Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has entered the building. One of the biggest cultural icons of all time. 21 UK number 1s – more than any other act. Despite his star perhaps dimming in recent years, Elvis still leaves behind a hell of a legacy. Whether you’re a fan or not, you’d be a fool to argue that without him, pop music would not have become the phenomenon it did in the 50s.
Elvis Aaron Presley entered the world on 8 January 1935. Born and raised in a two-room shotgun house built by his father in Tupelo, Mississippi, his identical twin brother was delivered stillborn 35 minutes before him. He was close to his parents, but especially his mother.
This shy, unassuming boy made his first public performance at the age of 10, performing Old Shep at a singing contest. He came fifth. A few months later he was given a guitar for his birthday. Presley wasn’t that excited, but he took up lessons with two uncles anyway. It was another year before he worked up the courage to perform in public, and he would play and sing at school. He even managed a radio performance after being too frightened at the first opportunity.
In November 1948 the Presleys moved to Memphis, Tennessee. Despite ridicule from students for being a shy ‘mama’s boy’, and being told by his music teacher that he was no good, Presley grew in confidence, and by 1950 he had adopted his trademark sideburns and quiff. Three years later he wowed the audience at another talent show. And then he visited Sun Records. He paid to record My Happiness/That’s When Your Heartaches Begin, a two-sided acetate, as a gift for his mother.
Presley recorded another acetate, but failed auditions to join several bands and so he became a truck driver. However, Sun owner Sam Phillips was on the lookout for a white singer to capture the sound of black music, astutely recognising that doing so would be lightning in a bottle.
Phillips invited Presley back to Sun in July 1954 to record a ballad called Without You. It didn’t work out, but at the end of the session, Presley picked up his guitar and belted out a rendition of That’s All Right. A single was quickly pressed and the phenomenon began.
Supporting Slim Whitman on tour, Presley’s legendary leg-shaking became part of the legend, partly due to nervousness and partly through sheer energy from the music and excitement of the moment.
By the summer of 1955 Presley had acquired a new advisor called Colonel Tom Parker, and he had support slots with Bill Haley & His Comets. Rapidly gaining momentum, his first single to chart in the UK was I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone at number 21.
The following year he had signed with RCA Victor and recorded his eponymous debut LP – one of rock’n’roll’s milestones. The hits came thick and fast in the UK, yet despite Hound Dog, Blue Suede Shoes, Heartbreak Hotel and Love Me Tender being among his finest material, and all very popular, it took All Shook Up to finally earn him his first UK number 1.
Why? In the past I’ve reasoned that perhaps the more conservative record-buyers found him too dangerous to begin with, and considering how safe All Shook Up sounds compared to some of his earlier material, I might have had a point, but there’s also a more practical reason. To try and capitalise on his immense fame, all his previous singles were released very close to each other, and they ‘split the vote’, to steal a phrase. All Shook Up bucked this trend.
The origins of the song vary depending on which story you believe. It was credited to Otis Blackwell and Elvis though, and was the last time ‘the King’ received a songwriting credit. Allegedly, Blackwell was in Shalimar Music’s offices when Al Stanton, one of the owners, shook a bottle of Pepsi and suggested Blackwell write a song about being all shook up. However, Elvis claimed in an October 1957 interview that he once had a weird dream and woke up ‘all shook up’, and told Blackwell. But then actor David Hess, who used to go by the stage name David Hill, released his first version of the song just before Presley, and he claims he invented the title, Blackwell wrote it, and Elvis demanded a credit from Blackwell in order to get Presley to sing it. So, who knows?
What I do know is that All Shook Up is a pretty unassuming number. Maybe it’s that I’ve never been a huge Elvis fan (despite this song being the earliest number 1 I had in my collection before starting this blog). I get his cultural significance, I can see the charisma and influence, I just don’t always enjoy his songs. Having said that, I’d be an idiot to not appreciate some of his classic material. I guess this serves as an effective introduction to Presley. All the vocal mannerisms are there, and it’s a good showcase for his voice. I find the backing vocals from The Jordanaires a little wet though, and the piano backing is very bland. But it has left me wanting to know what a ‘fuzzy tree’ is.
All Shook Up spent most of the summer on top of the charts and began Elvis’s record run of number 1s. The best was yet to come.
Written by: Otis Blackwell & Elvis Presley
Producer: Steve Sholes
Weeks at number 1: 7 (12 July-29 August)
Television presenter Fern Britton – 17 July
Figure skater Robin Cousins – 17 August
Snooker player Steve Davis – 22 August
Comedian Stephen Fry – 24 August
Painter David Bomberg – 19 August
20 July: Prime Minister Harold Macmillan coined a phrase that made history. Still less than a year into his new role, he made an optimistic speech to Conservative Party members in Bedford stating that ‘most of our people have never had it so good’. In further good news for the country, and on the same day, Stirling Moss finished the British Grand Prix at Aintree in first position, driving a Vanwall VW5, the first British Car to win a World Championship race.
5 August: The much-loved cheeky Northern cartoon character Andy Capp appeared in The Daily Mirror for the first time.