Sunday, August 16, 2009

Remembering Elvis

On the anniversary of his death, we take a quick look back at Elvis Presley today in Forgotten Hits ... first with another Web Site EXCLUSIVE courtesy of Artie Wayne (who lent us HIS nostalgic look back from last year) ... and then with a critique of Elvis '69 ... a HUGE part of the Comeback Phase of his career.

First up ... Artie's piece ... a Forgotten Hits EXCLUSIVE!
(Thank you Artie!)
NOTE: This piece also incorporates links to what Artie has deemed to be Elvis' Twenty Greatest Video Hits!

On August 16, 1977, Elvis passes away at Graceland and the world mourns, but I feel guilty about crying over him. I was laughed at in my neighborhood, back in the Bronx, for liking and trying to emulate him. It angered the Black community that he allegedly said, “The only thing “Colored” people can do for me is shine my shoes and buy my records.” That afternoon my friend, DJ, Scott Shannon comes over to the house, and gives me a large picture book on Elvis and his life. I thank him with tears in my eyes and apologize for being so emotional. Then I tell him why I feel so badly. Then Scott says, “Artie, How could anybody who loved the blues, R&B and gospel music as much as Elvis did, ever say such a horrible thing. Isn’t listening to “In The Ghetto”, enough to convince you where his heart was really at?” I realize Scott’s right, and let go of those negative thoughts. I put on a cut by Elvis from the first album I ever had, a present from Mother 20 years ago.”

“Peace In The Valley”, by Elvis Presley from 1957 Ed Sullivan Show.

Then Scott and I sat around all afternoon and listened to Elvis’ best songs.

“Heartbreak Hotel”, from “Stage Show” 1956.

Alan O’Day (Rock And Roll Heaven, Undercover Angel) recalls, “I remember my high school innocence, my passionate love affairs that existed purely in fantasy, and the exquisite pain at being rejected by a girl I worshiped. It was probably the same week that I had bought the 45 of “Heartbreak Hotel”. But when I discovered the breakup ballad “I Was The One” on the “B” side, it reached right through to my heart. The lyric spoke to exactly what I was feeling, and made it poetry. Elvis was so real to me because he knew my suffering. It was a very personal experience, and helped shape me as a songwriter.”

“I Was The One”, ELVIS on the Ed Sullivan show.

EXTRA! Here is some lost newsreel footage of Elvis kidding around on stage.

“Don’t Be Cruel”, A clip from Ed Sullivan Show 1956.

“Hound Dog”, from Milton Berle “Texaco Star Theater” show 1956.

“In the summer of 1956, I went to visit some relatives in Portsmouth Ohio. I knew somehow it was going to be a special Sunday. I went to my first bar-b-que, had my first beer, and stole my first kiss. When we got back to my aunt and uncle’s house, everyone was hovering around the TV set mesmerized by some singer who’s on the Steve Allen TV show.

"He’s a cool looking guy with a pompadour, sideburns and a guitar who is singing to a hound dog. When I see my cousins and their friends screaming and crying, this electrifying moment changes my life forever! I’m 14 years old and up until now, I wanted to be either a Nuclear Physicist, or a Clown. Now I want to be a Rock and Roll Star … a Rock and Roll Star, just like Elvis Presley!”

“Hound Dog”, and Elvis sings to a Hound Dog, on the Steve Allen show 1956

“Love Me Tender”, Ed Sullivan show with clips from Elvis’ first movie!

“Jailhouse Rock”, Title song from the Hal Wallis 1957 movie.

“Baby, I Don’t Care”

“Treat Me Nice”, from “Jailhouse Rock”.

Publicist, Bobbi Cowan recalls, “As a teen, I saw him at the old Pan Pacific Auditorium … I used to hang at a hot dog stand on Beverly Blvd, near the entrance to Pan Pacific … it was called the Kosher Puppy … They had a jukebox that had all of Elvis’ early hits, and I went broke feeding nickels into that box, to hear “Teddy Bear,”

“Teddy Bear”, from “Loving You” 1957.

Ms. Cowan continues, “I must have been 17, or 18, when I was introduced to one of Elvis’ guys, and struck up a friendship with him. I think his name was James, and he invited me to come up to the house on Perugia Way in Bel Air. I would hang out, learned to shoot pool, but mostly just hang out. I’d watch Elvis, his entourage, the starlet- de- jour, all draped over a huge L-shaped couch, watching TV with the sound off, with Elvis’ music playing. He’d put a cigarette to his lips, and 10 guys would be there with lighters … An indelible image, this lanky, gorgeous, larger than life person, holding court night after night, while someone named Priscilla waited for him at something called Graceland … and yet, he was very sweet, very polite, very nice to me and the other young girls who were lucky enough to get an invitation to Perugia.”

“Trouble”, from “King Creole” 1958

“I’m excited when my uncle Mick tells me that a famous songwriter Sid Wyche (“Whole Lotta’ Shakin’ Goin’ On”), has just the second story of his two-family house. As I start to walk upstairs to play Sid a few of my songs, he runs down the stairs nearly knocking me and my uncle over. He apologizes, and excitedly says, that he just got a $10,000 check from Hill and Range Music, as an advance against royalties for a song that Elvis Presley just recorded, “Big Hunk Of Love”. Sid momentarily forgets that his wife is waiting for him in the car to go cash the check and takes us upstairs to play us Elvis’ record.

I’m screaming in hysterics, “Louder, Louder!” Sid’s jumping up and down and we ignore the horn frantically beeping outside as we play Elvis’ record over and over!”

“Big Hunk O’ Love”, by Elvis Presley.

“Can’t Help Falling In Love”, from “Blue Hawaii” 1961.

“After being a staff writer at Aldon Music (Carole King, Barry Mann, Neil Sedaka, etc.), and working with songwriter / producer Paul Vance (“Itsy, Bitsy, Teenie, Weenie, Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”, “Catch A Falling Star”), I went independent.
I started writing with music vet, Ben Raleigh (“Wonderful, Wonderful”, “Tell Laura I Love Her”), and as Ben and I start to place songs all over town, one of my dreams comes true. Ben takes me up to Hill and Range Music, to meet Freddy Bienstock, who runs Elvis Presley’s publishing companies. He asks us if we’d like to write a song for Elvis’ next movie, “It Happened At The World’s Fair”

I know this is my big chance, as Ben and I reach for the stars. We write a song for Elvis to sing on top of the Space Needle in Seattle, called “Where Do You Want The World Delivered?”

Although Col. Parker, calls and tells Ben and Me, that Elvis loves the song, and we’re definitely going to be in the film, we’re knocked out at the last minute by a beautiful songwriter, who is on the set and has Elvis’ ear (among other things).

Ben and I continue for the next year and a half to work on Elvis movies. Writing for, “Kid Galahad”, “Fun In Acapulco”, and “Kissin’ Cousins”. Unfortunately, none of our songs are used, but I treasure the advance checks we would receive from Gladys Music, which had Elvis’ picture on them! I swear I’ll never cash them unless I really need the money, which is usually an hour or so after I have the check in my hand.

“Return To Sender”, from “It Happened At The World’s Fair” 1963.

“Viva Las Vegas”, from the 1964 film.

“What I Say?” , from “Viva Las Vegas”, featuring Ann Margaret.

Singer / actor, Eddie Hodges, says, “Elvis was a quiet man when I met him. I had a very small role in his movie, “Live A Little, Love A Little,” but he was very kind to me. He didn’t mind when I had to do 5 or 6 takes of a very simple scene. He was at home on the movie set and very attentive. I guess I had expected him to be kind of wild and boisterous, but that was not the case. He ran lines with me, worked out a realistic way I was to knock him down in one scene and was friendly every day. He liked jokes and told some good ones. I was smoking a Dutch cigar one day and, when he asked about them, I gave a few to Elvis. The next day, there was a whole pack of those cigars on my chair on the set. We talked about karate and he showed me some moves – even had the prop man set up a brick for him to break. He liked my square-toed boots and asked me where I got them – I heard he bought a half-dozen pair like them in all available colors. We also talked about things we did back home in Mississippi, like squirrel hunting. His boys were around him all the time – I talked a lot with Charlie Hodge, Elvis was a great person, but kind of sad. I think he was getting a divorce from Priscilla about that time, and I felt sad for him. It was a memorable time. I never had any contact with Elvis after that. I could not help but be impressed with how down-to-earth and laid back he was.”

“A Little Less Conversation”, from “Live A Little, Love A Little”.

“Trouble”, “Elvis, ‘68 Comeback Special!”

“I visit Hollywood, for the first time , about a month after the Comeback Special airs, and meet the producer / director Steve Binder and musical director, Bones Howe (the 5th Dimension, the Turtles, the Association), at a screening. I congratulate Bones for being the first producer ever to get a production credit on an Elvis Presley record with, “I Can Dream”. Then Steve shared a couple of stories with me, that happened during the taping … I wanted to hear more but then the movie started.”

“In The Ghetto”, Live 1970 performance.

“Suspicious Minds”, Live Performance M-G-M Grand Hotel.

“You Were Always On My Mind”, Live + Elvis and Pricilla Home Movies!

“American Trilogy”, from “Live In Hawaii” 1975.

“My Way”, from ‘Live In Hawaii” Special.

“If I Can Dream”, from “Elvis ‘68 Comeback Special”.

“Even though Elvis has left the building … his spirit is alive in everyone who hears his music, sees his movies, or watch his videos! … ”

Scott Shannon adds … Elvis was more than just a performer, he impacted modern culture in so many ways, he changed the way people sang, dressed and behaved, both in America and around the world. To this day, you can go just about anywhere on this earth and say the one name: “Elvis”, and its pretty damn likely that you will get a response from someone.
and probably even a smile!

May you Rock In Perpetuity!
Elvis Presley 1/8/35 – 8/16/77
*From my forthcoming book, “I Did It For A Song”Copyright 2008 by Artie Wayne
Special thanks to Scott Shannon, Eddie Hodges, Bobbi Cowan , Alan O’Day, and Steve Binder, for their contributions to this tribute.


Thank you, Artie ... GREAT piece!

By 1969, Elvis was ready to reclaim his throne. The 1968 Comeback Television Special put him right back up on top ... fans wanted more and Elvis was ready to give it to them. After not touring for twelve years, the next stage of the comeback kicked into motion ... Elvis would return to the stage in Las Vegas, playing to sold out houses for the next several years as well as taking his act on the road again. (Truth is, Elvis had bombed in Vegas back in the mid-'50's ... but it was a different time ... and a different crowd ... back then. By 1969, the world was ready for Elvis again ... and he looked and sounded as good as ever.)

1968 gave him his first Top Ten Hit in over three years when "If I Can Dream", one of Elvis' most powerful readings, went to #9 in Cash Box Magazine. It was the grand finale of his Singer Television Special and showed Elvis at his strongest. 1969 would be even kinder.

It was important that they keep this momentum going. Elvis knew that he had the world's ear again ... and that his next batch of recordings HAD to continue to hold their attention. As such, it was decided that Elvis would return to his roots and start recording in Memphis again. The tracks recorded during these sessions would fill his next two albums ... and are considered amongst the best of his entire career.

He would hit The Top 40 FIVE more times in 1969: "Memories" (also from his TV Special) peaked at #24, "In The Ghetto" topped The Cash Box Chart in the spring, "Clean Up Your Own Backyard" (from one of Elvis' last contractually-obligated movies) peaked at #25, "Suspicious Minds" returned The King to the top of the charts with what has gone on to become one of his most enduring hits (we must hear it four or five times a day forty years later!) and he ended the year with a two-sided hit climbing the charts, "Don't Cry Daddy" / "Rubberneckin'", which would peak at #6 in early 1970.

And the string didn't end there ... 1970 also saw "Kentucky Rain", "The Wonder Of You", "I've Lost You", "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" and "I Really Don't Want To Know" all keep Elvis on the radio and in The Top 40. In 1972, he'd have has last chart-topper when "Burning Love" went to #1 on The Cash Box Chart.

1969 was a KEY year in Elvis' comeback ... the triumphant return to Vegas ... and a major presence on the pop charts was all The King could ever have hoped for. He was fit and trim and in excellent voice. In 1973 he would film his "Aloha From Hawaii" television special looking and sounding as good as he ever did. Hard to believe that just four short years later he was gone.

But Elvis is STILL big business today ... tours of Graceland, merchandise and re-releases of his material account for hundreds of millions of dollars of income each and every year. His music will live on forever, long after all of us are gone.


When Elvis decided to go back to Memphis to record his new material after the TV Special, it was with the full intent of becoming a vital force in the recording world again. Although he had hit Billboard's Pop Chart over 40 times between 1963 and 1968, only ONE of those records made The Top Ten after "Bossa Nova Baby" reached #8 in the Fall of '63 ... and THAT track ("Crying In The Chapel", #3, 1965) had actually been recorded back in 1960!!! Although Elvis released some pretty good material during this period (personal favorites include "It Hurts Me", #29, 1964; "Such A Night", #16, 1964; "Ain't That Loving You Baby", #16, 1964 ... but also recorded back in 1958; "Easy Question", #11, 1965; "Love Letters", #19, 1966; "Big Boss Man", #38, 1967 and "Guitar Man", #43, 1968), it was no longer music of the times. Between The British Invasion and the heavier sounds of the mid-to-late-'60's, Elvis' music was considered passe ... and recording all those lightweight movie soundtracks didn't help. (Of course, ONE of those movie hits, "Viva Las Vegas" has gone on to become one of Elvis' signature tunes ... but when it was first released as a single back in 1964, it only reached #29 ... in fact, the B-Side of that record ... Elvis' version of the Ray Charles tune "What'd I Say" ... performed better on the charts and became the official A-Side in the process!!!)

But he tore up the TV Screen when he did his Singer Television Special in 1968 ... the world saw a raw side of Elvis that they hadn't seen in a long, long time ... an image that did NOT come across in his films. As soon as his contractual obligation was over (his last film, "Change Of Habit", co-starred Mary Tyler Moore as a Nun, who fell in love with a heavy-side-burned Doctor Elvis!), Elvis knew it was time to get back to where he once belonged. (Beatles-pun intended!!!)

The Memphis Studio run by Chips Moman had put together an incredible string of hits in the mid-to-late '60's and they felt that they could work their magic with Elvis, too, if he'd open up to the idea. For perhaps the first time in his career, Elvis put his foot down with regards to The Colonel and recorded HIS kind of music on HIS terms. For the first time, he pushed the envelope ... by recording a song like "In The Ghetto", Elvis was traveling down a road he hadn't traveled on before ... a "Message Song" ... and it caused a fair amount of dissention amongst his crew of advisors and hangers-on. At least three or four times, Elvis was talked in and out of recording the song, a ground-breaking hit for songwriter Mac Davis. In fact, at one point Moman decided to cut the tune with football great Roosevelt Grier instead, thinking that it might hold more impact coming from a black entertainer. In theory, it COULD have been Grier's break-through hit. Finally, after much deliberation, Elvis insisted that he would cut the record himself and, in the process, he scored his first #1 Record in seven years.

Also recorded at that session was "Kentucky Rain", a song that wouldn't be released as a single until early 1970. It peaked at #10 and gave Eddie Rabbitt a kick-start in his own musical career.

But the song that REALLY made the difference was "Suspicious Minds".

Incredibly, the song had just been released a few months earlier by its songwriter, Mark James, and made absolutely NO impact on the charts. In that Chips Moman had produced that record, too, he already had a pretty good idea as to what he wanted to do with Elvis' version. Actually, the arrangement remained pretty faithful to the original ... but there was magic in the studio that night and, after just four takes, EVERYONE present knew that they had just cut a #1 Record.

(We don't need to feature Elvis' version of this tune today ... all you have to do is spin your radio dial tomorrow and you're likely to hear it four or five times all on your own. But how many of you have ever heard the Mark James ORIGINAL version??? Thanks to the ever-reliable Tom Diehl, we've got THAT version to share with you today ... which would be a GREAT addition to Scott Shannon's "Remakes Weekend" somewhere down the line, don'tcha think?!?!?)

We've also got ANOTHER monster Top Ten Hit recorded by Elvis that year ... and one you don't hear that often, despite its #6 showing on both of the national charts.

Mac Davis scored again when he wrote "Don't Cry Daddy", a late-1969 chart hit for The King. (This time even the B-Side tagged along ... "Rubberneckin'", which was used in one of the opening scenes in that Elvis film we just told you about, "Change Of Habit", was a fun rocker that STILL sounds great today! In fact, a remixed "club" version got some airplay a few years ago after the success of the revamped "A Little Less Conversation" became all the rage in Europe and ended up in the soundtracks of the film "Ocean Eleven" and television's "Vegas".

YA GOTTA WONDER: Chips Moman and his staff of cracker-jack studio musicians had put together quite an impressive string of hits over the years prior to Elvis deciding to record at American Studios in Memphis ... nearly a hundred in all, from the early hits of The Box Tops on through recent recordings by Aretha Franklin and Dusty Springfield (who cut her legendary "Dusty In Memphis" album there, ALSO released in 1969) ... so when Elvis decided that HE wanted to record at Chip's studio, it forced Moman to cancel or re-schedule a number of other previously booked engagements ... including one with Neil Diamond. Is it just a coincidence that one of the tracks Elvis recorded during these sessions was Diamond's "And The Grass Won't Pay No Mind"??? Or was this "part of the deal" to get Neil to reschedule his sessions? Or maybe it was just Elvis' way of saying "Thanks".

(According to Ernst Jorgensen, who documented ALL of Elvis' recording sessions in his EXCELLENT book "Elvis Presley: A Life In Music - The Complete Recording Sessions" this was, indeed, a deal struck between Diamond and Moman ... the unknown factor is whether or not Elvis knew anything about it!)

It is also a little bit surprising to hear that, despite the tremendous results of Elvis' sessions here, he never returned to record at American Studios again. (After four National Top Ten Hits ... In The Ghetto, Suspicious Minds, Don't Cry Daddy and Kentucky Rain ... including TWO #1 Records ... and a completely rejuveniated recording career ... you don't go back to the studio and producer who did this for you??? That seems just a little bit odd, doesn't it???)

The truth is, this may have had more to do with some of the politics and arguments going on behind the scenes than anything to do with a lack of respect for the success of the music. When Moman refused to give up any share of the publishing for the songs he brought to the sessions (and "Suspicious Minds" in particular) ... a common practice for pretty much everything that Elvis recorded, giving Elvis and The Colonel a piece of the action ... it pretty much killed any chances of these two working together again. Reportedly during one heated exchange, Chips told them to take a flying leap ... and threatened to block the release of any of this new material, telling The Colonel that he could just chalk it all up to being just one VERY expensive demo session. Bottom line was Moman was holding his ground and was NOT giving up ANYTHING in the way of publishing. After the dust finally settled, he reportedly told The Colonel, "Don't EVER come back to this studio again" ... and, after THAT exchange, they didn't!