136. Elvis Presley with the Jordanaires – Good Luck Charm (1962)

d218a0e6b094112af01d4530ed57f72e.jpg

On 6 June, the Beatles set foot in Abbey Road Studios for their first session there. John, Paul, George and Pete ran through and recorded four songs – Besame Mucho and three originals – Love Me Do, PS I Love You and Ask Me Why. They didn’t leave much of an impression – their equipment was in a poor state, but George Martin and engineer Norman Smith thought Love Me Do had potential. Afterwards, Martin gave the band a long lecture about what they must do if they wanted to get anywhere in the business, and the Beatles stayed silent. According to Mark Lewisohn’s The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Smith recalled that Martin said ‘Look, I’ve laid into you for quite a time, you haven’t responded. Is there anything you don’t like?’. After a long, awkward silence, Harrison replied ‘Yeah, I don’t like your tie!’. This broke the ice, and the Beatles had Martin and the others in fits of laughter. Martin knew this group had potential, but before they returned to Abbey Road, something needed to be done about Pete Best’s drumming.

Meanwhile, Elvis was back at number 1 yet again. While four young men from Liverpool were learning about recording, the icon they soon replaced seemed to be growing increasingly content in coasting on by, safe in the knowledge that his fans would lap up anything he released.

Good Luck Charm was written by Aaron Schroeder and Wally Gold, the duo who came up with 1960’s biggest seller, It’s Now or Never. Elvis must have known this was a middling song that would still do well, as reports suggest he spent most of the recording session trying to crack up his band members. He’d tried to move into serious acting, but audiences wanted more light-hearted romantic musicals – had he now given up on taking music seriously too?

There had been an article in The Guardian last year claiming Presley’s legacy was in danger. The passing of so much time had blunted his appeal to young people, there were no truly great albums for music fans to get into, and your average Elvis impersonator was now more representative of the singer than the young rebel that had changed music so much in the 1950s. Good Luck Charm is a forgettable song that brings to mind that average Elvis impersonator. He’d had plenty of average material in the past, but often he’d raise his game vocally to salvage such shoddy stuff. Not this time. He sticks to a half-arsed croon. featuring plenty of trademark ‘uh-huh-huhs’. Very forgetful. It’s songs like this that do his reputation damage.

Good Luck Charm was not among Aaron Schroeder’s best work, but he had been one of Elvis’s top songwriters over the years, and this was the last song he donated to the King. He understandably refused to surrender rights to Elvis’s publishing company, and a court battle ensued. The publicity was such that soon after, other top songwriters rarely worked with him, or stopped altogether, including Otis Blackwell, Lieber and Stoller and Pomus and Shuman. Elvis’s songs inevitably deteriorated further.

Nonetheless, it was another long-lasting number 1, spending five weeks there. During that time, the new Coventry Cathedral was consecrated on 25 May, 2 June saw the first legal casino in the UK open in Brighton, Sussex, and on 14 June, the BBC broadcast the first episode of Galton and Simpson’s classic sitcom Steptoe and Son.

Written by: Aaron Schroeder & Wally Gold

Producer: Steve Sholes

Weeks at number 1: 5 (24 May-27 June)

Births:

Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes – 8 June 
Comedian Phil Jupitus – 25 June
Singer Michael Ball – 27 June 

Deaths:

Writer Vita Sackville-West – 2 June
Composer John Ireland – 12 June
Composer Sir Eugene Goossens – 13 June

119. Elvis Presley with the Jordanaires – Surrender (1961)

R-2214907-1495210260-1593.jpeg.jpg

On 8 June, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent (Queen Elizabeth II’s first cousin) married Katharine Worsley at York Minster. Six days later, the Conservative government unveiled plans for a new signal-operated ‘panda’ crossing system to make the roads safer for pedestrians. The system was first introduced in April 1962, outside London’s Waterloo railway station.

During this time, Elvis Presley was back at number 1 yet again for a lengthy stint, with another European-flavoured single based on an earlier song. Surrender was based on Italian ballad Torna a Surriento, by Giambattista and Ernesto de Curtis. An English language version, called Come Back to Sorrento, had been recorded by Frank Sinatra, as well as Dean Martin, but Presley wanted a more uptempo feel, and asked for something new from his publisher, Freddy Bienstock. Bienstock gave the task to Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, whose A Mess of Blues had made it onto the B-side of Elvis’s massive 1960 number 1, It’s Now or Never. They had also recently had a hit when the Drifters recorded their track, Save the Last Dance for Me.

Although they both shared credit for Surrender, Shuman wanted nothing to do with it, according to Pomus’s biographer Alex Halberstadt. Apparently, Shuman said ‘Why should I want to write for some redneck idiot who wants to sound like Mario Lanza? You write it Doc, you’ve already got the music.’ Pretty cutting! Pomus found it easy enough and sent off a demo to Bienstock. Elvis then recorded the track with his usual group on 30 October 1960, in the middle of a marathon session that produced his first gospel LP, His Hand in Mine.

Surrender isn’t one of Elvis’s best number 1s, but at least isn’t the previous one, Wooden Heart. It’s an average-at-best song, but as is often the case, Presley’s voice is the highlight and lifts the material. One thing these blogs have taught me is just how versatile and powerful his singing was. Whether he tried his hand at gospel, rock’n’roll or crooning, he could do it all. Surrender doesn’t even clock in at two minutes and is easy to forget. At this point, you can see why John Lennon claimed Elvis died when he joined the army. Despite the quality of the song though, it was another of Elvis’s highest-selling songs, and Pomus and Shuman would work with him again.

As Surrender‘s month at the top drew to an end, Michael Ramsey became the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, on 27 June, succeeding Geoffrey Fisher, who had held the position since 1945.

Written by: Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman & Ernesto De Curtis

Producer: Steve Sholes

Weeks at number 1: 4 (1-28 June)

Births:

Trade union leader Bob Crow – 13 June
Singer Boy George – 14 June 
Comedian Ricky Gervais – 25 June 
Comedian Meera Syal – 27 June

Deaths:

Welsh poet Huw Menai – 28 June

115. Elvis Presley – Wooden Heart (1961)

ELVIS+doctor+macro.jpg

It came as no surprise that the best-selling single of 1961 was by Elvis Presley. However, I would have hoped it would be one of his better tracks, something of similar quality to Are You Lonesome Tonight?. As history has proven time and time again in the charts though, it’s that some artists can release any old tat, and that often, there’s no accounting for taste when it comes to the number 1 single. Here is a prime example. Wooden Heart is probably Elvis’ recording nadir, and yet it stayed at the top for a ridiculous six weeks.

The song was based on the German folk song Muss i denn by Friedrich Silcher. It’s possible that, as with It’s Now Or Never, Elvis heard the original while based in West Germany and fancied recording it, but if so, he never admitted to it. This is understandable. It took four people to adapt this song, and the guilty party are Elvis soundtrack collaborators Fred Wise, Ben Wiseman and Kay Twomey, along with German bandleader Bert Kaempfert. A year later, Kaempfert hired the Beatles to back Tony Sheridan on his album, My Bonnie, released in 1962.

It featured in his new movie, GI Blues, in which he played the magnificently-named Tulsa McLean, a solider serving in West Germany who also has a music career. Wherever did they draw the inspiration for this particular plot? I haven’t seen the film, and definitely have no intention of doing so, but he sings Wooden Heart to a puppet. Let that sink in for a minute. It would seem that Elvis’s transformation from dangerous heart-throb to family entertainer was complete.

Is there anything good to say about Wooden Heart? I suppose you could argue it was a brave decision for Presley to turn his hand to something so different from his standard fare. And, annoyingly, it is rather catchy. But so catchy it deserved to be number 1 for six weeks? No. The lyrics are trite, too, and half way through, Elvis starts singing the words to Muss i den, then a translation of the new lyrics at the end. Maybe this was his weird way of paying tribute to the country he lived in for two years? I really don’t know.

Wooden Heart didn’t even get released as a single in the US, so the people behind him may have known it might cause his reputation some damage. However, a cover by Joe Dowell later made it to number 1, so there’s the proof that US audiences were as bad as British. Eventually, Elvis’s version was sneaked out as the B-side to Blue Christmas in 1964.

Tottenham Hotspur won the Football League First Division title for the second time during the reign of Wooden Heart, defeating Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 on 17 April. They have failed to win it since. On 27 April, Sierra Leone became the latest country to gain independence from the UK – perhaps they discovered we had picked Wooden Heart as the best single available? 1 May saw betting shops become legal under the terms of the Betting and Gaming Act 1960, and 19 people died in a fire at the Top Storey Club, a nightclub in Bolton. This tragedy resulted in the swift passing of a new Licensing Act to improve fire safety.

Written by: Fred Wise, Ben Weisman, Kay Twomey & Bert Kaempfert 

Producer: Steve Sholes

Weeks at number 1: 6 (23 March-3 May) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Politician William Hague – 26 March
Rugby league player Ellery Hanley – 27 March
Filmmaker Michael Winterbottom – 29 March
Actor Robert Caryle – 14 April
Fashion designer Bella Freud – 17 April
Actor Nicholas Lyndhurst – 20 April
Chef Phil Vickery – 2 May

Deaths:

Artist Vanessa Bell – 7 April 

112. Elvis Presley with the Jordanaires – Are You Lonesome Tonight? (1961)

Elvis-are-you-lonesome....jpg

5 February 1960 saw the first edition of The Telegraph newspaper’s weekend edition, The Sunday Telegraph, and a fortnight later, police had to break up a demonstration outside the Belgian embassy in London. The protest was over the murder of the ex-Prime Minster of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba.

For the majority of that month, Elvis was at number 1 for the sixth time with his version of Are You Lonesome Tonight?. This ballad had been written back in 1926 by vaudevillians Roy Turk and Lou Handman, and was a hit for a number of artists, including Vaughan Deleath, Gene Austin and Al Jolson. Colonel Tom Parker rarely told Elvis what to sing, but asked him to record it because his wife, Marie, loved Austin’s version. Elvis, backing singers the Jordanaires and his band had finished recording his comeback album, and 1960’s best-selling single, It’s Now Or Never and decided to record Parker’s request at 4am on 4 April. When it came time for him to record the vocals, Presley asked everyone to leave the studio and told co-producer Chet Atkins to turn the lights out. Perhaps embarrassed by the spoken word part, he wasn’t happy, and told Steve Sholes to throw the tape away as he couldn’t do it justice, Sholes, Atkins and engineer Bill Porter disagreed, and eventually everyone was happy. Depending on which story you believe, that sound you hear at the end (only really discernible with earphones) is either Elvis accidentally knocking a chair over in the dark, the Jordanaires bumping into their microphone stand, or one of the producer’s stapling a contract together.

To my ears, Are You Lonesome Tonight? is the King’s best number 1 since Jailhouse Rock, three years previous. It’s a beautiful song, and Elvis is in fine voice. It must have been quite something to listen to him recording in the dark. The Jordanaires are also used well, their voices used to create a comforting sound rather than smothering the song, which happened on occasion. Unfortunately, the spoken word section, with a reference to William Shakespeare’s As You Like It does date and spoil the song somewhat, but fair play to him for recording the lyrics in full. When he powers through the song’s ending though, it’s quickly forgotten about, and the result is one of Elvis’s most memorable, soulful love songs. When this hit number 1, Elvis became the first act to have the number 1 single and album (the soundtrack to his movie GI Blues)

It soon became a staple track in his live sets, and featured in the 1968 comeback special, Singer Presents… ELVIS. It also featured in his first Las Vegas show the following year, and it was around this time that the famous ‘laughing version‘ was unofficially recorded. Fifty seconds in, Elvis kills the mood by changing the lyrics from ‘Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there?’ to ‘Do you gaze at your bald head and wish you had hair?’ The rest of the song descends into farce, with backing singer Cissy Houston gamely soldiering on while Presley becomes unable to continue, laughing until the song’s climax. Whether this happened for a bit of fun, embarrassed by the spoken word section or because he was out of his head isn’t clear, but it’s an enjoyable, infectious outtake, and it’s nice to hear Elvis not take himself seriously. This version even charted in 1982. Sadly it is clear by the time of this posthumous televised performance of Are You Lonesome Tonight?, recorded a couple of months before his death, that drugs were having a big effect. It’s a tragic sight to see a bloated, sweaty Elvis rambling before the song’s start, and spouting gibberish during the song, but, despite the fact he would soon be gone, when he puts the effort in, his voice sounds as great as ever.

Written by: Roy Turk & Lou Handman

Producers: Steve Sholes & Chet Atkins

Weeks at number 1: 4 (26 January-22 February)

Births:

Singer-songwriter Lloyd Cole – 31 January
Duran Duran guitarist Andy Taylor – 16 February
Politicians Angela and Maria Eagle – 17 February
Footballer Justin Fashanu – 19 February
Actress Imogen Stubbs – 20 February 

Deaths:

Cricketer Stan Nichols – 26 January 

109. Elvis Presley – It’s Now or Never (1960)

elvis_presley-its_now_or_never_s.jpgAfter two years military service, Elvis Presley was discharged from the US army in March 1960. The story goes that Elvis’s time in Friedberg, West Germany involved mainly parties, girls and drugs. While there, he met Priscilla Beaulieu for the first time, at a party at Elvis’s house. Then only 14, the pair agreed to stay in touch when he left West Germany, but she was convinced they would never meet again.

Elvis had been worried about his music career losing momentum during his time as a GI, but a steady stream of singles had been put aside beforehand, and the number 1s kept coming. However, he was itching to get back to recording, and before the month was out he was back in the studio, rush-releasing a new single, Stuck on You, which hit number 1 in the US (surprisingly, it stalled at number three over here). He then began work on the comeback album, Elvis Is Back! at RCA’s Nashville studio. While stationed in West Germany, he had heard Tony Martin’s 1949 hit There’s No Tomorrow, which was based on the famous Italian tune, O Sole Mio, which had once been recorded by one of Elvis’s heroes, the crooner Mario Lanza. Before Elvis had returned from the army, he told his music publisher Freddy Bienstock he was keen to record a new song based on the melody. Tasked with finding the right songwriters, he returned to his office in New York to find Aaron Schroeder (who had co-written Elvis’s 1959 number 1, I Got Stung) and Wally Gold, who had previously had hit singles while in the group the Four Esquires. The duo made quick work of the task, coming up with It’s Now or Never in half an hour. As usual, Steve Sholes produced, and Bill Porter was the sound engineer. Porter was having a particularly busy but successful time of it, having worked on music by the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison’s Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel), which was usurped from the top by It’s Now or Never. Listening to the two back-to-back, there’s a definite similarity.

It’s Now or Never found Elvis reverting to crooner mode, with his vocal performance closely resembling Mario Lanza’s almost-operatic method of intonation. Elvis is issuing an ultimatum to his lover – act now or lose him for good. He struggled to lift his voice to hit that impressive final note, recording it over and over. Porter told Presley he could easily just splice two takes together, but he insisted on his vocal being all one take, and pulled it off on the next run-through. It’s Now or Never really impressed at the time and was a huge hit, but rights issues in the UK meant its release was delayed for four months. This was no setback however, as the single racked up lots of advance orders. When finally released on 3 November, it went straight to number 1, where it remained for two months, becoming the biggest-selling single of 1960. It is also one of the biggest-selling singles of all time, selling over 25 million worldwide. And it meant the King had now achieved five number 1s – overtaking Frankie Laine and Guy Mitchell, who had four each.

Unfortunately for me and I expect many people of a certain age, It’s Now or Never means only one thing – ice-cream. Walls’ Ice Cream used O Sole Mio for many years on their famous adverts for Cornetto. So for me it’s impossible to hear this Elvis track without picturing a man on a gondolier trying to steal a woman’s ice-cream. It’s also a disturbing irony that disgraced sexual predator and DJ Jimmy Savile selected It’s Now or Never when he appeared on Desert Island Discs.

To celebrate 50 years of his music, It’s Now or Never was among the batch of re-releases of his most popular singles, and it went to number 1 once more for a week on 5 February 2005. In 2017, Priscilla Presley revealed online that this song was Elvis’s favourite among his huge catalogue. Wonder if he liked Cornettos?

On 9 December, the first episode of legendary soap opera Coronation Street aired on ITV. Among the characters introduced in that first show were Ena Sharples, Elsie Tanner and Annie Walker, all of whom became mainstays, alongside Ken Barlow, played by William Roache, who is still in the soap to this day.

Written by: Wally Gold & Aaron Schroeder/Eduardo di Capua (O Sole Mio)

Producer: Steve Sholes

Weeks at number 1: 8 (3 November-28 December) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Actress Tilda Swinton – 5 November
Presenter Jonathan Ross – 17 November
Singer Kim Wilde – 18 November
Fashion designer John Galliano – 28 November
Footballer Gary Lineker – 30 November
Def Leppard bassist Rick Savage – 2 December
Actor Kenneth Branagh – 10 December – Kenneth Branagh
Footballer John Lukic – 11 December
Footballer Chris Waddle – 14 December
Presenter Carol Vorderman – 24 December
Historian Andrew Graham-Dixon – 26 December

Deaths:

Architect Sir Nina Cooper – 22 December