289. Elvis Presley – The Wonder of You (1970)

The Wonder of You was Elvis Presley’s 16th and final number 1 in his lifetime. In the five years since his last number 1, Crying in the Chapel (which dated back to 1960), the King’s career had reached the doldrums, before a dramatic comeback. Sadly, though, The Wonder of You marked the beginning of another descent – his last one.

Presley proposed to Priscilla Beaulieu at Christmas 1966, seven years after they had first met, and they married in May 1967. Earlier that year he had released the Grammy-winning gospel album How Great Thou Art, but in October his soundtrack LP to his movie Clambake registered record low sales. The Summer of Love had just passed, flower power was everywhere, and Elvis couldn’t have been more out of fashion.

His manager Colonel Tom Parker made a deal for Presley to appear in a Christmas special on TV in December 1968. The singer was initially sceptical, and he had every reason to be, seemingly forever stuck releasing one dire film after another. However, once he got talking to the show’s director and co-producer Steve Binder, he realised this could be the chance to revitalise a failing career. He was proved right. The 68 comeback special, titled simply Elvis, featured lavish numbers, but everyone remembers the back-to-basic segments, in which he performed in tight leather in front of a small crowd (his first live performances since 1961). It was a return to the Elvis of the 50s, raw and fresh, with buckets of charisma. And he looked cool as fuck. No longer would the King be willing to do whatever he was told by Parker

Elvis kickstarted a purple patch in which the King was seemingly let off Parker’s tight rein, and he went on to record some of the best material of his career, particularly during the sessions for the 1969 album From Elvis in Memphis. The album closed with In the Ghetto, which reached number two on these shores, but was held off the top spot by Thunderclap Newman’s Something in the Air. Criminally, Suspicious Minds, probably my favourite Elvis song, also stalled at number two at the start of 1970 here, despite becoming his final US number 1.

Presley was keen to get back to regular live performances, and just when things were looking up for the new decade, Parker booked him to an initial run of 57 shows over four weeks at the new International Hotel in Las Vegas. Bill Belew, who had struck gold by coming up with the King’s leather look for his comeback, designed his first jumpsuit to wear. His initial Vegas show went down a storm, and Parker booked him a five-year run in which Presley would perform every February and August. The Jordannaires chose not to join him, and longtime collaborators guitarist Scotty Moore and drummer DJ Fontana also declined.

The Wonder of You was a live recording from one of his Vegas gigs of February 1970. It was the first live number 1 since Lonnie Donegan’s My Old Man’s a Dustman (Ballad of a Refuse Disposal Officer) in 1960. Thankfully it’s not as bad as that horror show of a song, but they are similar, in that Wonder of You represents the final slide into cabaret for a once vital, dangerous artist.

The song, written by Baker Knight, was originally a top 30 single for US singer Ray Peterson in 1959. It also became a hit for number 1 artists Ronnie Hilton, and The Platters too.

Elvis turns this into an anthem in which he pays tribute to the fans that have stuck by him through thick and thin. It even mentions him by his nickname, albeit inadvertently.
‘And when you smile the world is brighter
You touch my hand and I’m a king
Your kiss to me is worth a fortune
Your love for me is everything’

It’s one big love-in really, a drunken singalong, and the King and crowd alike are all having a whale of a time. But it all feels rather hollow with the knowledge of what was to come. Elvis’s next number 1 came after his death. His Vegas residency had transformed into a bloated drug-addled, depressed, darkly-comic version of the singer here.

Since its time at number 1, The Wonder of You has become associated with football clubs Port Vale, Arsenal and Scottish team Ross County.

Written by: Baker Knight

Weeks at number 1: 6 (1 August-11 September) 

Births:

Footballer Alan Shearer – 13 August
Snooker player Peter Ebdon – 27 August

Deaths:

Footballer Jesse Pennington – 5 September

Meanwhile…

9 August: Police battled with black rioters in Notting Hill, London.

20 August: England may have lost at the World Cup, but there was some good news for team captain Bobby Moore – he was cleared of stealing a bracelet in Colombia just before the tournament had begun.

21 August: The moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party was first established in Northern Ireland. 

26-31 August: The third Isle of Wight Festival took place, with music from Jimi Hendrix, The Who and The Doors. This was the last of the three original festivals there, and was the largest event of its kind for years, with anywhere between 500,000 and 700,000 attending.

9 September: BOAC Flight 775 was hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine after taking off from Bahrain. This was the first time a British plane had been hijacked.

198. The Hollies – I’m Alive (1965)

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Mancunian beat outfit The Hollies were one of the most popular acts of the era, ratcheting up many weeks in the top 10 from 1963 onwards. They may have only had one number 1 in the 60s, but they did topple Elvis Presley.

The nucleus of the group, Allan Clarke and Graham Nash, were friends from primary school who, like so many others, were keen skiffle fans. They were also admirers of The Everly Brothers and began modelling themselves on them, becoming known as Ricky and Dane Young. Soon after they joined up with a local band called The Fourtones.

In 1962 their guitarist Derek Quinn quit to join Freddie and the Dreamers, so Clarke and Nash also jumped ship. They teamed up with another Manchester band called The Deltas, who had just lost a member to The Mindbenders. The Deltas consisted of guitarist Vic Steele, bassist Eric Haydock and Don Rathbone on drums.

That December, they changed their name to The Hollies. Exactly why is unclear. It used to be said that Haydock came up with the name in relation to the festive season, but in 2009 Nash said it was a group decision and was influenced by Christmas and their mutual love of Buddy Holly.

The Hollies performed at the Cavern Club in Liverpool in January 1963, where they came to the attention of Parlophone assistant producer Ron Richards. He offered the band an audition, but Steele chose to quit as he didn’t want to turn professional. They replaced him with Tony Hicks, and they passed the audition, with Richards becoming their producer until well into the 70s. One of the songs they performed, a cover of the Coasters’ (Ain’t That) Just Like Me, became their debut single in May 1963. It did well, reaching number 25. After second single Searchin’, Rathbone chose to leave, and Hicks’ old bandmate Bobby Elliott became their new drummer.

In 1964 the Hollies went from strength to strength. Debut album Stay with the Hollies reached number two in the charts. And they scored hit after hit, most impressive of which was Just One Look. They stood out mainly due to the great harmonies of Clarke and Nash, and a tendency to pick strong songs to cover.  By September Clarke, Nash and Hicks were penning their own tunes and Richards agreed to let them record and release We’re Through as a single, which was another smash.

Some time in late 1964 or early 1965, Clint Ballard Jr approached the Hollies with a song he’d written especially for them. Ballard was a US songwriter who had discovered and managed The Kalin Twins, who had a UK number 1 with When in 1958. He had written Good Timin’ for Jimmy Jones, which went to the top in 1960. His timing with the Hollies was bad initially, as they passed on I’m Alive and it ended up in the hands of fellow Mancunians The Toggery Five. Perhaps they didn’t want to rely too much on covers, but they relented and recorded their own version in May and released it ASAP. And on 24 June the number 1 spot was finally theirs.

It’s all about the uplifting, anthemic chorus really, otherwise I’m not sure there’s much of a song there. But the harmonies are strong as ever and there’s some impressive drum fills too, so the group do the best they can with somewhat average material. I’ve already forgotten the verses but ‘I’m alive!’ is a nice earworm.

The Hollies battled with Presley for a few weeks, with Crying in the Chapel returning to number 1 after a week, but I’m Alive won the war and went back to the top for a further fortnight. It would be 23 years before an advertising campaign helped get the Hollies back to number 1 in 1988.

Written by: Clint Ballard Jr

Producer: Ron Richards

Weeks at number 1: 3 (24-30 June, 8-21 July)

Births:

Footballer Gary Pallister – 30 June
Labour MP David Miliband – 15 July
Dinah Rose, QC – 16 July
Academic Steve Webb – 18 July

Meanwhile…

8 July: After 15 months behind bars, Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs escaped from Wandsworth Prison. He scaled a wall with a rope ladder and dropped into a waiting removal van. The canny criminal then fled to Brussels.

12 July: Secretary of State for Education and Science Tony Crosland issued Circular 10/65, which set into motion the abolition of grammar schools and secondary moderns. One of the best actions Labour took during the Wilson government.

197. Elvis Presley with The Jordanaires- Crying in the Chapel (1965)

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After a two-year absence, Elvis Presley was back at the top for the 15th time with his cover of Crying in the Chapel.

‘The King’ had been in the doldrums somewhat since (You’re the) Devil in Disguise musically. His movie career was still very active, but the quality had continued to slide. Although Viva Las Vegas performed well in the summer of 1964. Presley turned 30 in 1965. Had he chose to respond to the British Invasion with a brave, bold new musical direction that had captured the imagination of record buyers once more?

Not quite. Crying in the Chapel actually dated from 1960, making it the longest gap for a number 1 single between the song’s recording and its release up to this point. The song was a gospel number written by Artie Glenn for his son Darrell in 1953. It reached number six in the US and was covered many times, by artists including Ella Fitzgerald and The Orioles. Elvis had grown up with a love of gospel, and recorded his version with the intention of including it on his fifth album His Hand in Mine, which was entirely gospel-based. However, by the end of the one long marathon recording session for the album, the band were exhausted, and The Jordanaires were particularly unhappy with their performance, so it was left off the album.

Colonel Tom Parker liked it, but at the time he refused to let Presley release anything his company didn’t own the publishing rights to, and Valley Publishing refused to do a deal, so the song stayed in the vaults. By 1965 though, Hill and Range Publishing had bought them out, and so Crying in the Chapel was finally released, and record buyers forgave any lethargy they may have heard to give Presley his final UK number 1 of the 60s.

It’s a pleasant enough song, with the hushed, intimate performance reminiscent of Are You Lonesome Tonight?, but the track isn’t anywhere near up to that standard. The production marks it as belonging to a different era, and it sounds so old-fashioned compared to most of 1965’s other chart-toppers. But it fitted in with the family-friendly image Presley had held on to since leaving the army, and the older generation must have been glad to see the once raunchy, dangerous Elvis back with a nice song about God.

Following the success of Crying in the Chapel, Parker thought there might be something in the idea of turning Presley into a Christian entertainer. Fortunately by the time of the 1969 comeback special, Elvis finally had the courage to travel his own path. Sadly, not for nearly long enough, though.

After a week at the top, Crying in the Chapel was usurped from number 1 by The Hollies with I’m Alive. A week later though it enjoyed one more week in pole position, before I’m Alive knocked it down again.

Written by: Artie Glenn

Producers: Steve Sholes & Chet Atkins

Weeks at number 1: 2 (17-23 June, 1-7 July)

Births:

Fashion designer Sadie Frost – 19 June
Radio DJ Jo Whiley – 4 July

Deaths:

Cricketer Wally Hammond – 1 July 

Meanwhile…

17 June: Frank Marcus’ farce The Killing of Sister George premiered at the Duke of York’s Theatre, becoming one of the first mainstream British plays to feature lesbian characters. Beryl Reid was in the title role.

18 June: The government announced plans for the introduction of a blood alcohol limit for drivers. Amazing it had taken so long, really.

22 June: The 700th anniversary of Parliament was celebrated.

6 July: A tragic accident happened in Little Baldon, Oxfordshire when a Royal Air Force Handley Page Hastings crashed just after take-off from RAF Abingdon on a parachute training exercise. All 41 men on board were killed.

154. Elvis Presley with The Jordanaires – (You're the) Devil in Disguise (1963)

Elvis’s chart fortunes had been falling in the US for a while, but now the same thing was happening in the UK. In 1960 and 1961 he’d scored four number 1s per year alone, but following his 1962 Christmas number 1, Return to Sender, he’d been unusually absent from the pole position. This may have been in part due to a rare lack of released singles, granted, but he was clearly not the force he had been. Some of his top songwriters had left his camp due to money issues, which was also having a knock-on effect.

(You’re the) Devil in Disguise had been written by one of his most prolific remaining teams, Bill Giant, Bernie Baum and Florence Kaye, who were behind many of the songs in his musicals. It was due to appear on a new album, but RCA chose to issue the material as singles and bonus tracks instead. The usual backing band were in place, as were The Jordanaires, plus Millie Kirkham joining them on backing vocals. Jordanaire bass singer Ray Walker was the man behind the deep ‘oh yes you are’ as the song fades out.

As patchy as Elvis’s songs had become, there’s a lot to like about this one. The switch between sweet and soulful and uptempo rock’n’roll may be an obvious trick, but it works, and of course Elvis has the vocal skills to pull both directions off. The clean, classy production also makes a nice change from the earthy Merseybeat number 1s of late, which is ironic considering how I’ve been longing for Elvis to make way for exactly that. (You’re the) Devil in Disguise is a fine song, and like Return to Sender, one of his better early 60s tunes.

However, Elvis’s 14th UK number 1 spent a mere week at the top – the shortest stint he’d ever had. Not only that, it was his last number 1 for nearly two years, and his 15th, Crying in the Chapel, was an old recording, meaning his next ‘new’ number 1 wouldn’t happen until 1970.

In a true ‘changing of the guard’ moment, when (You’re the) Devil in Disguise featured on Juke Box Jury, John Lennon was one of the guest reviewers. He voted it a ‘miss’ and compared Elvis to Bing Crosby. One of Lennon’s heroes was now nothing more than a corny old has-been to him.

Written by: Bill Giant, Bernie Baum & Florence Kaye

Producer: Steve Sholes

Weeks at number 1: 1 (1-7 August)

Births:

Reform Judaism rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner – 1 August 
Singer Tasmin Archer – 3 August
Disc jockey Gary King – 4 August