On 16th August 1977 I was sat at my Nan’s house watching Reginal Bosanquet, the Olly Reed of newsreaders, read the Ten O’Clock News on ITV. In those days they had a telephone on their desk. A ubiquitous but never used prop. Just as the bulletin was nearing its end, in the spot where we’d usually get the story of the skateboarding alligator or Evel Kenival’s latest stunt, Reggie said that we have “very sad news coming to us that the singer, Elvis Presley, has died at his home in Memphis.”
My cousin Lee was the only other person in the room. What? We looked at each other in stunned silence.
Then Reggie picked up the phone. Five seconds later he replaced the handset saying that the reports concerning the possible death of Presley were as yet unconfirmed. And then, on that bombshell, he bid us goodnight.
Well, as we all know, unless he slipped away to Africa or the moon with Jim Morrison and Lord Lucan, Elvis did indeed leave the building on that afternoon (Memphis time) 32 years ago.
Yes, you may not have guessed it from all these posts I’ve been writing about Scott Walker, Love, The Fall, The Mamas and Papas, Blur, The Stones, Pulp, etc but I am a fully paid up Presleytarian. Yes, sir, the King may be dead, but long live the King.
Here’s my Top Dozen (for today).
1. Baby Let’s Play House ~ I wrote a six hundred word essay on this song once for a now obsolete website. One of the legendary Sun singles recorded by Sam Phillips, the genius who kept in Elvis’ laugh near the end. You won’t hear it on this live clip, but, if you haven’t got it, buy the Sun Sessions. Along with Forever Changes, What’s Going On, The Village Green Preservation Society and Are You Experienced it’s one of the essentials. ‘Twas my dad’s favourite too.
2. Crawfish ~ Don’t take my word for it, this was Joe Strummer’s and my aunt Penny’s favourite. From the beginning of his best film King Creole.
3. If I Can Dream ~ 1968: the year of worldwide student demos, the Soviets rolling into Prague, Paris riots, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. In December, Elvis, the one-time King of rock’n’roll whose career had devolved into that of the lightest of light entertainers via two dozen risible movies, planned his comeback. Was this the first step to him regaining the rock’n’roll crown? No, this was the first step to him becoming King of the world. The greatest showbiz figure ever, bigger than Jolson, Chaplin, Sinatra, Monroe and The Beatles put together. The ’68 Special was going well, but needed a finale. The Colonel wanted a Christmas number, but Elvis had set out a new agenda, he’d done the schmaltz, he was once again going to be a serious artist. Earl Brown was approached to write a number to close the show, they were under the cosh. He came up with the goods, Elvis dug the sentiment and in five takes it was in the can. Elvis was BACK ~ this time for good.
4. Stranger in My Own Home Town ~ The comeback continued. From now on Elvis was in charge of the material he sung and I dig this blues number from the 1969 Back in Memphis album.
5. Mystery Train ~ My mate Frank Skinner’s favourite, for what it’s worth. From his penultimate session with Philips at Sun. I could do you 600 words on this too but it stands up on its own without my ramblings. Simply awesome.
6. A Big Hunk o’ Love ~ Sits alongside Wear My Ring Around Your Neck, as one of his last two great rock’n’roll recordings.
7. Heartbreak Hotel ~ A stunning song which still sends shivers up the spine. Signed by RCA for a big sum, the young Presley had to come up with something good, something to convince the fat guys with the cigars that they hadn’t thrown the money down the pan. He gave them this strange song and the world was never quite the same again.
8. Patch it Up ~ I can’t tell you how much I love or how many times I’ve watched the documentary ‘Elvis – That’s the Way it is’ even though they goofed up the DVD by editing out the hilarious fan interviews. The first clip (yes, you get two versions) is from the movie. I love the cuts to the chicken in a basket crowd. They’re having the bloody time of their lives. They’re in a room with ELVIS – can you imagine such a thing? Elvis was really taking charge of his career by now. He had a shot hot band – James Burton, Ronnie Tutt, Charlie Hodge and Jerry Scheff (who also played with The Doors – how about that?!) not to mention the Sweet Inspirations and Jordanaires on backing vocals. He took charge of the arrangements and knew exactly what he wanted. I love the “hoah’s” and whoops and that he punctuates each song with, not to mention the odd “sing it, Charlie”. The second clip is one I hadn’t previously seen so I figured you might as well view it too.
9. Bridge Over Troubled Water ~ As I said, he took charge of the arrangements and knew exactly what he wanted, as demonstrated on this rehearsal clip from That’s the Way it is. His love of gospel, which I’m reasonably ambivalent about, shines through on this number. I don’t know why I love this, it’s a schmaltzy song made into something majestic by the King.
10. Viva Las Vegas ~ Probably the only decent song from that bunch of mushy films, though I’m willing to accept votes for Do The Clam from Girl Happy or Rock-a-Hula Baby from Blue Hawaii. I’ve got a great early take of this which was released a couple of years ago with a more languid arrangement. Nice.
11. American Trilogy ~ As if he hadn’t already conquered the world, I expect it was this that put him up there with George Washington, Abe Lincoln and John Wayne as an American icon. It became his epitaph. It’s easy to believe he thought he was on borrowed time when he sang this. I’ve witnessed an entire pub full of people brought to their knees by this being played on the jukebox. The whole place erupted into applause at its end.
12. Burning Love ~ I could go on all day. We could have had Hard Headed Woman, Suspicious Minds, In the Ghetto, Polk Salad Annie, Burning Love, Jailhouse Rock, Hound Dog, Good Rockin’ Tonight, That’s All Right, Way Down, A Little Less Conversation, Stop Look & Listen…
Elvis Presley 1935-1977 aka The King TCB RIP
Last Train to Memphis & Careless Love by Peter Guralnick
Elvis by Albert Goldman