very strongly religious and frequently sung at camp meetings and revivals, where the young Elvis absorbed the sounds of Southern gospel. He was also exposed early to the


Reel life: Sun’s elementary recording equipment

country and western sounds coming out of Nashville, 200 miles to the east. Then, as Elvis was entering his teens, Sam Phillips started his Memphis Recording Service, where he cut Howlin’ Wolf’s first sides and a fast boogie called “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston and Ike Turner, which many claim as the very first rock’n’roll record, three years before Elvis entered Sun Studios. By the time he did, Phillips had also cut several more seminal records, including Junior Parker’s original version of “Mystery Train”, Rosco Gordon’s “No More Doggin’” and Rufus Thomas’ “Bear Cat”, itself an answer to Willie Mae Thornton’s 1951 recording of “Hound Dog”. Each and every one made an indelible impression on Presley. NIGEL WILLIAMSON


he trio honed their craft around Memphis, playing quadraplegic wards, schools, even a swimming baths bar. On September 8, on a flat-bed truck in a parking lot, at the opening of a shopping centre, they were suddenly faced with thousands of fans, the secret constituency who’d been waiting for this music to arrive. Their fervour felt like a riot, lashing the band to greater heights. For just a moment, Moore felt afraid of what they were creating. Phillips had them back at Sun, as the summer of 1954 faded. He drove them hard, not wanting to let the standard of their epochal start drop. Radically different facets of Elvis emerged, as if what was inside him was growing by the day. On the eerie “Blue Moon” he seemed to split into two: a tensely sensual baritone, and an unearthly, ululating swamp-spirit falsetto. The echoing Sun sound only added to the sense of schizoid, supernatural mystery. It was left on the shelf for “Good Rockin’ Tonight”, Elvis’ second A-side on September 25. While not matching the touch-paper thrill of “That’s All Right”, it was a more muscular, manly anthem for the new music, even as he sang straight to hedonistic teens: “We’re gonna rock, all of our blues a-wa-a-a-a-y” a-wa-a-a-a-y”. On October 2, Phillips called in favours to get Elvis on the bill of Nashville

The unimposing Sun Studio, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis. Recording sheet (r) for “Blue Moon Of Kentucky”

radio show The Grand Ole Opry Opry. The reception from the redneck elite was polite verging on frosty, and on the way back to Memphis Elvis threw his stage clothes in a gas station bin in disgust. Shreveport’s Louisiana Hayride the Hayride, Opry’s insurgent rival, where Hank Williams had ’s first made his name, was a different story, just. For his first two-song set, Elvis was frozen with terror at this crucial crowd, and they felt the same way. “I think he scared them a little,” said one witness. “He was on the toes of his feet singing. I think they thought he was going to jump off the stage and beat them.” Between sets, Phillips calmed the boy, and when he returned, the Hayride was ready for him. There was a roar of approval as women of all ages danced and reached towards him. They gave him a year’s contract. Only now did Elvis quit truck driving. Instead, he and his band spent 1955 driving themselves through the South, in a battered Lincoln with “Elvis Presley – Sun Records” proudly painted on the side and Black’s bass strapped to

the top. They slept in it, and sometimes they were stranded with no money in strange backwaters. But as they crisscrossed the Southland, a chain reaction grew around them. Radio sessions from the Hayride beamed the word on ahead, and teenagers flocked to see this simmering, underground sensation. The boy they watched, just turned 20, was not the slick, plastic matinee idol of the ’60s, or the experienced, playful master performer of the ’70s. He was a dirty, unkempt, untutored hillbilly in lurid clothes – pink, yellow, green – with greasy hair that fell across an acne-pocked face. There was nothing smooth about him. He spat out gum, or tossed it at the crowd, burped into the mic and told bad jokes. At first glance, he was like a bad joke himself, an insult to professionals and the fearful, buttoned-down ethos of America then. “By conventional standards,” Phillips admitted, “he should have been thrown off the stage.” “His diction was real coarse, like a truck driver’s,” said Roy Orbison, watching him in Odessa, Texas. “I can’t over-emphasise how shocking he looked to me that night. There was just no reference point in the culture to compare to it.” But when Elvis tumbled onto a stage, or flung himself back from the mic and feverishly shook, as if possessed by spirits or in the throes of orgasm, his own generation responded with relieved ecstasy. Elvis hardly understood his own power, till it was almost too late. On May 13, in Jacksonville, Florida, his teasing comment to 14,000 fans – “Girls, I’ll see you all backstage” – saw his words become riotous reality, as young girls lunged through the backstage skylight, tearing off his clothes and herding him to the top of a shower cabinet, before cops quelled the oestrogen frenzy. Two more Sun singles fed the flames. “Milkcow Blues Boogie”, released January 8, 1955, was notable for Elvis’ sly, scripted break from its country-blues start – “Hold it, fellas. It just don’t move me. Let’s get real, real gone for a change!”

It all ads up: Original newspaper plugs




– before Moore’s guitar drove his hiccuping vocal into rock. B-side “You’re A Heartbreaker” was still nearer the vocal style Buddy Holly, who watched Elvis in Lubbock, would build his career on. April 1’s “Baby, Let’s Play House” was a happily dirty come-on to every “baby, baby, babeh” in America. It also cracked the US country Top 10. The South’s secret was out. That summer, there was a feeding frenzy around the singer. Ahmet Ertegun’s Atlantic made the first offer, $25,000 that would have put his label in hock, so badly did he want him. Elvis on Ray Charles’ artist- and R&B-loving label might have altered his future wonderfully. But bigger fish were circling. And ex-carny hustler and manager Colonel Tom Parker was pouring blood into the water. He had watched the Jacksonville riot with, it was said, “dollar signs in his eyes”, and told Elvis and an outraged Phillips Sun was too small for the boy now. Secretly, as he struggled to keep up with Elvis’ rocketing record-pressings, and looked grimly at the label’s debts, Phillips knew the end was near.

n July 11 1955, a year after his first Sun single, Elvis cut his last. Recorded by Phillips with bluesman Junior Parker in 1953, but with its roots in the country Carter Family’s deathly “Worried Man Blues” (1930), “Mystery Train” was a grand climax. To a thrilling, intricate rhythm Moore said he could never play except “with him singing”, Elvis faced down a long black locomotive – the Devil himself, in the Carters’ version – without a care. The train has taken his baby, “but it never will again”, he again”, sings almost to himself, so content in his power you can hear him laugh; otherwise, he lets his voice sink into the rhythm, driving it down the track. “A fucking masterpiece !” Phillips rightly judged. There was one more abortive session in the autumn, clouded by Elvis’ likely leaving. Grim-faced, he smashed his guitar. Parker was meanwhile sweet-talking Elvis’ suspicious parents into letting him manage their son (at 20, he was still a minor). He then conducted a campaign of dazzling brinkmanship

between Sun and RCA, who finally met Phillips’ price – $35,000, plus the $5,000 back-royalties he was stretched too thin to pay Elvis – on November 15 1955. Elvis signed to RCA six days later. The decision had been agonising for Phillips. But the boy genius he had fostered had outgrown him. With the money, he made stars of Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, fuelling the revolution he’d foreseen. Elvis, nervous, wondered if he’d ever be recorded as well again as in Sun’s small, acoustically mysterious studio. Some say he never was. In the US especially, his Sun singles, only ever regional hits or buried album tracks, are still barely known (though in the UK “Mystery Train” and “Blue Moon” went Top 30 in the late ’50s, and The Sun Sessions stormed the Top 20 in the mid ‘70s). They are the secret, unspoiled Blues brothers: Junior Parker, EP seeds of pop’s most and Bobby Bland splendid career.

Elvis was so famous he once wrote for NME, September 1956


1953- 55


It took until 1975 for RCA to issue The Sun Collection – a compilation of those incendiary mid-’50s Memphis recordings which became Elvis’ best-selling album for years. Roy Carr, who put it together, tells the story





ght That’s All Ri ntucky Blue Moon Of Ke If The I Don’t Care ine Su n Don’t Sh Tonight Good Rockin’ s Milkcow Blue Boogie You’re A Heartbreaker e I’m Left, You’r ne Go Right, She’s Baby, Let’s Play House n Mystery Trai I Forgot To Forget Re me mber To t You I’ll Never Le cause I Love You Be (1st Version) rlin’) Go (Little Da

To You Trying To Get Blue Moon Just Because cause I Love You Be (2nd Version)

Mar 76(US) Au g 75 (U K) Sun Studio, Memphis

Sa m Ph illips

16 76

t the turn of the ’70s it came to a head. For years and years I had been bugged by the knowledge that the seminal masterpieces that came from Elvis’ Sun sessions had never been properly anthologised. Remarkably, his original Sun singles had remained just that, singles. The recordings that Elvis made at Sun between July 1954 and November 1955 are some of the most important recordings in modern music, but no-one was caring for them. Up until his death in 1977, Elvis’ back-catalogue was thought of only as an afterthought. Only now has it been afforded the attention it deserves. Back in 1973, yours truly and like-minded RCA employee Shaun Greenfield began trying to get the tapes released. The original intention was to obtain official access to RCA’s Stateside tape vaults, but knowing just how vague the label could be when it came to anything other than greatest hits compilations, we came up with tape box numbers to some unreleased treasures to excite them. We had access to 16 tracks already, but we were after bonus material: we wanted to use the studio out-takes and false starts similar to those that had made their way onto the Dutch-pressed bootleg Good Rockin’ Tonight to make an entire double album (it would be

1997 before the nigh-on definitive 38-track ‘Sunrise’ collection, complete with live cuts and acetates from 1953, would finally be released). Alternatively we imagined a seven-inch single that coupled “Tennessee Saturday Night” (scheduled for release twice but withdrawn) with the original slow treatment of “Blue Moon Of Kentucky”. In addition we had recording sheets for “Oakie Boogie” and “Uncle Penn”. RCA said none of them existed. Whatever the eventual tracklisting, the album would come in a gatefold sleeve featuring period press adverts, concert posters and previously unseen photographs. I would also pen the liner notes. I wanted an evocative sepia shot of a young Elvis stood backstage laughing with his hand-tooled covered guitar on the cover [see picture below left]. However, our enthusiasm was to be short-lived – the Americans promptly rejected the whole idea. As a result, The Sun Collection gathered dust for almost two years until, out of the blue, we received a Stateside memo from RCA giving us the green light to compile the 16-track single album. No reason was proffered for this U-turn. Likewise, there was to be no double album, no bonus EP, not even the gatefold sleeve! The sepia photo was also jettisoned to be replaced by a crude illustration of Elvis. So, two years after its inception, The Sun Collection was used to launch RCA’s Starcall budget line in August 1975. That should have been the end of it, but it wasn’t.




THAT’S ALL RIGHT/ BLUE MOON OF KENTUCKY [SUN 209] “What the hell’s goin’ on?’ Phillips shouted. “We don’t know, we’re just foolin’ around,” replied the musicians. History is made!

GOOD ROCKIN’ TONIGHT / I DON’T CARE IF THE SUN DON’T SHINE [SUN 210] Elvis sang this as though his entire nervous system was centralized two feet nine inches above ground level.


Loch Ness Monsters of rock: recording sheets for the ‘lost’ Sun recordings

The first manifestation of Elvis’s ‘real goneness’. He hollers. hiccups and howls like a man possessed. And he was.


The initial run only had an advertisement for other albums in the Starcall series printed on the rear sleeve; there was no sign of my liner notes or discography. This was corrected, inevitably, somewhat slowly. Up until the release of this album, we were more or less relying upon received wisdom to put together the details of the discography. Soon after the album’s belated release Stateside the following March (with an even worse illustrated cover), my phone rang at NME. It was Sam Phillips calling from Memphis. I held my breath for what seemed like an eternity; the man who’d first captured the spirit of Elvis on tape was bound to knock this young upstart from London.

“I just want to tell you”, he began, “how much I’ve been enjoying the album you put together. It’s about time someone did it. The people over here at RCA have got no idea of the historic importance of those records I made with Elvis. They haven’t treated those records properly. It had to take you Brits to do it for them, but then Elvis’ European fans have always had their priorities right.” Over the next hour or more, Phillips answered all my questions, discussed the methods he used to record Elvis and revealed, for the first time it wasn’t DJ Fontana that drummed on a handful of tracks but Johnny Bonnero – sticksman with The Dean Beard Band. Armed with these revelations, I re-approached RCA and said that I wished to correct and revise

both the sleevenotes and discography for the upcoming re-pressing. My offer was ignored. Likewise, when the album made its first appearance on CD. Meanwhile, The Sun Collection sold over a million, and Sam Phillips continued to call me over the next couple of years. “You do know it’s been one of Elvis’ biggest sellers in ages,” he told me one day. “It has put his early years into perspective.” He went on to tell me how he had read an article written by Patti Smith’s guitarist Lenny Kaye that said that many American Universities had thought of offering me a degree for the project! He signed off by asking “Well, I hope that RCA has at least given you a gold disc?” Twenty years after its release, I’m still waiting.

BABY,LET’SPLAYHOUSE/ I’M LEFT, YOU’RE RIGHT, SHE’S GONE [SUN 217] This could well be the first true embodiment of the lip-curling rock’n’roll genre. The Gospel According To Elvis.


Cover version as pagan invocation. The kind of demonic supernatural blues that Robert Johnson had laid claim to two decades earlier.



The legendary session at Sun, December 4, 1956


But what faces. To Elvis’ left a bequiffed Johnny Cash, decked out in baseball jacket and sneakers, still unknown outside the South and yet to fully make his black-hearted mark on rock’n’roll; next to him Carl Perkins – who’d recently hit big with “Blue Suede Shoes”, and to his right a scrawny 21-year-old named Jerry Lee Lewis. Not dressed up in the pop star finery of his peers (he’d only been signed to Sun for two weeks, and was playing the session to earn money for Christmas) but, instead, in a crumpled jumper and zoot suit pants, displaying what could be read as a scowl of One ordinary night in disbelief beneath the outward deference. It all happened, inevitably, by chance. Dropping ember, 1956 – one Dec into Sun Studio with his latest flame (showgirl Marilyn jam extraordinary Evans), you suspect Elvis was coming back home to let everyone know quite how well the kid from Tupelo had done for himself. However, discovering Carl Perkins in the middle of a recording session with Jerry Lee Lewis ock’n’roll is full of tantalising what ifs. What on piano and Johnny Cash lurking in the shadows, The musical mercury would have resulted if the lineKing decided to quit the showboating and get back to up of The Dirty Mac assembled for the Stones’ what he was best at. Rock And Roll Circus (John Lennon on vocals, Keith The results are startling. If rock’n’roll has long Richards on bass, Eric Clapton on lead guitar, Mitch been described as a steaming bouillabaisse of R&B, Mitchell on drums and Yoko Ono on, erm, screaming) rockabilly, country and western, gospel, bluegrass had decided to continue playing for old times’ sake and contemporary pop, then this is and some wise soul had left the tape rolling? Would the witches brew itself. With Perkins’ Britpop’s legacy be better served if Oasis, The Verve and band supplying the backbone (brother Paul Weller had spent less time carousing and instead Clayton and drummer WS Holland) and recorded a star-scraping astro-rock masterpiece during the beer and whiskey flowing, they zigone of those long evenings at Supernova Heights? zag between a heart-rending “I Will Not Sadly, there is no contemporary comparison. Even Be Moved”, frenetic thrashes like Little if Chris Martin, Julian Casablancas, Beck and Alex Richard’s “Rip It Up” (where Elvis jokes Kapranos found themselves in the same LA studio next “It’s Saturday night and I just got laid!”) and a vampish week the event would be reduced to a media freakshow aside through “Don’t Be Cruel” – where Elvis imitates before they’d even decided on which Smiths song to the then unknown Jackie Wilson – in the spirit of an play, never mind been allowed to get off on the thrill of impromptu private party. Better still, it’s all delivered playing together. with a passion and rough-edged Yet the extraordinary fact remains affection that makes it feel like a that an even more stellar line up of distant precursor to The Clash’s talent did exactly that at Memphis’ London Calling. Sun Studio on Tuesday, December Not that the honours are shared “I never had a better time than 4, 1956. The one, grainy photograph equally: this is the high table of yesterday afternoon when I dropped into Sam Phillips’ taken of the event tells you all you rock’n’roll after all. Elvis – as the place. Carl Perkins was in a need to know. In the middle of it, photo suggests – is clearly recording session, Johnny Cash there’s Elvis seated at the piano in bossing the show. After a dropped in, Jerry Lee Lewis an expensive looking suede blouson smouldering homage to was there too, and then and pale blue jumper, looking up Bing Crosby’s “You Belong I stopped by…” for acceptance from the three faces In My Heart”, he delivers a Elvis, the master of looming over his shoulder. sequence of jawunderstatement,
December 5, 1956

dropping takes on gospel standards “Just A Little Walk With Jesus” and “Down By The Riverside”; scattering pop star anecdotes like confetti – he lets on he wasn’t even aware he’d had first refusal on “Don’t Forbid Me” – and giving the cue to horse around, this is Elvis in excelcis. But Jerry Lee gives his all too, hollering along on ragged harmonies, hooting, “Boy this is fun!” early on and, on a thumping “End Of The Road” suggesting that, in the long run, The King might not have it all his own way. (Elvis later remarked of his contribution: “That boy can go!”) If an older and wiser Carl Perkins maintains a reverential distance – only taking lead on a succinct “Keeper Of The Key” – then Johnny Cash’s involvement other than appearing in the photo would appear to be something of a mystery. As Sun’s priority signing, Cash was ushered in by Sam Phillips who sought to exploit Elvis’ visit, ensuring he was, at the very least, in the photo. Yet although the attendant press recall Cash singing Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill” and the crooner standard “My Isle Of Golden Dreams” (neither of which have ever surfaced), according to Sun producer Jack Clement, by the time the session was in full swing Cash had been dragged away Christmas shopping by his wife.




But, frankly, who cares when you can hear the ‘four’ of them laying down the basic text for rock’n’roll in one booze-soaked session? “It was what you might call a barrelhouse of fun,” recalled Elvis in one of pop’s rare moments of understatement. Because, charged with such an electric competitive energy (especially between Elvis and the young Killer) these ramshackle recordings remain the blueprint for every late-night jam session ever, almost 50 years on from that day in 1956. The last word should be left to Elvis. “That’s what happens at these jam sessions. I’m always the last to leave!” he drawls as, after 40 tracks, proceedings draw to a close. In just two hours The Million Dollar Quartet had just become the greatest, most elusive band in rock history.

The fab four: (clockwise from top left) Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley

“My voice is God’s will, not mine”: Elvis onstage in 1956

forbidden pleasure. Elvis himself recalled being scolded at home for playing records by Crudup and Big Bill Broonzy (the father of Chicago blues), which the white townsfolk of Memphis regarded as “sinful”. So it was little wonder that Phillips got to thinking about how many records he would sell if he could find “white performers who could Presley was influenced play and sing in the same exciting, alive way”. Yet, despite by blues and country his obvious antecedents and influences, it would be wrong to suggest that the Presley voice was an imitation men, but his powerfully of anyone. voice was unique emotive A listen to Sanctuary’s recent compilation, The R&B Hits Of 1954, is instructive. There are some brilliant cuts in which you can readily trace the roots of rock’n’roll. All are by black artists and many of them were an undeniable lmost every singer of a certain age can tell a similar influence on Presley, including songs by Joe Turner, story about the first time they heard Elvis’ voice. But Johnny Ace, Clyde McPhatter and few put it more eloquently than Robert Plant. “It was Hank Ballard & The Midnighters. But the ‘blue note’, that mournful dip in the scale that you none of the singers sounds anything didn’t hear in English music,” he recalls. “It was the whole like Elvis. Even when he was covering deal of that emotional delivery he borrowed from [country well-known R&B hits such as Crudup’s blues man] Arthur Crudup and Johnnie Ray [the partially “That’s All Right” or Junior Parker’s deaf soul and jazz singer of the early ’50s]. “Mystery Train”, he managed to make “I was eight or nine and I didn’t know anything about them sound completely different. the technical ability of it. I just heard this sound that So what was it that made the Presley voice unique and wasn’t anything to do with childhood. launched a revolution? Charlie Gillett captured it cogently “I recognised the conviction, although I didn’t even in his seminal 1971 history of rock’n’roll, The Sound Of know it was called conviction. I didn’t know anything The City: “What Presley achieved was certainly not the about sexuality or the innuendo, or that it was part of same thing as the men he copied. He evolved a personal a movement called rock’n’roll. I just knew the call, the version of the style, singing high and clear, breathless pleading in that voice.” and impatient, varying his rhythmic emphasis with a The ‘blue note’, that mournful dip in the scale and the confidence and inventiveness that were exceptional for pleading were exactly what Sam Phillips was talking about a white singer. The sound suggested a young white man in 1952 when he allegedly told his secretary Marion Keisker, celebrating freedom, ready to do anything, go anywhere, “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and pausing long enough for apologies and even regrets and Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.” Two years later, recriminations, but then hustling on toward the new.” in Elvis he found him. Part of it was that the earthiness of the R&B singer was Presley had the look and the hips and he smouldered tempered by a country influence. Presley heard singers with a barely controlled sexuality. But such as Red Foley, Hank Snow and in 1954/55, when “That’s All Right”, Lefty Frizzell on the radio via The Grand “Good Rockin’ Tonight”, “Mystery Train”, Ole Opry and The Louisiana Hayride, “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” and “Baby, and absorbed something from each Let’s Play House” were released, his first of them. It was hardly accidental that “I’m not kidding myself. network TV appearance in 1956 was still all five of his Sun singles teamed My voice alone is a way off. an R&B number on one side just an ordinary voice. Few really knew what he looked like. with a C&W song on the other, What people come It was all about the voice. and nobody had ever put the two to see is how I use it. If I stand still while By the early ’50s, white teenagers together in such a way before. I’m singing, I’m had already developed something Yet, as Gillett suggests, Presley’s dead, man. I might of a taste for black R&B, but it was a voice was more than simply a marriage


of white hillbilly and black sharecropper. At the time of his first session, Elvis had just turned 19 and, crucially, the urgency in his voice exuded a rebellious teenage freedom and confidence that was entirely new in American culture and found a parallel expression in the films of James Dean. Indeed, the furious excitement of those early Sun sides almost borders on violence as his voice vibrates with an emotional danger and hyper-energy that makes him sound like a man possessed. Many will tell you that he never bettered the robust expressiveness of those early vocal performances. After he moved to RCA in 1956, he still rocked. But the voice was somehow cleaner and more pop orientated, a small but perceptible step away from the rawness of his hillbilly/ blues roots. The conviction was still there. But as he went

as well go back to driving a truck.” Elvis Presley, 1956

on, the excitement and emotion that had once seemed so natural and effortless began to sound more contrived. After “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Hound Dog” his voice became steadily more self-conscious and theatrical. By “Love Me Tender” he was crooning like Bing Crosby. On “Too Much” and “All Shook Up”, his first releases of 1957, the voice was sounding increasingly mannered, as, in the words of the ever-perceptive Charlie Gillett, he “dragged his vowels and punched every other beat harder than he needed to”. As he moved into films such mannerisms became even more exaggerated and by 1960’s “It’s Now Or Never” he was coming on like a pseudo-operatic tenor. In short, uprooted from the cultural melting pot that had created his original, unique style, he increasingly lost touch with the ‘blue note’ that inspired Robert Plant and so many others. Instead, he went on to become the greatest pop singer of his age. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But there’s no doubt something had been lost. Elvis moved on to Las Vegas. It’s an underrated period in his pop supremacy and, as Bono wrote, his last performances there showcased “a voice even bigger than his gut, where you cry real tears as the music messiah sings his tired heart out”. It was still greatness. Yet, somewhere along the way, the passion had been exchanged for pathos. NIGEL WILLIAMSON



The voice – and the guitar – in RCA Studios, New York, 1956

The years which turn Elvis Presley’s life upside down. The King takes rock’n’roll from the ghetto to the mainstream and onto the silver screen, inspiring hysteria and controversy in equal measure



The King’s second appearance on Ed Sullivan, October 1956


8 Elvis turns 21. 10 Elvis records “Heartbreak Hotel” in the RCA studio in Nashville. 28 Makes his TV debut on Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey’s Stage Show, booked for four Saturdays in a row. Elvis performs a version of Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman”. 30 “Heartbreak Hotel”, his sixth single but first for RCA, is released. It sells 300,000 in its first three weeks and will be his first million seller.



5 Elvis performs “Hound Dog” for Milton Berle, his gyrations provoking moral outrage. “Should be confined to dives and bordellos,” bawls the New York Daily News.

13 His first album on RCA, Elvis Presley, is released. It tops the Billboard pop charts for ten weeks. 17 Invited back for the first of two further appearances on Stage Show, where he meets Al Wertheimer, the RCA photographer who will take many iconic images of Presley over the next two years.


1 Presley appears on Steve Allen’s NBC-TV show. Allen has him sing “Hound Dog” to a basset hound. 2 Elvis records an incendiary version of “Hound Dog” at RCA Victor studios.



Shoots his first film, Love Me Tender.

The celebrated and impractical $10,000 gold lamé suit in action

3 Elvis appears on The Milton Berle Show singing “Jailhouse Rock”. 6 Elvis signs a seven year deal with Hal Wallis and Paramount Pictures. 21“Jailhouse Rock” hits Number One in the US. It’s there for two months. 23 Elvis begins a two week stint at the New Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. It is a relative flop.
Elvis and Sherlock on
The Steve Allen Show


9 Ed Sullivan reverses his boycott of Elvis. Elvis’ three-appearance deal is worth $50,000, the highest ever figure for a variety show performer. The programme reaches 82.6 per cent of America’s TV audience. 26 Tupelo proclaims this Elvis Presley Day. He performs two shows at Mississippi-Alabama Fair. This time, 100 National Guardsmen surround the stage.


6 Elvis’ final appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, filmed from the waist up only. Elvis starts filming Loving You. He shares his first screen kiss with actress Jana Lund.

Canada – two in Toronto on April 2 and two in Ottawa on April 3.


The King and his ma at the MississippiAlabama Fair

Starts work on his third feature film, Jailhouse Rock.


16 Love Me Tender opens in New York. 31 The Wall Street Journal reports that Elvis merchandise has grossed $22 million in sales since January.



31 Elvis performs outside the US for the final time, in Vancouver.


Elvis buys Graceland.


10-11 Elvis performs shows in Hawaii for the first time.

Elvis performs outside the US for the first time with four shows in

27 Back in Tupelo, Elvis performs a benefit for the Elvis Presley Youth Recreation Center. The grounds include Elvis’ birthplace. He will

During his first Christmas in Graceland Elvis receives his draft notice.





3 The New York Times runs a headline “Presley Records A Craze In Soviet Union.” Elvis records are being cut on old X-ray plates and sold on the black market in Leningrad for $12.50 – a vast sum.


donate regularly to the centre for the rest of his life.

Loving You premieres and settles in the box office Top Ten. “Teddy Bear”, lifted from the film, is a hit.



17 Jailhouse Rock premieres in Memphis, opens nationally in November and makes the Top Five.

He wasn’t the first rock’n’roller, but Elvis’ “delinquent” sneer and overt sexuality made him unlike anything that had gone before. No wonder he became a superstar

n January 10, 1956, Elvis entered the building. He’d signed to RCA, who had seen off two other majors in a bidding war and now presented himself at their studios at Nashville, having turned 21 just two days earlier. It seems in retrospect like a clean and clear break, not just for Elvis but in rock history, history per se even. As John Lennon once said “before Elvis, there was nothing”. It may not have been strictly true (R&B pioneers such as Ike Turner and prototype rockers such as Carl Perkins and Bill Haley all preceeded Elvis) but none of them had the seismic impact on the culture Presley would go on to enjoy.

Steve Sholes had proposed to him for his first RCA recordings a possible selection that included, as well as “beat” songs, novelty numbers, old time weepies and ballads. Showbusiness rather than revolution was uppermost in the minds of Elvis’ handlers. Indeed, it would have been easy at this point to capitulate to the new, corporate confines, the more sophisticated studio surroundings that could have smothered Elvis’ Elvis’ live act broody, rough, was a “jerky tics repertoire of burgeoning Sun and tremors” sound before it had had a chance to break.



Elvis shocks a nation with his appearance on Stage Show

Above: Elvis on The Milton Berle Show in 1956. Below: from the waist up only, on The
Ed Sullivan Show

ortunately, Elvis himself wasn’tfazed; he took a lead in matters musical, if no other. He honed in one particular number, “Heartbreak Hotel”, written by Mae Axton and Tommy Durden, based on a newspaper report of a man who had left a suicide note, telling of how he “walked a lonely street”. To the end of this street the songwriting duo attached a hotel and Elvis took it from there. Axton had given Elvis a co-songwriting credit, more out of kindness than anything else, but it was truly he who transformed the song from what could have been a lovelorn lament into something altogether downer. Elvis seems to slide into a mire of reverb on that plodding bass ladder – “ feel so lonely I could die” – almost dissolving in his own despondency. Elvis pours so much into the song it oozes black stuff at the edges, saying something utterly definitive about the condition of despair. It’s not just Elvis mumbling to himself about his own childhood inability to fit in, or the sense of isolation he felt as fame crowded in on him. It’s the first truthful rock’n’roll attempt to convey the state of adolescent alienation. Within three weeks of its release, about which there had been misgivings on RCA’s part, it would become his first million-seller. Around this time, Elvis would appear on Stage Show, in which he exhibited to a wide audience, his live act, a jerky repertoire of tics and tremors,


as if his body were playing host to some sort of involuntary impulse. “Uncontrolled” was the word one critic used. The potency of his early TV appearances speaks above and beyond the staid, twin-set audience of his day. On Stage Show, Elvis performed “Baby, Let’s Play House”, and cut a liquid contrast with the likes of cleancut contemporaries such as Perry Como. Hair drooping every which way, his cherubic face moist, he seems to be melting not under the spotlight but the intensity of his performance. But it was when Elvis performed on The Milton Berle Show on June 5 for the second time that he had perhaps his greatest ever impact on American mass audiences, his performance of “Hound Dog” in particular. Uninhibited by a guitar, dragging around his mic like it were a recalcitrant lover, he gives a highly controlled impression of someone caught in an epileptic, helpless state of sensual delirium, almost paralysed at times. On the second chorus, the pelvic thrusting is tantamount to out and out rutting – his young audience gasps, as if being swooped deeper into the forbidden than they’d ever known, then let out a collective, lascivious chuckle – Elvis himself can barely keep a straight face. It’s a sensational performance, probably the most subversive of his life – Elvis as a conduit for the long-repressed energies of a generation.

Sex runs through his frame like an electrical charge, causing strange but eminently recognisable convulsions. It was following this experience that Elvis experienced his first backlash, as establishment critics duly whipped up a moral panic. Elvis’ unseemly groin movements, snarled Ben Goss in The Daily News, saw popular music “plumb new depths” rather than dally safely on the bland surfaces of ’50s showbiz. A Catholic weekly, America, was alive to the “suggestiveness” of his body movements. There was a general mood of panic at the strange forces this new rock’n’roll movement was exerting in the bodies of young people – strange, uncontrollable urges. Preachers conflated these blatant manifestations of sexual longing with sin, with “possession” by the devil. The reaction of Colonel Tom Parker to all of this was ambivalent. On the one hand, he saw how Elvis’ “wiggles” went over physically with the crowd, made them swoon. On the other, he was anxious that Elvis not alienate a wider audience. He would always be determined to have his cake and eat it. After all, this is a man who sold, and made as much money, from selling “I Hate Elvis” badges as he did “I Like Elvis” ones. He regarded Elvis with the seasoned eye of an old circus huckster and, in the eyes of many, peddled him round the country as such during 1956 and 1957. Indeed, “circus” is the first word many reached for when describing the Elvis phenomenon at this time.


As for Elvis himself he responded neither defiantly nor contritely to the furore, but with a confused, country boy innocence. “I’m not trying to be sexy,” he told one lady reporter. “My movements, ma’am, are all leg movements.” To those who denounced him from the pulpit, he protested, with justification, that he was a God-fearing boy. Decadent? He neither drank nor smoked. Still, TV companies were wary of the now fantastically popular but potentially dangerous commodity they had on their hands and found ways of dealing with him. Comedian/chat show host Steve Allen had Elvis on his show in July, and, after a dry intro, introduced him in top hat and tails, serenading a basset hound in a top hat with a somewhat restrained version of “Hound Dog”. It’s a dry and knowing shtick on Allen’s part and Elvis just about holds together his sporting demeanour, while making it clear that he was no happier about appearing in the skit than Sherlock, the downcast basset hound. d Sullivan had always publicly refused to have Elvis on his show but such was his popularity, he was forced to reconsider. Still, Sullivan managed to preserve the sensibilities of his audience by ensuring that, to the chagrin of his young fans, Elvis was generally filmed above the waistline. These performances, however, were not as demeaning as the appearance on The Steve Allen Show. Elvis is shaking his all, and in retrospect it’s the nervously prudish network who look a little silly in their insistence on filming from the waist up, or in their naive belief that younger viewers were not vividly and imaginatively aware just what was going on down there, offscreen. If anything the hint of something just out of reach created even more electricity. Moreover, these appearances boosted Elvis’ profile even further into the stratosphere. A pan of the audience sees him winning over the older folks. As Sullivan himself assured middle America, this really was “a fine boy”. During 1956, a great deal happened to Elvis Presley, all at once. He had recorded his first album that would prove to be RCA’s biggest ever seller, received his first death threat, been banned from radio, had a “no wiggle” injunction brought against him by a police chief in Louisville, Kentucky (he abided by shaking his finger only – but how that finger trembled), brought a string of women back home to present to his ever-loving

mum, Gladys (to the disapproval of Parker, who saw Elvis as more marketable as a lonesome single boy), bought his parents their first home in a smart suburb of Memphis, had a 40-foot billboard erected in his honour and come to the attention both of Hollywood and the draft board. Indeed, the following year would begin with Elvis reporting for his pre-induction physical. Meanwhile, his career as a live performer had run into problems. Presley was so famous by 1957 that concerts often had to be abandoned after 15 minutes. Like The Beatles ten years hence, he would be forced eventually to withdraw from the world of live performance and all its attendant rawness, energy, unpredictability and suggestion of teeming chaos. Now, he would retreat into the more controlled, choreographed confines of the studio. It was a form of enlistment into the showbiz army. lvis had always idolised the likes of Robert Mitchum, Marlon Brando (whom he modeled himself on when out on his Harley Davidson with date Natalie Wood) and especially James Dean, who, although dead, was still top box office with his posthumous movie releases. But the difference between themselves and Elvis was that whereas a Mitchum or a Dean would exude a subtle, smouldering menace from the ostensibly respectable platform of silver screen drama, Elvis the movie star was a more subdued and controlled version of the more obvious “menace” to morality who had stalked the stage in 1956. Elvis did prove adept as a screen actor, however, prepared to put in the work and memorise not only his own lines but also those of his fellow actors. Unhappily, the contract Tom Parker locked him into was not the sort that emerging stars like Brando would enjoy, in which they

entertain folks. That’s what the Colonel wanted them to believe, anyhow. ineteen fifty-seven’s Jailhouse Rock, in which he co-stars with Judy Tyler, who would die shortly after filming was completed in a road accident (Elvis couldn’t ever bear to watch the film following her death), was tailored specifically for Elvis. The film is relatively gritty and hard-fought by comparison with later movies, and contains pertinent biographical elements, which enable Elvis to act “within himself”. Vince Everett is a rock’n’roll star, though more luckless than Elvis. However, the footage which accompanies his performance of the title track is an indicator of the new zone in which Elvis now operated – the stage set, the flanks of lithe, choreographed dancers, the “let’s do the show right here”-style sweatless exuberance. Elvis had had to recede thus, into more controlled studio conditions, to escape the chaos his very appearance in public inevitably prompted nowadays. In March, he bought the Graceland mansion for $100,000. It would be his home for the rest of his life, shielded by his own Memphis Mafia. Still, Elvis and his band continued to tour, though increasingly under the “no wiggle” stipulation. Concerts grossed staggering amounts; a swift trip to Canada raked in $300,000, amounts only augmented every time some preacher would use the growing menace to public decency Elvis supposedly represented as subject matter for their Sunday sermons. However, Elvis’ guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, despite their role in shaping the roughly sensual, low-slung Elvis sound and despite his dependence on them, were now on a salary, raking in a couple of hundred bucks a week. This was less of a concern to drummer DJ Fontana, who’d always been on a wage, but for Elvis’ first two musical buddies, the new disparity chafed. It wasn’t so long ago they’d all mucked in together, their sound forged in the ‘play dirt’ of starting out together. By now, they felt so estranged from Elvis that they weren’t quite able to bring up the matter directly with him and in September, following a couple of miscommunications via the media, they resigned, leaving Elvis feeling thoroughly betrayed. By December, they’d patched things up, but it was never quite the same again.
Elvis with Judy Tyler in




could determine their own creative destiny and make their own decisions. Elvis’ Hollywood career was old school in which, as part of the not-quite-dead star system, he would have to appear in whatever he was told to. In his 1956 debut Love Me Tender, he shows fleeting promise as the ill-fated Clint Reno. He looks, as ever, if he’s from decades ahead of those around him (even in the context of a Civil War picture). But the film is essentially a vehicle for Elvis to croon, in particular the ballad that would become the title of the film. This decidedly unrock’n’roll outing, in a period setting, would prove reassuring to wider American audiences that Elvis was no insurrectionary, but a simplehearted, earnest country boy, who just wanted to


Jailhouse Rock



hat same month, Elvis received formal notification of his induction into the US army, only to be granted a 60-day extension so he could complete shooting on his latest picture, King Creole. The prospect of Elvis’ impending entry into the army meant that 1958 began with a torrent of studio activity, with Colonel Tom Parker anxious that he milk his cash cow for all it was worth before he entered the barracks. The next few months would see Elvis living in the shadow of the prospect of his enlistment. In private, he was often reduced to tears at the prospect of life in the army. It wasn’t that Elvis was a ’60s-style pacifist or leftist. A country boy, who harboured many of the intrinsic values of the South, he saw it as his duty to serve his country. But the prospect of homesickness, of missing his mum, dismayed him. Privately, he would ask aloud why he was having to be drafted when he was doing so much more for the country generating huge tax revenue as a performer? He was angry, too. He wondered why the hell his manager, Tom Parker, wasn’t doing more to preserve him from the draft.


But Parker had his reasons. He knew that it was essential to the clean-cut, more MOR image he was creating for his charge that he enter the army modestly and uncomplainingly, with a minimum of special pleading. Singer Eddie Fisher had attempted to oil out of the draft and it had cost him immensely, career-wise. Such were the times; the Cold War meant that ’60s-style rock’n’roll anti-militarism was simply unthinkable. And so, Elvis was finally sworn into the army on March 24. The day after, army barber James B Peterson cut off his jet-black locks in what many, at the time and subsequently, regarded as a symbolic act of rock’n’roll castration. Elvis’ time in the army was relatively uneventful and certainly combat-free – the nearest he came to mortal danger was from being mobbed by fans who managed to break army cordons more than once, in America and Germany, including one night when, idiotically, he was put on guard duty. f rock’n’roll fans were saddened by Elvis’ enlistment, which sapped the energy from the genre for years to come until the onset of The Beatles, Elvis himself was wracked with grief on August 14, 1958 when his mother, Gladys, passed away of a heart attack brought on by hepatitis. Elvis had been aware of her deteriorating condition for some time and, with callous pedantry, the army had initially declined him permission to see her, claiming this would smack of favouritism. Gladys was only 46, but her poor health arose from problems that would prefigure those which would hasten Elvis’ own early demise; an addiction to fatty, comfort foods and to drugs (diet pills and alcohol). Maybe it was her way of absorbing/internalising Elvis’ anxieties and stored-up woes. She had inspired Elvis’ nonconformism, having married free spirit and “ne’er do well” Vernon in spite of objections from her bourgeois family. She had tried to warn Elvis off the authoritarian, excessively paternalistic Tom Parker to no avail. Now she was gone, and a large part of Elvis went with her, the absence filled with subsequent addictions and obsessions.

Elvis-mania: The King being mobbed by US fans in 1956


he story of Elvis between 1956 and 1958 is one of astonishing, transformative success, of world-beating fame beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. But sceptics might suggest that it’s not exactly a tale of the triumph of rock’n’roll heroism. Elvis, it seemed, was during this time increasingly co-opted by the highly manipulative Tom Parker, by showbiz, by the army, by the absurd demands of censors. Gradually the rude, rock’n’roll origins were swapped for a world of megastardom, TV and radio, Elvis was accused of being a sex-crazed, delinquent rabble-rouser. Yet, far from being some rock’n’roll Lord Of Misrule he was conservative, religious, abstemious, quiescent, passive, polite to a fault, kind to his mum, a good ol’ boy. Absurd then, surely, that Frank Sinatra should have described rock’n’roll, and by strong implication Elvis, as “sly, lewd, dirty… the most brutal, ugly, desperate, vicious form of expression”.


Presley’s trademark jet-black locks were shorn when he joined the army

Elvis was predictably respectful in his riposte and would later, sportingly, perform alongside Sinatra. But Sinatra was right. Elvis was all of those things. He may not have been delinquent but fuck, he was the very unprecedented picture of delinquency, of a new viciousness. Lewdness and dirtiness were born in his swivel, in the curl of his lip, while brutal and ugly desperation sprang from the oily, messy ooze of his Sun recordings, in those electrocuted bursts of energy of his when Scotty broke with the guitar solo. There was a supreme slyness in those dead but all-seeing eyes of his, that pointed finger. Rock’n’roll was born in Elvis, perhaps because of his passivity, rather than in spite of it. He’d been chosen, he didn’t protest, didn’t rage repressively against his own instincts but let it hang out. He was the one, the one at the crossroads between R&B, country and a popular music about to tap into a much wider audience. They could and would eventually put Elvis back in his place but the forces he was the conduit for were out of the tube for good. Elvis had blown the lid off America.



Elvis in Melody Maker, 1957: “I love being famous, even if it means I have to stay in my hotel room all day long”



When young snapper Alfred Wertheimer was asked to photograph RCA’s latest signing in 1956 he asked “Elvis who?” The results were the iconic images of the new King Of Rock’n’Roll. Interview By Paul McNamee
lfred Wertheimer, a young, jobbing snapper, met Elvis Presley for the first time on March 17, 1956. Over the next two years he would become his semi-official photographer, travelling the country as Presley went nuclear, building a bank of iconic pictures that would come to detail the rise of a legend. He got to know Elvis well, got to see him in downtime messing around with friends and family. He was as close to Elvis as anyone could be to the eye of a hurricane. But if it had not been for a missed trip to the West Indies, Wertheimer would never have been admitted to Elvis’ court. In early ’56, the 25-year-old had been working for fashion photographer Tom Palombo. His boss was offered a two-week shoot in the West Indies for Harper’s Bazaar but decided Wertheimer had to be left in New York to take care of business. Wertheimer took the hump, walked out and set up alone, picking up work where he could get it. “Then one day I was in the dark-room doing some prints on a brassiere ad and Ann Fulchino from RCA Records was on the phone,” he explains. “She said, ‘Al, I’d like you to take some photographs.’ I never turned her down and, besides, I needed the work. I was a hungry young photographer. She said, ‘It’s Stage Show, the Tommy/Jimmy Dorsey show. I want you to focus on Elvis Presley.’ I said, ‘Elvis who?’ – I’d never heard of him. She said, ‘Well, we signed him up in November, he might be going someplace and we’d like to have a few pictures in our files. You could come down and I’ll introduce you.” Wertheimer made his way to CBS Studio 50 on a cold Saturday afternoon and walked in on Elvis during a rehearsal for ”Heartbreak Hotel”. Though he was a classical music fan – “a Beethoven/Mozart guy” – the snapper was immediately bitten by The Hillybilly Cat. “I listened to the rehearsal, I listened to him sing and frankly I was in a state of shock,” he says. “Here he is coming and throwing his body at the microphone and at the stage, he’s moving all around in an uninhibited way – we’re talking about during rehearsal – and I thought this guy is interesting, I don’t know what to make of him.” Looking at Wertheimer’s pictures today, it’s easy to see why he was drawn to Elvis. He looks like a beautiful alien peacock, sticking out among the monochrome realities


JULY 4, 1956
“We were nearing the end of a 27-hour train trip from New York, down to Chattanooga, then across to Memphis. Tennessee’s about 400 miles long and the only thing they have is a local train that goes 400 miles at 35 miles per hour. He’s sleeping here. He had just finished a recording session up in New York. He was on his way back home.”

JUNE 30, 1956
“He’s in the green room of the Mosque Theatre in Richmond, Virginia. This was a one-night stand. I sensed something was going on when I went to Richmond. It was a Southern town and you had a lot of young girls, maybe 4,000 in the theatre. The girls would be hugging each other in the darkness and they would cry.”

of mid ’50s America. He clearly made an immediate impression on Wertheimer. And Elvis was the ideal subject for a new sort of photography. Rather than stage pictures for record sleeves and publicity shots, he wanted to capture his subject as he was in every aspect of his life. Elvis, it struck him, might be exactly the guy to test this approach on. Even though several decades have passed, Wertheimer still can’t put his finger on what exactly made him devote so much time, money and energy to this still relatively unknown performer. Elvis was costing him, he’ll remind you frequently. RCA were paying him just enough to cover expenses, so he was relying on selling on the prints to others. “I wasn’t exactly Nostradamus but I did sense excitement,” he says. “I was excited – actually shaking in some cases – and he made the girls cry. It was almost a sexual experience for them. You’re always looking for some personality who is going to give you pictures that are going to last and be in fan magazines and national magazines – especially if you have access. And one of the things Ann permitted me to do was to have access.” Wertheimer talks of Elvis with genuine affection. He was a little naive, he says, full of surprises, basically shy but always at ease with himself. He also remembers that “he loved women, he loved to be near a woman, whether she was eight years old or 65 years”. And most importantly, he allowed himself to be photographed in a way the photographer loved, with frankness and without anything hidden. “1958 was the last time I saw Elvis alive when he left for the army at the Brooklyn port of embarkations,” recalls Wertheimer. “From that day ’til the day he died, I did not get one phonecall from anybody for a Presley picture. That’s 19 years – a long dry spell. The day he died, August 16, 1977, Time magazine called me up and, all of a sudden, the world discovered my material. And the phone hasn’t really stopped ringing since. “I have a lot to be thankful to Elvis for. Apart from the pictures, he taught me you can come from very humble beginnings and make something of yourself.”


Pictures taken from Elvis 56: In The Beginning by Alfred Wertheimer (Pimlico Publishing)




MARCH 17, 1956
“That’s the first day I met him. He was getting ready to go on Stage Show, giving the final touch to his hair before he went on. We met there for the first time in a dressing room backstage. He basically had his feet up on the table and there was a nondescript chubby man sitting near him showing him a line of jewellery. So Ann Fulchino from RCA tells him, ‘This is Al Wertheimer, he’s going to take some pictures.’ And Elvis kind of grunts and says, ‘Sure, OK, fine.’ But he was focused on his jewellery.”

JUNE 29, 1956
He’s in a rehearsal studio waiting for Steve Allen, a comedian who had a Sunday night TV show. Elvis was going to be on the show as Tumbleweed Presley in a skit with Allen, Imogene Coca and Andy Griffith. Elvis would be in costume as a cowboy with a sixshooter. That would be his first TV acting appearance.”

JULY 4, 1956
“He’s on a train, it’s around 10.30am and he’s about 20 minutes out of Memphis. Basically, he did his thing – he didn’t explain to anybody how he did it or why he did it – so he tightened his belt, straightened his tie and then he’s looking around for paper towels. Some people consider this a very gay shot because of the limp wrists.”





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MARCH 17, 1956
“We’re back at Stage Show which was at Studio 50. He had finished the performance – he sang two songs – and he had gone out into the alleyway to sign autographs. I’m actually standing on garbage cans, with a little strobe unit. It’s one of the few pictures I used artificial light for, because without it it’s just blackness.”





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JULY 4, 1956
“The waitress is at the segregated lunch counter at the Chattanooga rail station. Reason I know it was segregated is that it was in the South and, in those days, there was still segregation. Elvis was oblivious to it, not because he was racist but because he was from the South. I’m not so sure the waitress knew who he was.”

JULY 1, 1956
“You can see something about two airliners colliding – 128 people died over the Grand Canyon. Elvis was very concerned because he hated to fly. One of the reasons he had all those Cadillacs was so he didn’t have to fly to performances 100 miles apart. He’s preoccupied with those headlines while the other guys are looking for a cab. “

MARCH 17, 1956
“That’s a clothes-line rope holding up his guitar. His leather strap broke earlier and he asked someone to get him another leather strap. They couldn’t find one, so they brought him back a clothesline rope and he tied a knot in the middle of it. He went on a national broadcast that way.”

JULY 4, 1956
“This is Elvis at home at 1034 Audubon Drive in Memphis, preGraceland. He was trying to relax after this long train trip. I don’t know if he was consciously trying to look like Marlon Brando. He bought that hat at Woolworths or one of the five and dime stores. He’s looking down at the bike wondering why it wouldn’t start.”






on the Comeback Special, 1968



radio show had been added to the line-up and the handful of dates they played that summer fizzed with a combustible mix of raw, sexual energy and red-hot musicianship that literally caused a riot. But at the end of that year, Phillips sold Presley’s The King’s courtiers who contract to RCA and the focus shifted from Memphis to Nashville. There, a larger cast was assembled as the provided the musical corporate machine set about marketing their prize cle behind the voice mus asset. Moore, Black and Fontana were retained but RCA introduced some of their own top session players from Nashville’s famous A-team, including guitarist Chet Atkins and pianist Floyd Cramer. On “Hound Dog”, verybody knew Elvis could sing. But when he was recorded at RCA’s New York studio in July 1956, the auditioning for Sam Phillips at the Sun Studio, backing vocals of The Jordanaires – Gordon Stoker, Memphis, one night in April 1954 it swiftly became Neal Matthews, Hoyt Hawkins and Hugh Jarrett – evident that something was mising. “He started were added for the first time. playing snatches of anything he knew – religious, When Black and Moore quit in a row over pay in gospel, western, everything,” Phillips’ secretary Marion September 1957, the last Sun connection was broken. Keisker later recalled. “Then Elvis said he was looking for Other members of Nashville’s A-team joined Elvis’ a band. Sam said maybe he could help him.” inner circle, including Hank Garland, an outstanding True to his word, some time later Phillips mentioned guitarist who contributed the guitar breaks to hits such Elvis’ request to Scotty Moore, guitarist with local as “Little Sister” and “A Big Hunk O’ country group The Starlight Wranglers. Love”, the latter recorded when the Moore invited Elvis over to his house the next Sunday newly-drafted Presley was on leave afternoon and they spent a few hours running through from the army. a medley of popular country, blues and pop tunes. At He didn’t resume recording until some point Bill Black, a bassplaying friend of Moore’s almost two years later, when Moore who lived down the street, dropped by and sat in. was among those who assembled Over the next few nights, the three assembled at the at RCA Nashville for Elvis’ first poststudio to rehearse. Finally, on July 5, Phillips decided army session. For most of the rest of they were ready to record, threaded some tape into the the decade, he was content to rely machine and announced, “This is the session.” After on the pick of Nashville’s best sessioneers. Cramer’s running through unremarkable versions of “I Love You piano became a regular fixture, but other musicians Because” and a few other country numbers they took came and went, including Garland, who had just a break. The session was going nowhere. finished recording “Follow That Dream” when he And then, suddenly, Elvis started to bang on his suffered horrific injuries in a 1961 car crash that guitar, horsing around as he sang ended his career. “That’s All Right”, in a a totally new Among those who graced Presley’s way. The unspoken empathy took Nashville recordings (he cut some 250 hold as Scotty and Bill joined in. songs at 26 sessions in the country Sam Phillips scrambled to capture music capital) “This man over here has it on tape and, emphasising the were saxophonist been my guitarist importance of the band’s contribition, Boots Randolph, for 104 years – the recording was credited to Elvis bassist Bob Moore Scotty Moore!” Presley, Scotty And Bill. and guitarists Elvis introduces his By 1955, DJ Fontana, house Harold Bradley, longest-serving bandmember drummer from The Louisiana Hayride Chip Young


NO .2

Elvis in the studio with The Jordanaires

and Jerry Reed, who wrote and played on “Guitar Man” and “US Male”. Many of those who backed Dylan on his Nashville-recorded albums, such as Charlie McCoy, Kenny Buttrey, Pete Drake and Norbert Putnam were allegedly chosen because they had recorded with Presley. When Elvis returned to Memphis to record in his home city for the first time since the Sun days, he was backed by the American Sound Studio’s house band, led by guitarist Reggie Young and augmented by The Memphis Horns, the result was From Elvis In Memphis, his best album since 1960’s Elvis Is Back!. He marked the album’s release in 1969 by embarking on a 57-show run in Las Vegas, backed by a new band including former Rick Nelson guitarist James Burton, pianist Larry Muhoberac, Jerry Scheff on bass, drummer Ronnie Tutt and John Wilkinson on rhythm guitar. Named the TCB Band after Elvis’ motto “takin’ care of business”, they remained with him until his death, although first Glen D Hardin and then Tony Brown took over the piano stool and Emory Gordy and Duke Bardwell both substituted for Scheff on bass.

Backing vocals were provided variously by JD Sumner and The Stamps Quartet and The Sweet Inspirations, who were also employed as the warm-up act. In the eight years until his final concert in Indianapolis in June 1977, Elvis and the TCB Band played almost 1,000 shows together, a statistical achievement to match Dylan’s Never Ending Tour. More than 20 years later, the band got together to take care of business once again, playing live with Elvis projected on a giant screen behind them. It should have been as corny as hell, but when the celluloid Elvis turned to the flesh-and-blood Burton during “Guitar Man” and instructed him to “play it, James”, there was more magic in that single moment than has ever been conjured by 10,000 real-life Elvis imitators. NIGEL WILLIAMSON


Elvis and “ma boys”: (l-r) DJ Fontana, Gordon Stoker and Scotty Moore

Elvis onstage with TCB stalwart James Burton (centre)

The Sweet Inspirations: (l-r) Cissy Houston, Myrna Smith, Sylvia Shamwell and Estelle Brown


Many critics reckon Elvis’ first album defined the golden age of rock’n’roll. Not so, argues Simon Goddard, Presley’s hastily recorded follow-up is superior in every way





Oct 56(US) Apr 57 (U K) Radio Recorders, Hollywoo d

Rip It Up Love Me on When My Blue MoAgain Turns To Gold Long Tall Sally First In Line Paralyzed You’re Mine* So Glad Old Shep Ready Teddy dise Anyplace Is Para Treating You How’s The World k I Feel How Do You Thin

Steve Sholes
3 1 *Recorded at RCA Studios, New York

f, as John Lennon famously surmised, “before Elvis, there was nothing”, then before March 1956’s Elvis Presley, there was no such thing as a rock’n’roll album. Yet, in reality, The King’s debut was anything but the carefully considered mission statement its subsequent reputation as rock’s equivalent Book of Genesis might suggest. A chaotic ragbag of unreleased outtakes from his 18 months at Sun Records (the earliest dating back to July ’54) stirred up with a handful of hurried R&B covers from his first two sessions for RCA in January ’56, Elvis Presley was merely a contrived cash-in rush released to satiate the demands of a public still reeling from the shock of the new that was “Heartbreak Hotel”. None of which really mattered. Its unprecedented success as the first album on the US pop chart to shift over a million copies notwithstanding, in spite of the exploitative record company politics that instigated its creation, Elvis Presley was a detractordrubbing teaser of his phenomenal potential. It wasn’t just the inexorable “go man go” vigour unleashed on Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” and Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman” that startled, but the revelation of The Hillbilly Cat as a sensitive balladeer, with a voice that could shudder the soul with the same force it shook the nether regions (not least on the sparse, spectral “Blue Moon”). The boy was no one-trick pony, an inarguable truth which Elvis Presley writ large.

In its wake came a near flawless flow of singles cut in sporadic hit-and-run sessions stolen between an idiotically hectic touring and TV schedule throughout the spring and summer of ’56: the seductively slushy “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You”; the dumbfounding double header of “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel”; and the shrewd pairing of the delicate “Love Me Tender”, with the brazen sexual surrender of “Any Way You Want Me (That’s How I Will Be)”. Yet, by late August, RCA executives were beginning to grow anxious, with good reason. Christmas was on the horizon and a follow-up to Elvis Presley had been pencilled in for November. There was just one problem: there wasn’t anything to release. Ever since he’d secured Elvis a seven-movie deal back in April, the nefarious Colonel Tom Parker had been so preoccupied with draining the coffers of Hollywood that the small matter of maintaining Presley’s ‘day job’ had become almost inconsequential. It was only after RCA executives turned up on the set of Elvis’ first feature, Love Me Tender, and demanded he be given leave for an emergency session that Parker begrudgingly relented. With a break in shooting over Labor Day weekend in early September, Elvis was spared just three days to record what would become Elvis: the first time, and one of the very few, that he’d enter a studio with the specific mandate of recording a long-play album. Had he rolled into Radio Recorders in Hollywood that weekend and merely gone through the motions just to silence his employers, it would still have been released. Hell, anything Elvis recorded was going to be shoved in a glossy sleeve and racked out by the thousands. It just so happened that after two months




1956 [UK 4 / US 1]

The historic (albeit hastily compiled) debut, saved by the grace of its half-dozen Sun leftovers. Twentythree years later, its sleeve would inspire that of The Clash’s London Calling.

1957 [UK 24 / US 1]

Though marred by a second half of sentimental balladry, the bulk of this soundtrack to Presley’s second feature finds him rocking on full throttle, not least the scintillating “Mean Woman Blues”.

1958 [UK 4 / US 2]

Looking for trouble? You came to the right place. This New Orleans gris-gris stew of crawfish, Tommy guns and hardheaded women remains the best soundtrack LP of his career.

spent hanging around the set of Love Me Tender, Elvis was champing at the bit to remind the Cochrans and Vincents already snapping at his heels that he was The King. And on Elvis, he’d take no prisoners. It’s evident from the opening, twitchy hi-hat stutter prompting Little Richard’s “Rip It Up”, moments before Elvis utters the immortal blue collar war cry of a young buck hell-bent on good livin’: “Well, it’s Saturday night and I just got paid!”. Compared to the ropey hurtle through Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” recorded nine months earlier for Elvis Presley, “Rip It Up” was a vastly superior performance, and not just from Elvis. Scotty Moore complemented the hedonistic urgency of the vocal with a biting guitar break while DJ Fontana was just as audibly eager, his crashbang-walloping rhythm akin to a one-man street brawl. Their first group session in two months, both in song and in spirit, “Rip It Up” announced that Elvis and his boys were very much back in town.

Similar fire was granted to the album’s other Little Richard-penned rockers, “Ready Teddy” and “Long Tall Sally”, though it was when the pace slowed that Elvis’ vocals really started to smoulder: the drowsy, wooing baritone of “Anyplace Is Paradise”; the pining isolation of “How’s The World Treating You” and the unflinchingly sincere “First In Line”. Even the cornball tearjerker “Old Shep” – the first song Elvis had performed in public back in 1945 at the age of ten – was played disarmingly straight: snivelling “I wish they would shoot me instead” moments before pulling the trigger on his devoted mutt, he sang it like he meant it. Likewise, the outstanding “Love Me”, penned by “Hound

Dog” writers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and conceived as a ‘country hick’ romantic spoof. Elvis failed to see the humour, his delivery cleansing it of any cynicism, only to instead make poetry out of its masochistic plea to have his faithful heart broken (three decades later, it took Nicolas Cage to restore something of Leiber and Stoller’s ham when performing the song in David Lynch’s muchacclaimed movie, Wild At Heart). The fact that its entire contents were cut in one three-day period (bar “So Glad You’re Mine”, recorded back in January yet, bizarrely, left off his debut) bestowed Elvis with the textural uniformity its predecessor lacked. Yet, if it was his first, ‘proper’ rock’n’roll album – planned and produced as such – it would also be his last this side of army life. The next, Loving You, was a compromised soundtrack affair. The Sunday morning hangover of bad songs, bad movies and bad decisions was only just dawning. But as the sound of the glorious Saturday night before, 1956’s Elvis remains invincible.


Elvis gets back to his ‘day job’ in the studio, 1956



Triumph and tragedy as Presley’s personal life begins to take centre stage. From serving his country abroad to his mother’s death back home, Elvis’ carefree days are over, yet the big romance of his life is just around the corner


8 Elvis celebrates his birthday with an trans-Atlantic phone interview with Dick Clark for his American Bandstand show.
Young Priscilla evaluates her future husband’s goods



According to Guralnick, it’s at this time that Elvis Dick calls the is introduced to Elvis hotline amphetamines. He is “evangelical” about their energising and slimming abilities.


Colonel Parker keeps Elvis’ career booming despite his absence with a strong of canny promotional deals.
Elvis and his father on the afternoon of Gladys’ death



Elvis films his fourth movie, King Creole. Directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) and co-starring Walter Matthau and Vic Morrow.




10 On leave, Elvis performs his last recording session until 1960.

1 Stationed in Friedberg for 18 months, Elvis shares an off-base home with his dad and grandmother.

Elvis begins work on Wild In The Country. GI Blues is among the topgrossing films of the year.



Gladys Presley returns to Memphis where she is hospitalised with acute hepatitis. Elvis is granted emergency leave and arrives in Memphis on August 12. He stays with his mother for the next two days and nights. Shortly after he returns to Graceland to rest, she dies in the early hours of August 14, aged 46. Her body lies in state at Graceland that afternoon. Services
Sgt Presley heads out for schnitzel


Flaming Star opens nationally to good reviews but lacks the boxoffice bite of GI Blues.



The newly colourised Elvis greets his demob press conference




15 He performs two shows in Memphis – his last live gigs until after his 1960 demobilisation. 24 Inducted into the US Army at the Memphis Draft Board and assigned serial number 53310761. 25 Shipped to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas and given his famous GI buzzcut. 29 Private Presley arrives at Fort Hood, Texas for six months basic training. His parents soon move to a temporary home near the base.

are at the Memphis Funeral Home the next day. The Blackwood Brothers sing Gladys’ favourite hymns, “Precious Memories” and “Rock Of Ages”. She is buried at Forest Hill Cemetery. Heartbroken Elvis never fully recovers. 25 Elvis reports back to Fort Hood.

16 On two-week leave, Elvis heads to Paris. His relaxed trip includes visits to the Folies Bergère and the Lido. During a drunken night at the Lido Elvis gets up and sings “Willow Weep For Me”, his first public performance in 15 months.

20 Elvis is promoted to Sergeant.


22 Elvis takes the USS Randall to West Germany. He arrives in Bremerhaven on October 1 as a part of the 750-man 32nd Tank Battalion, Third Armoured Division. He is met at the dock by 1,500 fans, five TV news crews and reporters from virtually every European newspaper.

1 Elvis gets set to leave West Germany. After a press conference at Ray Barracks in Freidberg, he bumps into Sun Records’ Marion Keisker, now an Air Force Captain. He greets her warmly and it marks the first and only time he’ll acknowledge the part she played Captain Joseph Beaulieu is in his rise. transferred from Texas to 3 Sergeant Presley stops off at Weisbaden Air Force Base near Prestwick airport in Scotland on Friedberg. He is accompanied by his way back to the States. The 90his wife and children, including minute stop-over marks his only his 14-and-a-half- year-old ever visit to Britain. stepdaughter, Priscilla Ann. Currie 5 Elvis is officially discharged from Grant, a friend of the US Army. Elvis, spots her in 8 He holds a press conference the Eagle Club – a at Graceland to talk about his service and love of karate. community centre 20 Elvis has his first postfor forces families – army recording session, tells her her knows spawning “Stuck On You”. Elvis and invites 26 He tapes a “Welcome her to a party at the Home Party” special for Frank star’s home. Her The Million Sinatra’s ABC-TV variety show, parents reluctantly Dollar Duo for which he is paid a record agree, imposing an 11pm curfew. $125,000. Frank sings “Love Elvis is immediately smitten. Me Tender” while Elvis covers “Witchcraft”. When the show airs on May 8, it wins a 41.5 per cent Elvis and Priscilla see each other audience share . almost every night, though the relationship is chaste. Elvis wants her to remain “pure.” 3 Second session for the post-army album in Nashville, Elvis begins karate lessons with includes standards Jurgen Seydel, the “father of “Are You Lonesome German karate”. Tonight?” and “It’s Now Or Never”.

18 Elvis heads to Hollywood to begin work on GI Blues, his fifth film. This time he is accompanied by his retinue of friends, family and associates – the Memphis Mafia. Elvis dates Judy Rawlins, an actress with a small part in the film.


3 Elvis’ father marries Dee Stanley.


Elvis films Flaming Star, directed by Don Siegel.



30 Elvis records a gospel album in Nashville. An all-night session yields 14 songs, including “His Hand In Mine” and “Milky White Way”. The GI Blues soundtrack spends10 weeks at Number One on the Billboard album chart. It stays on the chart for 111 weeks.

Presley on the set of Follow
That Dream

benefit concert. Around 3,000 fans pack Honolulu airport for his arrival. The show raises $65,000.

Elvis remains in Hawaii to shoot Blue Hawaii.



Shoots Follow That Dream.


25 Tennessee Governor Buford Ellington proclaims this Elvis Presley Day. Elvis performs two shows at the Ellis Auditorium in Memphis in a benefit for 26 local charities, his first headlining dates in almost three years.

The Blue Hawaii soundtrack enters the Billboard chart for a year-and-a-half run, staying at Number One for twenty weeks. Elvis spends the remainder of the year working on his tenth motion picture, Kid Galahad, completing it in January 1962.


21 Recording of tracks for forthcoming film Blue Hawaii. Elvis classic “Can’t Help Falling In Love” comes from this session. 25 Elvis arrives in Hawaii for
Elvis celebrates Elvis Day: Memphis, February 25, 1961


Presley and some girls, girls, girls on the set of
Girls! Girls! Girls!


the 1962 World’s Fair, a young Kurt Russell pops up in several scenes. He’ll later star in Elvis, the biopic. At this time, Elvis is commanding $500,000 a picture, plus a cut of receipts. He’ll spend the rest of the year recording the soundtrack for the film, plus the soundtrack for Fun In Acapulco. He’ll end the year as Motion Picture Almanac’s fifth most popular star.



Priscilla arrives in Los Angeles for her first post-army visit with Elvis. He is 27, she is 17. It’s the first time they have seen each in over two years and the result of months of careful negotiations between Elvis and her parents. The deal states she won’t stay with him and she’ll have a chaperone at all times. She moves into his Bellagio Road home within a day of arriving in LA. Within two days, she has written a fortnight’s worth of postcards to her parents that will be posted from LA to make it look as though she’s there. Then she and Elvis head to Las Vegas where he introduces her to amphetamines.

Priscilla’s parents allow her to spend Christmas at Graceland. She returns to her family in Germany briefly before moving in for good in early ’63 and finishing her final schoolyear in Memphis.


Elvis films It Happened At The World’s Fair in Seattle. A tame Presley vehicle set against the space-age backdrop of

Elvis persuades Priscilla’s father to let her stay at his for Christmas




Elvis flits between RCA studios in Memphis and Radio Recorders in Hollywood where he records host of tracks including the soundtrack for Girls! Girls! Girls!.


Elvis movies are banned in Mexico after a riot at a theatre showing GI Blues.

He may have been the biggest star in the world, but not even Elvis could avoid the draft

Swearing in at Memphis Draft Board office, March 24, 1958

hen Elvis Presley came out of the US Army in March 1960, his first public appearance was not an orgasmic, hipswivelling rock’n’roll shindig. It was a television show in which he starred alongside Frank Sinatra, the consummate all-round American entertainer. Sinatra had been no great lover of rock’n’roll in the ’50s. But he was a Hollywood icon and the master of many musical styles. As a statement of intent Frank Sinatra’s Welcome Home Party For Elvis Presley was a surefire indication of how Presley saw his career developing. Elvis was back and Elvis was big, but he was no longer a one-trick pompadour. Presley – who wore army uniform for the start of the Miamifilmed show before changing into a tuxedo for a duet with Ol’ Blue Eyes himself – had hinted at his long-term plans in interviews given before the TV spectacular, which aired to huge ratings in May 1960. “I’d like to develop my acting to some extent,” he had said. “You know, like Sinatra did when he suddenly came up with From Here To Eternity. I certainly couldn’t model myself on Frank, but I admire him very much and that’s the sort of thing I’d like to do.

“He was just a singer when he decided to branch At the Draft out into acting. Now look Board with at him. He’s one of the tearful mother, Gladys (right) highest paid people in the profession. Anyone can sing and strum a guitar – I’d like to prove that I can do more than that.” Prove that he could do “more than that” was precisely what Presley did in the next two years. There is a tendency among critics to malign his post-army output. John Lennon famously claimed that “Elvis died when he went into the army” and there was some resistance from old fans to the changes of the early ’60s. But while the new, sideburn-less Elvis simmered rather than scalded, the musical strides he was making were not those of a performer who was losing his edge. In 1960, at the age of 25, Elvis was ready to extend his capabilities. Guided by his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, he certainly spent more time in Hollywood. But he also broadened his horizons on a musical level. He made some great singles and, in 1960 alone, two of his most

complete albums. Then, after first reiterating his rock’n’roll credentials, he graduated to mellower, medium-paced songs and some of the most memorable ballads of his career. His music was evolving, but Elvis still retained his old hunger. At a time when rock was still regarded as a passing fad – an era when the rulebook hadn’t yet been written – the postarmy Elvis became a pioneering figure. The best musicians and singers have always pushed the



boundaries. The Beatles did so with Sgt Pepper, The Clash with London Calling and Radiohead with OK Computer. For Elvis, the risk taking came in the early ’60s. Having been the pivotal figure in the rise of rock’n’roll, he went on to define pop. All this, too, was achieved against a backdrop of mounting uncertainty. In the early ’60s, The King faced constant speculation that his crown was slipping. The reality, as we will find out, was different. Not only did Elvis’ change of style increase his stature – it ultimately turned him into pop’s first global superstar.


lvis Presley received his call-up papers in December 1957. At the instigation of Colonel Parker, he was immediately given a 60-day deferment to allow him to finish filming King

demanded that the ruler of rock’n’roll be treated the same as any other conscript. Presley’s manager did not want his artist becoming a commodity for the American forces. He was also keen to protect Elvis from any criticism which might have ensued had he been given preferential treatment. And so it was that Elvis presented himself at the draft board office in Memphis on March 24, 1958. After being seen off by his parents, Vernon and Gladys, his then girlfriend Anita Wood and a small gathering of fans, Elvis became private US 53310761 and his pay was cut from $1,000 a week to $83.20 per month. The following day, as he paid 65 cents for his army regulation haircut, the “onionpeel”, the event was again overseen by Colonel Tom.

Elvis’ ceremonial shearing at Fort Chaffee on March 25, 1958

Creole. It would not be the last time that aspects of his stint with the forces were micro-managed by Parker. Before Elvis was drafted, there was speculation that he would be given dispensation to join the Special Services Division as an entertainer. And while this never happened, the reasons had more to do with Parker’s timely intervention than they did with the Republican Senator who

Presley’s manager had a reputation for paying attention to every small detail. At one RCA press reception, he had busied himself by placing a picture of his client on every table. And, when Elvis was having his pompadour and sideburns shorn, Parker was on hand to make sure that nobody retrieved a sought-after lock of hair from the floor. With one businessman

having already offered to pay for Presley’s hair to sell on to fans at a vast profit, a soldier was detailed to sweep any stray tresses into a bin for immediate burning. Elvis’ initial posting was to Fort Chaffee, in Texas. He then received 22 weeks of basic combat training at nearby Fort Hood. When female fans gathered outside to watch him scrub garbage cans, however, he was kept out of sight by his army minders, and his diligent attitude soon earned the respect of fellow soldiers, a few of whom had taunted him when he first donned the uniform of the 2nd Armoured Division.

Elvis undergoes his medical in Memphis on March 24, 1958



But the rock’n’roll flame still burned within him, and Presley wasted no time in hot-footing it back to Nashville to record “I Got Stung”, “I Need Your Love” and “(Now And Then There’s) A Fool Such As I” in an all-night session while on leave in June 1958. But, while those three songs were added to the stockpile of unreleased material, this would be Elvis’ last studio session for almost two years. However, before he was posted overseas, Elvis had to face the greatest personal tragedy of his life when his mother, who had been ill with hepatitis, died from a heart attack. Elvis, granted compassionate leave, had arrived back in Memphis the day before 46-year-old Gladys passed away on August 14, 1958, but the blow still hit him hard. As a sensitive youngster, he had always looked to his mother for guidance. She helped him to buy his first guitar and encouraged him to persevere with the instrument. And it was with her in mind, after all, that he had first gone to Sam Phillips’ studio to record “My Happiness” as a Mother’s Day gift. In the years that followed, Elvis would often reflect on Gladys Presley’s legacy. “Everyone loves their mother,” he told NME in 1960. “But I was an only child and mother will always be with me. Losing her was like losing a friend, a companion. I could wake her up any hour of the night if I was worried or troubled about something.” Shortly after his mother’s cremation, Elvis was posted to Germany, sailing to Bremerhaven before being assigned to the 3rd Armoured Division in Friedberg. Although GIs weren’t usually allowed to stay with family members, Elvis was granted permission to live off-base with his father and his grandmother, Minnie Mae Presley, in Bad Nauheim, a few miles from the Friedberg barracks. His house, unsurprisingly, was soon a focus for local German schoolgirls.

Boarding the USS General Randall, en route to Germany

Recording at RCA Studios, Nashville while on leave, June 1958

And while Presley would usually depart at 7am to avoid the fans who gathered every day, he was happy to hold impromptu signing sessions outside the building three afternoons a week. Elvis made no live appearances during his time with the army. He did, however, make use of his periods of official leave to sample some of the rock’n’roll delights on offer on his one and only visit to Europe. He went to see Bill Haley play in Frankfurt and Stuttgart and also travelled to Paris with some army buddies in June 1959 and January 1960. In the French capital, he frequented the jazz clubs of St Germain and visited such nightspots as the Lido, the Folies Bergère and, an American bar, the Crazy Horse Saloon. He also dated 17-year-old Margrit

One of the last family portraits before Gladys’ untimely death

really gone away, and his hits in absentia included “Hard Headed Woman”, “One Night” and “(Now And Then There’s) A Fool Such As I”. “One Night” was a particularly gripping example of Elvis’ original menace and style. A highly suggestive song about sleeping with a prostitute, it had originally been recorded by R&B singer Smiley Lewis as “One Night Of Sin”.

Buergin from Frankfurt, spent time with the German movie star Vera Tschechowa, and met 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, an American serviceman’s daughter who would ultimately become his wife. Back home, Colonel Tom and RCA were making hay with the stockpile of unreleased material that Presley had left behind. With skilful marketing, Elvis’s agents made it seem as if The King hadn’t

Elvis made two versions of the track, one with its original lyric and a cleaned-up “one night with you”. But while it was the amended version that was issued as a single, Elvis’ halting, dirty tone left little doubt as to what was on his mind as he slid lasciviously through the number. Elvis’ popularity was also maintained by the release, in June 1958, of King Creole. Adapted from Harold Robbins’ A Stone For Danny Fisher, the film portrayed Elvis as a struggling New



In NME, under the memorable headline “Will the army leave Elvis gloomy or gay?”, Derek Johnson argued that the singer’s sense of insecurity was one of the things that made him special – and thus hugely successful. If he left the armed forces as a happier and more confident individual, his unique appeal might become diluted. From his own observations, it is clear that Presley himself had concerns about how he would be regarded on his return to civvy street. “I don’t know if I’ll get back on top again,” he told NME’s Johnson in March 1960. “I only wish I knew. I’m completely away from showbusiness. I only have newspaper clippings to keep me up to date. That’s where NME comes in useful. I get it regularly and I hear that trends have changed, so it might be pretty difficult for me. But I’ll tell you this – I’m sure going to try hard. My attitude to rock’n’roll hasn’t changed. I think it would be a mistake for me to try and change my style. The public will let me know if they don’t like it.” lvis’ discharge from the army was something of a media event, with a farewell press conference in Friedberg and another on the singer’s return to home soil. After two years in the armed forces, Private Presley had been promoted to the rank of sergeant, but any suggestions that he would remain a soldier were rebuffed. When he boarded a military transport plane to travel back to the States via Prestwick in Scotland – the only





At home in Bad Nauheim, February 1959

Orleans singer and is regarded as one of his better movies. The critical reaction at the time, reflected in a strong box office performance, was positive. “Elvis Presley can act” bellowed The New York Times. But, by the beginning of 1960, neither RCA or the Hollywood studios had any more Elvis material left in their vaults. Attention began to turn to the singer’s imminent discharge, with speculation mounting as to how army life might have changed him. In his absence, new artists had emerged. Frankie Avalon, Paul Anka, Rick Nelson and Bobby Darin had all become stars while Fabian, a young Presley imitator from Philadelphia, had sold four million singles.

Leaving for Brooklyn and Germany, September 1958

time he ever set foot in Britain – Elvis was flying back to resume a career in entertainment. Within weeks of his return, he had filmed his television special with Frank Sinatra and paid his first visit in two years to RCA’s Studio B in Nashville. The need for a new single was pressing and Presley’s first stereo recording, “Stuck On You”, did the trick. The record, in the shops within weeks of the session, was largely well received. Under the banner “Elvis starts waxing again”, NME’s ubiquitous Johnson praised the return of The King: “Elvis has lost none of his fire, drive and inherent rhythm. The song is a medium-paced hunk of solid rock handled in the mean and moody manner which has become his trademark.” Others were not so sure. “Stuck On You” reached Number One in Britain and America, but its UK sales fell away after just one week, prompting NME to speculate that Elvis might be losing his touch. But if some saw the singer’s inability to move on from his pre-army records as a weakness (“Stuck On You” was judged to be too similar to “All Shook Up”), Elvis was not about to revamp his style. Not yet anyway.

n 1957, Frank Sinatra dismissed Elvis and the new breed of rock’n’rollers as “cretinous goons” – words which he’d come to choke on three years later when on March 26, 1960, he hosted the Welcome Home Party For Elvis Presley TV special. The highlight was Elvis curling his lip at Frank’s “Witchcraft” while Sinatra gurned his way through “Love Me Tender”. If it was a musical heavyweight contest, the result was a resounding KO to Elvis. Their rivalry was exacerbated by Elvis’ next movie, GI Blues. Given the singer’s reputation with leading ladies, Frank was less than chuffed that his current girlfriend, Juliet Prowse, was Presley’s co-star. Sure enough, before long Elvis was boasting to his Memphis Mafia that Prowse “likes to grab her ankles and spread her legs real wide”. Ironically, the day Sinatra paid an impromptu visit to the set, he caught them playing cards. Though in private Frank would continue to refer to Presley as “Clyde” (Rat Pack slang for “loser”), over the years their mutual animosity eventually


softened. Sinatra not only lent Elvis his private jet for his wedding, he also offered to “rub out” Red and Sonny West, the bodyguards who wrote a scandalous biography in 1976. “Did my Dad hate Elvis? Of course not,” says Nancy Sinatra, who herself sparked rumours of off-camera shenanigans when co-starring with Elvis in 1968’s Speedway. “They really hit it off,” she insists. “I can still picture the two of them laughing and carrying on in Vegas. They were pals.” SIMON GODDARD





Within weeks, he was back in Nashville cutting the remaining tracks for his first post-forces album. And while the Sun-era team of Elvis, guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black was not a viable option, with Black having launched a solo career, Presley was joined in Studio B by Moore and drummer DJ Fontana and the socalled Nashville A-team of musicians. The result of their two all night-sessions, Elvis Is Back!, ranks among his finest albums. Cut with an immediacy that makes the three-week germination of the average White Stripes CD appear longwinded, Elvis Is Back! is simply the best rock’n’roll album between Buddy Holly and The Beatles. Its basic strength lay in Elvis’ ability to transport himself back to his roots. Tracks such as “Dirty, Dirty Feeling” and “Such A Night” were mean and low-down while “Fever” eschewed guitars completely, the singer being accompanied by just a bassist and two percussionists. Another track, “A Mess Of Blues”, made great use of the natural, swaying syncopation that had been honed in the hours that Presley spent as a teenager hanging around with the black kids on Memphis’ Beale Street. British television producer Jack Good, an important figure in early ’60s pop, compared the performance of Elvis and his band to the virtuosity of classic jazzers. “When you listen to ‘A Mess Of Blues’,” said Good. “You can hear fingers clicking to the beat at the beginning, and you know it’s Elvis setting the feel.”

‘Jailhouse Rock’. His voice has improved, but I wish he’d get back to his old style and give us a good rock number.” Maybe fans shouldn’t have been so shocked by Elvis’ change of direction. After all, there had even been hints that Presley wanted to widen his appeal before he went into the army. One of the songs stockpiled before he was drafted, 1959’s “(Now And Then There’s) A Fool Such As I”, had introduced a more measured, melodic approach. And, as far back as 1953, when a teenage Elvis first ventured into Sam Phillips’s Memphis Recording Service to make a record for his mother, the producer’s assistant had noted “Elvis Presley – good ballad singer”.

Elvis is back: New Jersey, March 3 1960 and (below) the press conference

its spoken-word narration based on Shakespeare’s As You Like It, it had originally been hit for Al Jolson. Elvis’ poignant rendition, which copied Jolson’s arrangement almost note for note, came at the instigation of Colonel Tom, who asked the singer to record it as a present for Parker’s wife. Presley did so in style, asking that the lights be switched off in the studio as he sang with real emotion. Reaction to the single was

Back in uniform for GI Blues, 1960

Although they weren’t included on the album, Presley cut two more tracks during the Elvis Is Back! sessions. Subsequently issued as singles, “It’s Now Or Never” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” topped the charts in Britain and America. They also signified a crucial sea change in the public’s perception of the singer. The mock operatic “It’s Now Or Never” was an adaptation of “O Sole Mio”, an Italian aria written in 1901 and recorded by the great tenor Enrico Caruso. For Elvis, fresh lyrics were provided by a Brill Building writing team, and the song signified Presley’s shift from a rock’n’roller towards more adult entertainment. His voice was warmer, purer and more controlled – and the single was heralded by the British music weekly Disc as “the best record Elvis has ever made – he sings to a Latin beat and really punches out the chorus.” “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” was similarly ambitious. Written in 1926, and with

again favourable, with Disc enthusing about the singer’s “new style”: “Gone is the wild rocker and the body gyrations. In their place is a mature, subdued Presley with the main accent on his voice.” There were dissenters, however. Some rock’n’roll fans thought that Elvis was selling out and British singer Marty Wilde, while admitting he was still an Elvis fan, cried out for a return to rock: “He’s still the greatest in my book, but I don’t really like what he’s doing now. I don’t like the new deep, thick tone to his voice. ‘It’s Now Or Never’ is atrocious compared to


68| 42|

The other great Elvis album of 1960 was cut in a single session in October 1960. His Hand In Mine was the singer’s first gospel album, following 1957’s “Peace In The Valley” EP. Comprising hymns and spirituals such as “Swing Down Sweet Chariot”, it was a sincere tribute to Gladys. Elvis, Gladys and Vernon had often sung as a trio at revivalist prayer meetings, and it is easy to imagine the singer thinking of his mother as he sang these songs. One of the out-takes, “Crying In The Chapel”, was withheld from the original release. It would, however, give Elvis a hit single on both sides of the Atlantic in 1965. Impressed with the reaction to “It’s Now Or Never”, Elvis went Latin again for his next single, “Surrender”. An Italian ballad, written in 1911, the song was given English lyrics by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, a celebrated writing team who had earlier given him the magnificent “A Mess Of Blues”. But while the song was another transatlantic charttopper, cries for a return to the earthier style of old intensified, particularly in Britain. Jack Good claimed that Elvis had achieved his mission of “converting the squares”, and pleaded with him to get back to his rock roots: “‘Surrender’ proved that ‘It’s Now Or Never’ was no fluke. Now we need some real, raunchy rhythm and blues. We miss the rock element badly. Some people think that Elvis has forgotten how to rock. I don’t agree – but I think it’s a criminal waste to be the best rock’n’roll singer in the world and not use your talent in that direction.” hile continuing to knock out first-class hit singles, Elvis spent the rest of 1960 and much of 1961 in Hollywood, shooting Flaming Star and Wild In The Country. His movie hit of the period, however, was the light-hearted GI Blues. Released over Christmas 1960, it detailed the adventures of American soldiers in West Germany. The accompanying soundtrack was cut not in Memphis but in Los Angeles, with the old backing team of Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana augmented by West Coast session

men Dudley Brooks and Tiny Timbrell. It wasn’t the musicians that let Elvis down, it was the poor quality of the material, something that was to become a recurring theme with his soundtracks. The hit single “Wooden Heart”, a light German oom-pah number, was a rare highlight. But 1961 wasn’t just about movies. On February 25, Elvis played his first live gig for four years, performing a matinee and an evening

show before 10,000 fans at the Ellis Auditorium in Memphis. He followed that one month later by donning his gold leaf jacket for a benefit date at the Bloch Arena in Pearl Harbor. The Honolulu gig proved to be Elvis’ last concert for eight years. But while he concentrated more on Hollywood, good singles continued to emerge, albeit


Onstage at the Bloch Arena, Pearl Harbor, March 25, 1961

spasmodically. One such record was the catchy, effortless “Good Luck Charm”, which topped the charts in Britain and America thanks to its much imitated “uh-huh-huh” refrain. Another was the superb “(Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame”, which answered those who longed for Elvis to get back to a raunchy style. Another PomusShuman number, “His Latest Flame” has been heralded (by critic Dave Marsh) as a forerunner to The Who while its intro was memorably imitated by Johnny Marr of The Smiths on 1985’s “Rusholme Ruffians”. It was Elvis’ toughest sounding single since the army. The early ’60s were to produce two more classic Presley singles. Unusually, both came from movies. The confessional “Can’t Help Falling In Love” was from Blue Hawaii. “Return To Sender” was from Girls! Girls! Girls!. But while these two numbers were the exception rather than the rule for Elvis’ soundtracks, the box office success of 1961’s Blue Hawaii and the relative failure of albums such as Elvis Is Back! convinced Colonel Parker that the singer’s future lay in Hollywood, and a series of increasingly formulaic films ensued. Maybe if Blue Hawaii had bombed and Elvis Is Back! had been a massive album, the rest of the ’60s would have turned out differently. Maybe Presley – having seen off the threat of teen idols such as Fabian and Frankie Avalon – would have gone back to Memphis and Nashville. Maybe he would have made some more great rock’n’roll records and faced the oncoming musical challenge of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan head on. The fact is that he didn’t. Despite this, though, John Lennon was wrong. Elvis didn’t die the moment he went into the army. For two golden years after coming out of the forces, musically, he moved brilliantly with the times. He consolidated his worldwide fame and cleverly adapted his style. It was to be six long years before he would do so again. For now he was off to conquer the movies.

On March 3, 1960, Elvis spent his only hour on UK soil when the DC-7 aircraft flying him from Germany to the McGuire Air Force base New Jersey, stopped off to refuel at Prestwick International Airport, near Glasgow. Although the authorities tried to keep his brief visit under wraps, by the time his plane touched down at around 7.30pm, scores of fans were already ready and waiting for a glimpse of The King. Elvis himself was only too happy to pose for photos and sign autographs, though he also found a spare moment during his 80-minute stopover to make a private phone call to Priscilla Beaulieu, the 14 year-old “bride-tobe” he’d left behind in Germany. The authorities at Prestwick marked the event by naming one of their lounges The Graceland Bar. In 1999, nearly four decades after Elvis passed through the airport, his original sidemen, guitarist Scotty Moore and drummer DJ Fontana, were invited to unveil a special commemorative plaque. Sadly, the bar has since been renamed and stripped of all Elvis memorabilia, although a local Glasgow fanclub, The Elvis Touch, are campaigning to have it reinstated. The fact that The King spent his one hour in Britain on Scottish (and not English) soil has long been an immense source of pride to Elvis’ fans north of the border, many of whom

The King Of Jock’n’Roll: Elvis at Prestwick Airport, Scotland

uphold the claims of author Allan Morrison that Presley himself was a Scot. Morrison maintains that The King’s family tree can be traced back three hundred years to Lonmay, a small village outside Aberdeen. SIMON GODDARD


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How the shockwaves of rock’n’roll’s big bang were felt right across the Atlantic BY MIKE PATTENDEN
hen Elvis wandered into Sun Studios to cut his first songs rationing was still in force in the UK and Winston Churchill held office as PM. The impact his early records had on monochrome Britain is difficult to exaggerate. For early British rock’n’roller Chris Farlowe – who was to enjoy a 1963 Number One with “Out Of Time” – he was a total revelation. “When I heard Elvis I thought, “Wow, this is it! This is the shit!” he recalls. “He sounded just incredible. And the way he looked! He was the most well-dressed man ever.” Like dozens of British bands Farlowe dropped skiffle, formed The Thunderbirds and started playing rock’n’roll. The British recording establishment preferred to believe that the sound was just a fad but when “Heartbreak Hotel” crash-landed at Number Two on May 11, 1956 a generation of teenagers began perfecting their Elvis impressions in front of the mirror. A handful of smart entrepreneurs saw their opportunity. Larry Parnes rapidly assembled a roster of talent, all purporting to be Britain’s answer to Elvis – names like Joey Castell, Larry Page, Dickie Pride and Duffy Power soon filled coffee bar jukeboxes a button push away from Presley, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. Parnes virtually set up office in Soho’s legendary 2i’s coffee bar, making a number of signings on the basis of performances he witnessed there. The results were usually a pale copy of the real thing: quaint, and for the most part denuded of the sexual aggression that characterised Elvis. Marty Wilde was a classic example – sideburns, DA and a repertoire largely built on flimsy covers of US hits. “Sure we had our versions of Elvis but how the hell could you compete with him?” says Farlowe.

Most British rockers of the ’50s lacked credibility – not Billy Fury. The slight, rockabilly Scouser was virtually unique in the era for writing his own


material and delivering it with absolute conviction. The 18-year-old Fury, born Ronald Wycherley, acquired his first rock’n’roll 45s in Liverpool’s docks where he worked on the tugboats. Signed to



Larry Parnes’ roster, he released his first single “Maybe Tomorrow” in February 1959 and enjoyed an instant Top 20 hit. However he’s best remembered for his 1960 album The Sound Of Fury, a landmark collection of self-penned rockers and ballads. Dogged by ill-health his entire life, his weakened heart finally gave out in 1983 but Billy Fury remains a bona fide British rock legend.

ROCK ON TOMMY Ten pre-Beatles British rock classics
With its jungle bassline and clangorous lead guitar, “Move It” is the first classic British rock song to capture the sound and the spirit of American rock’n’roll. It was destined as a B-side until it was championed on TV show Oh Boy!. million hearts/You won’t break mine” snarls Fury over a hugging slapback beat.

Faith was fortunate to team up with genius composer John Barry who co-wrote this number, a double A-side with the forgettable cover “Johnny Comes Marching Home”. It stands out as a rare moment of inspiration in a career of mediocrity.

Unlikely as it seems, the title of first British rock idol goes to cheeky south London chappy Thomas Hicks. A former merchant seamen he was renamed Tommy Steele by Larry Parnes, who signed him up after spotting him in the 2i’s coffee bar. His first single, “Rock With Caveman”, written by Lionel Oliver Bart, was a hit in 1956 but the follow-up, a cover version of Guy Mitchell’s “Singing The Blues” went to Number One transforming him into a teen sensation. At one concert hysterical fans rushed the stage, knocking him unconscious and stripping him. A string of hits followed along with a Presley-style switch to the big screen in movies such as The Duke Wore Jeans and the inevitable shift into light entertainment.


VINCE TAYLOR AND THE PLAYBOYS Brand New Cadillac (PARLOPHONE, 1960) HOOTS MON Dubbed ‘The Black Leather Rebel’ Lord Rockingham’s XI
(his look predating Elvis’ Comeback Special outfit) Brian Holden’s parents emigrated to the States in the late ’40s. He returned to London in 1955 and formed The Playboys in the 2i’s coffee bar, cutting this rockabilly classic – later revived by The Clash – as a B-side. Taylor ended up living the simple life in Switzerland.
(DECCA, 1958)

Johnny and The Pirates Kidding about (and giving Adam Ant an idea)

Undoubtedly something of a novelty record but one which fairly steamed along for the time from the house band on Oh Boy!.

Adam And The Ants were in nappies when Johnny Kidd began his swashbuckling career. Built around guitarist Joe Moretti’s quivering signature riff and an unhinged performance by the frontman, “Shakin’ All Over” gatecrashed the Number One slot and sounds as good now as the day it was cut. Kidd was killed in a 1966 car crash.

Formerly The Drifters, The Shadows put instrumental rock on the UK map with this Number One classic. It made Hank Marvin a guitar hero and in retrospect stands as one of the most influential British rock records ever.

Credited as Britain’s first ‘Rockney’, Brown was a hot guitarist who appeared with Eddie Cochran and Johnny Cash. This was a Number One with his band The Bruvvers

Also signed up after an appearance at the 2i’s, west Londoner Terence Nelhams had a false start on the long forgotten Top Rank label before teaming up with John Barry (yes, that one) for the Buddy Hollyish “What Do You Want?” which went to Number One in 1959. His good looks and hiccuping delivery made him another teen idol for the deluded. At one point in 1960 he had six songs in the Top Ten but his career faded with the arrival of The Beatles. Faith went into acting, while half of his backing band The Roulettes went on to play with prog-pop behemoths Argent.


BILLY FURY Turn My Back On You (DECCA, 1960)
Taken from his definitive The Sound Of Fury album this track is a million miles away from the bloodless drivel prevalent at the time. “You broke a

TERRY DENE Start Movin’ (In My Direction) (DECCA, 1957)
Dene’s second release and his biggest hit was overshadowed by a release by doomed teen actor Sal Mineo.

(DECCA, 1961)

Dressed in gladiator uniforms purloined from the set of Ben Hur, The Gladiators specialised in manic rock versions of classical themes with red hot guitar from Joe Moretti, – later with The Pirates.

Clean-cut bachelor boy Cliff was the only British rocker to survive the The Beatles era. Lucknow-born Harry Webb formed skiffle act The Drifters – eventually renamed The Shadows – in the mid ’50s before adopting rock’n’roll and signing to Columbia. His first single “Move It!” turned him into


an overnight star while his early performances sparked riots. Followup “Living Doll” became the first UK rock number to chart in America. He then embarked on an awesome run, scoring no less than 43 Top 20 hits between 1958 and 1969, seeing off Merseybeat, psychedelia, glam and punk to become the Peter Pan of Pop.

One of the more credible ’50s rockers, Dene’s story stands as a cautionary footnote in pop history. Having rapidly caught on to US rock’n’roll


through his job in a pressing plant, he was among the Britrock vanguard, hitting the Top 20 with his June 1957 debut “A White Sports Coat (And A Pink Carnation)”. The mass hysteria his performances prompted led to vicious attacks by the press despite his sound being increasingly emasculated by his label, Decca. A 1958 drunk and disorderly arrest only served to confirm his threat to society. When a nervous breakdown resulted in him being turned down for National Service the media assassination redoubled. Dene’s career was effectively destroyed and he quit the music business soon after – to return a decade later as a gospel singer.




After a lengthy army sojourn, Presley was itching to return to music. The fruit of his labour – Elvis Is Back! – is a stirring and wonderfully varied album. By Nathaniel Cramp


Make Me Know It Fever Best Friend The Girl Of My Again I Will Be Ho me eling Dirty, Dirty Fe ur Love The Thrill Of Yo Soldier Boy Such A Night t It Feels So Righ



Apr 60(US) Jul 60 (U K) RCA Studios, Nashville

Steve Sholes & Chet Atkins
1 1

g or Went A’Walkin The Girl Next Do Like A Baby Reconsider Baby

t 5.25pm on March 1, 1960, as his 14-year-old girlfriend Priscilla Beaulieu tearfully waved farewell with her handkerchief, Elvis Presley took off from the US airbase at Rhine-Main in West Germany. After 17 long months of National Service in Europe, the king of rock’n’roll was returning to his throne. Colonel Tom Parker had not visited Elvis during his sojourn overseas, but he had written long, detailed letters to his charge nearly every day, all the while doing what Elvis believed to be impossible and keeping him in the headlines. Finally, after two years of increasingly outlandish stunts such as the Elvis Presley Midget Fanclub parade in Chicago, normal service could be resumed and nothing had been left to chance. The Colonel had mapped out in great detail the next stages of Elvis’ film career but, first, there was the small matter of his new album. After a brief press conference at Graceland, Elvis spent a couple of weeks reacquainting himself with his friends and civilian life in Memphis. Then, on Sunday, March 20, he set off on a specially chartered Greyhound bus for the RCA Studio in Nashville. It had been booked under a false name, and the musicians told that they were to be working on a session by Jim Reeves, but it actually proved to be a reunion for the crew who had played on Elvis’ last recordings in 1958. Alongside guitarist Scotty Moore, drummer DJ Fontana and The Jordanaires was the Nashville A-team of pianist Floyd Cramer, guitarist Hank Garland, bassist

Bobby Moore and percussionist Buddy Harman. In the control booth, along with the Colonel and his assistant Tom Diskin, were RCA executives Steve Sholes and Bill Bullock, A&R head Chet Atkins, publisher’s rep Freddy Bienstock and engineer Bill Porter. As the crew re-familiarised themselves over hamburgers, the tension, and no doubt Elvis’ two years of pent-up musical frustration, was palpable – a situation that wasn’t helped when he took 19 attempts to record the first song, Otis Blackwell’s “Make Me Know It”. Next up was “Soldier Boy”, a 1955 hit for The Four Fellows and, like many of the songs that made up Elvis Is Back!, one that he had been singing during his time in Germany. It’s almost as if the album is a compilation tape of the songs that soundtracked his time in the forces, which would certainly explain its wonderfully varied nature and the sense that Elvis really is giving it his all. He even duets with his army buddy Charlie Hodge on a version of The Golden Gate Quartet’s “I Will Be Home Again”, a record that Hodge had given to Elvis as a present and that he had listened to time and again in Europe. The first session continued right through the night. “Stuck On You” was a simple update of “All Shook Up”, “Fame And Fortune” a doo wop ballad, “A Mess Of Blues” was the first time Elvis sang a composition by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, the songwriting duo who would later provide him with classics such as “Viva Las Vegas”. The session concluded, appropriately, with the down and dirty groove of “It Feels So Right”, just as the sun came up. RCA wasted no time. They had 1.4 million preorders for the new Elvis single, and within 72 hours the requisite number of copies of “Stuck On You”/“Fame And Fortune” were pressed up and shipped out in generic sleeves stamped with “Elvis’ 1st New Recording For His




1959 [UK -/4 US 19/32]

With Elvis nine months into army life, record label RCA trawled his back catalogue for ‘new’ product. The result was two compilation albums, both recycling tracks that had appeared on early Sun and RCA singles. A Date With... even found room for a few songs left over from the Love Me Tender and Jailhouse Rock soundtrack EP sessions. The albums were cobbled together, but provided a perfect way for more recent Elvis converts to discover earlier, hard to find – and gloriously raucous – tracks such as “That’s All Right”, “Good Rockin’ Tonight” and “Mystery Train”.

1960 [UK 1/ US 1]

50,000,000 Fans All Over The World”. There were no gaps in the schedule either. Six days later Elvis set off by train for Miami to meet Frank Sinatra and record a TV special, Frank Sinatra’s Welcome Home Party For Elvis Presley. Ol’ Blue Eyes agreed that Elvis still had what it took, telling his tuxedoed guest that “the only thing you’ve lost is your sideburns”. On Sunday, April 3, Elvis returned to Nashville for the second session and the same crew reconvened, along with saxophonist Homer ‘Boots’ Randolph. The session kicked off at 7.30pm with Elvis backed by just the two drummers and Bobby Moore’s bass on a menacing, minimal version of “Fever” – Peggy Lee’s version of which was another staple on Elvis’ record player in Germany. Once again the 12 songs that comprised the all-night session (eight more for the album, four for singles) took in a wide variety of styles. “It’s Now Or Never” was a rewritten version of the Italian classic “O Sole Mio”, which the Colonel was very pleased to discover was out of copyright; “Such A Night” was done as a tribute to The Drifters’ Clyde McPhatter; “Dirty, Dirty Feeling” was a Leiber and Stoller number left over from King Creole; “The Girl Of My Best Friend” was written by Beverley Ross, who

also wrote “Candy Man” for Roy Orbison, and features some incredible, chiming guitar from Hank Garland that presages Merseybeat by a few years; “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” was a sentimental ballad dating from 1927, and was recorded at the behest of Colonel Parker as it was his wife Marie’s favourite song. When Elvis finally got around to recording it at 4am he insisted that the lights were turned down low in order to achieve the required mood. If you listen closely you

can hear the musicians knocking their instruments against their microphones in the darkness. As dawn broke and the Nashville sessioneers worriedly checked their watches to make sure they weren’t missing their first Monday session, Elvis picked up his Gibson J-200 and began strumming the opening bars of Lowell Fulsom’s “Reconsider Baby”, a longstanding favourite that he had been playing since the Sun years, and promptly laid down one of the most ragged and soulful recordings he ever made. And that was it. Elvis was well and truly back. The album hit stores at the end of April 1960 with a cover photo of Elvis, without sideburns, wearing a military-style corduroy jacket. It also came wrapped in a gatefold sleeve, printed with a number of “Bonus GI snapshots for your collection”, showing the “Soldier Boy” himself on manoeuvres and relaxing with his records. Two weeks later he was back in uniform, but this time for the filming of GI Blues, and the shift from Elvis The Singer to Elvis The Movie Star was complete. It meant Elvis Is Back! remained his finest moment until the next Comeback Special some eight years later.

A candyfloss-light collection of 11 songs made up the soundtrack to Elvis’ first post-army picture. Presley’s enthusiastic tilt at Carl Perkins’ riotous “Blue Suede Shoes” is a highlight as is quirky ballad “Wooden Heart”.

1960 [UK 3/US 13]


Elvis’ first gospel album is also his best, the songs’ sparse arrangements a contrast to the overblown nature of his later work in the genre. Powerful and emotive, Elvis gives it his all on songs such as “He Knows Just What I Need” and the soaring, inspirational title track.

Elvis is home: New Jersey March 2, U N C U T L E G E N D S 1960


Elvis with Jerry Leiber (right) and Mike Stoller (left) in 1957


Otis Blackwell. It was called “Don’t Be Cruel” and Elvis instantly fell in love with it. It wasn’t just the song that tickled Presley. It was the way Blackwell delivered it on a home demo on which he’d beaten out the song’s rhythm on a cardboard box. After listening to it repeatedly during his lunch break, Elvis all but parroted Blackwell’s phrasing for his own recording. Blackwell later claimed that Presley’s covers of his songs – “Don’t Be Cruel” (1956), “All Shook Up” (1957), “Return To Sender” (1962) and other album cuts and B-sides – were “90 per cent exact copies” of his demos. He would never meet Elvis, not least because Colonel Tom Parker made it his business to maintain a distance between songwriters and his client. lyde Otis and Ivory Joe Hunter had just returned from The RCA session that Freddy Bienstock attended in a day’s duck hunting when the phone rang. It was the 1956 had already produced the flipside to “Don’t Be Cruel”. song publishers Hill And Range calling from New York, A song Elvis knew from Big Mama Thornton’s 1953 R&B and the message was simple: “We need a song for Elvis original, “Hound Dog” was part of the live repertoire of Presley and we need it now.” shows he’d played with Scotty Moore, Bill Black and DJ In Hunter’s Louisiana home, the two men pulled off their Fontana for two months. Written by the duo of Jerry waders and set to work. The song they came up with was Leiber and Mike Stoller, it would – like “Don’t Be Cruel” the bluesy “Ain’t That Loving You, Baby”, and they rushed it – top the charts. off to Hill And Range’s Freddy Bienstock in time for a Presley Jewish hepcats in love with urban black Americana, recording session in Nashville on June 10, 1958. Leiber and Stoller had established themselves The musicians in RCA’s Studio B were still struggling with as successful writers-producers after moving the song at midnight, not even when Chet Atkins took over as teenagers from their native East Coast to Los the guitar part from Hank Garland could they nail it. With Angeles. R&B hits for The Robins, Little Esther and the clock ticking, Elvis decided to move on. By 2am they had others followed in the early ’50s. “(Now And Then There’s) A Fool Such As I” – a country hit for Stoller had survived the sinking of cruise ship Hank Snow five years before – in the bag. the Andrea Doria off Nantucket Island on July 25, Elvis’ “Fool” would reach Number Two on the Billboard 1956. Arriving back in New York he was greeted by singles chart. “Ain’t That Loving You, Baby”, on the other Leiber with the news that Elvis had covered “Hound Dog”. hand, stayed in the can for another six years. Such was the “I heard the record and I was disappointed,” Stoller hectic business of soliciting songs in the relentless career of admits. “It just sounded terribly nervous, too fast and too America’s biggest pop star on the eve of his induction into white. But you know, after it sold seven or eight million the US Army. records it started to sound better.” For Freddy Bienstock it was a full-time job gathering Elvis loved Leiber and Stoller and wanted them material and striking deals for the Gladys Music and Elvis involved in sessions on the West Coast. They were sceptical, Presley Music companies Colonel however, and loathed Presley’s version Tom Parker had set up with Hill And of their “Love Me”, a sickly hillbilly Range – deals that generally entailed spoof that reached Number Two on Presley taking a third of the publishing the Billboard chart at the end of 1956 royalties on songs whose composition (as part of the Elvis, Volume 1 EP). But, “I don’t know anything he’d had nothing to do with. in April of the following year, the pair about music. In my line The Viennese-born Bienstock became overnight converts to the you don’t have to” first met Elvis on July 2, 1956, at the Presley cause when Elvis gives away his secrets singer’s second New York recording Elvis recorded session. Bienstock, 28, brought with their thrilling him a new song by a writer named “Jailhouse Rock”.

“With Elvis no direction was needed,” Leiber said. “Once the rhythm section started to cook, he would just start singing. And the man never made a bad take… he was like an Olympic champion. He could sing all day.” Although Elvis would continue to record songs by Leiber and Stoller, his manager became alarmed at the influence they had over him. When they went directly to Elvis with two songs, Parker was enraged. After they’d worked on the soundtrack to King Creole (1958) he deftly severed their connection to Presley by demanding Leiber sign what was essentially a blank piece of paper. They never worked in person with Elvis again. “We could have made history,” Leiber reflected, “but those assholes only wanted to make another nickel the same way.” Among the many other writers who fed songs to Presley via Hill And Range – Brill Building veterans such as Fred Wise, Aaron Schroeder and Ben Weisman, the latter of whom chalked up an astounding 57 co-credits for Elvis – the only real successors to Leiber and Stoller were the similarly hip Jewish pairing of Jerome ‘Doc Pomus’ Felder and Mort Shuman.

Felder was a polio-crippled Brooklynite who’d started out singing – on crutches – in the black clubs of the late ’40s. Helped by Otis Blackwell and by Leiber and Stoller, he began writing with pianist Shuman, penning hits for Fabian, The Drifters and Dion & The Belmonts. In 1960 Elvis recorded “A Mess of Blues”, the first of over 20 Pomus-Shuman songs (“Little Sister”, “(Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame” and “Viva Las Vegas” being others) that he cut in the early years of the new decade. This time, however, Colonel Tom Parker wasn’t prepared to take any chances. “Doc and I never got to meet Elvis,” Shuman wrote shortly before his death in 1991 – coincidentally the year Pomus died. “Now I realise I would have at least liked to have shaken his hand and told him who I was. “He gave strangers Cadillacs and I never even got a Christmas card!” So much for the backroom songsmiths that did so much to make rock’n’roll. BARNEY HOSKINS




Elvis hitmakers: (clockwise from top left) Leiber and Stoller, Otis Blackwell, Mort Shuman and ‘Doc Pomus’ and Ivory Joe Hunter

These should be happy times for the newlywed Elvis. But as the British Invasion sweeps America, creative stagnation means his record sales decline and movie audiences dwindle. Increasingly dependent on drugs, Elvis embarks on a spiritual quest

The King impersonates Queen on the set of Fun In Acapulco

9 Elvis and Parker send a telegram congratulating The Beatles on their first appearance on Ed Sullivan, which is read out on-air.



28 Elvis begins production on Fun In Acapulco with Ursula Andress.




15 Elvis begins shooting Viva Las Vegas. He and co-star Ann-Margret deny rumours of an intense affair. They remain close friends until Presley’s death.




Elvis begins shooting his third film of the year Kissin’ Cousins, having wrapped up work on the soundtrack. By now, Parker has realised the films and records are crosspromotional devices, meaning Elvis doesn’t have to work on original albums.

What might have been: Elvis and Ann-Margret,
Viva Las Vegas

Bill Black’s Combo (Black second from left)



24 Priscilla turns 18. To celebrate her graduation from high school shortly afterward, she and Elvis lock themselves in his bedroom in Graceland for three weeks. 26 Elvis records “Devil In Disguise”. It will be his last non-movie record release for more than two years.

Elvis buys the condemned USS Potomac, Roosevelt’s former “floating Whitehouse”, for $55,000. He wants to donate it to a charity but the first two he approaches knock him back because of prohibitive restoration costs. Finally, he gives it to St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. The handover ceremony takes place in Long Beach, California.

Elvis begins filming Roustabout. Desperate to be taken seriously as an actor, Elvis fumes when a press story quotes his Larry Geller: long-standing would you producer buy God from Hal Wallis this man? saying that “In order to make artistic pictures, you have to make the commercially 8 Elvis celebrates his 30th birthday. successful Presley pictures”. He spends the day quietly at Graceland reading the books Geller has recommended to him. Elvis meets Larry Geller – a hairdresser who becomes his spiritual guide and introduces During a drive from Memphis to him to Eastern mysticism. Elvis’ LA, Elvis looks out the bus window gang hate Geller, believing he and sees the face of Stalin in a is brainwashing Elvis. cloud, which then turns into Jesus. According to Geller, this was Elvis’ spiritual epiphany. Elvis declares Elvis begins work on Girl that he wants to become a monk, Happy, the last film of his 1961 but instead starts work on new contract with MGM. His single MGM film Harum Scarum. sales start to stutter. With the exception of “Kissin’ Cousins”, none of the Shooting begins on United six singles Artists picture Frankie And Johnny. released in Elvis is becoming increasingly 1964 (not despondent about the poor even “Blue quality songs he has to record for Christmas”) the soundtrack. However, “Crying sells more than In The Chapel”, recorded and 500,000. shelved five years earlier, is his first million-seller since 1962 and a Number One in the UK – his first since The Beatles broke. Elvis, now with Allied Artists, starts work on 7 Elvis heads to Hawaii to Tickle Me. The soundtrack begin location work on re-uses old Elvis Paradise, Hawaiian Style. material. Commentators are beginning Elvis, the superstar, now to take note of how fed up he is commands $750,000 with the material he’s making. fee. By the end of the Movie News reports he arrives year, Elvis is the highestin Hawaii “without his usual paid star in Hollywood. smiling face…” Still, Hawaiian He has eight pictures Senator Daniel Inouye has scheduled over the the visit officially noted in the next three years with Congressional Record. combined salaries of

Publicity shot from Harum Scarum, 1965




27 The Beatles visit Elvis in Bel Air. John and Paul jam Charlie Rich’s ”Mohair Sam” with him, while Colonel Parker and Brian Epstein play some roulette. Colonel Parker hammers out a new deal with RCA that takes Elvis to 1972, with the option of an additional two years. As ever, the figures are favourable for Elvis but he feels creatively stymied.




21 Bill Black, Elvis’ original bass player, dies during an operation to remove a brain tumour. He is 39. “I can hardly explain how much I loved Bill,” says a distraught Elvis.


25 Priscilla buys Elvis a racing car set for Christmas. He loves it so much, he talks about getting a new room built to accommodate a bigger track. 26 With Ann-Margret looking on, Elvis takes acid for the first and last time. “He did it in a very Elvis way,” says Larry Geller. “He watched The Time Machine on TV and sent out for a pizza.”

years. It finds him rediscovering a love for the gospel music of his youth, resulting in the How Great Thou Art LP.

Deborah Wal ley played Elvis’ drummer in 1966’s Spinou t

Elvis is back in Hollywood recording the soundtrack for Double Trouble. On a rare night out, Elvis and his gang head to see Jackie Wilson perform in LA and bump into James Brown.



26 Elvis starts work on Spinout – a new picture directed by longtime associate Norman Taurog.

12 Elvis’ starts filming Easy Come, Easy Go. He is overweight and totally uninterested in this contractual necessity.



RCA make it clear they want an album, two singles and a further Christmas single from Elvis, his first non-soundtrack recording session in two-and-a-half

Elvis buys Priscilla a horse, and builds a stable. He then formally proposes. ”If Every Day Was Like Christmas”, recorded in May, reaches Number Two in the US charts.

The newlyweds: Elvis and Priscilla Presley, May 1, 1967

Elvis and equine
Elvis in flattering wetsuit from Easy Come, Easy Go, 1967

Colonel Parker outlines a new deal that increases his stake in Elvis’ profits in a new partnership agreement.

The day that set the trend for tasteful Vegas weddings

Sgt Pepper to the Grammy for Best Engineered Album .


Arriving on the set of Clambake in LA, Elvis is in bad shape – it becomes obvious he has a drug dependency problem. The Colonel lays down the law and starts a clear-out of those around Elvis. Elvis’ box office appeal is slipping. Easy Come, Easy Go fails to recoup its costs. The soundtrack sells fewer than 36,000 copies. Double Trouble fares little better. How Great Thou Art, released this month, is more successful, and later beats



Elvis gets busy on soundtrack of Speedway – which will be his eighth film with Taurog. Nancy Sinatra plays the love interest. As with Ann-Margret, she and Elvis become close but deny rumours of romance.


Elvis back in Nashville to record soundtrack to new film Stay Away, Joe. Though Elvis hopes the film
Presley in what was probably his worst movie, 1967’s Clambake




Elvis records soundtrack for Clambake, his 25th film. Taking his new love of horses and the cowboy life to great lengths, Elvis buys the 163-acre Circle G ranch in Mississippi, minutes across the Tennessee state line from Graceland. In the months to come, it becomes a happy diversion for Elvis as he becomes increasingly frustrated with his career.


1 Elvis and Priscilla marry in a private ceremony before a small group of family and friends at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, just after 9.30pm. Elvis wraps up some over-dubs on Clambake. Then they return to Memphis. 29 Elvis and Priscilla stage a second wedding reception in the trophy room at Graceland to accommodate those family and friends who were not in Las Vegas.

will show he can handle more serious roles, the soundtrack reaches a career nadir with “Dominick”, a song written to be sung to an impotent bull.


Spiralling costs sees tractors, TVs and fittings from Elvis ranch auctioned off. Meanwhile, the Colonel tries to sell the idea of a Christmas special to the radio networks. Nobody bites. It is then the idea starts to germinate for a TV spectacular the following Christmas.

Everybody in the whole cell block dancing in
Jailhouse Rock

n April 1, 1956, Elvis Presley arrived at producer Hal Wallis’ office on Melrose Avenue in LA for his first screen test. Wallis, a Hollywood veteran who had produced Casablanca, was famous for his track record of recognising and nurturing new talent – in his long career he had discovered Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston and Kirk Douglas. Impressed by Elvis’ appearances on Jackie Gleason’s Stage Show and The Milton Berle Show, Wallis flew to see the singer perform at the New Frontier in Las Vegas, convinced that Presley had the necessary charisma and looks to make the transition from playing state fairs, supper clubs and teen hops to starring on the big screen. He wasn’t wrong. On that day in April, Elvis sang “Blue Suede Shoes” and acted a scene from

the Katherine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster film The Rainmaker, then in the early stages of production. “It was an awesome thing,” says screenwriter Allan Weiss of the screen test. “Like an earthquake in progress. Like sticking your fingers in a live socket.” “After a few minutes I knew he was a natural in the same way Sinatra was,” remembers Wallis, who hastily negotiated a seven-year contract with Colonel Tom Parker, tying Presley to Paramount studios and including a clause in which the young Elvis promised never to cut his hair without Paramount’s permission. Parker asked Wallis for $100,000 to star in his first film. When the producer pointed out that even Jack Lemmon didn’t get that kind of money, Parker replied that Lemmon should probably get a new manager. Elvis was eventually never cast in The Rainmaker, but his first screen role came with

Love Me Tender

premieres in New York, November 15, 1956

Love Me Tender, which opened on November 15 at New York’s Paramount Theatre. Despite the fact that he was very obviously squeezed in at the last minute (the film was originally titled The Reno Brothers and Elvis’ role was supposed to have been acted by Robert Wagner), dies two-thirds of the way through and only sings one song, the movie recovered its $1 million production costs in three days, while truant officers across America were called out to deal with mass absenteeism. It was the last time Elvis was to receive anything less than top billing.


Two down, 29 to go: with Lizabeth Scott in Loving You

his penultimate movie, 1969’s The Trouble With Girls, he told co-star Marilyn Mason that, “I’d just like to make one good film before I leave Hollywood. I know this town’s laughing at me.” ver since his father had taken him to the movies in Memphis as a child, Elvis had always wanted to be a movie star. He even spent a summer aged 15 working as a cinema usher at Memphis’ Loews State Theater in order to see all the latest films for free, but was fired for brawling with another usher. “When I was a child I was a dreamer,” he recalled in 1970. “I read comic books and I was the hero of the comic book. I saw movies and I was the hero of the movie.” Elvis’ favourite film was Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without A Cause, which he eventually ended up seeing 44 times, learning the dialogue off by heart. He even dated the movie’s female lead, Natalie Wood, when he first arrived in Hollywood. Later in his life, Elvis would rent a movie theatre in Memphis and sit on his own in the dark, endlessly watching the same movies over and over. Rebel Without A Cause aside, his favourites included World War Two biopic Patton, Shaft, On The Waterfront and, curiously, Monty Python And The Holy Grail, which he saw seven times in the space of a month. But the story of Elvis in the ’60s is the story of his movies. Between March 1961 and 1968 he was forced to give up playing live, because his filming schedule, which averaged three pictures a year, was so tight. This meant that the only contact he had with his fans was in cinemas, while all of the music that he released in this period came from soundtracks and film tie-ins. By the mid ’60s Elvis was making an a average of $1 million a film – plus a large percentage of the gross – making him the highest-paid actor in Hollywood and prompting Wallis’ famous boast that “a Presley picture is the only sure thing in Hollywood”. Perhaps more importantly, Elvis’ films established him as an icon and made him a truly global star. In his life Elvis only left American soil when he travelled to Europe with the army. But his films were hugely popular all around the globe, particularly in Africa and on the Indian sub-continent, acting as a sort of makeshift world tour, despite – or maybe even because of – the fact that they were mostly gaudy, cheaplooking, formulaic and called things like Tickle Me. Indeed, the highest grossing of his films were the ones most lacking in either a point or a story, simply allowing Elvis to be Elvis, cavorting in front of assorted glamorous backdrops.


Wallis was delighted and made arrangements for principal photography on Elvis’ second film, Loving You to begin soon after. The film was the first to feature Elvis in an onscreen kiss. “It’s like a dream come true,” Presley said in an interview early in 1957. “My greatest ambition. All my life I’ve wanted to be an actor.” Elvis had fallen in love with Hollywood – and the feeling was mutual. But 13 years and 29 films later, it was a completely different story for Screen Actors Guild member 42838. “Love Me Tender finished me off in the business,” complained Elvis in 1970. “They rushed me in the thing to get my name on the marquee.” In his most private moments Elvis confided in his family and close friends, expressing his bitterness and disappointment at never being afforded the chance to make a movie that really offered him the chance to really act. On the set of

Presley movies are almost a genre of their own. The sight of The King breaking into song on, say, a surfboard while an invisible band supply him with his backing music is occasionally enough to mask back-of-a-napkin plots, continuity errors, interchangeable locations and simpering leading ladies. In his 31 films, he plays three racing drivers, invariably attends a fairground (probably due to the influence of ex-carny Colonel Parker) and usually meets an initially frosty girl that he has to win over by singing and dancing in order to provide the necessary romantic conclusion. “It was pretty simple” remembers Girls! Girls! Girls! screenwriter Edward Anhalt. “All you had to do was find out how many songs they wanted, and write the dialogue in between the songs. Presley liked cars, so a lot of the pictures had to do with cars. He liked Hawaii, so it seemed as if everything took place in Hawaii.” Yet they also have a campy allure of their own – 1968’s Live A Little, Love A Little, for example, features a dream sequence in which Elvis, dressed in gold lamé, is pursued around a sound stage by a man in a distinctly threadbare great dane costume. Plus, even the cheapest and tawdriest of his films are worth watching purely just to see Elvis, who manages to enliven the flimsiest plot with his immaculate comic timing and charisma. Delving into the soundtracks for his ’60s films also yields some of the most overlooked gems from the Presley back catalogue: both Junkie XL and Paul Oakenfold have recently scored Number One hits with remixes of songs from Elvis’ later films. Still, it’s hard to believe when watching the flimsy likes of Clambake, in which Elvis plays two roles – a singing, dancing oil tycoon’s son and a singing, dancing water-skiing instructor – that in the early stages of his film career he was hailed as a serious talent, heralded in some quarters as the new James Dean. In 1958 King Creole, directed by Casablanca director Michael Curtiz and featuring Walter Matthau and Carolyn Jones in supporting roles received excellent reviews. Elvis’ best picture, 1960’s Flaming Star, was a solid western originally intended for Marlon Brando and was assigned to director Don Siegel,




Diminishing returns? (Clockwise from left) Speedway, Charro! and Change Of Habit

who had helmed the original Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and was later responsible for Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry. The massive success of 1961’s Blue Hawaii, however, trapped Elvis in the profitable but artistically stultifying sun’n’singing formula. The movie’s plot – Elvis plays Chad Gates, an ex-soldier trying to avoid going to work for his domineering father’s pineapple business – was secondary to the music. Blue Hawaii’s soundtrack album (which contained 12 songs, including “I Can’t Help Falling In Love”) sold two million copies and stayed on the charts for 70 weeks, a record only broken in 1977 by Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. Following the relative commercial failure of Blue Hawaii’s predecessor, Wild In The Country, which featured only four songs, Parker was convinced that Elvis’ future lay in lightweight, music-heavy movies. A formula was established that Presley stuck to with increasingly diminishing returns for most of the ’60s. It hardly helped that most of Elvis’ films were directed by arthritic Hollywood mainstays whose greatest success was well behind them: Norman

Taurog, who was responsible for more Elvis pictures than anyone else, made his first film in 1920. When he first met Elvis he was blind in one eye and was forced to give up directing after his ninth Elvis movie when the sight in his other eye finally failed. Many of the lapses in quality were the result of Colonel Parker’s penny-pinching and cornercutting attempts to increase his profit margins. In 1964 he enlisted the help of producer Sam Katzman, whose reputation for producing films on ludicrously tight schedules earned him the nickname ‘The King Of The Quickies’. Katzman applied the same ethos he’d honed on no-brain B-movie fare such as Jungle Moon Men and Creature With The Atom Brain, borrowing costumes and sets from films that were already in the can and making films in intensive bursts. Principal photography for 1965’s Harum Scarum, for example, began on March 15 and finished just 12 days later. That year Katzman delivered Tickle Me so far under budget that it single-handedly saved its studio Allied Artists from bankruptcy and swiftly became the studio’s third highest grossing movie of all time, earning six million dollars from a $1.4m investment. But by the mid ’60s Elvis’ movies were already starting to look dated, especially when compared to The Beatles’ energetic, inventive and modern A Hard Days Night and Help!. The highestpaid movie star in the world soon grew bored

and restless in Hollywood. “Same movie, different location” became his standard response when people asked him about his new film, while reports from the set of 1964’s Kissin’ Cousins recall Elvis being too embarrassed to leave his trailer after being forced to wear an ill-fitting wig for half of his role as a set of twin brothers. His health began to deteriorate and he began to suffer from the insomnia that afflicted him all his life, eventually leading to a reliance on Valium in order to stave off his nightmares, sleepwalking and even sleep-punching. The trauma of being trapped in a cycle of terrible movies was too much for Presley, who not only watched his childhood dream of being an actor eroded, but had to do it three times a year, mostly in Hawaii and invariably playing a racing driver.


resley’s film career would’ve been very different were it not for the influence of Colonel Parker, a man who learnt much of what he knew about public taste while in charge of a fairground act called Colonel Tom Parker And His Dancing Chickens. Not only did Parker conspire with Wallis to make sure that Elvis was kept in the kind of films he himself had enjoyed as a teenager in Holland in the ’30s –frothy musicals with wobbly stage sets and awkward acting – but David Bret’s book Elvis – The Hollywood Years even alleges that Parker blackmailed Presley into appearing in these movies by wielding potentially career-damaging knowledge of the young Elvis’ affair with actor Nick Adams (who had himself



Easy Come, Easy Go:

easy money?

played a minor role in Rebel Without A Cause) to keep him under control. Other sources claim that once Elvis arrived in Hollywood, Parker was so afraid that Presley would discover just how unfair his contract was that he employed Adams as a companion for Presley – a companion whose job was to keep the people Parker saw as “subversives” at bay. What is certainly true is that Parker was as naive about the workings of Hollywood as his young charge. Not only did he persuade Presley to sign longterm contracts with studios just as most other actors were attempting to avoid the strictures of the studio system – a move which further encouraged Presley’s typecasting – but the list of roles in artistically and commercially successful films that Presley was offered but Parker turned down is astonishing: Parker rejected West Side Story, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and Midnight Cowboy in favour of churning out endless insipid musicals. “Colonel Parker had a golden goose and he wanted to keep turning out the same eggs,” says Elvis songwriter Mike Stoller. Parker himself was open about the role of Elvis’ movies. “All we want is songs for an album,” he used to boast. Indeed, maintaining this strict three movies a year schedule meant that Parker was able to earn money from technical credits on movies such as consultant or advisor; earning money for simply doing nothing. In a further attempt to maximise Elvis’ earning potential, Parker had orchestrated an exclusive deal with a floundering country music publishing company, Hill And Range, at

the same time that Presley moved from Sun to RCA in 1955. Hill And Range was useful to Parker in that the company insisted that the songwriters in its employ surrender all rights to their compositions once they handed over their songs. All royalties then went to Presley and, by extension, Parker. This arrangement also meant that Presley had to resort to recording the weaker songs in the Hill And Range songbook when forced to find 12 songs to make up a movie soundtrack. So while Dylan and The Beatles were busy expanding the vocabulary of the pop song, Elvis was condemned to recording and releasing fluff like “Song Of The Shrimp”, “Queenie Wahine’s Papaya” and “(There’s) No Room To Rhumba In A Sports Car” just to keep his three movies a year well stocked with musical numbers. Things changed in 1967. The previous year Frankie And Johnny (Elvis plays a singing, dancing riverboat gambler) and Paradise, Hawaiian Style (Blue Hawaii redux, essentially) had underperformed at both the box office and in terms of album sales, but 1967’s tired Easy Come, Easy Go (Elvis plays a singing, dancing frogman) was the first Presley film to actually lose money causing distributors in Europe and some parts of the US to start to refuse to take his films. fter his marriage to Priscilla in May 1967, Elvis bought the Circle G ranch in Mississippi and began to spend less time in Hollywood with Parker and more surrounded by his entourage, brooding over the state of his career. This newfound independence meant that Presley, now aged 32, finally began to stand up to Parker. They disagreed first over the televised comeback special, which Parker wanted to be a staged Christmas concert and then over “Suspicious Minds”, which was nearly never recorded due to a rights disagreement but Elvis was certain would be a hit. The result of this split was that in his next movie Elvis was allowed to stray from the formula, although the fact that his films were gradually losing money was almost certainly a factor in Parker allowing Elvis to change direction. Charro!, a spaghetti western with a soundtrack by Hugh Montenegro, was the first Presley film not to feature any songs, although it did boast scenes of nudity, violence and Elvis with a beard. It was a vast improvement on his preceding pictures, but by this stage Elvis’ box-office selling power had waned to such an extent that his next movie, the passable The Trouble With Girls was sold to distributors as part of a package with a dubbed Japanese science fiction film called, unpromisingly, The Green Slime. Elvis’ last movie, 1969’s Change Of Habit, in which he played an





t could have been the greatest jam session in the entire history of rock’n’roll. Sadly, we’ll never know, because on August 27, 1965, the day The Beatles not only met Elvis but actually played and sang with him, nobody bothered to tape it. That this momentous summit ever happened in the first place was miraculous given the Fab Four’s catastrophic impact upon Elvis’ mid ’60s commercial decline. A week before the meeting took place, they were playing to 55,000 screaming Beatlemaniacs at Shea Stadium. Elvis, meanwhile, was just finishing Paradise, Hawaiian Style in which he played a helicopter pilot singing gossamer dross like “Queen Wahine’s Papaya”. Yet whatever humiliation Elvis must have felt was cast aside when circumstances conspired to instigate a private audience with John, Paul, George and Ringo at his Hollywood home. First impressions weren‘t good. Lennon was so paranoid about embarrassing himself in front of his idol that he, well, did just that: spending most of the evening impersonating Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau (his opening line: “Ah, so zis is ze King!”) and making the seriously dangerous error of leering at Priscilla whenever she glided past. Even when he tried to be sincere, enthusing over Elvis’ Sun records and asking



him, “Why have you dropped the old stuff, the rock?”, Presley took it as an insult. Elvis took a slightly more sympathetic view of Ringo (his favourite Beatle), Harrison and McCartney, the latter even complimenting Elvis on his bass playing during an informal run through, of all things, Cilla Black’s “You’re My World”. The very next day, McCartney was asked to sum up his impression of Elvis. His one-word response: “Odd”. Bizarrely, given his behaviour, it was Lennon who was the most ingratiating, telling friends it was “the greatest night of my life”. A shame nobody relayed these words to Elvis. Otherwise, he may have possibly changed his mind about scheming with the FBI in a clandestine bid to have the “anti-American” ex-Beatle deported in the early ’70s. SIMON GODDARD


Elvis with Cynthia Pepper in the somewhat syrupy
Kissin’ Cousins



inner-city doctor alongside Mary Tyler Moore as a nun, contained some gentle social comment and an ending that could be construed as mildly blasphemous, but so few people saw it that it passed withoutcausing a scandal. By the time it was released Elvis was already preparing for his residency in Vegas: most of his income in the ’70s was to come from touring rather than films. The era of the Presley picture was over. lvis never recovered from his failure as a movie star. “He still talked about it, even in those last few years,” remembers cousin Donna Presley of Elvis’ thwarted ambitions. “He had mastered everything else he set out to do professionally and it still rankled.” “His manager thought there should be more songs, but he was wrong,” is Don Siegel’s evaluation. “Elvis could have become an acting as well as singing star. You could see that he had a lot of layers, a lot going on. God that boy had potential.” Sadly Colonel Parker never allowed his charge to realise his promise, preferring instead to concentrate on shortterm profit. Blue Hawaii scriptwriter and Loving You director Hal Kanter remembers: “Elvis had a natural ability to perform in front of a camera.


He could have been an excellent movie star, and not just a freak attraction, if he hadn’t limited himself, and had done things like a drama or a light comedy. But it never happened because Tom Parker wouldn’t allow it to happen. It’s very sad because Elvis wanted to do more.” Elvis’ frustration at being coerced into appearing in films where he wasn’t called upon to act – and realise his James Dean fantasies – meant that his musical renaissance with the Comeback Special had an air of quiet desperation to it. He had something to prove to the world after almost a decade playing singing frogmen. As Allan Weiss, the man who was at Elvis’ first screen-test remembers it: “I think when he realised it wasn’t going to happen, he just started walking through the movies. All that natural gift, that extraordinary ability he had was squandered. It’s a shame.”

Elvis with Nancy Sinatra in Speedway and (below) Ann-Margret in
Viva Las Vegas




Some of The King’s films may have been a bit lacklustre, but there was never any doubt about the allure of his many female co-stars. By Neil Howie


Elvis and Ann-Margret were lovers on-screen and off throughout the filming of Viva Las Vegas and the chemistry between the two of them is obvious in this lightweight but very likeable film.



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lvis’ celluloid forays have rarely been held up as his finest work, indeed churn ’em out quickies such as Tickle Me (plot: Elvis is a singing rodeo cowboy who sidelines as a handyman at an all-girl ranch full of beautiful young women!) and Paradise, Hawaiian Style (plot: Elvis is is an ex-airline pilot who soon finds his new charter helicopter sightseeing business attracts a variety of beautiful young women!) have proved themselves so exquisitely unique that they’ve inspired a whole sub-genre of amazed appreciation of the recycled scripts, the handful of new songs and the gently exotic locations. While the films themselves could be pretty startling, what was never in doubt was the lure of Elvis’ female co-stars. From Debra Paget (who was billed above screenhusband Presley) in 1957’s Love Me Tender, through to the irrepressibly sexy Nancy Sinatra singing the brilliant, Lee Hazlewood-penned number “Your Groovy Self” in Speedway, all the way to Mary Tyler Moore and Barbara McNair in the (n)undercover caper Change Of Habit 13 years later, Elvis’ films were never short of a wholesomely delicious type of co-star. The three phases of Presley’s film career – biographical ’50s, early to mid ’60s lightweight travel pieces, late ’60s maturity – all showcased different types of leading ladies for Elvis to act against. Because The King always had to have a macho job (he was, in his time, a racing car driver – three times! – a rodeo rider, a boxer, an ex-frogman and a soldier), his leading ladies needed to be suitably big targets, although Presley was forever shackled by the rigid morality of Eisenhower-era America. Five-foot two-inch Paget, who Elvis had first met with on The Milton Berle Show in June 1956, was already a star when she played Confederate farmer’s wife, Cathy Reno. Lizabeth Scott, who played manipulative press agent Miss Glenda in Loving You was a classic Presley co-star. She taunts Elvis, tricks him, sacks his band, all with icy froideur. “That’s how you’re selling me,” Presley moans as his world falls apart. “Like a monkey in a zoo?” In Jailhouse Rock, Judy Tyler, who had been a children’s TV star, plays Peggy Van Alden, a record promoter who persuades Vince Everett (Elvis) to make a record.

Amazingly, hers is the only character in the film who comes out sympathetically. Tragically, three days after filming had finished, Judy and her husband died in a car accident. Legend has it that The King refused to watch Jailhouse Rock again. The critics – for once – loved King Creole and Carolyn Jones, who plays femme fatale Ronnie, got to provoke one of Elvis’ best ever lines in his favourite film. “That’s a pretty piece of material,” he says. “You ought to have a dress made out of it someday.” Sadly, it was this sort of easy sexuality that was soon bled from Elvis’ movies. Presley was no fan of GI Blues, but took comfort in an affair with co-star – and Frank Sinatra squeeze – Juliet Prowse. Girls! Girls! Girls! is famous for two things, For one, Presley had little or no chemistry with his co-stars Laurel Goodwin and Stella Stevens. For another, his erect penis – The King never wore underwear – is clearly visible as he sings “The Walls Have Ears” – a first, and a last, for Presley who complained that his manhood was “sticking out like a sore thumb!” Ursula Andress smoulders despite her ridiculously unsexy bikini in Fun In Acupulco, as does Elsa Cárdenas, not that Presley gets any. For that, he had to wait for Viva Las Vegas and the arrival of Ann-Margret. Presley and his co-star fell in love during filming and, consequently, there is incredible on-screen chemistry – off-screen they discussed marriage. Raquel Welch has her movie debut in Roustabout while Elvis and Barbara Stanwyck sizzle suitably. Elvis’ only British co-star, Jocelyn Lane, is the best thing about Tickle Me, but it was Nancy Sinatra’s appearance in Speedway that marked the beginning of the end of Elvis’ lo-concept movies. Playing a hard-bitten tax inspector – often seen in boots so groovy you’d gladly let her bite you as hard as she likes – Nancy steals the picture despite the first choice for the part being Petula Clark. Never again would Elvis have such incredible on-screen chemistry with one of his co-stars. Perhaps it was this chemistry that made Presley’s wife Priscilla so sure that the two were having an affair, as was much of Hollywood. Rumours persist of Nancy’s dad Frank having a “quiet” word with The King. What a picture that would make.

(Top) Scott, who had one of the world’s largest collections of carved glass animals, was unfairly dubbed “the poor woman’s Lauren Bacall”, but her performance as pushy press agent Glenda was one of the movie’s highlights.


(Above) A former chorus girl and Life magazine cover star, Judy Tyler came from a showbiz family and got her break presenting kids’ TV show Howdy Doody!. She was close to Elvis before her tragic death in the summer of 1957.


(Left in picture) Stevens graced the cover of the first Playboy of the ’60s. “Bella Stella” – as the mag dubbed her – had been a wife, a mum and a divorcee all by the age of 17. Now lives in Beverly Hills with a former member of Alice Cooper’s band. (Right in picture) Laurel Goodwin’s not been on TV since 1969, but her appearances post Girls! Girls! Girls!, most notably in Star Trek, gave kept her name and memory alive even if her career’s gone south.






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Speedway was that rare beast, a not half bad Elvis film. Nancy became the first singer to have a solo performance on an Elvis album with the brilliant, Lee Hazlewood-penned “Your Groovy Self” and duetted with Elvis on “There Ain’t Nothing Like A Song”.


(Top) Not much rock’n’roll on offer in this lame re-write of Blue Hawaii, nor much quality acting, but naturally the Hawaiian lovelies just keep on coming.

Lady bullfighter (Cárdenas, right) and temptress (Andress, left) are both loveinterests, but the shocks come from Elvis’ ‘double’ who goes to Acapulco while The King shakes his hips in front of bad Mexican backdrops.




Looking like a late ’60s J.Lo, Michele Carey had been a model with the superheavyweight Powers agency before appearing in The Man From UNCLE.


A film star since the age of 15, Paget’s work with Elvis never hampered her true calling: costume dramas. Her roles in Princess Of The Nile and The Ten Commandments made her 20th Century-Fox’s favourite star after Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable.


The originator of the Beach Movie genre, Blue Hawaii was chock full of bikini-wearing lovelies. Perhaps the loveliest of which was Joan Blackman, who would also appear in Kid Galahad and The Kinks’ Ray Davies’ 1985 head-scratcher, Return To Waterloo.



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Going Dutch: The Colonel secured Elvis’ lucrative contract with RCA

The full truth eventually emerged in 2003’s The Colonel, a superbly researched biography by author Alanna Nash, which traced him back to his Dutch roots and attributed his sudden disappearance from the country to an unsolved murder. The Colonel took the truth to the grave in 1997, but it explains many previously unanswered questions about his career, particularly his refusal to tour abroad. Van Kuijk had materialised in the US in 1929, had a brief stint in the army then worked the carnival circuit for years before entering the country music scene. As for his title, it was honorary, bestowed on him by the Governor of Tennessee. Elvis Presley was well on his way to becoming a major star when he first crossed paths with the Colonel in 1955. He was part of a country music package headlined by Hank Snow, who was looked after by here is a black and white photograph of a young Parker. When the manager saw the audience response Elvis Presley horsing around with his new manager to Presley, he decided to switch horses. in 1956, putting his wallet in the fat man’s back In the short term he transformed Elvis’ affairs, pocket. It serves as the perfect visual metaphor for cutting a deal which saw him switch from Sun to RCA his career, because Colonel Tom Parker was a parasite for $35,000 (an astonishing sum at the time) and who sucked up prestige and riches then stood back setting him up with his own publishing deal. He was while his client slowly killed himself. the first manager to turn a pop artist into a brand, Those who defend him by saying he devoted himself arranging a merchandising deal that would, during the to the singer and made him a fortune miss the point. artist’s life, pull in $20 million alone. When that Elvis succeeded despite, not because of him. Colonel was tied up he began charging fans to become Tom Parker was the kind of man who knew the price members of the official Elvis Presley Fan Club. of everything and the value of nothing. He didn’t care Then he levered increasingly huge sums from whether Elvis played rock’n’roll or crooned chintzy film-makers to cast Elvis in their movies. ballads as long as the cash kept rolling in. He knew how Parker only dealt in cash, but more than that to exploit talent but he didn’t appreciate it. And he grew he loved prestige, lording it over everyone. fat on a deal which gave him an extortionate 50 per cent Rude, obnoxious and pompous he bulldozed cut of his earnings – sometimes more – while friends, promoters, producers and label bosses, destroying partners and associates struggled to get by. goodwill towards his artist. Officially Colonel Tom Parker was born When Elvis’ call-up papers arrived out of the blue to travelling carny workers in June, The Colonel had him sign up rather 1910 and learned to wheel and than cut a deal, shattering the rebel deal in circuses during the Great image forever. It was not the first Depression. The story held up for time he had undermined his star’s “Elvis didn’t die. The body two decades until a handful of impact, having colluded with Ed did. We’re keeping Elvis alive. people began to poke around into Sullivan to shoot him from the waist I talked to him this morning his background. Shortly after Elvis’ up and allowed another show to and he told me to carry on.” death a journalist, Dirk Vellenga, have him sing “Hound Dog” to Colonel Parker’s unemotional began to file pieces in De Stem a basset hound. answerphone message left on the suggesting Colonel Tom Parker Over the years he pumped day Elvis Presley died, August 1977. was actually a Dutchman named his cash cow harder and To underline his disrespect Andre Van Kuijk, who had fled harder, threatening for his deceased client, he Breda in 1929. and cajoling, later turned up at Elvis’


wringing all the enthusiasm and the vitality out of him. In 1961, while still at his peak, he let Elvis play just three shows. Damage to his name was inevitable and by 1968 Elvis’ career was flagging. When NBC’s Comeback Special reinvigorated him, The Colonel took the credit. Yet he fought it every step, initially demanding Elvis sing only Christmas schlock on the show. Straight after, Elvis briefly seized back the initiative. He had suffered because of the restrictive publishing deal set up by Parker, which forced writers to hand over a large cut of the royalties. Good songs were no longer offered to him since there were plenty of other major artists willing to record them. Recognising for once that he needed to assert himself, Elvis picked his own songs and recorded them with producer Chips Moman in Memphis. The Colonel hoped Elvis would “fall on his ass”. Instead, in one glorious session, Elvis recorded “In The Ghetto”, “Suspicious Minds” and “Kentucky Rain”. In 1969, by way of revenge, The Colonel booked Elvis into the International Hotel (later the Hilton) in Las Vegas for $150,000 a week, whereupon he became a supper club act performing to a mature audience. The megabucks that rolled in came in handy for stemming the Colonel’s soaring gambling debts. When matters

came to a head one time in 1974 and Elvis finally sacked his manager, he was presented with a multi-million dollar bill to buy out his contract. He had effectively become indentured to him for life. When the end finally came for Elvis on August 16, 1977, the Colonel was in Maine preparing for yet another tour of soulless venues. Taking the news of his client’s death as if he had long prepared for it, he hightailed straight for New York to tie up the first of many licensing deals that would ensure The King kept paying out long after his passing. A year later he put on a “fan festival” at the Las Vegas Hilton charging fans $15 entrance fee, then ripping them off along the way, just as he done at the carnivals 40 years earlier. The huckster had returned to his roots. MIKE PATTENDEN


funeral wearing a baseball cap and seersucker pants.

Colonel Parker lording it in Las Vegas, 1969



A superb cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” showed Elvis still had much to offer, even after many years of artistic underachievement. By Gavin Martin



Listen Stop, Look And Adam And Evil All That I Am Never Say Yes Am I Ready Beach Shack Spinout Smorgasbord I’ll Be Back ng Time* To morrow Is A Lo ley* Down In The Al u* I’ll Remember Yo



Oct 66(US) Nov 66(U K) Radio Recorders, Hollywood
Felton Jarvis

*Recorded at RCA Studios, Nashville

ll but ignored on its original release in December 1966, Spinout was the album where Elvis’s late ’60s comeback really began. If just for one track, his gorgeous, tenderly appraised version of Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”, Spinout was worthy of attention. It included at least one other track – a rollicking, unapologetically sleazy version of The Clovers’ “Down In The Alley” – that showed Elvis was alive and not completely drowning in Hollywood soundtrack schlock. Yet it is hardly surprising that the album failed to awaken interest on release. In the run up to Christmas it was seen as an afterthought in a year that had already seen the release of two substandard, often laughable soundtrack filler LPs – Frankie And Johnny and Paradise, Hawaiian Style. Speaking to the press in August, Tom Parker revealed the cynical and cut-throat attitude that persisted in the Elvis camp. “We’ve made 22 pictures, 19 have been box office successes, two haven’t completed their run and one hasn’t been released. How do you argue with that kind of success? It’s like telling Maxwell House to change their coffee formula when the stuff is selling like no tomorrow.” But Elvis the artist – naturally competitive and keen to prove himself able to stand up to the new generation of rockers – must have felt the need to change the formula.

The year 1966 was arguably the high summer of rock’n’roll diversity and achievement: Motown was at a peak with The Four Tops’ “Reach Out I’ll Be There”, The Beatles released Revolver, Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys made Pet Sounds, Jimi Hendrix’s debut single “Hey Joe” unleashed the greatest instrumentalist in rock history, The Rolling Stones found new levels of sonic shock and emotional meltdown in “Paint It, Black” and Bob Dylan unveiled his double album masterpiece Blonde On Blonde. And where was 31-year-old Elvis? Living it up with a selection of starlets, enjoying the life of a pilled-up poor boy turned king of the world, but gradually becoming bored. RCA house producer Chet Atkins, tired of too many of Elvis’ late night recording sessions and perhaps sensing his boy was beginning to stultify decided to bring new blood into the mix. May 26, 1966, the date of Elvis’ first non-soundtrack recording session in two-a-half years, was an opportune time for Felton Jarvis to enter the King’s domain. Young, engagingly eccentric and far more in touch with developments in modern music than Atkins, Jarvis developed an immediate rapport with Elvis. Hardly surprising as Jarvis had started his career as a Presley impersonator. The pair worked together through the night on a series of gospel songs that would appear on the How Great Thou Art album the following March. After expressing a desire that Jarvis help him get the sort of immediacy and sound that matched The Beatles and Stones, Elvis recognised a kindred spirit and gave it his all. Jarvis had made slight but significant adjustments to the usual Presley studio band, too, introducing




1965 [UK 8/ US 10]

A compilation of studio leftovers dating all the way back to 1954 (an original Sun Studio recording of “Tomorrow Night”). Elvis’ soundtracks were so dire by 1965 that this was actually his best album for two years.

1967 [UK 11/ US 18]

The comeback started with this beautifully understated gospel album. Elvis – with new producer Felton Jarvis and singer Jake Hess – took charge of a session for the first time in years and the conviction shows.

1967 [UK 39/ US 40]

bass and harmonica-playing wiz Charlie McCoy, publishing blockade by finding out what Elvis’ who had set Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde recording personal listening preferences had been over the sessions alight only a couple of weeks previously. last few months. Also on board was steel guitarist Pete Drake, who Surprisingly, these had often been weighted was to be a future Dylan sideman on his John towards the ’60s folk revival. Dylan had originally Wesley Harding album. The session developed in written “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” for The the loose but swinging style that brought out the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan in 1963 and, although he very best in Elvis. had never recorded it, the song had appeared on Sometime around midnight he had built up albums by both Ian & Sylvia and Odetta. It was such momentum on the future gospel album title the version by Odetta – a female blues and folk track that observer Jerry Schilling feared Elvis singer from Birmingham, Alabama – that was a was about to faint – he turned white and looked firm favourite of Elvis’. drained. Perhaps he had become unused to such Naturally conservative, Elvis would have passionate exertions but his musical athleticism recoiled from many of Dylan’s more political would not let him quit. Indeed once the songs. “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” was different, Lord’s work was done it was time for Elvis Elvis jokes on the to fly his own flag. set of Spinout: At 4am in the morning his gospel vocal bad film, slightly support, The Imperials, left the studio better soundtrack and Elvis let the bible bashing go. It was time for the roaring, sexually abandoned “Down In The Alley”. Then it was time for the masterstroke. Jarvis had been able to circumvent the almighty Hill And Range

harking back to the old folk and mountain ballads Dylan had studied. It was a place where the rogue warrior and the regal king could connect – timeless poetry, elegant melodic flow, Elvis reincarnated as the Dark Folk Lord, apprising an uncertain future, breathing ache and humility. When the Spinout album was released, weighed down with the usual Hill And Range hackwork, the performance barely raised an eyelid. And yet in a year of rock glory it was surely a highlight, the longest single track Elvis had ever recorded, an epic of feeling and nuance gilded with a spare, acoustic Dobro inflected backing. Sadly it was to be one of only two studio recordings by the first king of rock’n’roll and the newest (Elvis recorded a ramshackle “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” in 1971). Heard now it leaves a tantalising sense of what might have been. Imagine Presley singing Blood On The Tracks! Dylan, who called “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” his favourite cover of any of his songs, would certainly have liked to hear that.

The soundtrack to one of Elvis’ worst films also featured a number of top quality extra tracks, including the then recent singles “Guitar Man” and “Big Boss Man”, the former featuring the guitar talents of Jerry Reed.



Elvis waves goodbye to ‘serious’ acting in Clambake, 1967

playing a character who ultimately gets pally – after initial aversion – with a black man. (Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier were eventually cast.) And Elvis never got to belt out “Tonight”, or jive with the Jets, because Tony died onscreen – a no-no after the adverse reaction to Elvis’ death in his first feature, Love Me Tender. Elvis had been entranced by the silver screen from an early age, and during 1951 he worked as an usher at Loews State Theater in Memphis. He was at the flicks when guitarist Scotty Moore first phoned him to set up a get-together. And when local DJ superstar Dewey Phillips played “That’s ndy Warhol famously ‘borrowed’ a film still of Elvis as All Right” umpteen times on that gunslinger – from his watchable Western, Flaming Star epoch-instigating night in July 1954, – and duplicated it to give us an iconic pair of Kings. Presley had to be dragged from the Rock critic Greil Marcus took Double Trouble, one of cinema to do his first interview. Presley’s very worst movies, as the title of a book exploring As with his musical tastes, his filmic America’s metaphorical schizophrenia. In the dreadful predilections were catholic, ranging Kissin’ Cousins, Tupelo’s finest plays both a sophisticated from Westerns to musicals via science fiction and drama. military officer and his hillbilly kinsman. Dualities, inversions He had a particular and slightly unusual liking for Rudolph and mirror images of this sort refract throughout Elvis’ life Valentino. The nearest he got to emulating him was when and films from the very moment of his birth and his twin Johnny Tyronne, his character in the hopeless 1965 outing brother’s death: rags/riches; blues/country; fat/thin; gent/ Harum Scarum, played a fake sheikh. There are also echoes savage; body/spirit; the scintillatingly brilliant/the mindhere of 1952’s Son Of Ali Baba which starred Tony Curtis, bogglingly awful. His movie career was heavy on the another of his celluloid heroes. Elvis consciously dyed his latter… but, ah, what might have been. hair black for the filming of Loving You in order to look In a parallel Presley-verse he would have made his more like Curtis. screen debut in The Rainmaker alongside Katharine Indeed, it’s productive to see Elvis as a shadow version Hepburn and Burt Lancaster; played opposite Elizabeth of altogether more successful actors; actors he often Taylor in Tennessee Williams’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof; sung adulated. In the opening sequence of King Creole he leans and danced through West Side Story as tragic anti-hero from a New Orleans window dressed in a white T-shirt, Tony; portrayed Robert Mitchum’s younger brother in a reference to Marlon Brando’s Stanley Kowalski in A Thunder Road; been handcuffed to Sammy Davis Jr in The Streetcar Named Desire. The part of half-Kiowa Indian Pacer Defiant Ones; and depicted a fading entertainment god to Burton in Flaming Star was written for Brando, and director Barbra Streisand’s ascendant singer in A Star Is Born. It will Don Siegel was initially unhappy about having Presley on come as no surprise that Colonel Tom board, but he changed his mind after Parker nixed most of these beguiling working with him. “You could see he possibilities. In the case of the films with had a lot of layers, a lot going on,” he Babs and Liz, Parker wouldn’t accept said. “God that boy had potential.” equal billing for his charge – and Siegel went on to greater success “I knew by heart all the anyway, the part of Brick Pollitt in Cat On directing Clint Eastwood; and Elvis’ dialogue of James Dean’s A Hot Tin Roof was a closet homosexual. persona in Charro!, one of his final films, films; I could watch How could a red-blooded Southern boy is a direct cop of Eastwood’s Rebel Without countenance that?! The Colonel vetoed ‘Man With No Name’ A Cause a hundred the collaboration with Sammy Davis Jr shtick, though he times over.” as he was worried about the potential does it well in a Elvis makes no effect on record sales if El was seen flabby film.

But at the head of Presley’s Pantheon sat James Dean. When he learned that the producer of Rebel Without A Cause, David Weisbart, was also producing Love Me Tender he immediately offered himself to play Dean in a mooted biopic. In an interview with Parade in July ’56 he talked of his imminent departure for Hollywood. “I’ve made a study of poor Jimmy Dean, I’ve made a study of myself and I know why girls go for us. We’re sullen, we’re broodin’, we’re something of a menace. You can’t be a rebel if you grin…” It’s difficult to imagine Brando or Dean analysing


their approach to, or motives for, acting in such terms. Even less, making a statement such as, “I don’t think that you learn to become an actor, I think you just, maybe you’ve got a bit of acting talent and develop it. If you learn to be an actor, in other words, if you’re not a real actor you’re false.” There is certainly something of Jimmy D in Presley’s early films, though he never quite achieves the complex mixture of “fuck you” and “help me” that lies at the centre of Dean’s talent. But Elvis can act, there’s no doubt about it. Seasoned co-stars with no agenda, such as Walter Matthau and Elsa Lanchester, have paid testament to that; and he has comic timing – watch his charming command of comedy biz in the engaging GI Blues. But if he is essentially playing himself in the good films, the tackiness of the majority of the ’60s films also reflects aspects of his personality. Presley’s priapism is bodied forth in the cringeworthy Girl titles (three of them); the chav-paradise settings of Hawaii and Vegas were Presley faves; and thrice – in keeping with his automotive obsessions – he plays a racing-driver. It wasn’t just Colonel Tom who put the kibosh on his career as a ‘serious’ actor. But, perhaps snobbery and traditional critical approaches are redundant when dealing with Elvis films. There are moments of proto-promo-video genius in even the worst of them. Presley took the baton of all-round entertainerdom from Bing Crosby and handed it to MTV. These tacky packages are not about linear narrative, they are about pleasure, performance and presence, and Elvis shines forth from each and every one: undivided. JOE CUSHLEY


secret about who is his matinée idol


Guitar man (and racing-driver, natch) in Speedway, 1968

The King attempts to wrestle control of his destiny from Colonel Parker and scores a major victory with his Comeback Special. Elvis makes some of his finest recordings, but Parker has plans for the rejuvenated artist


13 Elvis records new sessions at the American Studio in Memphis with producer Chips Moman. “In The Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds” are the highlights.



26 Parker inks a $500,000 deal for a four week residency at the International in Vegas. Elvis returns to American for more sessions.


Charro! is released, to abysmal reviews and flat box office.

From Elvis In Memphis released.


“In The Ghetto” becomes Elvis’ first Top Ten hit since 1965. 26 Elvis’ first performance at the 2,000-seater International. Cary Grant and Fats Domino are in the invitation-only crowd. 31 Elvis’ Vegas shows open to the


NBC-TV VP Tom Sarnoff announces the 1968 Elvis Christmas Special, sponsored by Singer sewing machines. A disillusioned Presley sees this as Parker’s plan to force him into making another Christmas LP.



1 Lisa Marie is born in Baptist Hospital, Memphis, exactly nine months after Elvis and Priscilla’s wedding. Soon after, Elvis and family head to Trousdale Estates, California, to shoot Live A Little, Love A Little.

12 Speedway premieres. It will gross $3million in 1968. 17 Rehearsals begin for the TV special. Binder suggests bringing in Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana for two improvised “jam and chat” sessions, interspersed throughout the show. It is a stroke of genius. 27-30 The show is taped. Although Elvis is nervous, it doesn’t show and his first public performances for nearly ten years are triumphal.


Elvis starts second four-week run at the International. The new show is strikingly different, featuring tunes like Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary”. public and rave reviews. Screaming Lord Sutch offers Elvis £1million to play one night at Wembley.

Massive security detail springs into action. Elvis performs with a pistol in each boot. Nothing happens.






Producer Bob Finkel persuades the Colonel to change the ’68 special. Director Steve Binder tells Elvis a Christmas show would “finish him forever”. The pair write a brief based around “Guitar Man” and commission new songs including “If I Can Dream”. Elvis approves the black leather suit designed by Bill Belew, who will design Elvis’ stage gear until his death.

22 Elvis moves to Arizona to shoot grim western Charro!, the only film in which he is not seen singing.

Double album From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis is released.

Elvis returns to RCA Studio B in Nashville to work with long-time producer Felton Jarvis. The session includes “I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water” and Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away”.

Elvis begins seven-date US tour in Phoenix. The Memphis Mafia and his favoured physician, Dr Nichopoulos, accompany him in the road. After the tour, he flies to Nashville for another brief recording session.




28 Dewey Phillips, the DJ who first played Elvis on the air, dies. He is 42. 3 The Comeback Special airs. Following an aggressive PR campaign by the Colonel, it is watched by 54 million viewers. Having reconnected with his love of live performance, Elvis starts to talk of touring again.
Sutch had to up his original offerL E G E N D S UNCUT of five dollars

Elvis begins new residency at the International. Cary Grant comes backstage to tell Elvis he’s the “greatest entertainer since Jolson”. Four of the nights are filmed for what will become Elvis: That’s The Way It Is. However, boredom and the pressure of two shows a night lead him back to prescription drugs. 14 Patricia Ann Parker launches a paternity suit claiming Elvis got her pregnant during his last Vegas engagement. Elvis’ marriage in crisis as rumours abound of a string of affairs. 26 Threats made to kidnap Elvis during Saturday 29 show.

11 He is officially sworn-in as a Shelby County Sheriff’s Deputy.


An eight-date tour. Promoter Jerry Weintraub demands a $1million fee.

In a three-night splurge at Kerr’s Sporting Goods in LA, he spends $20,000 on guns as Christmas gifts. 21 Elvis meets President Nixon at the White House and presents him with a custom Colt .45. He promises to help in the war on drugs and is promised an agent’s badge from the Bureau Of Narcotics And Dangerous Drugs.

Elvis poses with director Steve Binder



After years in Hollywood, by the late ‘60s Elvis was out of the charts, out

By the late ’60s Elvis was out of the charts, out of shape and out of time. Simon ofGoddard chartsof synch. Simon Goddard1968’s historic Comeback Special shape and out his road to redemption via charts his road to redemption via


The Comeback Special reintroduced the iconic quiff…

…the “swinging little guitar man”…

t’s April 1967. In London, The Kinks are in the studio recording their three-minute pop masterpiece, “Waterloo Sunset”. The Who, likewise, are busy committing their seventh consecutive top ten hit to tape, “Pictures Of Lily”, while Jimi Hendrix is also in town working on his debut album, Are You Experienced?. Not forgetting The Beatles, who have just completed Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a record which will completely change the face of rock’n’roll as the world knows it. With the Summer Of Love just around the corner, the ’60s are well and truly swinging. eanwhile, five and a half thousand miles away in Los Angeles, Elvis Presley – the man who, without whom, no Kinks, no Who and certainly no Beatles – is in the pits of despair in Hollywood, on the set of his latest movie, Clambake. Director Arthur H Nadel is equally unhappy, mainly because his leading man’s weight has ballooned to 200 pounds prior to shooting, necessitating his entire wardrobe to be refitted. Hardly surprising, though, considering Elvis has spent the last month stoned out of his mind on his private ranch in Mississippi (the Circle G) eating so many hot dog buns that, according to Memphis Mafioso Marty Lacker, when he spoke “it was just this muffled noise, somebody talking through bread”. Worse still, the week filming begins, Elvis is hospitalised with mild concussion after falling while blocked on pills. Clambake itself turns out to be a prize turkey, even by Presley’s standards of disposable celluloid hokum. When it finally hits cinemas towards the end of the year, The Hollywood Reporter cannot contain its anxiety over the quagmire into which The King has slunk: “Elvis can’t continue for long to rely on the same scripts and songs which have been anachronistic in the increasingly sophisticated and ever-changing world of pop music and pulp films.” Something, clearly, had to give. It did, with the following year’s Christmas TV special, Singer Presents Elvis, which we now know and savour as the Comeback Special. As the archetypal Elvis moment, nothing compares to


its quasi-religious spectacle. In capturing the essence of both the man and the performer, the Comeback Special was a career-defining triumph, freeze-framing Elvis at his brooding, superhuman zenith. The portrait it paints – a man cellophaned in black, his face the exotic hue of an Apache brave, his features the chiselled perfection of a Michelangelo, an extra terrestrial just beamed down to Earth from Planet Cool – is one which nearly four decades later has lost none of its awe-inspiring charisma. But far from some carefully choreographed master plan, the Comeback Special was borne of a haphazard and chaotic battle of creative nerves versus corporate constraint which threatened its very existence from the off. Typically, the catalyst for Elvis’ renaissance was to be the same exploitative money-grabbing against which the eventual programme seemed to so gloriously rebel. He was Hollywood’s highest paid star of the decade, but by early 1968 and the likes of Clambake, even his most blinkered devotees were starting to tire of Elvis’ movies, as indicated by steadily declining box office returns. Colonel Tom Parker demanded a cool million dollars per picture, but in January of that year


…and ushered in the new, socially conscious King on “If I Can Dream”

was categorically refused such a sum by the studios of MGM. Purely in order to keep his bank balance in the manner to which he was accustomed, Parker negotiated a one-off deal whereby he would deliver one Elvis movie (that year’s Live A Little, Love A Little) throwing into the bargain a separate TV special enabling himself to maintain his standard sevenfigure sum. ponsored by the Singer sewing machine company, the programme was scheduled to be broadcast that December on the NBC network. Considering the seasonal schlock that already littered Elvis’ past, the Colonel, naturally, assumed the show’s content to be in keeping with the same cosy, “chestnuts roasting on an open fire”, bell-jingling clichés of similar jamborees by Perry Como and Bing Crosby. Young NBC producer Steve Binder, however, had other ideas. An Elvis fan as opposed to some payrolled sycophant, like many he mourned The King’s descent into the mediocre maelstrom of family entertainment, seeing the project as a personal challenge to bring back The Hillbilly Cat of yore. Significantly, this was to be Elvis’ first network TV appearance in eight years. Having conquered the medium during his historic hip-censored broadcasts on The Ed Sullivan Show in the mid ’50s, Elvis’ only small-screen appearance of the decade had, until then, been Frank Sinatra’s Welcome Home Party For Elvis Presley following his return from the army in March 1960. In the interim, Presley had been seen only on the big screen as the All American high-diving, stock car racing, helicopter pilot-cumshrimp fisherman in some 20-odd cheap and cheery musicals. He with the pelvis which once threatened America had become he last seen warbling “Old MacDonald” to a truck full of chickens (1967’s Double Trouble). Binder could see this even if Parker refused to, so he set about the Herculean task of bringing Elvis kicking and screaming back into the ’60s at the eleventh hour. At a time of increasing insecurity (Presley hadn’t had a decent hit in years, his last US Number One being 1962’s “She’s Not You”) and private isolation (protected by his ubiquitous roster of Memphis Mafioso) two specific incidents were to allow Binder into Elvis’ confidence, each providing a rapport which was to become the dynamic crux of the show’s creative development. The first involved the producer cautiously trying to fathom the direction the disillusioned idol wished

ou’d imagine that any meeting between the two most towering figures in American music of the last half-century would have been one of the most documented encounters of all time. Instead, the question of whether Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan ever met remains one of the enduring mysteries of popular music history. Dylan’s reverence for Elvis is well documented from the time he first heard his voice as a teenager in Hibbing, Minnesota in the mid ’50s. After Presley recorded his “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” in 1966, Dylan told Rolling Stone: That’s the one recording I treasure the most.” Dylan was equally delighted when Presley recorded “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” five years later. Dylan wrote another song that he thought was suitable for Elvis’ voice and asked producer Bob Johnston, who had worked with both men, to arrange a meeting. However, Colonel Tom Parker was less convinced it was a good idea and it’s unclear whether the idea was even put to Presley. The identity of the song is unknown, too, but many believe it to have been “Tell Me That It Isn’t True” from Nashville Skyline. But did they ever meet? The ‘evidence’ that says they did comes in Dylan’s song “Went To See The Gypsy” on his 1970 album New Morning. Various lyrical clues suggest the “gypsy” is Elvis and the first verse describes a meeting in a “dark and crowded” hotel room. Yet this is Dylan



we’re talking about and with no corroborating evidence, the meeting the lyric describes could easily be fictional. What is indisputable is that Dylan was deeply affected by Presley’s death. He later admitted it was one of the few times in his life that he has ever broken down. “I didn’t talk to anyone for a whole week after Elvis died,” he recalled. “If it wasn’t for Elvis and Hank Williams, I couldn’t be doing what I do.” NIGEL WILLIAMSON



A pensive Elvis in rehearsals for the Comeback Special

The iconic – and much-imitated image of the Comeback Special

to pursue. When asked would he have been willing to tackle the epic Jimmy Webb ballad “MacArthur Park” (in the charts at the time sung by actor Richard Harris), Presley replied a sincere, enthusiastic “yes”. Elated, Binder took this admission as an explicit indication of the show’s ultimate artistic objective, even if Elvis himself kept it for one of the Comeback Special’s more bizarre in-jokes: mimicking Webb’s song during recording in a falsetto evocative of “Tiptoe Thru The Tulips” freak Tiny Tim. The second turning point in the Binder-Presley partnership occurred during a now mythical impromptu daytime stroll down Sunset Strip. In a further bid to convince Elvis just how far his reputation had slipped, Binder persuaded the reluctant singer to walk with him, unprotected in broad daylight, finally stopping outside the Strip’s Classic Cat go-go bar. Hesitantly expecting public pandemonium, Elvis instead found himself just another face in the crowd, unrecognised and shoved out of the way. Presley was human enough to joke about the incident but sufficiently disturbed by the humiliation of a career in crisis this experiment suggested to seek help. If Elvis knew he needed saving, he also recognised the unique lifeline now offered by his new confidante.

hile Parker, Singer and NBC were obliviously banking on a bog standard Santa’s grotto affair, Binder, musical producer Bones Howe and writers Alan Blye and Chris Beard began shaping a far more radical showcase. They decided, instead, on a programme celebrating Elvis’ roots: blending gospel, rockabilly and powerhouse ballads with funky production numbers culminating in the elaborate “Guitar Man” popoperetta. The chosen songs would be a reassessment of Elvis’ 14-year discography, overlooking obvious million sellers such as “It’s Now Or Never” in favour of hitherto neglected movie songs (Lieber & Stoller’s “Little Egypt” from 1964’s Roustabout, “Let Yourself Go” from the recent Speedway) and less obvious hits (the lush “It Hurts Me”, which had actually been the B-side to “Kissin’ Cousins”) and new material fresh to the Presley repertoire. Even the planned ten-minute gospel sequence, wherein he could have easily wallowed in the Sunday school sobriety of “Crying In The Chapel”, would instead become a superbly overplayed orgy in the Church of Elvis with the scarletclad King hamming up the salvation pastiche “Saved” among a chorus line of demonicallypossessed dancing freaks.


Apeshit best describes Parker’s initial reaction. The further revelation that, as far as Binder was concerned, there were to be no Christmas songs provoked further outrage while the proposal that the show should end not with Parker’s favoured “Silent Night” but the specially commissioned “If I Can Dream” – a humanitarian anthem embracing the civil rights crusade of the recently assassinated Martin Luther King – added insult to pig-headed injury. In the end, against all the odds Binder just about got his way. The inclusion of “Blue Christmas” in the original broadcast (later substituted for the far superior cover of Rufus Thomas’ “Tiger Man”) was his only contractual concession. That, and the censoring of the sassy “Let Yourself Go”, cut due to its camp, if inoffensive, brothel scenario. The fact that Elvis avoided all such artistic battles, ego clashes and general shit dodging for Binder to deal with alone


Elvis with NBC producer Steve Binder (right)

goes a long way in explaining the shameful abuse of talent that so frequently blemished his career. Having spent an eternity mute to the Colonel’s management, The King was quite content to say nothing and let the producer fight his corner. The material and vague shooting script decided, the production itself began at NBC’s Burbank Studios in June 1968, marked by a launch party where everybody, even the star himself, was forced to wear introductory name tags. In another stroke of genius on Binder’s part, he reunited Elvis with Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana, the original musicians of his earliest Sun and RCA recordings. With “general flunky” Charlie Hodge conspicuously thrown in for moral support, the ‘boxing ring’ performance (as it became known on account of its square, raised platform in the round) would become the show’s distinguishing highlight. Ad-libbed anecdotes of the good old days, off-the-cuff Southern wisecracks, furious hoe-down assaults on “That’s All Right” and “Heartbreak Hotel”, seeing Elvis not just pose with his guitar but actually playing, actually rocking and rolling was to witness a great master at work. Leering, wincing and sweating his soul out on “One Night”, a whole generation suddenly remembered what they’d been so sorely missing. But it, too, was an accident, a spontaneous last minute addition provoked by similar rockabilly tomfoolery Binder had witnessed in the dressing rooms where Elvis and his Memphis rent-a-crowd took up temporary residence during recording. Originally, the producer had asked for cameras to be allowed backstage, a suggestion Elvis violently objected to. Considering the more sordid activities on the NBC lot this was perhaps understandable. The naive producer had seen the jamming but not the shameless whoring and high-living, a succession of girls smuggled in for the sustenance of Elvis’ ego. (Wife Priscilla and baby Lisa Marie were out of sight and out of mind.) Instead, the intimacy of these private acoustic shindigs were to be recreated under more orthodox conditions in front of a studio audience. A prophetic blueprint for the entire ‘Unplugged’ genre, the ‘boxing ring’ sessions possessed a purity second only to the original Sun recordings themselves. Still, the ever unscrupulous Colonel Parker came close to sabotaging its final inclusion in the show by failing to distribute satisfactory ticket quantities prior to the evening of scheduled performance. A severely panicstricken Binder only just managed to pull together a convincingly packed studio by desperately ringing friends, relatives and dragging patrons from a nearby diner to fill the empty seats of what would ironically be one of the finest concerts of Elvis’ career. With two separate sessions to be recorded that day, Binder had no choice but to rotate the same punters around for the second show so as to fool the cameras into portraying a separate crowd. A shrewd move, though one probably subconsciously influenced by Parker, who had choreographed one of the Special’s previous live recordings to ensure the rows closest to Elvis were made up of the most attractive girls in the audience.

The figure-hugging black leather suit Elvis wore for the majority of the show was another inspired move on Binder’s and costume designer Bill Belew’s part. By 1968, the leather rebel image was considered something of a cliché, exhausted nearly a decade earlier by Gene Vincent and British rocker Vince Taylor. To see Elvis in similar attire, however, was to turn tradition on its head. A healthy reminder of what Binder saw as Elvis’ “basic, sadistic quality”, the suit exploited an admittedly hackneyed rock’n’roll dress code to recast Elvis as a subversive, fetishist prince of darkness. The desired effect remains one of the most enduring visions of Elvis. Nevertheless, come the eventual live recording, the black leather sex god had fretted himself into a hyper-ventilating, gibbering wreck, so physically ill with stage fright he resolutely refused to face the crowd until Binder half begged, half booted him out on to the sound stage. Watching the show today, as Elvis first enters like a gladiator from the past into the harsh arena of the present, he appears noticeably self-conscious. It takes a few numbers before he finally awakes to the hysteria of his own stage presence, toying with the words of “Love Me Tender” (“you have made my life a wreck… uh… complete”) and raising his mic-stand like a harpoon, yelling “Moby Dick!” On the outside basking in his own legend, on the inside Elvis was baking in his own leathery Turkish bath, ending his performance so dehydrated he had to be aided back into his dressing room in a state of near collapse. However gruelling a process for Elvis, the Comeback Special was to mark the completion of a personal rite of passage from idol in exile to re-instated pop monarch. Closing the show with “If I Can Dream” (so heavy with emotion he recorded its studio take in a darkened recording booth while writhing on the floor in a foetal position) Presley made a sincere vow never again to sing a song or make a movie he didn’t believe in. inger Presents Elvis aired on December 3, 1968 (boasting a higher audience share of women aged between 18 and 49 than any other programme that year). The following day The New York Times’ Jon Landau noted: “There is something magical about watching a man who has lost himself, find his way home. He sang with the kind of power people no longer expect from rock’n’roll performers. And while most of the songs were ten or 12 years old, he performed them as freshly as though they were written yesterday.” A month after the broadcast Elvis stoked the rediscovered fire it had ignited in American Studios, Memphis and recorded many of his greatest moments, among them “Suspicious Minds” which rewarded him with his first US Number One in seven years that November – by which time he’d already returned to live performance in Las Vegas. The neutered, hellish, hula-dancing puppet of the Hollywood movies was dead. Not before time, The King Of Rock’n’Roll had returned.



mong the most notorious, and weirdest, incidents in Elvis’ remarkable life occurred on December 21, 1970: the day he turned up at the White House demanding to see President Richard Nixon with the ulterior motive of being given a Federal Agents’ police badge. Two days earlier he’d stormed out of Graceland after an argument with his father about Elvis’ overspending in the run up to Christmas. To the concern of the Memphis Mafia, whose duty it was to guard his every move, he boarded a plane to Washington DC by himself after deciding that he desperately needed to see the President. Dressed in a purple crushed-velvet suit with matching cape and a cane, he looked less like The King Of Rock’n’Roll than he did Count Dracula. In fact he barely looked like Elvis at all, having consumed so much chocolate that his face had ballooned in an allergic reaction. Nevertheless, Elvis was unwavering in his mission, penning his now infamous introductory letter to Nixon in which he begged to be made an undercover agent in order to tackle “drug culture and the Hippie elements”. In spite of the absurdity of the request, he was duly granted a meeting with Nixon, who listened to his concerns over drugs, anti-Americanism and the negative influence of The Beatles before nodding: “I think we can get you a badge.” And so, The King returned to Graceland with the Bureau Of Narcotics And Dangerous Drugs badge he so desired: a badge that gave this 35-year-old chemical timebomb, whose every waking hour was ruled by the ritual abuse of prescription drugs, permission to carry any substance upon his person, from Aspirin to angel dust, legal or otherwise. Nice one, Nixon. SIMON GODDARD


President meets Presley, December 21, 1970


When Elvis decided to call the shots, he recorded in Memphis for the first time since the Sun years and came up with a country soul masterpiece. By Stephen Dalton





May 1969

ved On Look Wearin’ That Lo

Survive Only The Strong American Studios, My Heart I’ll Hold You in You in My Arms) Memphis (Till I Can Hold usine Long Black Limo On A-Hurtin’ It Keeps Right I’m Movin’ On Power Of My Love nd Gentle On My Mi u After Loving Yo ad s On A Gravel Ro True Love Travel Any Day Now In The Ghetto
1 13

Chips Mo man

espite the revitalising effect of the Comeback Special, Elvis Presley was deeply out of step with rock fashion in the late ’60s. The rising counter culture, The Beatles and the new wave of politically charged singersongwriters had rendered the singer’s toothless party rockers and goofy Hollywood star vehicles virtually redundant. Between the last gasp of his woeful film career and his first Las Vegas residency, Elvis was scheduled for a routine recording session in Nashville. His regular studio producer Felton Jarvis and his stable of songwriters were duly notified. But then Presley took an unusually independent step, cancelling Nashville and booking time at a small local studio recommended by Memphis Mafia stalwart George Klein. In a rare act of defiance against manager Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis began calling the shots. Run by Lincoln ‘Chips’ Moman, a nononsense producer who had been involved in founding the legendary R&B label Stax, American Studios was a small operation with a big reputation. In the 18 months before the Elvis sessions, it had turned out dozens of hits for the likes of Dusty Springfield, Wilson Pickett and Dionne Warwick. Hence Moman’s seasoned in-house players were nonplussed when a nervous Presley arrived with his entourage on January 13, 1969, especially as they had postponed a Neil Diamond session to accommodate The King.

Presley’s minders were similarly unimpressed when Moman began directing Elvis in the studio, defying his sycophantic courtiers and demanding multiple takes. When an ugly tussle over producing and writing credits almost scuppered the sessions altogether, the producer told Parker where he could stick his $25,000 fee. But, crucially, Presley had overriding faith in Moman, and two sessions duly went ahead in January and February. Elvis put his foot down. Musically, it was the smartest decision he ever made. His first recordings in his hometown since his fabled Sun Studio work 14 years before marked a bold departure from his usual stable of producers, musicians, songwriters and arrangers. Indeed, the Memphis sessions arguably spawned Presley’s first and only truly adult album, steeped in soulful selfdoubt and emotional complexity. As a married father in his mid 30s, Elvis is addressing grown-up concerns, from adultery to social injustice to single parenthood. The result is an epic nocturama of defeat and deceit, almost every track coloured by loss and longing. In the velvet-lined waltz “I’ll Hold You In My Heart (Till I Can Hold You In My Arms)”, Presley’s mighty voice becomes a faraway yodel of impossible yearning. On stoical sermons like “True Love Travels On A Gravel Road”, borne aloft by lush strings, or “It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin’”, pain is an ever-present fact of life. The grown-up Elvis is coming to realise that you might check out of Heartbreak Hotel, but you can never really leave. It may be a conspiracy theory too far, but it is hard not to hear Presley’s own untimely death foreshadowed in the spooked, gospel-infused cautionary tale “Long Black Limousine”, the first track




1969 [UK 3/ US 12]

A two-record set. The first disc, subtitled From Memphis To Vegas, is Elvis’ first – and best – Vegas live album recorded at the start of his residency at the International in 1969. The second disc, aka From Vegas To Memphis, collects together more of the tracks recorded with Chips Moman at his American Studios in Memphis, including the amazing finale, “Without Love (There Is Nothing)”.

1968 [UK 2/ US 8]

A mixed bag from the Comeback Special, but the new cuts of vintage rockers pack a hefty punch, while the newly funked up version of “Guitar Man” twangs itself into the pantheon of Elvis classics.

he cut on January 13, about an ambitious smalltown starlet who returns home in a hearse. But for all its bruised emotions, From Elvis In Memphis also showcases Elvis at his most funky and rhythmic, The King Of The Swingers digging deep into his deep-fried soul roots. Even as he challenges an unfaithful lover in “Wearin’ That Loved On Look” or dispenses tough-love life lessons on “Only The Strong Survive”, the American in-house band stir up a muscular racket of syncopated basslines, bustling brass and chrome-plated country-funk. “I’m Movin’ On” is a defiant gospel-rock kiss-off to bad times, while “Power Of My Love” positively radiates Dionysian virility. This is key to this album’s enduring appeal – even the most desolate tracks are brimming with desire, pulsing with hard-won pleasure. Ironically, one of the towering classics most associated with the Memphis albums was an afterthought that Presley initially seemed reluctant to record. Written by Mac Davis, “In The Ghetto” was deemed too close to a protest song by The King’s cautious career custodians. After being groomed for years as an apolitical family

entertainer, stepping into the social-comment ring with Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye and John Lennon seemed a risky move. But when Moman suggested offering “In The Ghetto” to another singer, Presley changed his mind. The resulting masterpiece, a mini-movie of social deprivation set on the snowy streets of Chicago, finds Elvis quietly imploring for a fairer world over funereal drum beats and haunted guitar flourishes. Striking a chord in an era of Civil Rights marches and anti-war protest, it hit Number Three in the US charts and Number Two in Britain, Presley’s first Top Ten hit for half a decade. The other track from the Memphis sessions that rivals “In The Ghetto” among all-time Elvis favourites is “Suspicious Minds”, a propulsive cry of despair for a relationship ravaged by mistrust and infidelity. As a stand-alone single, it gave Presley his first US chart-topper for seven years and became a staple of the singer’s Vegas shows. When Presley walked out of American Studios in February 1969, he was perfectly aligned for a glorious third-act career revival. But instead, damaged by divorce and drugs, he soon fell back

into bad habits. His decline accompanied by a glut of lazy live albums and cheesy novelty collections. From Elvis In Memphis is a teasing taster of the heights Elvis might have reached if had cut loose and challenged himself more often. But whatever his tarnished legacy, it remains a towering testament to Presley’s greatness. Almost four decades later, it is still probably the greatest white soul record ever made.



Comeback king: Elvis Presley in 1968



When Elvis recorded the Comeback Special for NBC-TV in 1968, he reclaimed his throne in style and left behind some of the most iconic images of ’60s pop culture. By Nick Hasted
f you’re lookin’ for trouble”, snarls Elvis, “just look right in my face”. The tight close-up on his cold eyes that opens the Comeback Special lets you think he might mean it. “Guitar Man”’s cocky words match his saturnine garb of black silk shirt and jeans, meant to remind you that Elvis was a rebel, long ago. Still, when the lights go up behind him to reveal a catwalk of guitar-swinging dancers, as brassy orchestration kicks in, normal Christmas Special service seems sure to be resumed. But then, in what must have seemed like a hardcore Elvis fan’s utterly unlikely dream in 1968, we fade into a close-up of Elvis in a skin-tight black leather jumpsuit, raucously singing “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”, with guitarist Scotty Moore and drummer DJ Fontana. You can watch the sweat streak down Elvis’ face. They are circled, in what looks like a boxing ring, by seated fans, close enough to touch. Then Elvis talks, and laughingly disowns the movie career that had seemed to consume him. The shock builds as we cut again. Elvis is standing alone now, still in black leather, tensely pacing the same fan-circled stage, before beginning a medley of his biggest ’50s hits. “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Hound Dog” are orgiastic, his voice an unsuspected, manly roar. By “Jailhouse Rock” he’s on his knees, practically pumping his groin at the camera, giddily gleeful to be back onstage after all these years. His personal black gospel trio The Blossoms, and a glimpse of the NBC Orchestra behind him, tell us that this won’t just be a rock revival. But as he half-laughs at “Love Me Tender” before losing himself in it, the impression grows that Elvis is aching to tear loose of ten years of sappy sentiment. Back in the ‘boxing ring’ for “Are You Lonesome Tonight ?”. Elvis mangles this too, in no mood for ballads, even as the camera pans to a girl weepily overcome by it, or him. Cut again and a black man dances alone to a spiritual, the start of an affected, Broadway-style gospel suite, complete with spinning, kicking dancers. Appearing on top of a gantry in a sharp red suit, this mysteriously powerful new Elvis slices through the production’s artifice to find his own mix of heaven and hell. As he roars into the climax of “Saved”, he’s almost speaking in tongues.





Elvis finished the “Guitar Man” production number medley – meant to symbolise his life – by singing this song in a belly-dancing club. The gold lamé jacket was supposed to represent Elvis’ success. He baulked at the suggested full gold suit, as he had when the Colonel originally made him wear one in the ’50s.



As the credits roll, Elvis stands impassively in the huge red neon letters of his own regal name. Guitar in hand, throne reclaimed, the energy of what he’d just achieved would fuel at least three more years of greatness.

Now we’re at the show’s real heart, its only sustained stretch in the informal ‘boxing ring’, where Elvis can improvise according to his whims. Tossing a sweatstained hanky into the girls around him, detonating shrieks, he tears into the Sun-era “Trying To Get To You”. First shrugging lazily to the camera as if it’s nothing, his eyes are soon closed, his legs zig-zagging, his body starting to strain from his chair. Then he decides he will stand. But the strap he’d need for his guitar can’t be found. He makes to stand anyway, as if his legs are chained to the floor, as if it’s something superhuman, before swaying to his feet. The show’s feeling of freedom after a decade in chains is caught in that symbolic moment, one of rock’n’roll’s very greatest. He closes the segment by sitting down again for the saccharine “Memories”, as the orchestra swells behind him. The next long section is where director Steve Binder put all his energy, building an intricate sequence of theatrical set-pieces around Jerry Reed’s song “Guitar Man”, and veering campily close to the awful movies he otherwise deplored. Elvis, strolling down a neon road in blue denim, guitar on his back, is waylaid first by pink-boa-swathed floozies who lure him into a bordello (a scene censored on original transmission). Leaping back onto the highway, he’s soon on a circus midway, in a kung-fu battle with the minions of the “Big Boss Man”. Switching to a gold lamé jacket, Elvis sings “Trouble” in a bellydancing bar that becomes a red-strobed disco, then a high-class joint where he wears black velvet. Finally, back standing on the boxing-ring stage, he goes from “Trouble” into “Guitar Man”, before stepping again onto the neon highway, tying together the show’s disparate threads. It’s been a lengthy anti-climax after the elemental power of the “boxing ring” section: the place where Elvis really risked himself, and refound his soul. “If I Can Dream” provides a more fitting finale, as a white-suited Elvis, standing in front of his own giant name in red lights name, rips open his heart one more time, transforming trite lyrics with raw power he’d never known before. Astonishingly, Elvis was back.


(Right) Elvis gives America a history lesson, going right back to his rocking birth. Smirking with playful confidence, he roars the words as if he’s back at Sun Studio 14 years earlier. Original guitarist Scotty Moore smiles with pleasure. He’d never see Elvis again.


(Above right) Producer Steve Binder’s desire to mould Elvis into civil rights era social relevance resulted in this nod to racial brotherhood. Elvis’ performance found something more nakedly personal, summoning his own inarticulate hopes after a decade’s frustration. At song’s end, he looks spent.


(Right) Steve Binder picked this recent hit, which seemed so suggestive of Elvis’ desire to rock again, as the theme that knits the Comeback Special together.


(Opposite page) At the start of the formal concert segment, Elvis roams the ‘boxing ring’ stage, eyes flicking nervously upwards, as if looking for guidance. Strapping on a guitar for just one song, he slowly swivels his hips, and turns his first RCA single into a sultry cry of lust: “Well, since my baby left me…” Like any girl would leave this.






(Right) The only ballad sung straight, replete with strings and sweet-voiced, unseen female choir. But in a foretaste of Vegas shows to come, this re-energised Elvis climaxed a delicate performance with a display of karate-chopping exuberance.

(Opposite page) At the formal close of the informal segment, Elvis sings this sentimental, orchestrated ballad, returning to showbiz special normality. Initially sitting flanked by two carefully picked, adoring girls, he stands almost bashfully to take the applause. The clear sound of his exhausted breathing brings even this tableau to life.


(Right) In saintly white after the black leather devilry, Elvis seems set to stand and deliver a pure-voiced sermon. Steve Binder originally wanted him to close with a speech setting out his beliefs.


(Far right) One of the most iconic images from the Comeback Special, a variant of which graced the cover of The King’s finest album, From Elvis In Memphis, the following year.





Elvis’ one concession to flower power

almost sarcastically dressy, subversive in its contrasting tones. You see how it impacts on the early Elvis. On his second appearance on The Milton Berle Show in 1956, for example, the black shirt and white socks are a deliberate From ice-cool ’50s hipsartorial offence – conservative taste deems they should wiggler to jumpsuit-clad ’70s be the other way round. For the young Elvis, however, the way he looked crooner, Elvis remains pop and dressed, and coiffured his hair, weren’t a gesture of most iconic figure culture’s arrogance but manifested how different he felt, how lonesome and apart, how difficult he found it to fit in. He didn’t feel King of nothing back then – “I wasn’t trying to be better than anyone else,” he once said. Indeed, part of e it the two tone shoes, upturned collars, satin his motivation to dress like he did was to try and capture jackets and quiff of his early years, or the white some of the self-assurance and self-possession of those jump-suits and garish shades of his twilight, so he emulated, be it the black folks on Beale, laconically beloved of his legions of imitators, from flyover cool movie stars or even the hard-bitten truck driver types country trailer dwellers to Chinese restaurateurs, Elvis he’d encountered from whom he took his greased back Presley’s look is beyond cliché – it’s ingrained in the hairdo and sideburns. It all amounted to collective consciousness. So much so that it’s all but something altogether weird, however, impossible to imagine how shocking, how strange and left him prey to the jocks in his a proposition he was when first he crash-landed on school football team who often ganged popular culture, how traumatically different he appeared up on him for refusing to get with the to austere, buttoned-up, monochrome, belligerently programme and cut back his locks. conservative ’50s America. The responses he provoked When Elvis became a public were huge – swoons, laughter, fulmination, tears. spectacle in the mid ’50s, Not that Elvis was without precedent, some alien from it wasn’t just his dressing funny that caused consternation. the blue. He owed a debt to the movies, way back to the His swarthy, soft features, coupled with him wearing the ill-fated Latin heartthrob Rudolph Valentino from the sort of duds you’d expect black guys on the wrong side of ’20s, through to the male creatures of the film noir era, like the tracks to wear, marked him out as dangerously ‘transRobert Mitchum. James Dean and Tony Curtis he idolised, racial’. Moreover, his peculiar penchant for wearing pink ditto Marlon Brando, who exuded rock’n’roll as early as with black, a little twist of his own, his constant preening, 1951, in A Streetcar Named Desire. From them he derived awareness of his own beauty, his sexual swivels and a broody narcissism, a consciousness of the electricity the passive, sultry air, the way his excessively lubricated hair right appearance could give off. tumbled into his eyes, were altogether too effeminate, too Clothes-wise, he was taken as a teenager with a shop perverse for many. There was something wrong with the called Lansky’s, on Beale Street in Memphis. They were his boy, a ’50s white male apparently in clear revolt against earliest outfitters. Elvis would go down ’50s whiteness and maleness. to Beale and look on with fascination at By 1957, Elvis had attained the black lifestyle on display, the natty superstar status, was a burgeoning eccentricity. Similarly, when watching Hollywood star and firmly under early R&B performers, he was as much the thumb of manager Colonel Tom “The image is one thing and the taken with the way the piano player’s Parker, who had in mind a showbiz human being is another... trousers ballooned as with the chords future for his boy. To mark it’s very hard to live they belted out. Zoot suits, dress pants this, a gold lamé suit up to an image.” with stripes, loud checks, all this was was created for Elvis – Elvis quoted before part and parcel of the black street by Hollywood fashion his record-breaking look since the ’40s. It was mega-sharp, designer Nudie. It was shows at New York’s


worthy of a regal rock’n’roller. However, like a metaphor for the burden of stardom, it was stifling, heavy and uncomfortable to wear and Elvis soon dispensed with it. Elvis’ next sartorial gesture was a dismaying one to many, as he submitted to the GI look, his greasy locks at last shorn, the army succeeded where his old school football team had failed. Throughout the ’60s, Elvis would eschew the longhair fashions of the decade he all but sat out. His wedding photos in 1967 show him pointedly untouched by ‘hippiedom’, hairstyle caught in a ’56 time warp. But for his 1968 TV comeback, aged 33, he looked as good as he ever did, perhaps never more timeless, clad in retro black, yet looking a sleek, well-preserved jet-sharp paradigm of rock’n’roll cool. He certainly looks a great deal better than, say, the beardy Beatles did in ’68. His comeback outfit was designed by Bill Belew, who

Madison Square Garden in 1972.



would be responsible for the template for Elvis’ costumes for the remainder of his career – in 1969, white jump-suits, designed to reflect Elvis’ love of karate and accentuate his trim figure – then afterwards to conceal his girth. Elvis codesigned the outfits that were his ’70s trademark – with their tassles and frills they were inspired by a book of 19th century Victorian fashions he had seen. As the ’70s progressed, Elvis became, in the opinion of many, a parody not just of himself but also of rock’n’roll. Encamped in Las Vegas and surrounded by his Memphis Mafia, his outfits became encrusted with rhinestone and jewellery, his jumpsuit signifying a notion of rock’n’roll glitz and pizzazz that sat in stark contrast to the skinny new punks now popping up on the block. Yet this is the Elvis his myriad imitators love and whom even Nick Cave has claimed as his “favourite” Presley incarnation – the more human Elvis who is the patron saint not of cool but of uncool, a flawed and vulnerable trouper to the last. This is an Elvis who has not descended into the showbiz swamp, but has ascended phoenix-like high above the fickle vagaries of rock’n’roll, truly Kingly in his girth and outrageous finery. DAVID STUBBS

Elvis Presley’s many looks, from the ’30s to the ’70s


Despite unprecedented popularity and a satellite concert broadcast reaching an audience of over a billion, drugs, divorce and the demands of near-constant touring hasten Elvis’ physical and mental decline. The guitar man is in trouble

Elvis and executive toys in a Denver motel room, 1971

26 Begins a month-long run at the International (now called the Hilton). The show is now more cabaret-like, with showstoppers like ”An American Trilogy”. – though he dates Cybill Shepherd for a time too. Separation from Priscilla is formalised.



4 Back to the Vegas Hilton. 18 Elvis and Priscilla divorce.


In LA for recording tied in with filming for MGM documentary Elvis On Tour. “Burning Love” laid down, but Elvis’ melancholic mood evident in “Separate Ways” and “Always On My Mind”.


5 Elvis and the Colonel hold press conference to announce Hawaiian show in January 1973. It will be first ever full, live concert carried around world by satellite.



With Governor George C Wallace, 1974

New tour starts in Buffalo, NY. He Touched Me released. It will win Elvis his second Grammy, for Inspirational Performance.

1 Elvis On Tour opens to good reviews. It will win a Golden Globe. Elvis embarks on ten-date tour.


26 Two more weeks at the Hilton.



9 A 12-date tour starts with four nights at Madison Square Garden, Elvis’ first New York shows, attended by Lennon, Dylan and Bowie. One show is recorded for live album Elvis As Recorded At Madison Square Garden, rushed out nine days later.

Elvis is on tour throughout most of this period. His March performance at Houston Astrodome breaks his own attendance records. Two dates of his May residency in Lake Tahoe are cancelled due to “flu”.



During a brief break, Elvis considers making a Bruce Lee-style karate movie.

5 Introduced to Linda Thompson, who will become his girlfriend


16 Elvis is at the Memphis Municipal Auditorium to receive a prize as one of the year’s Ten Outstanding Young Men Of The Nation, awarded by the Junior Chamber Of Commerce to high achievers under 40. UN ambassador George Bush gives keynote address. 26 He starts another month-long run at the International in Vegas.

10 Highway 51 South, part of which runs past Graceland, is renamed Elvis Presley Boulevard.

12 Performs relatively intimate warm-up show for 6,000 people. 14 Over one billion people across the world watch the live satellite broadcast of Aloha From Hawaii. 26 Elvis starts another month at Hilton, but sickness causes him to cancel four dates. His drug intake is leading to throat and lung problems while his weight is ballooning.


Hawaii is released and stays in the US chart for a year.




Another tour, starting in Phoenix. The live album of Aloha From

15 Elvis is admitted to hospital in Memphis with severe breathing difficulties, enlarged colon, glaucoma and liver problems. He is also prescribed methadone to wean him off Demerol.

15 Back in the studio in Nashville to record Christmas album Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas.

Priscilla leaves Elvis, taking Lisa Marie with her. Elvis announces the split, although divorce proceedings will not begin until the following summer.


Elvis back at Stax. Records 18 tracks in seven days.

Onstage in South Bend, Indiana, October 1974


15 Recording session begins for gospel album He Touched Me. Versions of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and “Amazing Grace” are put down before Elvis is admitted to Memphis Hospital with serious glaucoma, thought to be caused by dye from his eyebrows. His mistress Joyce Bova nurses him further at home , but the condition will dog him until his death.


A fortnight run at the Sahara Hotel, Lake Tahoe, Nevada is followed by a month at the Vegas International. Elvis’ marriage is in tatters. Priscilla is having an affair with karate instructor Mike Stone, while Joyce Bova has an abortion. Colonel Parker starts to gamble massive amounts in Vegas casinos.


Back at Hilton in Vegas for another month. A bored Elvis tries a new set and reviews improve. But parts of the show focus more on karate and his rambling monologues. After one show, Barbra Streisand tells Elvis she wants to cast him in her remake of A Star Is Born. It does not happen.

21 Elvis records at Stax in Memphis. RCA pressure him to produce 24 tracks under the terms of his new contract. Elvis is constantly late. Only eight tracks are completed.



Back on the road, back on the drugs and hugely overweight, Elvis returns to Lake Tahoe.


5 Another 12-date US tour opens in Minneapolis. Regular backing band The Imperials are junked and JD Sumner & The Stamps hired. Elvis’ jewellery and costumes become increasingly ostentatious.


Another residency at Hilton. The reviews are devastating, focusing on his weight and lack of interest.

1 The Colonel sells Elvis’ entire back catalogue to RCA for a paltry $5.4million. He also sets up new seven-year deal with RCA.


Presley’s jet: Note distinctively Elvoid livery

Elvis also purchases and renovates a 96-seat, $250,000 Convair 880 jet – the Lisa Marie.



8 Elvis turns “fat and 40”, says Life magazine. 29 Elvis returns to hospital with similar symptoms and problems as before. He stays in for observation and recuperation for 17 days.

Another tour starts in Oklahoma City 27 Elvis spends $140,000 on 14 Cadillacs which he gives away to family and friends, plus one for a woman named Menni Person who is window shopping at the dealership when Elvis arrives.


8 Elvis celebrates his birthday on a skiing holiday in Colorado. 28 Elvis attends the funeral of a friend in the Denver police force, wearing a police uniform. RCA, desperate for Elvis to record, install a mobile studio at Graceland. Sessions produce “Way Down”, plus the From Elvis Presley Boulevard and most of the Moody Blue albums.



Money problems arise. He borrows $350,000 against Graceland. A costly divorce, another plane and buying binges force the need for April shows in Lake Tahoe.

No encores: The final show, Indianapolis 1977


10 New sessions in Hollywood. No notable tracks beyond a cover of “Green, Green Grass Of Home”.

18 Elvis opens another stint in Las Vegas. 20 Ill health causes Elvis to pull out of remaining shows. He returns to Memphis and is hospitalised until September 5.


Elvis’ terrible physical and mental state, announces an upcoming CBS TV special.


Back to Hilton in Vegas. The live album of Elvis’ 1974 Memphis show wins him his third Grammy. All three of his wins have been for gospel recordings.

A mass of live dates across the country.


18 Elvis has bags under his eyes removed at Mid South Hospital in Memphis.


2 Elvis returns to the Vegas Hilton to make up for the earlier cancelled performances. 31 Elvis performs in Pontiac, Michigan, a record breaking show in front of 62,500 fans – the biggest audience for a single artist in an indoor concert. The performance grosses over $800,000, the largest sum ever earned for a one-night performance by a single artist. Following the show, Elvis and his entourage fly back to Memphis in the Lisa Marie and ring in the new year watching tapes of Monty Python in Elvis’ bedroom.

Another cross-country tour. Elvis is frequently incoherent and stumbling across stage, but it eases money worries. Vernon Presley fires Elvis’ bodyguards Red and Sonny West and Dan Webler after series of arguments. Few of the old crew of cronies are left.

A grim-looking Elvis relaxes with Ginger

26 Elvis performs his last concert at the Market Square Arena, Indianapolis, Indiana. It lasts one hour and 17 minutes.


Elvis’ touring treadmill restarts in Kentucky. It’s a money-spinner, but reviews focus on how listless and fallen Elvis has become.



Elvis now has a full-time nurse to medicate him. He’s back on road until well into October.

Elvis quietly celebrates his birthday with Ginger in Palm Springs. A recording session in Nashville is aborted after Elvis complains of sore throat. 26 Elvis proposes to Ginger, in his bathroom. His new fiancée will accompany him on a short February tour.

Elvis rarely leaves Graceland. By now he is on constant medication of Seconal, Placidyl, Valmid, Tuinal, Demerol and other downers.




Elvis, Ginger and friends take a joyride around Graceland

4 Elvis and Ginger (plus The Wests and most of her extended Gebler look set family) head to Hawaii Ginger at to publish Elvis: on holiday. It’s cut short Dr Nick’s What Happened?, a eight days later when trial, 1980 behind-the-scenes Elvis gets sand in his eye exposé of the reality and Dr Nick worries he of life with Elvis. He tries to block it. has scratched his cornea.. 23 Back on the road, but Elvis is in bad shape. He wears the only two 19 Elvis meets 20-year-old Ginger suits he can now fit into. Alden, after inviting her twin sister, the reigning Miss Tennessee, to Graceland. He is smitten and flies 1-5 Exhausted and faltering, Elvis her to Vegas the next is back in hospital. day, where he begins yet another tour. Yet more live dates. Elvis’ behaviour is totally erratic. Another run of shows at Stories circulate about the Hilton in Vegas. Elvis is Colonel selling Elvis’ contract to “Out of control,” admits pay gambling debts. Parker, to the Colonel. everyone’s surprise considering








Elvis leaves the building: the last photo, August 15, 1977


11 Colonel Parker calls Elvis to tell him to get ready for the next tour, starting on August 17. 14 Elvis tries on his new jumpsuit. It doesn’t fit. He initially blames the tailors, then says to Billy, “I’m too damn fat”. 15 Elvis has appointment with his dentist Dr Lester Hoffman to replace a crown, returning late. 16 After an early hours racquetball game, Elvis relaxes playing piano and singing Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain”. At 2.30pm, Ginger discovers Elvis’ body in the bathroom of his private suite. He is pronounced dead 30 minutes after his arrival at Memphis Baptist Hospital.

Elvis meets his public onstage in Vegas, 1970

Elvis during his first season at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, 1969

pril 5, 1972 and it’s all going off in Buffalo, New York. Elvis is in the building ready to meet the faithful at the Memorial Auditorium. The orchestra strikes the thunderous tones of “Also Sprach Zarathustra”, which masses up the awe and the mystique even more. So when Presley hits that stage, nervous and unsure, nobody really notices. A multitude of cheap little cameras are fizzing, the band is playing a sure groove and the ceremony is royally on course. As promised, promoter Jerry Weintraub has made sure that the first 20 rows are full of proper, hysterical fans. This isn’t one of your hard-toplease, cosmopolitan crowds and, again, this is part of the plan. Elvis and the Colonel are happy to entertain the plain people of America, and this 15-date tour will also visit the likes of Dayton and Knoxville, Greensboro and Little Rock. There’s an understanding that Elvis will be close to his public, that he will touch and embrace them, that he will give them scarves soaked in his own perspiration and perhaps even gold rings and glittering trinkets. How can you not be excited by this? The documentary film-maker, Bob Abel, is stunned as he watches a woman sprinting down

the aisle and launching herself “like an SAM missile, like an Evel Knievel motorcycle” in the direction of the singer. He explains the scene to writer Jerry Hopkins thus: “She took a leap and sailed through the air, and landed with a splat, skidding across the stage the way you’d see a seal or walrus at Marineland. Elvis saw her coming and sidestepped her and she slid right into the drums.” Business as usual, then. Elvis looks well, and his singing is exceptional. Age and a little extra weight have allowed him to reach the lower notes in the register, while he can also soar remarkably high, closing “American Trilogy” with a piercing call. Lesser mortals use a falsetto technique to get up there, but Presley doesn’t need it. This is his bel canto phase, when he can apply himself to just about any tone or mood, and sound like he’s in command. Many of those tunes are spiked with emotion, revealing a difficult personal life. His wardrobe designer, Bill Belew, has also responded to the times. His first commission had been the leather catsuit from the Comeback Special, but now he’s decking the singer out in karate-style suits in crimson, powder blue and pure white. These are accessorised with jewels and patterns, flared at the wrist and the ankle. The sunglasses are cantilevered and gleaming, the collars are upstanding and the singer’s sideburns have grown to accentuate this pimp-emperor chic.

e’s bored with many of the old rock’n’roll tunes and the voice that he used back then. He reckons they’re like the sound of a chicken squawking, and often they will be reduced to medleys and parodies. He’s more comfortable with the drama and the texture of the music that he’s been evoking since the 1969 Memphis sessions. “Suspicious Minds” and “In The Ghetto” are perfect examples and, on this tour, he performs the likes of “You Gave Me A Mountain”, an immense outpouring of hurt and difficulty. The narrator of this Marty Robbins lyric has dealt with poverty and mean times, and he’s weathered it all. But now his woman has grown tired of the unending grief, and she’s left him, taking their child away. There’s no easy resolution in the song as the singer tells God that he may never overcome this obstacle. And for his audience, this is all relevant. Most of them were party to the fun of the ’50s, and they never really got into the weirdness of the following decade. They’re married with kids, managing financially, but otherwise lost. They have patriotic feelings, but Vietnam has been such a downer. Yet in the face of the anti-war movement, Richard Nixon will be re-elected in a


landslide 1972 campaign, taking every state except Massachusetts. The squares still rule, even though the looming Arab oil embargo will hit them hard. Like Elvis, they’re considering divorce and fretting about parental custody. And so when he sings, they feel they’ve got company. Hence the spectacular theatre of “American Trilogy”. It was Mickey Newbury who had spliced together these old songs, but it was Elvis who wore the idea like a personal declaration. With the “Dixie” section of the trilogy he’s the actual boy who was born in a wretched cabin, all forlorn. He looks to the skies for relief, but soon we’re into “All My Trials”, facing mortality, the father just about at the end of his days. The kettle drums thunder, the horns blare and it’s the final stretch of “Battle Hymn Of The Republic” a prayer for deliverance that’s surely going to be answered, sometime soon. As ever, the Colonel has been trying to save on overheads, but Elvis gives his audience total extravagance. On a previous tour, they’ve tried to make do with a pick-up orchestra at every gig, but it wasn’t a success, so now there’s a dozen players on the salary, plus a core band and two vocal groups and a soprano. At the heart of it is James Burton, a magnificent guitarist from Louisiana, who’s worked with Ricky Nelson and the house band of the Shindig TV programme. He’s got a distinctive, picking style, partly derived from country player Chet Atkins, but

he also bends and slides the notes with ease. James is the effective leader of the Taking Care of Business band, and he’s in constant communication with Elvis onstage, his Fender Telecaster tacking the songs around the voice. Songs such as “Polk Salad Annie” and “Proud Mary” are rooted in the South, and Burton steers the band into a countrysoul dimension. Elvis is happy here, as the songs swing on the offbeat and the drums of Ronnie Tutt, a Texan boy, drive the action. The bassist, Jerry Scheff is from California, and his speciality is jazz and rhythm and blues. But he’s able to accent his style to fit. Scheff was never a Presley fan before he got the call to Vegas. He reckoned he was just an imitation of the black artists of the day. But he soon revised that opinion when rehearsals started. “It was kind of punk lounge music… for the first couple of years he almost demanded that we kick him in the butt.” When they’re not on tour, the TCB band are highly valued for their session work. Gram Parsons hires some of them for his GP and Grievous Angel albums. Emmylou Harris is also a subscriber and, later, Elvis Costello will reunite Burton, Scheff and Tutt for his 1986 release, King Of America. But, for the main part, these boys are on the Presley firm. It’s their job to play over the finale

y 1974 when Led Zeppelin got to meet Elvis, there was some confusion about who was now the king. Presley and Zeppelin shared the same American promoter, Jerry Weintraub, and so all concerned knew by this time that the group they called The Hammer Of The Gods was the hotter ticket. When Zeppelin turned up to see his show one night at the Forum in Los Angeles, Elvis was intrigued to meet this bunch of long-haired English barbarians who were selling out venues faster than he was. After singing “Love Me Tender”, he told the audience: “I want to let everyone know my favourite band Led Zeppelin is here tonight. I’d like to have the spotlight put on them and I hope you’ll join me in welcoming them.” According to the notalways-reliable account of the band’s road manager, Richard Cole, when the lights came up, they revealed drummer John Bonham to be fast asleep. Afterwards the band were shown up to Presley’s penthouse suite at the Inglewood, over the street from the venue. Determined to show who was the real star, he kept them waiting until the room was full before making his entrance. Elvis asked if the wild stories about Zeppelin on the road were true. Robert Plant mumbled something about them having


families and how easily rumours were spread. Presley laughed – and the ice was broken. “The four of us and him talked for a couple of hours,” Plant recalls. “We all stood in a circle and discussed this whole phenomenon, this lunacy. You’d have to go a long way to find someone with a better idea of what it was all about.” According to Cole, Plant and Presley even ended up trading lines from “Love Me” before – to Bonham’s embarrassment – Elvis asked Led Zeppelin for their autographs. NIGEL WILLIAMSON



of the shows, when the last “hallelujah” has been sung, when every extreme of glory and pathos have been squeezed out on the night. Elvis leaves the stage and he’s in the limo before the band have finished. But if he’s feeling upbeat, then the music will resume back at the hotel. He may call on the vocals of The Sweet Inspirations, who have backed Aretha Franklin and a host of the great names on Atlantic Records. Or he’ll reconvene with The Stamps Quartet, who harmonise in the Southern gospel way. Elvis loves their leader, JD Sumner, and he had watched him intently as a teenager at the all-night sings in the Ellis Auditorium in Memphis. JD had sang at Elvis’ mother’s funeral – and he would have another mournful farewell to perform in 1977. He wears plenty of expensive rings on his “Elvis hand”, purchased for him by his grateful boss. So, on a good night, they’ll gather around the piano and conjure up some of that old-time religion, happily competing for the best lines, Elvis is trying to sing deeper that JD’s impossibly profound tones, and it makes them laugh. It’s never going to get any better than this.

King of America: squeezing out every extreme of glory and pathos


lvis opened at the International Hotel, Las Vegas on July 31, 1969. It was his first live show since a Pearl Harbor benefit in 1961. This new venue was the biggest, most expensive throwdown of its time, dwarfing Caesar’s Palace. They needed a good draw and the Presley camp was confident after the NBC Special of 1968 and the Memphis recording sessions. Colonel Parker booked his charge for a four-week residency, two shows a day. Elvis had stiffed out in this town in 1956, when his act at the New Frontier was too lewd and the clientele was too old to appreciate it. But his opening show, attended by Hollywood friends and players, was a joyous event. Even his manager was elated, and paid his respects in the dressing room. “That old man had tears in his eyes,” said Sonny West, one of the minders. “His face was twisted with emotion. I had never seen him like that before. They just put their arms around each other in a big hug. The Colonel’s body was shaking.” Parker calmed down enough to endorse a five-year contract, blocking his artist out for month-long stays in February and August. It was good for everyone’s business: the take from slot machines doubled, as the Colonel earned plenty from the merchandise stalls and then blew his earnings in the casino. The women’s toilets began stocking fresh pairs of knickers. Even a series of dates in January proved that the Presley name could

(Below) Onstage at Providence Civic Center, Rhode Island, May 23, 1977

pack them in during the quiet season. Elvis played for a dinner audience, singing over the clanking of cutlery and wine glasses. The second shows of the night were mostly just drinking affairs, which the band preferred. And, in a while, the tables got smaller and the food was cut out of the deal, as the hotel realised they could sell the gig on Elvis alone. The singer had adopted some of his bumpand-grind routines from the Tom Jones revues. His own signature style came from his karate routines, a practice that he’d picked up in the army and which he would flaunt ad nauseum in the later years. But in the early ’70s, he would seemingly direct the music with these kicks, flips and

spins. It was also the cape-wearing era, when he’d stride the board like a Marvel comics character, flapping with gusto. If Vegas made him work as an entertainer, it wasn’t always good for his art. The older crowds liked to hear familiar tunes, and so he obliged with Beatles covers, with a perfunctory try at The Bee Gees’ “Words” and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”. It was James Burton who put the vim into “See See Rider” and “Johnny B Goode”, saving the show from cabaret hell. Shortly afterwards, Elvis introduced “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and this was also tame. It was only when he took the song on the road that it began to make sense. Paul Simon had appropriated the song from gospel music, and Presley took it back there, making it sound raw and anxious and finally transcendent.


Las Vegas, according to Ronnie Tutt, was “the ultimate gilded cage”. The singer had money and adulation and, in private, he could indulge himself in sensual binges of food and women and pills. His entourage had became known as the Memphis Mafia back in the ’60s and now they were much more visible. Armed with .38 Smith And Wesson revolvers, they cased out the venues for assassins, wary of death threats. They procured women for their boss and laughed at his jokes. Earning his approval could result in a new car, maybe a loan on a house. Offering criticism could get you off the payroll. So they stayed up all night with their charge, watching his moods change with the chemicals, mindful of the guns that Presley would produce in anger. He shot up a television because the entertainer Robert Goulet was on the screen. Later, he took aim at a light switch and nearly killed a girlfriend in the next room. The roof of the hotel suite was also peppered with bullet holes, proof of another bad session with too much energy and not enough to do.


972 was the year when films like The Godfather and Superfly made a case for stylised violence. Elvis also came to see himself as an enforcer, with his police badges, his connection to President Nixon and his private army. He even dreamed up his own movie called New Gladiators, in which a retired secret service agent comes out of retirement to avenge a drug-dealing low-life. In February of that year, Priscilla announced she was leaving him for a karate instructor, Mike Stone. While he had been persistently unfaithful, he was sincerely hurt, his pride was affronted and he literally wanted blood. A version of the story is recounted by three of the Memphis Mafia (Red and Sonny West and Dave Hebler) in their 1977 book, Elvis: What Happened. It pictures Presley with an M16 combat rifle stomping around the Imperial Suite at the Hilton in Vegas, demanding Stone’s death. Even after he had been sedated, he woke with the request that Sonny should hire a hitman. It was only after Sonny made a call that the singer backed down. Outwardly, he was the wounded husband, and the songs on the 1972 tour were tainted with grief. He already had a stash of such material, and they were supplemented by “Separate Ways”, “Always On My Mind”, and then maudlin dross like “My Boy”. There were other recordings, such as “Merry Christmas Baby”, which showed him in a more spiteful and, arguably, a more creative mood. Even in such poor form, Presley was driven onwards, to a four-night stopover at Madison Square Garden, New York. He was mistrustful of the city’s sophisticate ways, but 80,000 people had turned up, and
The outfits (and the waistline) got bigger during the ’70s

they’d been as keen as those small-town crowds. Elvis the brand name hadn’t been fully exploited yet. The next major event was Aloha From Hawaii, a 1973 show beaming across the globe from the Intelsat IV satellite. In Japan, it was watched by 98 per cent of the TV audience. By the time the recorded version was shown across America, well over a billion people had seen it. There were many less glamorous stints and, in 1974 alone, Presley played 152 shows. Sometimes a little retail therapy was needed. He brought a jeweller on tour, the notorious Dr Nick was flown in for special medical needs while his hairdresser, Larry Geller, also doubled as a spiritual adviser. All were rewarded handsomely, even the splendidly named pilot, Milo High. He could spend $38,000 on firearms and twice as much on cars. His most legendary shopping binge occurred on July 27, 1975, when he stopped off at Madison Cadillac, Memphis and bought 14 motors. One was for a passing lady who merely said that the cars looked nice. He even gifted her some extra dollars for a couple of new dresses. he recording dates were thinly spread now. By the end, he barely cared at all. His health was shot, and his remaining life was regulated by enormous doses of uppers, downers and prescription narcotics. He favoured the sedative Demerol, he was also forever reaching for the Valium, Placidyl and Quaaludes. He had a shelffull of amphetamines. And, increasingly, there was Dilaudid, a synthetic opiate normally reserved for those with terminal cancer. His internal organs were all shot. He was incontinent, physically and emotionally. He slagged his backing singers off onstage, muttering about the smell of catfish on their breath. He sacked a bunch of his old minders, and they responded with a lurid book. The later tours were underrehearsed, lacking in new material, and sometimes featured rambling discourses on karate theory and any other stray thought that showed up. The performance that encapsulates that sad delirium took place in Rapid City, Omaha in June 1977. His body has ballooned, and he’s only got two suits that fit him for the duration of the tour. And the old songs aren’t hanging too good. He must have sung “Are You Lonesome Tonight” thousands of times before, and it was a deathly chore to go back there. But on this occasion, Elvis is severely stoned. A medic who examined him at the end commented, “he had the arteries of an 80year-old man. His body was completely worn out”. Actually, Elvis Presley was about 10,000 years old.


lvis and me were the best of friends that ever were. Swear to God.” So says The Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis, a fellow graduate from Sun Records in Memphis where, in December 1956, he and Elvis sang together on the legendary Million Dollar Quartet session. In stressing the extent of their friendship, Lewis even makes the unsubstantiated claim that they once went to a party together and ended up riding motorcycles “buck naked” down the street. Yet if The Killer and The King really were the best of buddies, then why was Lewis arrested outside Graceland on November 23, 1976, where he was threatening to shoot his way in with a .33 Derringer pistol? Lewis’ version of the story is that Elvis had rung him up and told him to come over because “he was depressed“. The Killer, admittedly “knee-walkin’ drunk” after a champagne bender, jumped in his limousine and drove to Graceland where he “misjudged” the length of the car bonnet and crashed into the front gates. Worse, he’d “forgotten” to put away the pistol he’d just been given “as a present” and “accidentally” left on the dashboard. When security guards saw the gun they asked if he’d come to shoot Elvis. He “jokingly” said yes so they called the police. So says Jerry Lee, but the real story, according to eye-witnesses who were at Graceland that night, is somewhat different. Whatever possessed Lewis to stop by, it certainly wasn’t a phone call since Elvis never rang him. As for the “accidental” crash, when Lewis was



refused entry first time round he rammed the gates on purpose, unaware that Elvis was actually watching the whole incident in disbelief on CCTV before giving the order to call the cops himself. And what does Lewis say in the face of such contrary evidence? “Bullcrap!”


Elvis Presley the balladeer onstage in 1977

one of the spookiest and weirdest of his career. Sun marketed Elvis as a rocker and left the ballads he recorded there – masterful versions of “Blue Moon” and “Harbor Lights” among them – on the shelf. While unwilling or unable to show Sun Elvis in his full glory, Phillips sounded overwhelmed when years later he acknowledged the Elvis took songs from a breadth of his talent. “He had a photographic memory for host of different genres every damn song he heard and the intuitive ability to hear songs without having to classify them – or himself.” and elevated them with It took others to realise his full potential. In 1955, ething uniquely his som when Mae Boren Axton co-wrote a song inspired by a newspaper story about a suicide, she presented it to Elvis personally in Nashville. The next year, when “Heartbreak Hotel” was recorded, RCA A&R man Steve Sholes fretted o single performer had as much effect on the that it wasn’t at all what he’d bargained for when he’d development of the 20th century popular song as signed The Memphis Flash. Sam Phillips gave an interview Elvis Presley. He was the bridge between established to the New York Post slamming the record. But Elvis was and yet to be discovered worlds – blues, pop, gospel, ahead of them, making an instant connection to the next country, folk, crooning, rock and much more. generation of rock singers and writers. Dylan, Lennon and The amazing thing about the Sun King – anointed during McCartney, Keith Richards all had the sensationalism of the 1950s teen rock phenomenon – their world turned upside down on was that he was to have a much greater influence than both hearing the record. his early champions and early detractors imagined. Though Elvis may not have been an Colonel Tom Parker’s Hill And Range company dubiously intellectual giant, but he was a engineered the only songwriting credits he earned, Elvis’ polymath when it came to song transforming zeal cannot be denied. knowledge and interpretation. He His ability to overhaul and recreate a song instantly was like a master magician mixing sprung forth on his earliest releases. The gleeful way Elvis up rare combinations that none approached the blues wail on Arthur Crudup’s “That’s of his followers could second guess – broad humour, All Right”, forging something totally new, was both an heart-rending sincerity, ironic double-takes and an almost influence on, and intimation of, the wave of future style bottomless, near fatal appetite for kitsch. and song composition, freeing up an index of possibilities. He could bring sleek pop star flash and rockabilly Similarly the way he bore down on the shuddering rhythm hepcat cool to the lusty gutbucket blues of “Shake, Rattle of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” was a complete & Roll”. He could turn the fake hokum of Red Foley’s “Old reinvention of a bluegrass tune: the birth of a new pop form. Shep” into a semi-spoken word epic of a young man’s And yet the totality of what Elvis apprehension of love and death. sought to do by sheer force of will, pure For all the ways he was controlled instinct and love of the song was much and kept on a treadmill during greater, far stranger than the Southern his post-army career, Elvis got the “What kind of singer are you?” wildcat image Sam Phillips had foisted opportunity to indulge his love of “I sing all kinds.” on him. Some think that after his Sun the song in all its manifestations. His “Who do you sound like?” rockabilly days Elvis’ career was an antimastery swaggered, paired with Frank “I don’t sound like nobody.” climax, in reality it was only a beginning, Sinatra on the post army TV special, he “Hillbilly?” because it was only after he left Phillips could easily out-croon Frank, but Frank “Yeah, I sing hillbilly.” that Elvis was able to show the world the couldn’t go where Elvis went. “Who do you sound full extent of his interpretive talent. Gospel recordings became a regular like in hillbilly?” He had, after all, come to Phillips feature following his mother’s death “I don’t sound like nobody.” primarily as a ballad singer, and that first – traditional spirituals and Exchange between Elvis recording – “My Happiness” – remains hymnbook favourites and Marion Keisker, the


(“How Great Thou Art”) provided his passageway back to the old, rapidly fading America of riverside baptisms and tent show revivals. The movie years may have kept him largely cut off from the developments in ’60s songwriting. Later attempts to play catch-up – covers of “Hey Jude” and “Proud Mary” – were hardly definitive. Then at the heart of the ’60s one of his finest, wisest, most singular moments – “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”, Dylan exalted. The ’68 comeback introduced him to a new generation of writers, and songs that, if not written for Elvis or with Elvis in mind, fitted him like a glove – Mickey Newbury’s “American Trilogy”, Mac Davis’ “In The Ghetto”, Gamble and Huff’s “Only The Strong Survive”. Who but Elvis had the ability to touch the highest mountain top, to feel the pain of the poor, the bereaved and to go into the darkest corner of a lover’s heart? Songs were his lifeblood; they gave him so much freedom – from his poverty, freedom of the imagination and, in the end,

freedom from his sadness and addiction. In 1971, when honoured with a Man Of The Year Award, Elvis naturally quoted a song – “Without A Song” – to underline his life’s philosophy. “I learned very early in life that without a song the day would never end/Without a song a man ain’t got a friend/Without a song the road would never bend/So I keep singing a song”. And so he did. There’s astonishing film shot six weeks before his death – Elvis, a bloated man, seemingly lost inside himself, but at the piano, playing the melody on a mighty version of “Ebb Tide”, clinging to the song as the high water of his trapped life threatened to engulf him. Perhaps it was fitting that Elvis died as hip-hop and the widespread culture of cut-up was being born. His whole project – covering as many songs as he could – seemed to be to unite the entire world of song in a big embrace. Without ever originating a lyric or a melody, Elvis could grab and inhabit a song, driven by the belief that with it both he and his audience could transcend their earthbound selves.



studio manager who discovered him. Marion Keisker: kingmaker

The Comeback Special was a genre-busting mix of blues, ballads, gospel and good old rock’n’roll

With That’s The Way It Is, Elvis entered the 1970s as the decade’s greatest balladeer… and then a young country rocker called Gram Parsons stole his band. By Simon Goddard





Nov 70 (US) Jan 71(U K)
RCA Nashville Las Vegas International Hotel

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Felton Jarvis
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omnolent”. “Lackadaisical”. “Sleepwalking”. Hardly adjectives befitting of The King Of Rock’n’Roll. Nevertheless, all three were used by Variety magazine to describe Elvis’ erratic performances onstage in Las Vegas during the summer of 1973. It was a depressing deterioration not lost on 26-year-old ex-Byrd, former Flying Burrito Brother and disillusioned Presley fan, Gram Parsons, then in the process of recording his second solo album in Hollywood. Indeed, Parsons was irked enough by his hero’s visible disintegration to take a swipe in the lyrics of the album’s opening track, “Return Of The Grievous Angel”: “The news I could bring/I met up with The King/On his head an amphetamine crown”. Though an accurate description of Elvis at the time (hooked on a cocktail of uppers, downers and unable to walk onstage without being administered emergency shots of B12) the lyrics would assume drastically ironic significance for Parsons, whose own amphetamine crown would soon prove fatal when he died of an accidental drug and booze overdose on September 19, 1973. More ironic still was the coincidental detail that like its predecessor, GP, Parsons’ Grievous Angel album had been recorded with none other than Presley’s current backing band – James Burton (guitar), Glen D Hardin (piano) and Ronnie Tutt (drums) – all of whom would continue to play with the

“somnolent” and “lackadaisical” King long after the charred husk of Parsons’ body had been recovered from the Joshua Tree desert where it had been ceremoniously burned by his road manager. Yet the fact that the James Dean of modern alternative country should turn to the Vegas Elvis band to help crystallise his vision of “cosmic American music” is an anomaly only to those who buy into the cliché perpetrated by a million and one end-of-pier impersonators: that those final Vegas years were those of a bloated whale slurring his lyrics while bursting at the seams of a gaudy, rhinestone jumpsuit. True, such an abomination would eventually come to pass, but when Presley began his first residency at the International Hotel, Las Vegas in July 1969, he not only looked great (a trim, bronzed, karate-kicking Lothario) he sounded even greater. At the age of 34, his voice had reached its mature, lung-busting apex of expressive intensity, and with musicians the pedigree of Burton (Rick Nelson, Phil Ochs), Hardin and Tutt behind him, as well as bassist Jerry Scheff (The Doors), he was about to make the last, truly great album of his career: 1970’s That’s The Way It Is. Before it became, artistically speaking, the death of him, Vegas marked the culmination of his rebirth, one which had begun with the ’68 Comeback Special and blossomed with the ’69 “Suspicious Minds” Memphis sessions. Vegas was the final challenge, one which after an eight-year absence from concert performance he would rise to with triumphant aplomb. The extent to which Elvis’ self-confidence had been restored became clear when, in June 1970, he entered RCA’s Nashville studios with no set brief, only to cut a staggering 36 songs over a five-day period.




1971 [UK 6/US 12]

Subtitled I’m 10,000 Years Old, his only ‘concept album’ saw Elvis consciously revisit his country and blues roots with fervent enthusiasm. Recorded in tandem with That’s The Way It Is, this is very nearly its equal.

1974 [UK 42/US 90]

By the mid ’70s it was rare to find more than one decent song on an Elvis LP. This boasted several, from the barfly philosophising of “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues” to the funky, wah-wah gospel of “I Got A Feelin’ In My Body”.

1976 [UK 29/US 41]

The label could have easily assembled a straight studio album from such a wealth of material, but chose instead to select just eight tracks alongside four live cuts from his subsequent Vegas engagement that August in order to mock an official soundtrack to the new MGM live documentary, and Elvis’ first non-acting movie, That’s The Way It Is. Shared title aside, whereas the film itself remains, alongside the Comeback Special, the ultimate visual document of Elvis’ stagecraft, the album was a very different affair, marking the point where the greatest rock’n’roller of the 20th century metamorphosised into its greatest balladeer. With the exception of the sassy “Patch It Up” and the country funk of “Stranger In The Crowd”, That’s The Way It Is saw Elvis set the mood (introspective) and the tempo (slow) for his twilight years. Now a mid-30s soon-to-become divorcee, the album wore its creator’s misery upon its sleeve: metaphorically on the wistful philanderer’s regret “Twenty Days And Twenty Nights”, and literally in its monochrome cover still of Elvis onstage, his eyes downcast, his expression that of a man who knows he’s fucked it.

Throughout That’s The Way It Is, his naturalism is awe-inspiring, not so much performing a song as crawling inside its skin. Nowhere is this more palpable than the opening live cut of “I Just Can’t Help Believin’”, one of the album’s few moments of genuine optimism. Originally an MOR hit earlier that year for BJ Thomas, in Elvis’ hands it becomes a larger-than-life, spiritual showstopper. His reading of the song is all the more humanistic

for his early blunder – bodging it three-lines in by laughing mid-lyric – though by its finish he’s so entranced he refuses to stop, directing the backing chorus to keep repeating its title mantra (“one more”) until, at last, he can bring himself to let go (mumbling “take it” with audible satisfaction). Just as affecting is the closing treatment of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, the Simon & Garfunkel standard transformed into a soul-purging gospel powerhouse, the climax so dramatic that RCA were compelled to tag on false audience applause at the end. Tragically, his inability to choose material worthy of his extraordinary talent ensured Elvis never surpassed That’s The Way It Is. If there’s a third and final twist in the tale of Parsons’ disappointment with Elvis, it’s surely the fact that Gram’s lovelorn odes to “the truckers, the kickers and the cowboy angels” were exactly the kind of songs that Presley should have been singing instead of vulgar Perry Como cast-offs (Elvis pouring his heart out on “In My Hour Of Darkness” – can you imagine?). Still, if it’s any consolation, at least both EP and GP got the band they deserved.

Recorded at home in Graceland 18 months before his death, Elvis’ penultimate studio LP was a teary-eyed croonfest of MOR schmaltz. But thanks to that voice, even “Danny Boy” sent spinetingling shivers.


“I don’t do up my top button – that’s the way it is!”




1977 Elvis Presley g in the early spring of us ne sunlit mornin minated his sumptuo the ornate bed that do woke up in disturbed. His brain m feeling groggy and Graceland bedroo en torturing his stoned nightmare that had be rewound the . subconscious all night



e dreamed he was in court on trial for his life. Colonel Tom Parker was the prosecuting lawyer, his recently dismissed bodyguard Red West was one prosecuting witness, ex-wife Priscilla another. No-one would defend him. A judge clad in a white robe sat at a bench with a large black medical bag down by his side. Unsteadily Elvis pulled on a pair of tracksuit bottoms and negotiated the stairs down to the kitchen where his friend and confidant Lamar Fike, one of the so-called Memphis Mafia, was drinking coffee. Elvis told him about the dream. “What the shit does it mean?” asked Fike. “It means the end is near,” replied Elvis. Three days after the dream his father, Vernon, had a heart attack and the gilt cocoon surrounding Presley finally began to crumble. Within the month he had signed into the Baptist Memorial Hospital for a ‘break’. Assailed by the burden of obesity and a punishing drug regime, Elvis was in desperate need of relief. Desultory attempts were made to detox, but he quickly discharged himself and returned home. The last real opportunity to turn his life around had evaporated. Presley’s body was weak but he lacked the strength of will necessary to save himself. Such was the combination of fear and patronage he bestowed on his inner circle that no one dared lay it on the line. Abstention was not part of his vocabulary. Elvis was caught in a loop, a victim of his own success and his ingrained addictions. To consent to treatment in a San Diego clinic, as suggested by his wife Priscilla, would be to admit to a problem and The King did not have problems. He had always been portrayed as clean and wholesome. He was a


Elvis had been self-medicating for years, yo-yoing between uppers and downers that disrupted his metabolism hugely
Drug Enforcement Agent for heaven’s sake. If the truth got out, the veil of mystery surrounding him would be rent asunder forever. Two weeks after the failed detox session he almost overdosed on sleeping tablets and muscle relaxants in a Palm Springs hotel. Then, in June, he played a gig in Rapid City, South Dakota at which he bumbled around the stage sweating profusely. His speech was slurred and he forgot the words to songs. The infamous footage was shown posthumously

And now the end is near: Elvis in Lincoln, Nebraska on June 20, 1977



as an In Concert TV Special two months after his death. If no-one realised before they certainly understood how far he had fallen when it was screened. Somehow he made it through his last ever show at Market Square Arena, Indiana on June 26. Billy Smith, Elvis’ cousin, spent almost 18 hours a day with Presley in the months leading to his death and was as close to him as anyone. The picture he paints in Elvis Aaron Presley, an excellent oral Presley, history by Alanna Nash, is of a paranoid, tortured and fearful man, sensing he was at a personal impasse but incapable of turning away.


hortly after his birthday on January 8, 1975, he had been mortified to read an article titled “Elvis: Fat And 40”. It was nothing but the truth. His weight had ballooned to more than 250lbs, the grim result of pure overindulgence. The stories about the peanut butter sandwiches and the cheeseburger diet are true. He would bolt three burgers at a sitting, with several banana splits for dessert, then would attempt to compensate by eating nothing for days. With a 12-date tour of New England due to begin on August 18, Elvis was desperate to lose weight, cutting back on food and using an Exercycle housed in his bedroom. By then shows proved enormously debilitating, leaving him a wreck. In 1976 he toured nine times, often playing twice a night, pushing himself to the brink of exhaustion. No-one thought to scale down his workload. For all the millions he had made, Presley’s extravagant lifestyle had seriously undermined his finances. Elvis had been self-medicating for years, yo-yoing between uppers and downers that disrupted his metabolism hugely. He was sustained by a daily pill regime supplied by his physician Dr George Nichopoulos in envelopes (nicknamed ‘attacks’) containing a pharmaceutical pick’n’mix of up to a dozen tablets at a time. They got him up and they put him down, but each time they took a little piece of him. It was subsequently revealed Elvis had taken 5,000 tablets in the seven months before his death, making him a walking pharmacy. August 14 was the 19th anniversary of his beloved mother Gladys’ death. Elvis was quiet, reflective, placing fresh flowers on her grave and

keeping to himself. In the afternoon of the following day Elvis went to have a crown fixed on his teeth. He assembled fiancée Ginger Alden, Billy Smith and Charlie Hodge and drove over to Dr Lester Hofman’s practice in his Stutz Blackhawk. They arrived back at Graceland just after midnight, whereupon Elvis held meetings about the tour. He was due to fly off in his private jet at 7pm the next day. Around 4am he had Smith wander across to the gym at the back of the house where they played racquetball. Elvis gave up after hitting himself on the leg and sat down at the piano to knock out “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen” and Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain”. It was the last performance he would ever give. The group left the building at around six in the morning. Smith washed his hair, and Elvis finally retired to his room with Ginger and his pills. There is endless debate about how many tablets he took and how quickly, but the assumption is that the first two ‘attacks’ failed to put him under, so he put in a call to Dr Nick for a third to be delivered. When the pack arrived Elvis picked up a book and wandered across the red carpet to the bathroom with its 12-foot long marble counter, purple sink and black and gold tiles. He swallowed the contents of the third envelope, dropped his yellow pyjama bottoms and sat on the padded seat of his black toilet to peruse Frank O Adams’ book The Scientific Search For The Face Of Jesus. Jesus As the pills boiled in his empty stomach, Elvis’ system recoiled. His bowel movements could be an unpleasant experience given his intestine had suffered a blockage and his colon was three times its normal diameter. He suffered bouts of constipation followed by terrible bouts of diarrhoea, occasionally

losing control in bed. A trunk of Fleet’s enema went on tour with him to relieve the condition. As the pills began to kick in his heart-rate ‘redlined’ and his stomach convulsed. A massive seizure pitched him forward from the toilet seat onto his knees, vomit splashed onto the yellow rug and he lost consciousness. There he lay, his tongue hanging out and his pyjama bottoms round his ankles for four hours. Death is rarely dignified but in Elvis’ case it was cruelly humiliating. At around 2.30pm Ginger awoke and found the bed next to her empty. Wondering where he was, she wandered into the toilet. It was not unusual for Elvis to crash out in there after his pills kicked in. There she was confronted by the sight of her husband-tobe doubled up in a foetal position. Gripped by panic she pressed the intercom to call for help. Joe Esposito and Al Strada rushed up the stairs. Frantic efforts were made to revive him. There was chaos as the household gathered around the bathroom door: Vernon Presley, Aunt Delta, Aunt Nash and Charlie Hodge stood horrified as Esposito pummeled at his boss’ chest. Attracted to the source of all the consternation Presley’s daughter, Lisa Marie, rushed up the stairs but found her path blocked. Vernon Presley began wailing, “Son don’t die! Don’t leave!” Within minutes an ambulance from the Memphis Fire Department pulled past astonished onlookers and through Graceland’s open gates. Elvis, his knees locked right up to his chest in rigor mortis, was manhandled into the

Dr George Nichopoulos and (left) one of many ‘prescriptions’ he wrote for Elvis

vehicle and taken to the Baptist Memorial Hospital. Further attempts at resuscitation were made, but he was finally pronounced dead by Dr Nichopoulos in Trauma Room No. 1 at 3.30pm. Elvis Presley had left the building.


he exact cause of Elvis’ death has long been the subject of debate. Shelby county medical examiner Jerry Francisco put it down to a heart attack at the time, announcing he had died of “cardiac arrhythmia,


due to undetermined causes”, adding he had a related “hypertensive cardiovascular disease”. However, a leaked toxicology report from the autopsy ordered by Vernon Presley, who maintained his son had been murdered, revealed the body contained 14 different drugs, including butabarbital, codeine, morphine, Elavil, pentobarbital, Placidyl, Quaalude, Valium and Valmid. His weakened system had finally imploded under the strain of it all. Word began to spread rapidly about the death. Calls were made from the hospital office. Dr Nichopoulos, fearing another heart attack, drove over to Graceland to tell Vernon Presley in person. More family and friends arrived at the house as everyone tried to cope with the news. Joe Esposito called Priscilla in Los Angeles, who dropped the phone in shock. He then called Colonel Tom Parker in the Dunfrey Sheraton hotel in Maine, where he was staying with assistant Al Dvorin, Lamar Fike and other members of the tour party in preparation for the first night’s concert. The Colonel took the news remarkably stoically. A call finally intercepted the plane carrying the members of the backing band and singers. It landed in Pueblo, Colorado where an announcement was made. Many were overcome with grief. The Sweet Inspirations’ Myrna Smith had to be sedated. By this point a short statement to the media had sent proceedings into overdrive. Hundreds of reporters and TV crews beat a trail to Whitehaven (the district in which Graceland was

A nation mourns: 75,000 fans assembled outside Graceland, 20,000 of them filing past the Presley coffin to pay their last respects. A motorcade of 16 Cadillacs escorted Elvis´ copper-lined coffin to its final resting place

housed), DJs on radio stations tore up their play lists and put Elvis records on constant rotation. Radio Luxembourg cancelled all commercials and followed suit. Vernon Presley was persuaded to go on local radio and give a short interview. Steadily the shockwaves spread across the globe. The following day the story was lead news just about everywhere. ‘Death Captures Crown Of Rock And Roll’ lamented local Memphis paper The Commercial Appeal ‘All Roads Lead To Memphis’ Appeal. All said the London Evening Standard, ‘Fat, 42 And Standard Fazed’ screamed the Melbourne Sun less charitably. Even the Soviet newspaper Pravda put the story on its front page, with the headline ‘Elvis Is Dead: The USA Has Given Us Three Cultural Phenomenons – Mickey Mouse, Coca-Cola and Elvis Presley’ Presley’. Within hours fans began pouring into Memphis. By morning 75,000 people were crowded onto Elvis Presley Boulevard. Over 300 national guardsmen were called in to maintain order, with hundreds of hysterical fans needing medical attention (a combination of grief and the Memphis sun’s punishing heat). Hotel rooms filled up rapidly, further fuelling an all-night Graceland vigil. The body of Elvis Presley was taken to a funeral parlour, placed in an open coffin and dressed in the white suit his father had given him for Christmas, matched with a light blue shirt and white tie. Newspaper The following day Vernon Presley headlines following announced he was throwing the
Elvis’ death

gates open so fans could pay their last respects. Members of the press were invited in first, then 20,000 people filed down the hall for three-anda-half hours to view the coffin where it sat among plastic palms. Some celebrity fans arrived at the house, including James Brown and Sammy Davis Jr. George Hamilton apparently sneaked in to the Presley home on a bread van. The first inkling that Elvis was going to be bigger dead than alive came within a day of his passing as his records sold out across the States. The RCA pressing plant went into 24-hour production to cope with demand. Eight million copies of his records were sold across the globe in the seven days after his death. Meanwhile Colonel Tom Parker, still taking care of business, flew to New York to meet with record executives and cut a rapid merchandising deal with Factors, Inc in order to counteract the glut of souvenirs destined to flood the market. When he observed, “Elvis didn’t die. Just his body is gone.” he was not talking in spiritual terms. In the UK “Way Down” rocketed up the charts to give Elvis his first posthumous Number One single. TV stations rescheduled his movies and specials were shown about his life. Just about anyone who’d ever met him was interviewed. Many published thin memoirs, including a nurse at the Baptist Memorial Hospital whose effort is titled I Called Him Babe – Elvis Presley’s Nurse Remembers. Remembers Outside Graceland floral tributes were piled up: wreaths and other ornate arrangements spelling out his name. There were crowns, broken hearts,




Elvis would not be allowed to rest in peace. Three men entered the cemetery intent on stealing Elvis’ body and holding it to ransom
hound dogs and even blue suede shoes. It eventually took 100 vans five hours to remove the flowers from Graceland to Forest Hill Cemetery. August 18, the day of the funeral, was declared an official day of mourning by the governor of Mississippi and flags in the state were lowered to half-mast as a sign of respect. Still the madness continued. At four in the morning 18-year-old Treatise Wheeler careered south down the road towards Graceland in his battered white 1963 Ford. Drunk, he piled into a group of mourners who were part of the all-night vigil. Three girls, Alice Marie Hovatar, Juanita Joanne Johnson and Tammy Baiter, took the brunt of the impact. One flew into the air and landed on the car’s windshield. A second was spreadeagled on the bumper, the third dragged under the vehicle for 20 yards. Two died instantly. Wheeler, meantime, kept going, but was forced to abandon the vehicle a block away where he was apprehended along with the three 16-year-old girls he had in the car. the porch way a large branch snapped from a tree and landed on the driveway. Given it was another oppressively hot day and there was not a puff of wind, everyone took it as a sign that The King was watching from above. The motorcade of 16 white Cadillacs finally eased out of the Graceland gates just after midday to receive the salutes of the many uniformed officers keeping order. A dozen motorcycles then escorted it past thousands of fans to the Woodvale Church of Christ at 2pm, where The Reverend CW Bradley delivered a brief sermon: “Perhaps because of his rapid rise to fame and fortune he was thrown into temptations that some never experience. Elvis would not want anyone to think that he had no flaws or faults. But now that he’s gone, I find it more helpful to remember his good qualities, and I hope you do too.” Stumbling eulogies were given by comedian Jackie Kahane and TV evangelist Rex Humbard before a gospel choir, featuring Kathy Westmoreland, Jake Hess, James Blackwood and The Stamps performed some of Presley’s favourite gospel numbers, “How Great Thou Art” and “Sweet, Sweet Spirit”. Then the procession set off for Forest Hill cemetery, three miles from Graceland, where Elvis was interred in a short ceremony next to his mother as helicopters whirled overhead. The grave was carefully sealed. The first signs that Elvis would not be allowed to rest in peace came on September 6 when tabloid newspaper, The National Enquirer, published Enquirer,

a front-page photograph purporting to show an embalmed Presley lying in his coffin, under the headline ‘Elvis: The Untold Story’. It sold seven Story’. million copies and has since become the most sought after back issue in newspaper history. Around the same time three armed men entered the cemetery intent on stealing the body and holding it to ransom. They were apprehended by police on a tip-off. Later, ringleader Ronnie Lee Adkins said, “There’s only two people on earth that everybody’s heard of and that’s God and Elvis. I was just trying to get at the only one I could.” Following the attempt to steal the body Vernon Presley had his son and wife exhumed and moved to Graceland, where their remains were reposed in the Meditation Garden and remain to this day. Over at Forest Hill his memorial bears a rambling epitaph: “He was a precious gift from God We cherished and loved dearly. He had a God-given talent that he shared With the world… …God saw that he needed some rest and Called him home to be with Him. We miss you, Son and Daddy. I thank God That he gave us you as our son.” It is such a clumsy piece that the final line’s analogy to the crucifixion is probably unwitting, but there can be no doubt; Elvis rose again. The music lives on, the marketing machine continues to turn. Where The King Of Rock’n’Roll is concerned, death hath no dominion.


s the sun came up more mourners gathered for the funeral, including Priscilla Presley, Lisa Marie, James Brown, John Wayne, George Hamilton and Ann-Margret (star of Viva Las Vegas). Caroline Kennedy, daughter of Jackie, ). arrived to cover the proceedings for Rolling Stone. Stone A little after midday pallbearers Charlie Hodge, Joe Esposito, Lamar Fike, George Klein, producer Felton Jarvis and the good Dr George Nichopoulos picked up the cripplingly heavy copper-lined coffin and moved towards the hearse. As they exited



verything about Elvis Presley was big: his hair, his voice, his appetite, his sales figures, his legend, his waistband. The curious thing is, in death he just keeps getting bigger. In fact, Presley’s tragic demise only hastened his elevation to the status of secular saint, crackpot cult icon and messianic religious icon. In 2005, the 70th anniversary of his birth, The King is back in the charts and enjoying his biggest comeback yet, with all 18 of his Number One singles being reissued. Almost three decades after he left the building, Elvis is everywhere. Every generation gets the Elvis it deserves, and each new wave of Presley’s bastard offspring has paid homage in different ways. Countless

Bleeding love: “performance artist” Extreme Elvis

classic rockers, from Dylan to Lennon to Bruce Springsteen, have copped their moves from The King’s early years as a lean, cool, one-man youth revolution. Classic Elvis tunes have been covered by everyone from the Pet Shop Boys to U2. Meanwhile The King has been endlessly referenced in lyrics and album artwork, from The Clash to The Smiths, Manic Street Preachers to Eminem. Others have delved further into the Elvis myth, even remaking themselves in his image. In
of Elvis at the North Pole. Whether this escapade ever really took place is beside the point, since Drummond is riffing on the mythic power of The King as a Dionysian god of pleasure, back to reclaim his throne. “Elvis was Elvis because within him so much was right,” Drummond writes. “The time, the place, the looks, the heartache, the rage, the depth, the shallowness, the hips, the fire, the ice, the voice, the name, the wantonness and the tragedy… but through

the ’80s, a jump-suited crooner calling himself Tortelvis fronted the surreal Elvis-meets-Led Zep spoof reggae covers combo Dread Zeppelin. Meanwhile, Edinburgh indie striplings Jesse Garon & The Desperadoes took their name from Presley’s still-born twin brother, a quasi-Biblical narrative that Nick Cave explored further on nocturnal howls such as “Tupelo” and “The Firstborn Is Dead”. More musical offshoots of the mighty Presley river include the ‘Female Elvis’, rockabilly singer Janis Martin, and the ‘Mexican Elvis’ El Vez, aka LA punk rocker turned karaoke crooner Robert Lopez. Left-field rockers like Elvis Hitler
Bad Wisdom from

In his gonzo 1996 memoir Bad Wisdom, a collaboration with Zodiac Mindwarp, former KLF pop terrorist turned conceptual art prankster Drummond relives a deranged voyage to the Arctic wastes of Finland to plant a statue

all that, Dionysus swaggered on, leering and lurching. Rock’n’roll in all its ugly, debased and exploited forms, tore out of and built up from the black man’s basic 12-bar blues, is the soundtrack to every Viking voyage. Once again the white boy can rape and pillage, lie and lick, lust and kick, swagger and swear across the universe, the chains of Christian doctrine smashed on a pagan altar.”

the man who burned a million



“Elvis is alive,” Bono claimed in the programme for U2’s Zooropa tour. “We’re dead.” The King is so rich in musical and metaphorical importance for U2, they can hardly keep away from him. The fascination first surfaced in the semiimprovised rant “Elvis Presley And America” on 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire, the first of several U2 tracks to treat Presley’s rise and fall as an almost divine parable.

Bono addressed similar themes in a poem called American David, lending Elvis further Biblical significance, and again on “Elvis Ate America” for the U2 offshoot project Passengers. U2 have also covered the Presley standards “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”, “His Latest Flame”, “Suspicious Minds” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love”. It was the lean, mean, ’50s Elvis whose spirit haunted Rattle And Hum. U2 drummer Larry Mullen, who named his son Aaron Elvis, paid homage at The King’s Graceland grave in the film. The B-side to “Desire”, recorded at a specially re-opened Sun Studio in Memphis under a watchful portrait of the young Presley, shrine was even titled “A Room At The Heartbreak Hotel”. But by the time of their Zoo TV and Zooropa tours in the early ’90s, Bono was performing karaoke King tunes in a gold

MacPhisto channels Elvis Presley

lamé devil costume. Behind the kitsch, the singer claimed, was “the gravitas of a guy who’s run out of life and love.” Many Zoo concerts ended with the announcement: “Elvis is still in the building.”

and Jesus Presley pressed the iconic rocker into a cartoon battle between good and evil. Even comedians like Freddie Starr and Andy Kaufman made warped Presley impersonations key to their routines. Extreme Elvis, a blood-splattered, faeces-throwing performance artist, is just the latest bizzarro living tribute. The first reason for this evergrowing Elvis Afterlife phenomenon is, naturally, the music. Presley sold over 300 million records during his lifetime and more than twice that since a drug-induced heart failure finished him off at just 42 on August 16, 1977. That sultry, rumbling volcano of a voice still cuts across the decades, radiating pleasure and anarchy, too powerful to be confined to history. Which is why most of Presley’s early rock’n’roll peers sound distant and tinny today whereas an unchanged Elvis vocal from 1968, wedded to Junkie XL’s beefed-up mix of “A Little Less Conversation”, topped the UK charts in 2002. Presley’s youthful ghost even toured the world in 1998, accompanying his original backing band via a giant video screen. Not even Jesus gets that kind of Second Coming. On a prosaic level, the enduring Elvis cult is clearly a triumph of marketing and re-packaging, with huge-selling hits collections like Elv1s and 2nd To None still racking up high chart positions. Meanwhile Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc, controlled by the late star’s former wife Priscilla and daughter Lisa Marie, holds the reins of the vast Presley merchandising empire. This is the company that runs Graceland, the super-tacky Memphis mansion where Elvis lived and died, which still attracts up to 600,000 Presley pilgrims every year. But the Elvis cult is more than mere dollars and cents, vinyl and celluloid. It is bigger than the 35,000 or so devotees who trek to the annual Elvis Presley festival in Tupelo, The King’s Mississippi birthplace, three hours south of Memphis. It is even stronger than the millions of Elvis impersonators singing, sobbing and even stripping in seedy bars and hotel lounges across the globe. As Greil Marcus remarks in his 1991 book Dead Elvis, part of The King’s evergreen appeal is that his historical legacy is open to almost endless

The first recorded sighting of Dead Elvis, two days after his death in August 1977, filling up his Cadillac at Waxman’s filling station in Sanderson County, Georgia. Spotted by Tammy Sue in a Florida McDonald’s in July 1985, eating dinner with a mysterious woman and a bag full of cash. Spotted by Steven Patrick in a Swiss late-night cafe at 2am in the summer of 1986. After claiming to be from “Las Vegas”, the lean and bearded Elvis promptly slipped away Spotted by Paul Doe in Berlin, Germany, in July 1991, talking to the driver of a horse-drawn carriage. Doe and his fellow backpackers did not approach him “out of respect for Elvis and our strong desire to eat lunch and get beer”. Spotted by Oscar Peterson in a restaurant toilet in Miami, Florida, in July 1996. Elvis claimed to be Ted Kennedy and left the building. Spotted by Isaaco de Banco in Taste of Raj curry house in Palmers Green, London, in December 1996. The tracksuit-clad Presley ordered a mushroom bhaji and a chicken biryani. Spotted by Edna Hankins, Elvis was “in a tight thong wearing a smile and blue suede shoes” at Le Butt strip club in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, in early 2001. Spotted by Tony O’Connor in a pub in Ebbw Vale, Gwent, March 2001. Elvis was drinking pints, claimed to be a US tourist, and disappeared during a trip to the toilet. Spotted by Nicholas Scott Kohler as he watched Monsters, Inc. at a Hollywood cinema in June 2001. Elvis spilled popcorn everywhere. Spotted by Jason R in Stanley Park, Vancouver, Canada in July 2001. Elvis sped past on roller blades and stole a bucket of KFC.

interpretation. “Elvis Presley is now an anarchy of possibilities,” Marcus writes, “a strain of freedom less clear, but no less suggestive, than the man ever was.” Presley’s image has become a blank canvas for every obsessive disciple, cash-in merchant or plain fruitcake with an offbeat theory to peddle. Depending who you choose to believe, Elvis was a monster, messiah, martyr, style guru, anti-fashion icon, mother-fixated hick, cabaret clown or towering emblem of the American Dream. It’s not that The King was none of these things – he was all of them, to some degree.

Ever since they stole the typeface and design of Presley’s self-titled debut album for the sleeve of London Calling, The Clash marked their cards as disciples of prime-time Elvis the whipsmart hillbilly punk. For all of punk’s Year Zero posturing, Joe Strummer was a Presley fan to his dying day. In 1989 he even played a character called Elvis in Jim Jarmusch’s Memphis based film Mystery Train. “I know everything there is to know about The Beatles and Elvis,” he boasted in 1999. Two years later, Strummer contemplated stealing one of The King’s guitars from the Hard Rock Café in Las Vegas, but an autograph hunter distracted him.


Joe Strummer clearly wore his influence on his sleeve (left)


Some Elvis Presley impersonators, yesterday

Nick Cave: “Ghetto” fabulous

In the 1980s, Cave summoned up a quasi-demonic Dark Elvis on banshee-blues howls like “Tupelo” and “The Firstborn Is Dead”, exploring this ravaged Deep South mythology further in his novel And The Ass Saw The Angel. At the peak of his heroin addiction, Cave also covered the Presley classic “In The Ghetto” with no hint of kitsch, and became obsessed with footage of Elvis in drug-damaged decline. “Here’s a man who’s got everything and he’s getting up onstage only to fall apart,” Cave told NME.

Pick your own Elvis. There are thousands of versions out there. For traditionalists, Presley’s proud patriotism and God-fearing Deep South values remain potent reminders of a more wholesome, innocent America. Yet perversely, for a younger generation more interested in kitsch excess and superstar sleaze, The King symbolises quite the opposite. His tragicomic decline into sordid sex, drugs and suicidal self-abuse provides a spectacular blueprint for all future celebrity deaths. Alongside Presley, even majestically sordid celebrity burnouts such as Marvin Gaye, Michael Hutchence and film producer Don Simpson start to look like lightweights. Of course, the Satanic majesty of Presley’s death on a Graceland toilet, allegedly reading a book called A Scientific Search For The Face Of Jesus, has only boosted his posthumous reputation as the unsurpassed emperor of rock’n’roll excess. Elvis had been prescribed almost 6,000 pills in the previous six months and his body was later

found to contain 14 different narcotics including codeine, morphine, Valium, and “close to toxic” levels of Quaaludes, the ’70s love drug. A real feelgood hit of the summer. Indeed, The King’s twilight years sinking into depraved kitsch continue to exert a powerful love-hate appeal to devotees of grotesque rock folklore. Just how out of touch and off your face must you be to drop in on President Nixon at the White House begging to be made an undercover narcotics agent, warning that The Beatles are corrupting the youth of America with their “filthy, unkempt appearances and suggestive music”. That was in December 1970, a full eight months after The Beatles split. Cocooned from reality by drugs and money, Elvis turned weirder than Michael Jackson, lonelier than Kurt Cobain. For conspiracy theorists, The King’s shock demise opened the floodgates for


Kurt Russell in John Carpenter’s biopic Elvis


infinite plots-within-plots of feverish speculation that rival even the paranoid death cults surrounding JFK, Marilyn Monroe and Princess Di. Ever since someone claimed to see Elvis at a filling station in Georgia on August 18, 1977 – just two days after his death – rumours of cover-ups and unconfirmed sightings of the fugitive rock icon have become an open-ended subculture of urban myths and internet rumours. Running in parallel with these post-modern jokes is the halfserious notion of Elvis as a

Christ-like religious icon, dying for mankind’s sins, only to be raised again from the dead. Preposterous whimsy, of course, but try telling that to those who worship at the First Presleyterian Church Of Elvis The Divine in Las Vegas or The 24-Hour Church Of Elvis in Portland, Oregon. Not to mention all those Elvis wedding chapels in Vegas. A quick trawl on the web will throw up dozens of pictures of Elvis with a crucifix or a halo. The religious allegory is made even more explicit in Louie Ludwig’s 1995 book The Gospel Of Elvis, which rewrites the King James Bible around Presley and his life story. As one Washington Post reviewer quipped, “If Elvis really isn’t dead, this will kill him.” While the Afterlife Elvis is a global cult, the UK remains one of its key nerve centres. A disproportionately high number of
Nicolas Cage as the Elvis-like Sailor Ripley in David Lynch’s Wild At Heart

Chuck D has branded Marshall Mathers “the new Elvis” and, whether it is the white artist cashing in on African-American innovation, an outsider who becomes a working-class hero, or a pop sensation softening his rough edges for a movie career, Eminem fits the bill. On “Without Me”, Slim Shady pleads guilty. “Though I’m not the first king of controversy/I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley/To do black music so selfishly/ And use it to make myself wealthy”.
The not so Slim Shady as Elvis



Joe Strummer (left) in Jim Jarmusch’s
Mystery Train

Morrissey spends more money on lightbulbs than his inspiration

unconfirmed Elvis sightings occur in Britain. Which is all the more bizarre considering that Presley never once performed on these shores, only ever passing through Scotland’s Prestwick airport in March 1960. In London you will find Paul Chan, owner of the Chinese restaurant Graceland Palace, belting out Elvis numbers between Dim Sum courses. Also in the capital is Elvisly Yours, the mini-chain of memorabilia shops whose owners recently won a landmark legal victory against the might of Elvis Presley Enterprises. Not forgetting the new armies of British fans who booted the latest run of reissued singles back into the UK charts. Since his death, Elvis has continued to enjoy a healthy sideline in movies. Not re-runs of Presley’s own wretched musicals but knowing

homages and ghostly guest appearances. Kurt Russell played The King in John Carpenter’s sanitised 1979 biopic Elvis, then donned the spangled jumpsuit again 20 years later in Demian Lichtenstein’s comic crime caper 3000 Miles To Graceland. The King was also kidnapped by desperate fans in the 1988 Chris Columbus comedy Heartbreak Hotel, and brazenly impersonated by Nicolas Cage in Wild At Heart.

Pilgrimages to Graceland provided classic scenes in This Is Spinal Tap and U2’s unwittingly Tap-like tour documentary, Rattle And Hum. Phantom Presley figures spooked The Clash’s Joe Strummer and Steve Buscemi in Jim Jarmusch’s Memphis comedy Mystery Train, as well as Tony Scott’s True Romance, an extended homage to The King written by former Elvis impersonator Quentin Tarantino. In 2002, the elderly rocker


On Public Enemy’s ferocious 1989 single “Fight The Power”, Chuck D aligns The King with decades of American racism, booming “Elvis was a hero to most but he never meant shit to me”. Many have tried

to slur Presley with allegations of Klan-style bigotry based on his dirt-poor Southern roots, conveniently ignoring that he spent his youth singing in black bars, recorded songs by black writers and performed with black artists. But as PE’s militant mainman explains, Presley’s cultureblurring genius still played into the hands of a racist music industry hungry for a white artist playing black music.

“I detested the iconic building up of Elvis because it pretty much obscured every element of black creation all around him,” says Chuck. “He was a door, a gateway through to the roots. In the beginning of his career he admitted where the roots came from, but did anybody care? After a while they just started to leave that part out of the story. The whole American building of his icon that made it seem like he was the king of everything and there was nothing before him – that’s what never meant shit to me. But as a talent, he was unquestionably brilliant.”

Chuck D: Elvis was never much of a Public Enemy fan either



Clinton is a huge fan of his fellow Good Ole Boy made good, even turning the White House into his very own Disgraceland of illicit pleasures. According to Basic Instinct screenwriter Joe Eszterhas in his scandalous and heavily fictionalised 2001 memoir American Rhapsody, America’s first rock’n’roll president even had a special nickname for the hunka burning love in his pants. Yep, you guessed it: “Elvis”. “You know, Bush is always comparing me to Elvis in sort of unflattering ways,” Clinton said of George Senior during their 1992 election showdown. “I don’t think Bush would have liked Elvis very much, and that’s just another thing that’s wrong with him.”

Bill Clinton: “Elvis” thankfully not pictured

even joined forces with JFK at a haunted retirement home in Don Coscarelli’s pulp horror comedy, Bubba Ho-Tep. As a graphic image alone, Elvis is everywhere today – on stamps and tea towels, websites and T-shirts. From Andy Warhol’s silkscreen cowboy prints in New York to guerrilla graffiti in Berlin of The King’s face superimposed onto Che Guevara’s head. From highbrow to kitsch, there is an Elvis for every taste. But The King is beyond bad taste now. Like Everest, he is simply there, and these days there is little bit of Elvis in everyone. Simply take your pick which King you want: the youthful rebel, the kitsch cabaret entertainer, the wacko conspiracy generator or the earthly Messiah figure – not forgetting the supernaturally gifted and hugely influential singer. Elvis Presley is not dead. He lives on Morrissey’s glittering stage backdrop, spelling out his name in towering lights in wry homage to The King’s 1968 Comeback Special. He lives on in Liam Gallagher’s lip-curling sneer and “TCB” tattoo, a reference to the Memphis Mafia motto Taking Care of Business. He lives on in Eminem’s anti-authority swagger, Jack White’s delirious Delta-blues yelp, Josh Homme’s chemically crazed redneck rampage, Polly Harvey’s whip-cracking voodoo yowl, Nick Cave’s gospel-punk mania and a million more crazed cultural echoes. He lives on in all of us. Elvis is everywhere. We are all his children now. The biggest and weirdest personality cult on the planet, The King is still as alive today as he was when he first unleashed the frenzied teenage desires of the world half a century ago. Elvis may have left the building, but his truth is marching on.

REM scored one of their biggest singles back in 1992 with “Man On The Moon”, a lopsided tribute to the ill-fated comedian Andy Kaufman, a frequent onstage Elvis impersonator. After asking Andy if he is “goofing on Elvis” in the lyric, Michael Stipe throws in his own brief Presley impersonation. The tune later became the title theme to Milos Forman’s biopic starring Jim Carrey. But as Stipe later explained, it was never originally written as a homage to Kaufman or Presley. “I was spending a lot of time with Nirvana,” Stipe told MTV. “I told Kurt I was going to write a song that had more ‘yeahs’

in it than anything he’d written. I certainly didn’t intend to present Andy Kaufman as a central character. What the song is about, I think, is some crackpot theories of the ’70s, the most primary being that NASA and the US military and the government conspired to fake the 1969 moonwalk. Second, that Elvis Presley was still alive.
Andy Kaufman goofing on Elvis

And then, in 1984 when Andy Kaufman, Elvis impersonator and prankster extraordinaire, died, the rumour began that he had faked his own death. And that’s what “Man On The Moon” is about.”



Francisco record shop (he was fired for incompetence), and just before a tour with REM

Metaphor alert! Actually concerns a reconciliation between black and white America and between a father and son


Hopefully this will be the only U2-related track ever to feature Howie B on “decks” and Bono attempting rap

From the band’s brilliant 1988 debut, this mixed a new CJ track with the Rogers and Hart classic ‘Blue Moon’. It has since appeared on the soundtrack of six (rubbish) Hollywood films



The last album the lanky banjo-botherer ever recorded. In all honesty, not this, or any other season’s, must have recording

Should have been on Nebraska, but wasn’t. A short, sweet and rather moving rockabilly number about a guy – could it be Elvis? – who dies of a drugs overdose

From the duo’s Chill Out album, this features not so much an Elvis sample, as almost the entire vocal from The King’s 1969 classic, “In The Ghetto”

MacColl’s first Top 20 hit from 1981, suggested a novelty future that, happily, was not to follow



A biting indictment of those idiotic idiots in gold shades who don’t understand how they’re, like, the absolute opposite of what Elvis actually stood for

From The Unforgettable Fire, this was Eno and U2’s valiant attempt at improvisation.


Recorded in London in 1988 just after Hitchcock had spent three weeks working incognito in a San

Presents Presley as an anti-hero. Never shies from The King’s inglorious end, wasted talent and sad legacy

Cave was so fascinated with the birth of Presley that he immortalized it twice, here and (albeit obliquely) in his novel, And The Ass Saw The Angel

uninterested in procreation on this jaunty polka number.

my gun/And aimed it at Shep’s head”.On reflection, more sinister than weird.

This cut from the Paradise, Hawaiian Style soundtrack is notable for the fact that its constantly increasing speed sounds like Elvis is running down a very steep hill while singing.

A shrimp leaves his parents to visit the big city. He is eaten, but perhaps more shocking is the fact that this song is delivered with a straight face.

Olé! More bull-related oddness as a vicious bovine is tamed by a comely female matador.

On which the King complains about his intense dislike of yoga. Features the immortal line “I should probably take this yoga serious/but all I get is a pain in my posterious”.

A bold attempt to squeeze an explanation of Big Bang theory, Darwinism and the meaning of existence into three and a half minutes.

Infinitely zippier than its bureaucratic title would suggest, this is still a distinctly strange subject for a song.

This cut from 1963’s Fun In Acapulco shows how brazen Elvis’ movie scriptwriters could be in using songs to advance the plot, no matter how ridiculous their titles.


Elvis berates a prize steer for being

Hear Elvis croon his sadness at having to put down his faithful hound. “With hands that were trembling/I picked up


Pained and heartfelt lament about having to hand over high levels of income to Uncle Sam in the form of taxes.



21 Number of Elvis singles

to make number one in the UK charts – more than any other artist (including The Beatles, with a mere 17)
THE OFFICIAL ELVIS WEBSITE – Salacious rumour and innuendo not welcome WWW.ELVIS.COM ELVIS’ STUFF Stale-smelling Presley DNA for sale here WWW.ELVISOWNED.COM ELVIS MEETS NIXON Not one of America’s proudest moments

25 Amount in

dollars Elvis received for his fi rst nightclub gig, at the The Eagle’s Nest in Memphis

23,000 Amount in dollars 31 Number of films Elvis
made in his career Amount of money, in US dollars, the movies took at the box office

43 Number of songs written
for Elvis by his most prolific songwriters, Sid Tepper and Roy C Bennett

a pair of designer sunglasses belonging to Elvis were sold for at auction in 1994

Elvis’ shoe size



150 Number of Elvis singles and albums certified gold, platinum or multi-platinum by the Recording Industry Association Of America (RIAA) 12 Number of Top 40 hits
Elvis had on the UK charts in 1957. The Wedding Present equalled this record in 1992 on the UK Top 30 singles chart on two occasions in November 1957

GIRLS’ GUIDE TO ELVIS Jus’ lookit them thighs! Swoon! Etc etc

1956 Year in which Elvis became a millionaire 45 Calibre of the army issue side-arm Elvis took with him everywhere he went 6 Elvis’
height in feet

3764 Street number of

SIGHTINGS OF ELVIS From people who live with their curtains closed

Graceland, which is located on Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee

7 Number of hits Elvis had 14 Number of Grammy

ELVIS KILLED JFK! What the internet was invented for

22 MILLION Number of 1:43 Length, in minutes and seconds, of “Teddy Bear” (1956), Elvis’ shortest US Number One single 999 Number of UK

copies sold worldwide of “It’s Now Or Never” (1960), Elvis’ biggest-selling single

ELVIS’ CADILLACS As rare as pandas. Fiat Pandas

nominations received by Elvis in his lifetime from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS). He won three, all for gospel recordings of shows Elvis performed at the International Hotel in Las Vegas during his fi rst four-week residency in 1969

ELVIS DISCOGRAPHY A record collector’s window shopping paradise, Elvis style


57 Number

THE FIRST CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST ELVIS Not entirely serious, we reckon


Number One singles before Elvis’ “One Night” became the 1000th top seller on 16 January, 2005

ELVIS COOKBOOK RECIPES Free defibrillator with every copy

600,000 Annual visitors to
Graceland, which is now on the US National Register Of Historic Places

THE LOST ELVIS JOURNALS A bit like the Hitler Diaries only with better gags

FIRST HOUSE ELVIS BOUGHT $29,100 worth of white-trash nastiness

“Elvis had an influence on everybody with his musical approach. He broke the ice for all of us.”

Al Green
“Describe Elvis Presley? He was the greatest who ever was,is or ever will be” “No-one, but no-one, is his equal, or ever will be. He was, and is supreme.”

“Elvis was a major hero of mine. I was probably stupid enough to believe that having the same birthday as him actually meant something.”

“Before Elvis there was nothing.”

John Lennon
“When we were kids growing up in Liverpool, all we ever wanted to be was Elvis Presley.”

David Bowie
“When I first heard Elvis’ voice I just knew that I wasn’t going to work for anybody: and nobody was going to be my boss. Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail.”

Mick Jagger
“He was the most popular man that ever walked on this planet since Christ himself was here.”

Paul McCartney
“Elvis is the best ever, the most original. He started the ball rolling for us all.”

Chuck Berry
“I wasn’t just a fan, I was his brother. He said I was good and I said he was good: we never argued about that. Elvis was a hard worker, dedicated, and God loved him. Last time I saw him was at Graceland. We sang “Old Blind Barnabus” together, a gospel song. I love him and hope to see him in heaven. There’ll never be another like that soul brother.”

Carl Perkins
“People don't realise what they had ’til it's gone. Like President Kennedy – there’s nobody like him. Like The Beatles, there will never be anything like them. Like my man, Elvis Presley. I was the Elvis of boxing."

Bob Dylan
“I remember Elvis as a young man hanging around the Sun Studio. Even then, I knew this kid had a tremendous talent. He was a dynamic young boy. His phraseology, his way of looking at a song, was as unique as Sinatra’s. I was a tremendous fan.”

Jim Morrison
“Elvis was God-given, there’s no other explanation. A messsiah comes around every few thousand years, and Elvis was it this time.”

Little Richard
“Elvis is my religion. But for him, I’d be selling encyclopedias right now.”

James Brown

Muhammad Ali

BB King

Bruce Springsteen

Two for the price of one: Elvis at the Warwick Hotel, New York, 1956

The definitive guide to the must-have compilations, books and DVDs

The essential best-ofs, boxsets, alternative takes and live recordings BY SIMON GODDARD
Artist Of The Century

If you’re going to dig your hand in your pocket and buy just one Elvis collection, make it this. Compiled in 1999 through a poll of fans, celebrities and critics (Uncut included), Artist Of The Century really is the best of Elvis. All the hits, but none of the kitsch (miraculously, no “Wooden Heart”), alongside essential aficionados’ fare such as Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” and the untamed fury of “Tiger Man”. Simply, to die for.

The King Of Rock'n'Roll – The Complete Fifties Masters (5CD RCA/BMG)
The first, and best, of three, early ’90s boxsets. Collectors will also need its ’60s (From Nashville To Memphis) and ’70s (Walk A Mile In My Shoes) sequels.

The second of the two intimate ‘boxing ring’ sets from the Comeback Special in its raw, glorious unedited entirety. Also recommended are the accompanying Memories two-CD set and the hardcore-fansonly Burbank ’68.

Tiger Man (RCA/BMG)

A Golden Celebration

Suspicious Minds(2CD RCA/BMG)

Platinum – A Life In Music

Originally released on vinyl in 1985 (reissued on CD in 1998) this brilliant set gathers together live and home recordings beside the soundtracks to Elvis’ early, explosive TV appearances on Stage Show, The Steve Allen Show and The Ed Sullivan Show.

Sunrise (2CD RCA/BMG)

A two-CD anthology of the 1969 Memphis sessions that spawned the classic From Elvis In Memphis, inlcuding the immortal “Suspicious Minds” itself.

A riposte to The Beatles’ 1 compilation, this crudely packaged double CD should be owned by everyone.




There have been numerous collections of Elvis’ Sun recordings, but none to rival this 1999 double-disc set that compiles all five of the original Sun singles along with alternate takes and rare live recordings. Utterly essential.

Though the subject matter may not be to everyone’s taste, this triple set of Elvis’ complete gospel recordings contains some of his most breathtaking vocal performances, not least “How Great Thou Art ”.

Peace In The Valley (3CD RCA/BMG)

The 1997 boxset that kick-started the ‘alternate takes’ industry, primarily of interest to serious fans only. Equally intriguing are the similar four-CD sets Today, Tomorrow & Forever and Close Up.

Live In Las Vegas

The 50 Greatest Hits

Mainly taken from his first three years in Vegas – but also including four recordings from his first, somewhat less successful stint at Vegas’ New Frontier hotel in May 1956 – this is the more thorough big brother to RCA’s slimmer, if equally recommended, three-CD special edition of the Vegas-era That’s The Way It Is album which also includes a fine CD of rehearsals.

From exhaustive biographies and moving personal accounts to conspiracy theories and cookbooks BY SIMON GODDARD
Last Train To Memphis/ Careless Love Elvis Aaron Presley – The Rough Revelations From The Memphis Mafia Guide To Elvis PAUL SIMPSON


Not just the best Elvis books but, cumulatively, the Citizen Kane of rock biographies. It’s hard to imagine anybody ever topping this epic, intricate narrative spread across two volumes.

Extraordinary oral history, delivered talking-head style by Graceland Mafioso Marty Lacker, Lamar Fike and his cousin, Billy Smith. Revealing, uproariously funny but, ultimately, heartbreaking stuff.

Superb pocketsized directory of the life, the man, the movies and the music. Both authoritative and entertainingly idiosyncratic, while exploding at the seams with trivia. The ultimate novice’s starting point.

The Colonel – The Dead Elvis – A Extraordinary Story Chronicle Of A Of Colonel Tom Parker Cultural Obsession GREIL MARCUS And Elvis A collection Presley of essays and

chin-stroking Biography of the meanderings man who both made from America’s and destroyed Elvis. Nash maintains journalistic objectivity, leading rock academic on Elvis’ allowing the reader to judge just how cultural impact. Dilligent, but not without humour. big a shit Parker actually was.

Elvis And Me

Elvis ’56 – In The Beginning

The wife’s story may be a sanitised Mills & Boon-style affair (even their kinky Polaroid sex sessions are remembered through rose-coloured specs), but it’s an enjoyable page-turner nonetheless.


The Life & Cuisine Of Elvis Presley

That’s Alright, Elvis

Is Elvis Alive?

Chronicling the very moment that Elvis set America alight in 1956, Wertheimer’s legendary photo book remains one of the few records of the ultimate icon up close and personal.

Taking the theory that you are what you eat, this Elvis cookbook says much more about his psyche than its inane pretence may suggest. The literary antonym of Dr Atkins’ New Diet Revolution.

Among the better ‘my life with Elvis’ titles is this poignant memoir from guitarist Scotty Moore. Affectionate without lapsing into mawkish sentimentality, Moore’s narrative is tinged with genuine sadness.

Elvis conspiracy books are an industry unto themselves. Original copies came with a cassette of an alleged 1981 phone call from The King. 100 per cent bullshit, but hysterical.

The best of The King’s movies, rare live footage and TV appearances – including the full, uncut Comeback Special BY ANTHONY THORNTON
Elvis – The Ultimate Collection
A five-hour twodisc collection of the American TV series that gives an uncritical look at five facets of Elvis: The Memphis Years, The Television Years, The Hollywood Years, The Memphis Mafia, The Comeback Special and The Las Vegas Years.

Elvis – The ’68 Comeback Special

Across three discs, this includes the entire uncut TV special (including the bordello sequence that was deemed too risqué to show at the time), both of the original sit-down shows in full and out-takes galore.


Classic Albums – Elvis Presley
This DVD including great interviews with Sam Philips, Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana explores Elvis’ first long-player and his transition from Sun to major label RCA. It also features some great TV footage from the time.

Elvis – Aloha from Hawaii (DELUXE EDITION DVD)
Not as obvious an artefact as the Comeback Special, this two-disc edition nevertheless captures Elvis in magnificent form in January 1973. You get the TV special and both the rehearsal concert and actual concert in full.

Elvis ’56

This was the year that the whole world fell for Presley’s charms and this DVD captures him through TV and rare footage on Stage Show and, of course, the legendary appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show filmed from the waist up.

Elvis – That’s The Way It Is (SPECIAL EDITION)
Filmed in 1970, Dennis Sanders’ documentary was re-edited in 2000 to include even more footage of the show at the International Hotel and rehearsals, revealing just how good the TCB band really were..

He Touched Me – The Gospel Music Of Elvis Presley

King Creole

Devoted to Elvis’ uncelebrated passion for gospel, good archive footage from the ’50s to the ’70s shows what a feeling he had for the music of his childhood.

One of Elvis’ best movies, certainly in the sense that there’s a decent story (based on real events). Elvis is impressive as the teenager attempting to escape his upbringing and the clutches of Walter Matthau. Great songs, too.

The two biggest stars of the 20th century together in 1960. While only featuring three actual Elvis performances, the duet in which they ape each other is priceless.

The Frank Sinatra Jailhouse Rock Show – Welcome Elvis’ greatest movie (although it could also Home Elvis

be Viva Las Vegas), this 1957 flick features the iconic “Jailhouse Rock” sequence (choreographed by Elvis himself) and, of course, a clutch of great songs.





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