Friday, August 15, 2008


Thirty-one years ago tomorrow, I was mowing the back yard on a typical, hot, sunny, Long Island afternoon. For no reason in particular, my mind was reflecting on the previous summer, when I went on a cross-country trip which stopped at Graceland. I also purchased a copy of the humor magazine, The National Lampoon. On the cover was a cartoon portrait of a very out-of-shape, sweaty, overweight Elvis Presley, and I was wondering how he could let that happen to himself.

Taking a break from the heat, I went inside to get a cold drink, and turned on my radio for a few minutes. As usual, my tuner was set to WNEW-FM. It was there I learned of Elvis Presley's death.

At the time, I was not a big Elvis fan. The only Presley record I owned was a seven inch 45, on the RCA Red Labelled Gold Standard series, of "Hound Dog" b/w "Don't Be Cruel", which I bought after I saw John Lennon perform the A-side at Madison Square Garden. I knew Presley was one of the most important, groundbreaking, and influential artist in history, but it was difficult to fathom. The Beatles and just about every other artist said that hearing Elvis changed their lives, so you could not ignore his impact. It's not like today when you want to find about about someone, you just log onto your computer. In 1969, by which time I had a transistor radio, Elvis had a hit with "In The Ghetto", which seemed as un-rock and roll as you can get. It felt like it's something you 'd like when you grew up.

I was still interested in The King, however. I remember the press conference announcing his first ever New York concerts in 1972 - thinking he looked incredibly cool, and wondering what took so long for him to finally play Madison Square Garden. I also watched his "Aloha From Hawaii" special, and remember being disappointed that he rushed through older hits like "Hound Dog". Yet I was still in awe of his power, talent, and charisma.

I learned from someone who was in music retail at the time, that RCA stopped pressing all other albums right after Elvis' death, and went to a 24-hour-a-day schedule for re-pressing the Presley vinyl catalog. (I also learned that one of the casualties was Iggy Pop's RCA LP "Lust For Life" ). The label also canceled all promotional discount deals previously offered to retailers used to promote Elvis' recent hit album "Moody Blue". One of the benefits for me was that once all of the hoopla died down, much of his catalog was available at record stores at deeply discounted prices. So I invested $9.99 on a 4-LP box set -- "50 Worldwide Hits"-- which I probably listened to all the way through once, which was a bit overwhelming. A few years later, I was in London, and frequently heard Elvis songs on the radio there. I'd hear a great song like "Devil In Disguise", and wonder if I had it on the box set. It turned out I did. So when I returned home, I got into the box set, then also purchased the legendary "Sun Sessions". It finally sunk in. I knew why the Fabs, and others, called him "The King".

Of course, most Fab fans know that The King and The Mop Tops met in 1965 (with contradictory accounts), that a totally zonked-out Elvis tried to turn the Fabs in as a bad influence on youth, and that John said that Elvis died when he went into the army. Lennon also had to decide which version of "Blue Suede Shoes" should open up his 1969 Toronto gig (he chose the original, slower, Carl Perkins version).

Yet John's respect for Presley always remained. Besides his impromptu Elvis cover at The One-To-One concerts, I remember reading that Lennon didn't want to cover any of the King's tunes on his mid-1970s "Rock'N'Roll" oldies collection because he felt intimidated by Presley's original versions. While being interviewed by Tom Snyder on the "Tomorrow" show in 1975, John credited seeing an Elvis movie in a theater as the catalyst to deciding on music as a career. Lennon saw the girls screaming at the Memphis Flash, and thought to himself, "That looks like a good job!".

While being interviewed by Howard Stern, Paul said he loved Elvis' version of "Yesterday", and was amused that The King got the lines wrong so that they no longer made any sense.

The Beatles covered Presley songs well into their solo careers. To celebrate the career of the King, here's a partial list of some Elvis-associated music that the Fabs performed throughout the years. Maybe you'll feel like digging a few of these tracks out on the 16th.

Lennon: Hound Dog (Live in NYC)/Since My Baby Left Me (Menlove Ave.)
McCartney: That's All Right Mama (Sun tribute-with Scotty & DJ); Just Because (Choba B CCCP); It's Now Or Never (Last Temptation Of Elvis); Blue Moon Of Kentucky/Good Rockin' Tonight (Unplugged); All Shook Up/I Got Stung/Party (Run Devil Run).
Starr: Don't Be Cruel (CD5)
Beatles: Sit Right Down And Cry Over You/I Forgot To Remember/I Got A Woman (BBC); Blue Suede Shoes/Shake, Rattle and Roll (Anthology)
Hidden Bonus Track: It's Now Or Never (David Frost Show)

Of course, you can also play some of Elvis' Beatles' covers, like "Something", "Get Back" (part of a medley with "Little Sister"), and the afore-mentioned "Yesterday" . . . or you could play The Beatles' "Run For Your Life" back-to-back with Elvis' "Baby Let's Play House" . . .

Thankyewverrymuchladiesangennlemen . . .

Yer Blogger has left the building . . . .

1 comment:

Apollocvermouth said...

Thanks for sharing that! I remember when I first heard Elvis had died. I thought it was a joke! My family was at the New Jersey shore on vacation. We had just come back to the hotel where we were staying (after walking on the boardwalk) when the guy behind the counter said, "Did you hear? Elvis Presley died and Son of Sam escaped from jail!" I was like, "Yeah! Right!" ,but I saw the newspaper the next day and I found out the first part was true. At the time, I shrugged. To me, Elvis had become a parody of himself. However, I had just gotten into the Beatles. A friend of mine at the time (who had gotten me into the Beatles) had read John Lennon's statement that "If there was no Elvis, there would have been no Beatles!" which puzzled me. I later found out how influential Elvis (his early records, anyway) had influenced so many rockers. Thanks again for sharing! Keep up the good work!