gigatos | February 20, 2022
Elvis Aaron Presley (Tupelo, January 8, 1935 – Memphis, August 16, 1977) was an American singer, actor, musician, dancer. He was one of the most famous singers in history, a true cultural icon, a source of inspiration for many musicians and performers of rock and roll and rockabilly, so as to deserve the nickname of the King of Rock and Roll or The King (“the King”). His stage presence and the mimicry with which he accompanied his performances have exerted considerable influence on American and world culture. In particular, the oscillating and rotating movements of the pelvis, as well as arousing scandal, gave him the nickname of Elvis the Pelvis (Elvis the pelvis or “Elvis the hips”), although he himself did not like this nickname, as he often admitted during the interviews granted at the beginning of his career.
His musical activity in over twenty years has been multifaceted and multiform: his remarkable record production, his intense concert activity and his many interests have ranged from rock and roll (of which, thanks to the historical period in which he undertook his career, he is usually considered among the main creators and the undisputed idol) to the genres of rhythm and blues, country and western, gospel, spiritual, traditional, melodic and pop, the latter understood in the broadest sense of the term.
In Italy he was a source of inspiration for singers such as Adriano Celentano, Little Tony and Bobby Solo, in France for Johnny Hallyday and in England for Billy Fury. His figure, in the collective imagination, has clearly crossed the boundary that divides a purely musical phenomenon from one typical of pop culture, becoming an icon. After his death, the phenomenon has further intensified, making Presley a real object of worship and veneration for many fans.
Except for six concerts in Canada in the late 1950s, he never performed outside the United States. Throughout his career, he saw his songs land several times in the Top Chart of Billboard magazine, the benchmark for sales in the U.S. record market. On the British market, Presley placed twenty-one singles at the top of the sales charts, sometimes staying at number one for 80 weeks. His 45s remained in the charts for 1277 weeks, while the long playing containing the songs he recorded were in the Top 10 from November 1958 to July 1964.
In his twenty-four-year career, he has released 61 albums, selling over a billion records worldwide and setting the record for the most records sold by a single singer.
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Birth and early years
Elvis Aaron Presley was born on January 8, 1935 in the city of Tupelo, in the state of Mississippi, surviving his twin brother, Jessie Garon Presley, who died as soon as he was born. He had Scottish or German ancestry on his father”s side and Cherokee and Jewish ancestry on his mother”s side. Due to the critical economic conditions in which his family was, the future singer”s childhood was poor and uncomfortable, but his parents tried to make up for the deficiencies that afflicted him at the time by making him the object of much affection.
His father Vernon Presley worked odd jobs; his mother, Gladys Love Presley (née Smith) also held precarious jobs. The Presley family at that time lived in a modest house, located in the vicinity of Tupelo, near the neighborhood inhabited by the African-American community. This house later became a place of pilgrimage for his fans, as well as the more famous “Graceland”. Elvis” maternal great-great-grandmother, Nancy Burdine, was a Jewess originally from Lithuania; his mother Gladys still considered herself an ethnic Jew, though a Christian, and upon her death Elvis had a Star of David designed by him placed on her tombstone.
Of this period of his life, the singer always kept an intense memory, so much so that in the rare interviews he gave later he often mentioned it, emphasizing the emotional relationship that bound him to his parents, and especially to his mother. His parents were frequent visitors of the Evangelical Church of the American Assemblies of God, and it was during those meetings that Elvis began to get in touch with the world of music.
In 1946, Elvis received a guitar as a gift from his parents, through which he learned by himself the first musical rudiments trying to reproduce what he heard on the radio.
The future singer also participated about three years later in a contest organized for amateurs, sponsored by the local radio station, the “WECO”, and at that juncture he performed for the first time in front of an audience of a certain consistency, during the course of the “Mississippi Alabama Fair and Dairy Show”, a fair local character, interpreting, accompanied by guitar, a song that had been a classic Red Foley, Old Shep, and in the ranking that was drawn up later managed to rank second. About ten years later, the same song was recorded in the studio by the singer and included in one of his first successful albums, it was published during the period in which he was signed by RCA Records, while he was climbing the ladder of fame and his fame was no longer confined to a restricted area of local character.
During the period of his stay in Tupelo, the Presley family lived in different neighborhoods, first in the “Commerce Street” area, then moving to “Mobile Halley”, and finally to “North Gleen Street”. All places certainly not residential, but geographically distant from the misery of the ghetto inhabited by black people, where a certain rhetoric later developed around the figure of the singer has always set his residence during the period of his adolescence.
Since his father Vernon Presley was unable to find stable employment in Tupelo, in September 1948 the Presley family decided to move to Memphis, in the state of Tennessee, with the hope of improving their living conditions. In May 1949, the Presley family found accommodation in a small residential unit near the “Launderdale Courts” complex, the local public housing district.
The future singer, now an adolescent, attended with mediocre profit the local school, called “Humes High School”, but in the new city continued to find great difficulty in building stable friendships and to bond with his peers, because of his shy and introverted character. He also during that period still showed an excessive attachment to his parents, and in particular to his mother, while his look, considered atypical and somewhat revolutionary, did not make him at all popular among his classmates and his acquaintances.
While at the time the other guys usually sported a short haircut, neat, and inspired by the dictates of a military style, he first let his reddish hair reach a considerable length, and then compacted them by collecting them in a flashy quiff cemented by abundant doses of brilliantine, which combined with equally long and flashy sideburns. Subsequently, that particular hairstyle was adopted by a myriad of his fans, rising to the role of symbol of an era, the “fabulous fifties”, at least as have become the jukeboxes, Cadillacs, Drive-in, and Coca-Cola bottles, peculiar icons of the same historical period.
The future singer was also used to adopt a particular clothing, with clothes characterized by a gaudy and flashy style, marked by particular cuts and bright colors, manifesting already at the time a trend that consolidated during his existence.
Wandering around Beale Street he also had the opportunity to attend several performances of bluesmen such as B.B. King and Furry Lewis, becoming at the same time passionate about the kind of music they proposed. Contrary to the majority of the population originating from the south of the United States, the singer proved to have no prejudices, frequenting environments of both the white community and the black community. The consequence of this attitude was also his nonchalant approach to different musical cultures, which was later one of the reasons that allowed him to achieve success as an artist.
During the 1950s, U.S. radio stations were divided into two categories, those that played exclusively “white” music, that is, performed by light-skinned artists, and those that played “black” music, performed by black artists. The future singer, free from racial prejudices, listened to both, thus ending up absorbing simultaneously the influences of both white and black musical artists.
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The first steps in the world of music
In order to improve his economic conditions and those of his family, he began to look for a stable occupation, and, after some time, he found it at Crown Electric, a company that dealt with electrical installations, where he was hired as a truck driver. One day, casually passing through Union Street, the street where the studio of a modest record company, called Sun Records, owned by Sam Phillips, overlooked, he discovered that anyone, going to the same and paying a derisory sum (four dollars), could record a demo record, which could then take home, and maybe listen to their gramophone at home.
Electrified by that opportunity on July 18, 1953 he decided to record a disc, with the intention of giving it to his mother, who at that time was close to the birthday. The title of the song chosen for the occasion was that of an old ballad, whose title was My Happiness. He presented himself to Marion Keisker, the secretary who worked at the studio of the small record label, who agreed to his requests, and the recording was made.
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The start of the collaboration with Sun Records
Sam Phillips listened casually to the material that had been taken from that first naive performance, he sensed the artistic potential and immediately called two turners who had already worked in his studio in the past, bassist Bill Black and guitarist Scotty Moore, with the intention of creating a musical team, whose task would be to collaborate with his young discovery, pursuing the goal of achieving results artistically valid. From the testimonies provided by those who had a relationship with the young singer in those years, it can be inferred that he, although not being able to read sheet music, had a remarkable musical ear, with which he made up for his lack of preparation and his lack of theoretical nature.
He also showed a marked predilection for musical instruments such as the acoustic guitar, from which he never parted, using it to accompany himself choreographically, since his first performances, as well as later, throughout his career. With the evolution of this instrument became a fundamental and essential part of his image, while the other instrument for which the singer showed a great predilection was the piano, which he took the habit of playing in order to relax between one session and another singing some gospel music, a habit he kept throughout his life.
Many of the guitars owned during the course of his artistic career by the singer, which have risen to the status of relics for his fans, are still visible at Graceland, as is a piano of particular shape, completely plated with gold, which is a typical example of those eccentricities that he, from a certain moment of his life, loved to surround himself with.
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The start of the artistic career
Following the advice received from Sam Phillips, the singer then began to collaborate with the two session man, continuing to rehearse with them for hours and hours new songs, or rearranging and enlivening pieces already known with the innovative contribution of his voice, his particular style and arrangements that the group continually tried again and again, thus perfecting his technique of execution, and contributing to the formation of a close-knit group, and artistically valid. Scotty Moore, who some time later would have become his first official manager, exploiting his knowledge worked to promote the figure of the emerging singer at the local music circuits, and then began to collaborate with the first two also D. J. Fontana, a skilled drummer.
The group that was formed was baptized with the name of Blue Moon Boys and its members actively participated in the production of films interpreted by the singer, playing the role that they played in reality. They also accompanied him during his performances in shows produced by national television that took place from the second half of the fifties. Two of the three official members of the group also reappeared during the production of the television show called the ”68 Elvis Comeback Special, broadcast on television in 1968. However, Bill Black was missing from the group, as he had died prematurely about two years before, due to a malignant brain tumor.
During a night in July 1954, after having rehearsed with them for hours and hours without being able to produce something that he considered acceptable or satisfactory, Elvis overcame his proverbial shyness and said, turning to the other bystanders: “Do you know this one? “At the same time he began to play, characterizing it with the contribution of his style and his mimicry, and enlivening it with the innovative contribution of a very particular and frenetic rhythm, an old piece belonging to the country genre, written some time ago by Arthur Crudup, which a few years earlier had already been brought to success by other artists, entitled That”s All Right, Mama. Sam Phillips then, struck by the atypical nature of what he was listening to, came out of the control room enthusiastically and stopped them saying: “No, I don”t know it, but I”m going to make a record of it!!!”.
The singer was officially signed by Sam Phillips and from that moment on began to collaborate and record albums under the auspices of Sun Records. He recorded songs such as That”s All Right (Mama), Blue Moon of Kentucky, Good Rockin” Tonight, Baby Let”s Play House, titles now considered classics, which at the time helped to quickly catapult the name of the young singer among those who had long appeared in the upper echelons of the charts inherent to the music stars of the South of the United States. The style of music proposed by the emerging artist appeared so different and revolutionary to the ears of the listeners that they often called the DJs who played it on local radio stations to try to find out who was that “black guy who sang country songs” or who was that “white guy who sang blues”.
The singer then conquered a singular primacy, since he was the only artist who appeared, reaching in both cases good placings, both in the charts related to rhythm and blues music, and in the charts related to country music. The occurrence of that situation allowed him to reach a certain notoriety, although it was still restricted to a purely local character. Subsequently he began to exhibit, obviously accompanied by his group, generally during the course of some fair demonstration of local character, collecting usually positive feedbacks.
As the situation evolved, he realized that his new occupation was totally incompatible with the work he was doing at Crown Electric, and therefore decided to resign from the company where he had worked until then. This act also officially sanctioned the date of the beginning of his new artistic career, since, from that moment on, it would have been his only source of income. At that time the local media began to define him with nicknames such as “The Hillbilly Cat” or “The King of Western Bop”.
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Career consolidation in the local area
Albert Goldman, in some paragraphs of his biography, has emphasized the impartiality of the enormous propaganda apparatus that had always gravitated around the character. In fact, in the most common meaning, and especially for his hardcore fans, the deeds of the singer have always been shrouded in an aura of legend, which has often depicted him as the holder of some form of supernatural power, and as a result of this able to collect always and everywhere total and unquestionable consensus in front of any type of audience.
In reality, this is not true, since, mainly at the beginning of his career, the protests were not only not lacking, but sometimes they were of considerable magnitude, and their main consequence was the occurrence of resounding and for the singer frustrating failures. On September 25, 1954, strengthened by the positive responses that he had obtained until then, and that were reflected in the position that his name occupied in the charts inherent to country music, the young singer performed in what had always been considered the temple of that musical genre, the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
The type of audience that usually attended that type of event, however, unexpectedly gave him a very cold reception, because the image that the singer showed through the performance of his performances was totally incompatible with the mentality of the same, purely puritanical and bigoted nature. Back from that serious and unexpected failure the following week the singer performed during the development of the event that has always been considered the antipodes of the previous one, or at the Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, where he was given an enthusiastic welcome, and where he got a writing, so that throughout the year 1955, continued to perform at the same, always getting very positive feedback.
In the meantime Scotty Moore left, and the new manager of the emerging singer became Bob Neal who, more introduced in musical circles than the previous one, managed to get him a series of engagements at some locations. Together with what in the meantime had been baptized the “Blue Moon Boys”, he produced in his first official tour, and in about three weeks crossed the South of the United States, after starting from the city of New Orleans, in Louisiana, having performed in cities of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, and have concluded the cycle of shows in the city of Chattanooga, in the state of Tennessee.
During the course of that tour, the singer realized that his wild style and his provocative mimicry, both borrowed from the performances of black artists to which he had witnessed during his adolescence, and which had particularly characterized his style since his first performances, had no effect, if not counterproductive, when he was in the presence of an audience composed of adults. Often in the presence of spectators belonging to this type, he was made the object of violent protests, which gave rise to consequent resounding and frustrating failures.
However, the results of his performances were very different, when they took place in front of an audience composed of young people, because it was in those circumstances that the singer realized he had a considerable amount of charisma on the audience and, comforted by the positive feedback he got when such circumstances occurred, he directed all his efforts in that direction. During the course of his shows, in the presence of that kind of audience the situation rapidly evolved in a favorable way for him, and the bystanders usually did not hesitate to show in every possible way their approval and enthusiasm for the performances they were attending.
It is precisely from that period that, in conjunction with the singer”s performances, notable and repeated manifestations of collective hysteria began to occur. This phenomenology occurred more if the audience that attended his performances was formed by those who were defined as “teenagers” (young, adolescents) and to a greater extent if they belonged to the female sex.
On several occasions he had to struggle in order to preserve his personal safety, since he could not finish his performances in a regular way, since on many occasions well before his show came to an end, he was attacked by hordes of screaming and hysterical girls, who attacked him in order to tear off shreds of the clothes he was wearing, with the intent to be able to appropriate something that had been in contact with his person, or ask for an autograph, or even produce some form of sexual approach with him. In other circumstances, he was the object of real physical aggression, perpetrated by boyfriends jealous of the influence he exerted on their favorites, and in many cases the situation degenerated.
When such episodes occurred, the singer was left with no other alternative but to interrupt his performance and quickly leave the stage on which he was performing, escorted and defended by the local authorities. This kind of events, whose authenticity is proven by a series of amateur videos made at the time during his performances, ended up becoming an essential part of that particular legendary aura that was born in that period and then spread rapidly around the figure of the emerging character.
In the collective imagination this halo of legend, as well as indissolubly accompanying the singer until the end of his days, as well as after, after his death, it also quickly became part of all that picturesque iconography that since then began to develop and gravitate around the image of the artist. A journalist at that time asked the singer for explanations about the exaggerated dynamism that he displayed during the performance of his shows, and in this regard he said: “You have to give a show to attract people, otherwise everyone would stay at home, without going out to see me…”.
Asked later about the same subject, on another occasion, the singer expressed himself as follows: “There are those who move their legs, those who snap their fingers and those who move from side to side. I do a little bit of everything together, I would say.” Still questioned on the same issue, on another occasion, Elvis said: “Rhythm is something that either you have or you don”t have, but when you have it Sam Phillips instead, pronounced these words: “At the roots of this myth there is still so much mystery. No one can say that they really know the man Presley well. He was complicated, full of contradictions and even insecure in private, but at work he was always deeply convinced of what he was doing, and he was never wrong”.
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Accusations of racism
When Dewey Phillips first aired That”s All Right, Mama on Radio Memphis, many listeners phoned the radio station for information about the singer, assuming he was black. It is noteworthy that from the very beginning of his career, the singer always expressed respect for African-Americans and disdain for the typical norms of racial segregation.
Interviewed in 1956 about the circumstances in which his interest in the musical world was born, he recalled how in his childhood he had listened with interest to the music proposed by bluesman Arthur Crudup (author of That”s All Right (Mama)), and how it had inspired him to undertake his subsequent musical career. The Memphis World, an African-American newspaper, reported how the singer, “the Rock ”n” Roll phenomenon, had broken the laws of racial segregation in Memphis by frequenting the local amusement park which was usually frequented by black people”. Such statements led to the singer being generally well received in the black community during the early days of his celebrity.
On the contrary, many white adults considered him as a depraved, because of the movements of his performances, considered obscene, that he had borrowed from the black people. Despite the largely positive opinion that black people had of the singer, around the middle of 1957 the rumor spread that he, interviewed by a journalist, had at one point expressed himself as follows: “The only thing that black people can do for me is to buy my records and shine my shoes.
A journalist of the American weekly Jet, Louie Robinson, tried to investigate the veracity of the news. On the set of the film The Thug of Rock and Roll, where the singer granted him an interview, Elvis categorically denied ever having said such a phrase and claimed not to be in any way a racist. During the course of his investigation, the reporter gathered no evidence that the phrase had ever actually been uttered.
The thesis that the singer was heavily inspired by the music of black people to sweeten it and make it more palatable to white ears to make a profit, finds many proselytes. In particular, African-American musician Jackie Wilson took care to disprove this theory, stating, “A lot of people have accused Elvis of stealing black people”s music, when in fact, almost every black solo artist has copied his mannerisms!” Throughout his career, Elvis never disclaimed the enormous debt of musical character he owed to black musicians.
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Career consolidation in the international arena
On November 22, 1955, the contract that bound the singer to Sam Phillips, who, due to the modest size and consequent logistical and organizational limitations of his small label manifested increasing difficulties in managing the meteoric rise of his young discovery, was sold by the latter to the record giant Radio Corporation of America, for the then record sum of about $ 35 000. Paradoxically, Sam Phillips had previously stated a few months before signing the singer: “If I could find a white man who sings with the soul of a black man, I would become a billionaire”.
Curiously enough, the first single that the singer recorded under the aegis of RCA was not taken from a rock and roll song, but from a blues-inspired song, entitled Heartbreak Hotel, which obtained an excellent commercial response at the international level and that contributed to the consolidation of the singer”s fame in a much wider geographical area than before. Those who collaborated with him during the recording sessions at the time still remember the peculiar behavior of the singer in the recording studio, since he tended to perform the songs he was recording in the studio with the same exaggerated dynamism that he showed off during his live performances.
This way of working caused the onset of many problems of organizational nature because his collaborators, in order to try to achieve a technically acceptable end result, were in fact forced to physically chase him around the studio, while he recorded the tapes that were the subject of that session. None of them, however, never questioned the professionalism of the singer, so much so that later interviewed on the subject so expressed Steve Sholes, who at the time of the same became the new producer: “Elvis was able to record about eighty tracks of the same song, and without even listening again, decide with certainty which was the best, the one to be used to record the disc to market …”.
Also at that time, began to collaborate with the singer and his complex a vocal group composed of four good choristers, called The Jordanaires. This quartet, supported by his particular vocal talents, already enjoyed a good reputation at the time as a performer of spirituals, gospel and folk songs. Were its members to become later also the group author, as well as performer of those choral accompaniments that were one of the fundamental parts of the musical structure of the songs from which they were taken from the single recorded by the singer during the next decade. These choral accompaniments, blending perfectly with the voice of the singer, contributed to distinguish vocally in a particular way such singles, so that the operators of the record industry defined their musical imprint with the name of “Presley Sound”.
The Jordanaires participated both in the television shows to which the singer attended, and in the production of some films in which he was the protagonist, playing the role that they played in reality, and after the death of the same recorded several albums containing covers of songs that at the time had represented his greatest hits record. Always in their capacity of choristers have also often participated in commemorative events that concern him organized in every part of the world, and also collaborated with the best “Elvis impersonator”.
The birth of the artistic partnership with Colonel Tom Parker
Also in that period the singer made the acquaintance of Colonel Tom Parker, who after some time became his new official manager, replacing Bob Neal. When this happened, a strong artistic partnership was born, which for about twenty years bound indissolubly the manager with his assistant, and whose term was sanctioned only by the death of the latter. Colonel Tom Parker, who was a shrewd and shrewd character, realized the value of the artistic potential of his client and took action in order to make him perform in the shows organized by national television, thus making possible his simultaneous entry into all U.S. homes.
The relationship that throughout his career linked the singer and his manager, very profitable economically for both, ended up becoming a topic of heated discussion among his most devoted fans. In this regard, the most common vulgata is that which defines Colonel Tom Parker as an individual from the past equivocal, venal, cunning and cynical, as well as a great gambler, while his protégé as a docile and submissive subject, animated by good feelings, and inclined to execute the directives that his manager gave him without question, at least most of the time.
Usually for the singer”s fans, if on one hand the Colonel – thanks to his undoubted managerial skills – was the author of his enormous commercial fortunes, on the other hand – because of his cynical temperament – he was also the main responsible for his subsequent decline. The Colonel, during one of the rare interviews he granted, expressed himself in this way about his client: “When I met Elvis, he had millions of dollars of talent now he only has millions of dollars!”
Peculiar then the exorbitant economic requests that he made, whenever someone proposed him money offers in order to engage his client, so much so that after having received from a potential client an offer of 50,000 dollars to contract the singer, he said: “It”s fine for me but how much for the boy? Those who at that time informed Colonel Parker of the death of the singer, were definitely astonished by the indifference and lack of emotional involvement that he showed at that time, because he reacted to the news coldly, as if it had suddenly appeared an unforeseen problem to be solved and nothing more.
On April 10, 1955 the singer reached New York in order to make an audition to be able to participate in the program Talent Scouts, conducted by the critic Arthur Godfrey, but received from the latter a decisive negative response. On January 28 of the following year appeared for the first time in a show broadcast on national television, the Stage Show of the Dorsey brothers, having a good success. On April 3, 1956 took part in one of the most popular shows at the time by the television audience, the “Milton Berle Show”, and on that occasion more than forty million viewers attended simultaneously to his performances. On January 12, 1957 he participated in the Ed Sullivan show, enjoying a resounding success, but his performance was partially censored because he was filmed from the waist up, to avoid framing his famous and unseemly “pelvic movements”.
The well-thinking people, who represented a large part of public opinion, were scandalized by the frenzied rhythm of the music proposed by the singer, as well as by the wild movements in which he produced during his performances, which were classified as “obscene”. Starting from that period, Elvis, judged as a dangerous “depraved” by the numerous and very active religious associations that had always carried out their activities in the United States, began to be severely persecuted by them, who made him the object of a harsh and violent campaign of denigration which sometimes gave rise to comical and grotesque implications. Invasive preachers produced everywhere in fierce sermons, whose main argument was obviously represented by the type of music that the singer proposed and the attitudes in which he produced during his performances.
Basically, these associations considered the singer a dangerous vehicle of perdition for the youth of the time and acted accordingly, lashing out in every way against what they considered a terrible danger to the same, so that they came to the organization of real public demonstrations, during the course of which the records recorded by the singer, as containers of “demonic” music were physically destroyed, smashing or burning them. When asked about the fierce persecution he was subjected to by these associations, the singer said: “I don”t think I”m bad for people. If I thought I was bad for people, I would have gone back to driving a truck…”.
During the course of the period in question, from the point of view of record success, the results were always very positive, and the singles that were released on vinyl at the time were songs such as Heartbreak Hotel (5 million copies), (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear (4 million copies), Don”t Be Cruel (6 million copies), Jailhouse Rock (which as a single has so far sold more than 9 million copies), Hound Dog (13 million copies), Love Me Tender (5 million copies), All Shook Up (7 million copies) hold sales records absolutely significant and sometimes unbeaten. Particular mention should be made of the lyricists and composers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who at that time were the authors of many songs that seemed structured to enhance the vocal talents of the singer, and that contributed to consolidate his success.
In the early months of 1957, investing the large proceeds from the successful development of his artistic career, the singer bought a sumptuous home, which he considered more appropriate to his new role as a movie star, Graceland, located in Memphis, in the state of Tennessee. Later he adapted the new home to his particular needs and his extravagant tastes, making it the subject of a radical makeover, consisting of a long series of changes to its original structure, and furnished the interior following the dictates of a decidedly kitschy and tacky style. Finished in a few months the renovation work, the singer moved to his new residence in the company of all his large following, consisting of employees, friends and members of his family. For some time now his house has become a kind of mausoleum, a place of continuous pilgrimage for his fans, and is considered by Americans a kind of national monument.
During the second half of the fifties the gossip of the time attributed to the singer a long series of sentimental relationships, more or less official, among which we can remember those that he would have entertained with Dixie Locke, Barbara Hearn, Dorothy Harmony, Tempest Storm, June Juanico, and Natalie Wood, the latter actress already famous for having played a role of some importance in the famous film Rebel Without a Cause. In the same period also ended his relationship with Anita Wood, an attractive singer who enjoyed a good reputation, with whom he had long established a relationship. Subsequently, in August 1959 he met Priscilla Beaulieu, the daughter of an American colonel, who was also stationed in German territory.
During the whole course of his career, the singer never collaborated with other artists, except in one circumstance, which was completely accidental and fortuitous, when on December 4, 1957, during a recording session at Sun Records studios, in which Carl Perkins participated as a singer and Jerry Lee Lewis as his pianist, he happened to be passing by chance, in the company of Johnny Cash. During a break in the recording session, the singer sat down at the piano and began to play, while jokingly interpreting some gospel songs, a musical genre for which he showed a real form of veneration throughout his life.
Then he began to entertain the other bystanders, talking and joking affably with them, and they, encouraged and solicited in this way, shortly thereafter joined him, producing in the subsequent interpretation of a variety of songs, belonging to different musical genres, revisiting and interpreting them with a very informal approach. All this happened in the presence of Sam Phillips who, sensing the particularity of the event, decided to record that atypical exhibition of the quartet that had formed by chance a few moments before, and the recording of the same were obtained about seventy minutes of material, which was used later to record an album, published after the death of the singer. Phillips at the time called the four, all artists who had long since carved out a considerable space in the music of the period, The Million Dollar Quartet (A million dollar quartet). The recordings that were made at the time of that involuntary exhibition are the only tangible evidence of some form of collaboration implemented by the singer with other artists of his time.
The singer during the fifties, as well as the essential collaboration of those who can be considered the “historical” members of his band, and its official choristers, made use of the fundamental contribution of a considerable number of musicians, among which we can remember the pianists Marvin Hughes, Frederick Earl “Shorty” Long, Floyd Cramer, Dudley Brooks, guitarists Vito Mumolo, Chet Atkins, Luther “Red” Roundtree, Tiny Timbrell, trumpeters Teddy Buckner and Warren Smith, saxophonist Justin Gordon, drummers Johnny Bernero and Richard Connell, clarinetist Mahlon Klark, multi-instrumentalist Ray Siegel, gospel choristers Ben Speer and Brook Speer, the Ken Darby Trio (Rad Robinson, Jon Dodson and Charles Prescott), bassist Myer Rubin, trombonists Elmer Schneider and Warren Smith, and harmonica players Dominic Frontiere and Carl Fortina.
These musicians, who for some time had built an excellent reputation in the musical environment of the time, collaborated with the singer both during the processing of songs from which they were drawn singles and albums published during the decade, both during the processing of soundtracks of the films in which he participated in the same period.
The singer officially started his artistic career recording, in 1954, the first single under the aegis of Sun Records. This single had on side A the song That”s All Right, Mama, and on side B the song Blue Moon of Kentucky. The second single recorded by the singer, always during 1954, was the one containing on side A the song Good Rockin” Tonight, and on side B the song I Don”t Care If the Sun Don”t Shine.
Later, during 1955, the singer recorded the single containing the song on the A side Milkcow Blues Boogie, and on the B side the song You”re a Heartbreaker. The second single that he recorded during the same year, was the one containing on side A the song Baby Let”s Play House, and on side B the song I”m Left, You”re Right, She”s Gone. The third single recorded by the singer during that year, which was also the last disc characterized by being recorded under the aegis of Sun Records, was the one containing the song Mystery Train on side A, and the song I Forgot to Remember to Forget on side B. The singles in question were marketed both in the version published in the format of “78 rpm”, both in the version published in the format of “45 rpm”. When the singer was contracted by RCA, he began to record albums published in the “33 rpm” format, the first of which, characterized by the autobiographical title Elvis Presley, contained both songs interpreted when he was still signed by Sun, and songs interpreted after his subsequent writing by RCA.
About twenty years later, during the year 1977, the British group The Clash was clearly inspired by the graphics that characterized the cover, when they released their album entitled London Calling. Subsequently, the singer recorded a second album, characterized by the equally autobiographical title Elvis, containing only songs recorded after the change of record company. Both albums in question were published during the year 1956, and obtained an excellent response of a commercial nature, thus helping to consolidate the fame and notoriety of their interpreter at the international level, and are usually considered by critics and fans of the singer”s fundamental albums.
Like most American artists who had previously achieved success, during the following year, 1957, the singer recorded an album containing a collection of traditional Christmas songs, entitled Elvis” Christmas Album, reinterpreted with the contribution of his style, which also had an excellent result in terms of sales success. Concomitant with the start of the singer”s cinematographic career, the publication of the soundtracks taken from some of the films that he interpreted during the two-year period between 1956 and 1958 began. Only the records containing the soundtracks of two of the four films in the making of which he participated during that period, that is to say those pertaining to the second and fourth films he shot, respectively Amami teneramente (Loving You) and La via del male (King Creole, 1958), were actually marketed. At that time the albums compiled by pouring on vinyl the soundtracks of the films in question materialized placings and permanence in the various charts even better than those achieved by the studio albums. The songs constituting the soundtrack of the first and third film shot by the singer, respectively, Rival Brothers (Love me tender) and The delinquent of rock and roll (Jailhouse Rock), were initially marketed only as singles, and only later the soundtracks of these films were included in their entirety in the numerous anthology albums published later. During the period that the singer dedicated to the performance of military service, inevitably the activity concerning the recording of new songs and the consequent record production underwent a stop.
Also in order to keep alive the interest and the attention of the public towards his assistant, his manager, in agreement with the record company, took action in order to publish a series of anthology albums, containing mostly collections of songs previously recorded by the singer, which were released on the record market in the two years between 1958 and 1959. These albums, which reached, like most of the singer”s record production during that period, excellent results at the commercial level, were the albums entitled Elvis” Golden Records, published during the year 1958, and the three following albums, published during the year 1959, with the respective titles For LP Fans Only, A Date with Elvis, and 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can”t Be Wrong – Elvis Gold records vol. 2.
The singles published during the same period that had the greatest sales success were those containing songs such as Heartbreak Hotel and I Was the One, I Want You, I Need You, I Love You and My Baby Left Me, Don”t Be Cruel and Hound Dog, Love Me Tender and Any Way You Want Me, All Shook Up and That”s When Your Heartaches Begin, (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear and Loving You, Jailhouse Rock and Treat Me Nice. Also during the same period were published, especially by the English RCA, a considerable number of extended play, ie records characterized by having the same external dimensions of a single published in 45 rpm format, but published in 33 rpm format, and usually containing four songs recorded by the singer, instead of two.
As we have seen, during his military service, the singer suspended his singing activity and deserted the official recording studios. However, in the same period of time he also produced a series of amateur recordings, pouring on magnetic tape of his personal interpretations of songs already brought to success by other artists of the time. Usually he interpreted these songs accompanied by the piano, and customizing them with the contribution of his style. These interpretations, of which traces remain phonographic of mediocre or very bad quality, have been subsequently poured on vinyl, in order to market bootlegs, containing precisely such recordings. Among them stands out the one containing a particular version provided by the singer of a song brought a few years earlier to success by a famous American doo-wop group, The Penguins, entitled Heart Angel.
Convinced of the acting potential of his assistant, Colonel Parker took advantage of all his knowledge to insert the singer in the various film circuits. He solicited the execution of a series of auditions, which were carried out at the studios of Paramount Pictures, and gave all a satisfactory outcome, so that the famous producer Hal B. Wallis signed with the singer an exclusive contract to have him among the protagonists of his films. The contract with the film company Paramount Pictures bound the singer for a period of seven years, and he began to work permanently for the same as a leading actor.
In the two years between 1956 and 1958 he took part in the production of four films, directed by directors such as Robert Wise and Michael Curtiz, and until the date of his departure for military service, which forced him to interrupt his film career, he made the following films in this order: Love Me Tender (Rival Brothers, 1956), Loving You (Love Me Tenderly, 1957), The Thug of Rock and Roll (Jailhouse Rock, 1957, usually considered by his fans his most successful film) and The Way of Evil (King Creole, 1958).
Few film critics at the time applauded the skills of the singer who had become a new actor, while the majority of them welcomed the films listed above coldly and did not spare harsh criticism to the main interpreter, guilty, according to them, of having poor acting qualities. After the debut of the film Love Me Tender, the film magazine Reporter said: “He is an obscene boy, and is only capable of swaying between a cry and a groan”. However, the films in question obtained a largely positive commercial response, helping to consolidate the international reputation of the singer, and are considered by his fans a cult object, as related to his “golden age”, when in the fifties he made his debut on the scene as a rocker.
The singer was photogenic and endowed with stage presence, but the color of his complexion, tending to pale, and his reddish hair did not fit in with the needs of “technicolor”, so that the Hollywood make-up artists, in order to remedy this shortcoming, intervened decisively on his look, revolutionizing it completely. Starting from the second film he played in, he began to dye his hair raven black, and at the same time began to show off his dark eyes and an earthy complexion, due to the heavy make-up he underwent, and he kept this habit for the rest of his days, interrupting it only, for reasons of force majeure, during his military service. Noteworthy is the fact that at that time the singer, asked by journalists about the reasons that led him to undertake the new career as a film actor, said: “We know that singers come and go, but if you”re a good actor, then you can last a long time …”.
On December 20, 1957, while he was participating in the production of the film The Way of Evil (King Creole), the singer was called to perform military service: this obviously upset the plans and short-term projects that Colonel Parker was developing for his career and consequently he tried to obtain a postponement of the departure. The attempt was successful and Elvis obtained a special dispensation from the military commands that allowed him to postpone the date of the call to arms. In this way he was able to complete the production of the film, but on March 24, 1958 he had to present himself at the local military district for the military service. The colonel took the opportunity to turn the event into a media event, and every single step of the singer”s draft examination, his subsequent enlistment in the U.S. Army, which took place in the military detachment of Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, his assignment to the “Tank Training School” in Texas, and his subsequent arrival in Bremen, Germany, on October 1, 1958, was filmed, documented and fed to the media.
The singer was enlisted in the ranks of the U.S. military stationed in Friedberg, in the occupation troops that were stationed in German territory for more than twenty years after the end of World War II, as a tank driver, and humbly accepted the change in his lifestyle, rejecting the benefits of his celebrity status.
Also because of military service the singer had to stay away from the scene for two years, during that period, putting in place a shrewd commercial policy Colonel Parker managed to maintain the interest that the public had for his assisted, while creating an atmosphere of expectation for his future return home. The singer then learned of the death of his beloved mother, Gladys, who had been suffering from serious health problems for some time, on August 14, 1958, at the age of 46, due to severe hepatitis, and the event contributed to throwing him into a serious state of prostration,
During the period of his stay in West Germany, the singer became fond of martial arts and in particular of karate, so much so that with time he perfected himself in this art. In that period Elvis took the habit of taking stimulating drugs, such as benzedrine, and this sanctioned the birth of a habit that with the passing of time took root in him to an increasing extent, later becoming a serious form of addiction. During an interview after his discharge, the singer said: “The two years in the army made me think. Boredom is a great mother of virtue”.
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Upon his return to the United States, the singer was assailed by journalists and, although on the one hand he showed his star-like attitudes, on the other hand he gave a series of interviews, producing in those moments docile and submissive attitudes, with the intent of providing them with the image of a modest, responsible and sensible individual, who had not gotten too big headed because of his fame. At the beginning of the sixties in music, times were changing as the new rock bands had invaded the market and teenagers, who since the beginning of Elvis” career had always represented his most ardent supporters, began to divert their interest towards the new musical idols of the moment such as the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones: this state of affairs inevitably ended up exerting an influence on the evolution of his career.
After his return from military service, which took place in 1960, the singer showed to the people who gravitated around him to have changed in character: the first effect of this metamorphosis was his tendency to show more and more distrustful in relationships with people and the consequence of this attitude was the formation around his person of an impenetrable barrier, composed of a large group of relatives, friends, bodyguards and opportunistic “yes men”.
With the passing of time, the small circle of people with whom the singer loved to surround himself constantly until the end of his days began to be identified with the name of “Memphis Mafia”.
After the death of the singer, in defense of the “Memphis Mafia”, a member of the same, Marty Lacker, expressed himself as follows: “Presley was the architect of his own destiny, he was the boss If we had not been around, he would have died long before”. Larry Geller became the singer”s personal hairdresser starting in 1964 and, unlike other members of the “Memphis Mafia”, he was very interested in matters of a spiritual nature and not only those of purely economic importance. Larry remembers how, from the very first conversation he had with the singer, the latter opened up and confided in him, making him aware of his innermost thoughts, and at the same time of the true nature of the inner anxieties that tormented him, expressing himself at the time as follows: “I mean, there must be a purpose there must be a reason… a reason why I chose to be Elvis Presley…. I swear to God, nobody knows how lonely I feel, empty is how I really feel inside.”
A few years later, Geller got into the habit of supplying the singer with a large quantity of books about religion and mysticism, which the singer read voraciously during the breaks of the exhausting and incessant tours. Those who became part of the small group of the “Memphis Mafia”, that the singer affectionately called “The Guys”, surrounded him with all kinds of attention, trying to fulfill his every desire, in order to enter into his good graces, and then obtain undoubted advantages. This circle of people, if on the one hand over the years protected him with every means at his disposal from any influence that it considered undesirable, on the other hand prevented him from being able to have healthy and constructive relationships with the real outside world.
Result of the new attitude that the singer put in place from that period was the custom of renting a huge room, a large theater or an entire amusement park, to be able to then spend an exclusive evening, in the company of only members of his entourage, protected in every way from what was considered the pedantic and inappropriate presence of people outside the circle of his friends and frequentations habitual, always during the same period Elvis also developed a considerable interest in some particular sciences, such as numerology and esotericism: as a result of this soon his personal library was quickly enriched with a considerable number of texts dealing with such topics. Noteworthy is the fact that towards the end of the sixties the situation of the singer was in fact already comparable to that of a recluse and this can partly justify the push of an inner nature that during the following years pushed him to seek, with incredible frequency, direct contact with the public.
The beginning of the new decade was problematic because the death of his mother Gladys, occurred while he was doing his military service still in his country, had thrown him in a deep state of prostration, of which he was still suffering the consequences. It is noteworthy that his most accredited biographers have always focused their attention on the particular relationship he had with his mother, claiming he was bound to her by a particularly intense relationship, and that her loss was a terrible blow for him. During 1960, the realization of a purely commercial operation implemented by his manager, had the effect of the participation of the singer as a guest on the TV show of which Frank Sinatra was the host, although the latter had never hidden in the past the deep aversion that nourished for what was called by the media of the time the “singer of the century”.
Sinatra in fact had attacked the singer on several occasions, even publicly, so much so that some time before, questioned by journalists on the figure of the then still emerging artist he was so expressed: “His music is made by morons who sing malicious lyrics, lascivious, to speak clearly: dirty. It ended up becoming the marchetta of every scoundrel on the face of the earth. It is the most brutal, ugly, desperate, perverse form of expression I have had the misfortune to listen to…”. However, the participation in the television show, defined because of the presence of the singer as Welcome Home Elvis, gave him the opportunity to regain contact with the public, and regain the visibility he enjoyed before his departure, which occurred due to the fulfillment of his military obligations.
He appeared at the show a few days after returning from military service and performed singing accompanied by the vocal quartet of Jordanaires, a song entitled Fame and Fortune, a slow song, characterized by the musical structure of the triplets, typical of many songs marketed at the time, and a song entitled Stuck On You, much faster and more rhythmic. Later he performed in a vocal duet with Sinatra, interpreting a version arranged according to the dictates of the typical style of the latter songs such as Love Me Tender (which was the theme song included in the soundtrack of the first film starring the singer, “Rival Brothers”) and one entitled Witchcraft (a Sinatra success dating back to 1957).
The success of the television show was remarkable and, during the course of the same, the singer produced a vocally impeccable performance, but from which inevitably transpired a radical change in style and image, as he no longer appeared the wild and aggressive rocker of the past, but a much more honeyed and mushy singer. Dating back to that period is the publication of some singles that were a huge success, such as Are You Lonesome Tonight? (Are you lonely tonight?), the remake of an old song of the twenties, characterized by the presence of a long spoken part, and the adaptation of two classics of Neapolitan song, It”s Now or Never (”O sole mio) and Surrender (Torna a Surriento). In 1961, the single entitled Wooden Heart reached number one on the Official Singles Chart, and held that position for six consecutive weeks.
The typology of those songs, and the arrangements that were studied during their recording in order to optimize the final product helped to highlight the vocal qualities of the singer, but the singles that were drawn were still classified as a product at the antipodes of that particular pioneering and innovative spirit that had animated him when he was still at the beginning of his career, and that had contributed to distinguish in a peculiar way the first records recorded under the aegis of Sun Records, as well as the birth of his success. About his voice, the singer at the time said: “I have no illusions. My voice, in itself, is a very ordinary voice. People only come to see how I use it, and if I had to stand still while singing I”d feel dead I could go back to being a truck driver…”.
His most reliable biographers and the gossip prevailing at the time, during the sixties, in addition to the “official” relationship with his “historical” girlfriend Priscilla Beaulieu, the woman who towards the end of the decade became his wife, attributed to the singer several relationships of a sentimental nature, mainly with actresses with whom he worked during the production of the long series of films he shot during the decade. Among them, in chronological order, we can remember the most important ones, that is those that he would have entertained with:
After a couple of live performances made for charity, which took place from March 25, 1961 at the “Ellis Auditorium” in Memphis, the singer cut off any direct relationship with his audience, and decided to make the most of the profitable film industry. During the following decade he interpreted twenty-nine films, some of which were unpublished in Italy, but among them only a small minority could be considered artistically valid, while the majority could be classified as “B-movies”, of mediocre quality, shot in an approximate way and in record time.
The plots of these films were usually trivial and all very similar to each other because, with very few exceptions, the main performer always played the role of the singing hero of the situation, all seasoned with the presence of the pretty little girlfriend of the moment, an unknown number of beautiful girls, magnificent exotic scenery, some fights, from which he always came out the winner, and a certain variable amount of melodious and insignificant songs. Despite this, the films often recorded box office and until the middle of the decade grossed well, then the line of what were called “Presley movies” began to show signs of fatigue and towards the end of the decade the situation fell.
The public, tired of the banality of the plots, which traveled hand in hand with that of the soundtracks, began to desert the cinemas when they screened the films shot by the singer and this obviously reflected negatively on their revenue and, consequently, also on his film career. Regarding the mediocrity and paucity of the films to the realization of which the singer collaborated in that period, he expressed himself as follows: “The only thing worse than having to watch a bad film is having acted in it…”. However, the two films shot by the singer during 1968, respectively entitled Stay Away, Joe and Live a little, Love a little (both unpublished in Italy), as well as the three films shot during 1969, respectively entitled Charro! (A man called Charro), The Trouble with Girls and Change of Habit (unpublished in Italy).
The roles that the singer played in these films were less banal and predictable than those he had previously interpreted, and this characteristic was shared with their plots. However, these films, although better than those that had preceded them, were not able to fully restore the fortunes of his shaky film career, since the public and the critics received them lukewarmly, and this resulted in mediocre commercial feedback. During the course of his film career, Elvis worked with a long list of actors, some of them famous, such as, in alphabetical order, Arthur o” Connell, Bill Bixby, Cesare Danova, Charles Bronson, Dean Jones, Gary Lockwood, Gig Young, James Gleason, James Shigeta, John Mc Intire, Mickey Shaugnessy, Paul Lucas, Richard Egan, Robert Redford, Steve Forrest and Vincent Price.
Turning our attention to female partners, however, we can mention Angela Lansbury, Annette Day, Anne Helm, Ann-Margret, Barbara Eden, Barbara Stanwyck, Carolyn Jones, Dolores Hart, Debra Paget, Dodie Marshall, Dolores del Río, Elsa Cárdenas, Elsa Lanchester, Glenda Farrell, Hope Lang, Ina Balin, Ivonne Craig, Ivonne Romain, Joan Blackman, Joan Freeman, Judy Tyler, Juliet Prowse, Lizabeth Scott, Lola Albright, Mary Tyler Moore, Nancy Sinatra, Schelley Fabares, Stella Stevens, Suzanna Leigh, and Ursula Andress.
Some film critics agree that he had a certain propensity for acting, but that he was always given roles that were not conducive to bringing out his acting talents. The singer was chosen by Barbra Streisand to act in the film A Star is Born, but the exaggeratedly exorbitant demands of Colonel Parker prevented this from happening and the same thing happened after his candidatures in two other films of considerable depth: The Cat on the Roof that Burns in the role that was Paul Newman and A Man on the Sidewalk, a part that then went to Jon Voight.
In the sixties Elvis, in addition to the support of his usual collaborators, availed himself of the collaboration of musicians among whom we can remember the pianists Floyd Cramer and Aurhus Robbins, guitarists Hank Garland, Grady Martin, Harold Dradley, Ray Edenton, Pete Drake (steel guitar specialist) and Charlie Hodge (the latter also a member of the Memphis Mafia), saxophonists Justin Gordon and Boots Randoph, bassist Bob Moore, percussionist Buddy Harman, vocalists belonging to the Anita Kerr Singers, chorister Millie Kirkham and violinist Tommy Jackson. These musicians, who for some time had built an excellent reputation in the musical environment of the time, collaborated with the singer both during the processing of songs from which they were taken singles and albums published during the decade, both during the processing of soundtracks of the films in which he participated in the same period.
After almost ten years of engagement, on May 1, 1967, the singer got married with the woman who had been his “official girlfriend” for almost ten years, Priscilla Presley, and everything happened during a private ceremony to which a small group of people were invited and participated, formed by their families and friends of the couple, at the hotel called Aladdin Hotel, in the city of Las Vegas. About nine months later, on February 1, 1968, Elvis became a father, since his marriage was cheered by the birth of a girl, who was baptized with the name of Lisa Marie: his most reliable biographers often emphasize the fact that he nourished throughout his life a real form of adoration for his daughter, with whom he had a beautiful relationship until his death.
His most ardent fans have always considered the ex-wife of the singer as the main responsible for the deep state of prostration in which he, because of the separation, sank. According to them, the occurrence of this situation was also the primary cause of the subsequent frightening increase in the consumption of psychotropic drugs that the singer, in an attempt to combat the depressive state that afflicted him, just from that period put in place: this behavior led him at first quickly towards the dependence on the same and then to the psychophysical breakdown that became so obvious, even externally, from the second half of the seventies.
Accomplice is the evolution of public tastes, both the progressive decline in quality of the plots and soundtracks of the films that interpreted at the time represented, with rare (and sometimes praiseworthy) exceptions, almost the entirety of his record production, the singer for the first time since the beginning of his career had to deal with the results of a sharp decline in popularity. His manager was then forced to consider a number of alternatives, in order to try to reinvigorate the now shaky image of his client. Colonel Parker examined a series of possible options and among the solutions considered was that of abandoning the singer”s stale film career and resume performances on a stage.
This hypothesis took shape in the subsequent organization of a television show of Christmas character, in which Elvis would have played the role of guest of honor, taking the pretext to repropose before the public in the guise of a singer and no longer in those of an actor. The show in question was produced by the NBC television network and its realization collaborated actively a young director, Steve Binder, already known for having made successful documentaries on the world of rock and roll, who had expressed the intention to participate in the realization of a special focused on the figure of the singer.
Those who collaborated with him during the period of the show”s gestation, questioned on the subject, have asserted on several occasions that he also proved to be very enthusiastic and cooperative: this attitude was the direct consequence of the fact that the singer was fascinated by the idea of diving back into the dawn of his artistic origins, which were mainly represented by performances in front of an audience, therefore a form of direct and instantaneous contact with the public, and not acting behind a camera, which represented a form of artificial and deferred contact.
What was later called the 68 Comeback Special, which originally was supposed to be just a stereotypical celebration of Christmas, thanks to the innovative contribution of the ideas of Binder and of the singer, who during the production of the show collaborated with each other in order to achieve a final result artistically valid, often entering in contrast with the directives given by Colonel Parker, became instead the celebration of his return on the scene as a rocker. At that juncture the singer took maniacal care of his image and his return to the scene, presenting himself to the public in perfect physical shape. Visibly slim and wrapped in a particular and sensual black leather suit that was inspired by the classic iconography of the fifties, the historical period during which his presence was manifested for the first time on the international scene, he performed in a set that was clearly inspired by the structure of the ring in which boxers fought, giving vent to all the grit that he had to repress in all the years in which he had devoted himself to acting, giving the public an excellent show.
During the course of the show, he began by interpreting, accompanied by the orchestra and choreographically using his guitar, a medley of his old hits, combined with more recent songs, such as Trouble (a piece that had been included in the soundtrack of one of the first films shot by the singer in 1957, The Way of Evil), and Lawdy Miss Clawdy, as well as Guitar Man, and Baby, What You Want Me To Do. After that he proposed himself in the execution, rearranged in an orchestral way, of those that have always represented his classics, such as Heartbreak Hotel, Hound Dog, All Shook Up, Can”t Help Falling in Love, Jailhouse Rock, Don”t Be Cruel, Blue Suede Shoes and Love Me Tender.
Then followed the interpretation of some gospel and spiritual songs, such as Where Could I Go But The Lord, Up Above My Head, and Saved. Then the singer, taking advantage of their accompaniment and prompted by the same Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana, who represented what remained of the group that had accompanied him during his rise to success during the fifties (Bill Black was missing, who died of a malignant tumor in 1966) produced in the interpretation of songs such as Baby, What You Want Me To Do, That”s All Right (Mama), Blue Christmas, One Night, Tiger man, and Trying To Get To You. Often he interrupted the execution of the songs and together with them he recalled, commenting on them, the circumstances that had allowed the start of his successful artistic career, also ironizing on the evolution of his film career.
This was followed by the interpretation of a melodic song, entitled Memories, and the subsequent interpretation of a final medley composed of songs such as Nothingville, Big Boss Man, Let Yourself Go, It Hurts Me, Guitar Man, Little Egypt and Trouble. Noteworthy is also the song titled If I Can Dream, written specifically for him, interpreted by the singer as the closing song of the show, which was well received in terms of commercial response and helped to return the name of the singer in the upper areas of the various charts, a circumstance that had not occurred for some time. The remarkable success of the show renewed the singer”s desire to dedicate himself to the production of quality music and, driven by this motivation, he decided to return to the city of Memphis and lock himself in a recording studio, in order to make a long series of recording sessions.
Elvis, positively influenced by the atmosphere that had been created around his person and by the artistic value of his new collaborators (authors, instrumentalists and choristers), dedicated himself with professionalism to the recording sessions: the results were not long in coming and the fruit of all this work were two albums, which were well received by both critics and the public, containing a series of excellent songs. These albums, Back In Memphis and From Elvis in Memphis, contained songs such as In the Ghetto and Suspicious Minds (of the latter a group that reached a certain notoriety in the eighties, the Fine Young Cannibals, produced a cover, which had a good commercial response), which were discographically remarkable successes, and helped to return the name of the singer among those who occupied the first places of the various sales charts, something that had not happened since the first half of the sixties.
From the beginning of the decade and throughout the course of the same, the record production of the time was focused mainly on the publication of albums containing the soundtracks of films starring the singer, so that during the course of that period were marketed about thirty records, which at least for the first half of the sixties had a remarkable sales success, in assonance with the excellent commercial response obtained at the time from the films from which they were taken the songs that were the content. Among them we can remember the album containing the soundtrack of the film entitled G.I. Blues (Cafe Europa), shot in 1960, and the album containing the soundtrack of the film entitled Blue Hawaii, published the following year.
Since the second half of the decade, due to the much lower appreciation obtained by the films interpreted by the singer, the situation changed radically and the albums from their soundtracks reached much more rarely good placings or long stays in the upper areas of the various charts. Also from the beginning of the decade were then marketed a series of studio albums containing songs of recent workmanship, artistically valid, such as those entitled respectively Elvis Is Back!, published in 1960, Pot Luck with Elvis, published in 1962 and Something for Everybody, released the following year. These albums, however, did not reach the sales results achieved by those containing songs from the soundtracks of the films.
This commercial evidence led the singer to drastically reduce the publication of studio albums, and devote himself almost exclusively to the publication of albums containing songs that made up the soundtrack of the films that he then interpreted with a fast pace. It is worth mentioning the album containing only gospel music, His Hand in Mine, published in 1960, which reached good positions in the various charts and was the first of three albums containing “sacred” music published by the singer during his career. Towards the end of the decade, just when the albums produced by recording songs taken from the soundtracks of the films were no longer able to reach commercial results worthy of note, reached good placings in the various charts albums such as the one containing the soundtrack of the television special called 68 Elvis Cameback Special and the following ones, entitled respectively Back In Memphis and From Elvis in Memphis.
Also during the decade in question were then published some anthology albums, such as albums entitled Elvis” Golden Records Volume 3, Elvis for Everyone and finally Elvis” Gold Records Volume 4, which contained collections of songs already published previously by the singer and that reached the discrete placements in the various charts. The singles that during the decade reached the best results at a commercial level were those entitled Are You Lonesome Tonight?, It”s Now or Never, and Surrender, published during the two years between 1960 and 1961.
Reassured by the success of the television show, Colonel Parker evaluated the possible developments that could result from the resumption of live performances and came to the conclusion that this was the way to pursue in order to reinvigorate the popularity of his client. Subsequently he was activated in order to procure a series of engagements, while the singer on the other hand worked to create an orchestra that would support him in the execution of his return to the scene and within a few months he formed the organic, following in particular the advice and directives of James Burton, his new guitarist.
The members of what would later be called the TCB Band, the group that would accompany him for all future tours of the seventies, became the bassist Jerry Scheff, drummer Ronnie Tutt, rhythm guitarist John Wilkinson and pianist Glenn D. Hardin, who from 1976 was replaced by Larry Muhoberac. The efforts of his manager were instead crowned by the signing of an important contract of exclusivity with the International Hotel in Las Vegas, which obviously sanctioned the availability of the singer to make a long series of performances, which would then be held on the stage set up at the same.
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Towards the end of 1970 Elvis took action in order to obtain an interview with the then President of the United States Richard Nixon: the request he made was granted and on December 21 of that year he went to the White House, to visit “Tricky Dick”. In conjunction with the event and in order to solemnize it, numerous snapshots were obviously taken, portraying him talking with him in the famous Oval Office. The Nixon Presidential Library & Birthplace, based in Yorba Linda, California, sells copies of these snapshots, naturally accompanied by the caption “The President & The King”. In addition, he, who had always been fascinated by weapons and uniforms, was able to achieve a goal he had been pursuing for some time because, with the full approval of President Nixon, he was appointed to all intents and purposes an agent of the F.B.I., narcotics section.
The singer began the new decade by producing a second series of shows, to which he devoted himself continuously for about a month, between January 26 and February 23, 1970, always on stage at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. He, who at that time carefully took care of his physical appearance and his look, trying to renew it and adapt it to the times that were evolving, during the course of his performances, as had already happened during the concert activity that he had done in the fifties, became the object of manifestations of collective hysteria, which is made testimony in the documentary focused on his artistic career Elvis, That”s way it is, produced at that time. At that time the singer, asked about the issues related to new trends that were emerging in the musical field, said: “Music has improved a lot in recent years. The sounds are better, the musicians are better You know the Beatles and the Byrds… But rock ”n” roll, basically, is based on gospel and rhythm and blues…”
To remember the close friendship that in that period he formed with the Welsh singer Tom Jones, who had achieved international notoriety during the course of a tour through various locations in the United States, including the stages of Las Vegas, and from whom he borrowed some of the attitudes that the latter adopted when he performed on stage. It was precisely Las Vegas, the city that about fifteen years ago had been the witness of one of the greatest youthful failures of the singer, since at that time the sophisticated audience that crowded its exclusive clubs had shown that they did not appreciate the attitudes in which he produced during his performances, the place where his artistic rebirth took place. Elvis, from that moment on, seemed determined to make up for all the lost years spent away from the public, and in seven years, between 1970 and 1977, he performed in almost a thousand concerts, reaching an average of one performance every two and a half days. Noteworthy is the fact that these concerts also usually included more performances, even two or three, which took place at different times of the same day.
The singer during the course of the decade in question, made use of the fundamental contribution of a considerable number of musicians, among whom we can remember the pianists Glen D. Hardin and Tony Brown, guitarists James Burton, John Wilkinson, Charlie Hodge (the latter, a member of the “Memphis mafia”, often played the role of chorister), Chip Young, Bill Sandford, percussionist Farrell Morris, multi-instrumentalist Dennis Lind, gospel choristers Wendellyn Suits, Dolores Edgin and Hurshel Wiginton, bassists Jerry Sheff and Norbert Putnam, drummer Ronnie Tutt, keyboardists David Briggs, Bobby Emmons and Shane Keister. These musicians, who for some time had built an excellent reputation in the musical environment of the time, collaborated with the singer both during the processing of the songs from which they were drawn singles and albums published during the decade, both during the conduct of live performances.
Throughout the course of that long period, the singer availed himself of the fundamental collaboration of Cissy Houston, known to most people for being the mother of the famous Whitney Houston, very popular in the eighties and died on February 11, 2012, baptized with the name of The Sweet Inspirations, of which at that time also Dionne Warwick was part, and that had previously collaborated with artists such as Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Lou Rawls, Otis Redding, The Drifters, Dusty Springfield, Jimi Hendrix and Van Morrison.
The singer also availed himself at first of the collaboration of a vocal quartet called The Imperial Quartet, and later, since 1971, the collaboration of another similar quartet, called The Stamps, led by D.J. Sumner. This group, albeit with some changes of formation, continued to collaborate with the singer until his death, serving as vocal support during his performances throughout the seventies. Kathy Westmoreland also deserves a special mention, a good chorister, whose artistic career had begun about ten years before and who had already collaborated in the past with artists such as Bobby Darin and Ray Conniff. In August 1970 she was hired as a soprano voice in the choir that accompanied the singer”s interpretations, both live and in the studio, and she continued to work with him until his death.
Initially, the musical lineup of the concerts was short, but over time it was enriched with a considerable amount of interludes, which contributed to the creation of an atmosphere of solemn and celebratory character; moreover, starting in 1971, the orchestral performance of Richard Strauss” Così parlò Zarathustra (Thus Spake Zarathustra) marked the beginning of the performances. As the years went by, the tone of the orchestral accompaniments became more and more elaborate and bombastic, while the musical lineup underwent a limited number of variations.
The singer usually began by performing traditional songs that had long been a part of American popular music culture, such as See See Rider, followed by performances of songs that he had performed at the beginning of his career, such as That”s All Right (Mama), Ready Teddy, Heartbreak Hotel, Don”t Be Cruel, and Jailhouse Rock. He would normally continue his performances by playing a medley of more recently crafted songs.
During his performances, the singer used to introduce the members of his band to the audience and entertain them by talking to them. Then he resumed the performances interpreting songs brought to success by other artists, such as Something by the Beatles, My Way by Frank Sinatra, Welcome to my world by Marty Robbins.
Starting from the seventies, Elvis began to enrich his choreographic performances by producing karate moves, a discipline of which he was a devotee and this, towards the end of his career, because of the physical conditions in which he was sometimes grotesque. In addition, usually the various presenters of the concerts announced the end of the exhibition and the subsequent and rapid departure from the scenes of the singer by pronouncing in a solemn tone the phrase “Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building!” (“Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building!”).
Starting from that period, the singer”s performances were enriched by other singular interludes, which during the years became more and more picturesque. He, usually towards the end of his performances, took the habit of throwing towards the public the trappings that accompanied his costumes, such as capes and scarves.
Also worth mentioning is the role of Bill Bellew, a costume designer from Los Angeles, who from 1968 until the date of the singer”s death, took on the role of his “official costume designer”, and took care of the costumes worn by the singer during his performances. Initially, the costumes worn by the singer were inspired by the tunics worn by karateka and their design was simple and rational, but over the years, it became increasingly complex and elaborate, so that they were inserted from time to time an exaggerated number of decorative seals of various shapes, which contributed to the formation of symbolic designs.
These costumes were later accompanied by accessories such as large belts, long and decorated capes, and special scarves, dyed with iridescent colors, which the singer threw to the public at the end of his performances. With the passing of time these disguises (“Jumpsuit” in English) ended up being considered an indissoluble part of the colorful iconography that revolved around the character, and to become an integral part of his image. After the death of the singer, his stage clothes became a relic and were exhibited around the world during the events that were related to his figure. After his death, some of them were sold at auctions for considerable sums of money, while others can still be seen at his former home, Graceland.
It was clear that the resumption of his live performances had helped to revitalize the image of the singer, tarnished by dozens of films made in the previous decade. Colonel Parker, in an attempt to make the most of the wave of renewed success, began to think of organizing a sort of mega-concert, of which of course the singer would be the exclusive protagonist, and this intention was realized later in the organization of a mega-show, which would be broadcast via satellite around the world. Peculiarity of this concert was the fact that the proceeds would be donated to charity and more specifically the charity work concerned the collection of funds to be used to finance research on cancer, the funds collected later would be donated to the treasury of a charity called “Kui Lee Cancer Benefit”.
In fact, the collection of these funds had already begun in June 1972, in memory of a great Hawaiian singer and composer, Kui Lee, who had died of cancer a few years ago, on December 3, 1966, at the age of only 34 years. The promoter of this noble initiative was the journalist Eddie Sherman, who worked with a local newspaper called the Honolulu Advertiser. In any case, there are irrefutable evidence that the singer, since the early sixties, consolidated wealth, had begun to collaborate with a number of organizations that were responsible for collecting funds to donate them later to charity, making a long series of donations in money, moreover of significant size, to the same, and that maintained this habit until the end of his days.
On January 14, 1973, after the execution of a rehearsal concert, which was later called Aloha from Hawaii – Rehearsal Concert, which took place in the days immediately preceding the official one, and of which there are some visual and phonographic traces, used later in order to market various recordings “pirate” of the same, was filmed and broadcast worldwide the first show via satellite from Honolulu, officially called the Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite, which was followed by an estimated audience of over one billion viewers in forty countries. The singer at that juncture was at his best, so that this concert is usually considered by his fans as the best performance of Elvis in the seventies and also his last good performance before his subsequent progressive and unstoppable decline.
For the occasion, he asked Bill Bellew, his costume designer, to prepare a costume that recalled the most classic stereotypes of the United States and, to satisfy him, he produced a costume in a particular white fabric, studded with precious stones, which formed the design of what has always been considered by the American people the most characteristic symbol of the nation, that is, the American Eagle, reproduced by artfully placing on the fabric flashy red, gold and blue gems. All this was accompanied by a belt fastened by an enormous buckle decorated with other golden “American Eagle”, and by an imposing cloak studded with gems, arranged to form a design that reproduced for the umpteenth time this symbol.
The singer, wearing the latest creation of his personal stylist, performed a long series of songs, including pieces recently written especially for him, such as Burning Love and Suspicious Minds, classics that had previously been interpreted by other artists, such as Johnny B. Goode, Whole Lotta Shakin” Goin” On Jerry Lee Lewis, Long Tally Sally Little Richard, Steamroller Blues James Taylor, My Way Frank Sinatra What Now? Goode by Chuck Berry, Whole Lotta Shakin” Goin” On by Jerry Lee Lewis, Long Tally Sally by Little Richard, Steamroller Blues by James Taylor, My Way by Frank Sinatra, What Now My Love by Gilbert Bécaud, Something by The Beatles, You Give Me a Mountain by Marty Robbins, It”s Over by Jimmie Rodgers, I”m So Lonesome I Could Cry by Hank Williams, I Can”t Stop Loving You by Don Gibson and I”ll Remember You by Kuiokalani Lee.
During the course of his performance, the singer interpreted a traditional medley, American Trilogy, composed of three traditional songs of clear patriotic inspiration, and also a medley of what could be considered his warhorses, historical songs, such as Blue Suede Shoes, Hound Dog, A Big Hunk O” Love, Love Me Tender, Fever, and Can”t Help Falling in Love, songs that he had interpreted at the beginning of his career, and whose great sales success almost twenty years before had allowed him to reach worldwide fame. He performed in front of a large audience singing and entertaining the onlookers for more than an hour, showing off a good physical and vocal shape, and the concert was later obtained the double album Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite.
At that juncture, RCA also took action in order to characterize in a particular way the album that was about to be put on the market, which had to be made using the concert recording. In order to achieve this result, they put it into production by exploiting the principles of a branch of acoustic science called quadraphony, and in fact the album in question, entitled Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite, was the first album to be produced with the contribution of this technology that could boast the qualification of million seller, since it obtained a good response of commercial nature. Despite the persistent rumors of possible foreign tours, the singer never performed outside the borders of the United States and Canada, and consequently there were always thousands of fans from all over the world who went overseas in order to be able to attend in person one of his performances.
It is noteworthy that the singer nurtured an unconditional passion for gospel music throughout his life and, whenever he had the opportunity, he interpreted its songs, both in the studio and live. This passion was born when, as an adolescent, he went to listen to the performances of the Blackwood Brothers and the Stamps, two vocal groups famous for the goodness of the choirs in which they produced during their performances. J. D. Sumner, who collaborated with him throughout the seventies as a chorister, had been part of them and his legendary voice reached a particular record, included in the Guinness Book of Records, the record of the lowest note emitted by the human voice and which remains a phonographic trace. For the record this note was emitted during the recording of the song Way Down, which was one of the last singles recorded by the singer during the decade.
From the beginning of the decade in question, the singer adopted an increasingly unruly and extravagant lifestyle. From then on he began to wear more and more showy and eccentric clothes and to show off, whenever he had the opportunity, attitudes, as they say, “royal”, very similar to those that would take a real “monarch”. As a consequence of this he was then nicknamed “the King” and for his fans he remained such until the end of his days.
At that time, questioned by journalists on the extravagances that characterized his public image, the singer expressed: “The image is one thing, while the man is another, it is very difficult to live behind an image…” Also since then he began then to produce in crazy expenses, buying huge amounts of jewelry, luxury cars, sometimes made customize on purpose.
He then got rid of these purchases, giving them to his girlfriends of the moment, to acquaintances, to members of his entourage or to strangers: this foolish behavior sometimes inevitably ended up putting in crisis his finances. During 1975, the singer bought two planes, a small Lockheed JetStar quadricopter, used until then for charter flights, which he christened “Hound Dog II”, and a Convair 880 four-engine jet, a medium-sized civilian aircraft used for passenger transport, which had been discontinued by Delta Air Lines.
The singer had purchased it with the intention of making it his personal aircraft, spending the sum of 250 000 dollars. After a very expensive renovation of the interior of the aircraft, which met his working needs and tastes, the amount spent reached and exceeded 600 000 dollars. The aircraft was then christened “Lisa Marie”, in honor of the singer”s daughter, and later used by the same and his entourage to reach quickly the most diverse locations in America. Both aircraft in question are exposed and visible for some time at Graceland, the home of Elvis.
Starting from the second half of the seventies, it also became evident that the singer, due to the depressive state that afflicted him and the consequent abuse of drugs in which he produced in an attempt to fight it, began to show signs of some form of psychic imbalance. There are reliable testimonies of the fact that he, since that period, frequently used the weapons in his possession in order to vent his excesses of anger on objects, especially cars and televisions.
There are also reliable testimonies of the fact that he used these weapons in order to threaten and intimidate members of his entourage, with whom, again because of the psychic conditions in which he was, he often had violent quarrels. There is also news of an ambitious film project in which the singer participated, namely the production of a documentary film focused on martial arts, for which he had long nurtured a great passion, and in which he would play the leading role.
This project then, due to serious health problems that began to afflict the singer, mainly due to his conduct of life, and the consequent excessive and immoderate consumption of drugs implemented in order to support the rhythm, was then set aside and the film in question never reached theaters. However, you can see on the internet sites that deal with the huge amount of memorabilia related to the character, some clips of home movies shot at the gym where he trained in the company of his entourage, which should have been used during the production of the documentary. Such footage, in fact, gives us the image of a martial arts enthusiast who was rather slow, faded and overall in very poor physical shape.
The total record production was huge and diversified throughout the decade, since during the course of the period were published a considerable number of albums containing collections of anthology, made from time to time collecting songs that were part of the soundtracks of films starring the singer during the sixties, or collecting the titles of singles dating back to the fifties, when he was signed by Sun Records. In other cases, these collections were compiled by collecting the titles of the first singles recorded by the singer, when he was signed by RCA, or by collecting titles recorded for the same company, but more recent, or by simply putting together a miscellany of the material described above, without any rational order or logical connection.
Among them, in Italy we can remember those published by RCA Italiana, belonging to the “Line Three”, and in England those published by RCA Camden, a sub-brand of RCA, along the same lines. Numerous albums were then published with sequences of new songs recorded in the studio, some of them artistically valid, and among them we can remember the one entitled Elvis Country (I”m 10,000 Years Old), a concept album containing a series of country music songs, and the one entitled Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas, a collection of Christmas songs, both marketed in 1971. Then followed the publication of a collection of gospel songs, entitled He Touched Me, released in 1972.
Noteworthy also album entitled Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite, containing the soundtrack of the concert of the same name, marketed in 1973. Curious instead the album titled Having Fun with Elvis on Stage, a unique collection containing the recording of the dialogues that the singer had with his audience during the course of his concerts, marketed in 1974. Particular instead the two albums titled respectively Promised Land and Today, containing a long series of songs characterized by a decidedly melodic structure and from which transpired a vein of considerable sadness, both marketed in 1975.
The last album released by the singer during the decade was entitled Moody Blue, which contained a collection of songs of clear country inspiration. The songs that in that period obtained more success in the charts as singles, were, in chronological order those entitled respectively Kentucky Rain and The Wonder of You, the latter a cover of an old Ray Peterson”s hit, dating back to 1959, both marketed in 1970, There Goes My Everything, marketed in 1971, Burning Love, marketed in 1972, Steamroller Blues, marketed in 1973, Promised Land, marketed in 1974, My Boy, and T-R-O-U-B-L-E, both marketed in 1975.
The last recording success of the singer during the decade in question was represented by the publication of the single entitled Moody Blue, marketed in 1977, which was also the last record released by the singer before his death on August 16 of that year. Some of these titles reached important positions in the various record charts, both in the American market and in the European one, reaching in some cases considerable periods of permanence in the top areas of the same, but it was clear that the singer during the second half of the fifties, the period during which his image was established at international level, had reached more striking results.
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At the beginning of the seventies, the singer began to have problems with his eyesight and, after undergoing a series of eye examinations, he discovered he was suffering from a form of secondary glaucoma: he suffered from this problem until the end of his days because the continuous exposure to strong stage lights, inevitable during the performance of his concert activity, worsened the pathology from which he was afflicted. At the same time began to manifest problems inherent to his married life, as the long periods of distance from the conjugal home, his more frequent occasional relationships with other women, his continuous mood swings, dependent on the abuse of drugs, became the source of continuous arguments with his wife Priscilla. Later, the continuation of this situation pushed the same Priscilla, who normally did not follow him during the course of his endless tours and in the meantime had set up a romantic relationship with another man, to ask and obtain the separation from him in February 1972.
With the passing of the years Elvis, in order to better withstand the fast pace of his stressful concert activity, increased dramatically the consumption of drugs such as stimulants and amphetamines. Similarly, in order to force his subsequent rest, he also increased the consumption of drugs such as barbiturates and tranquilizers: the lethal mix of drugs that he used to take with increasing frequency and in increasing quantities, aroused in him a form of severe addiction, and then ended up negatively affecting his health. Hospitalizations then became frequent. In addition, to what seemed to be the continuous growth of a hypochondriac state, were added the consequences of an excessive and disordered diet, which led the singer to gain weight noticeably and then to undergo, in an attempt to recover a minimum of physical form, to exhausting diets based on drugs.
On October 9, 1973, in the city of Santa Monica was officially sanctioned the divorce between Elvis and Priscilla and, although, despite the end of their marriage, they have maintained good relations of friendship that lasted until his death, the incident contributed to the profiling in him of a period of acute depression. Dates back to that period the publication of a song from which it was taken a single character strongly autobiographical, titled Always on My Mind (Always in my mind), which obtained a certain success and of which a well-known group in vogue in the eighties, the Pet Shop Boys, produced in 1987 a remake in a dance key, which also enjoyed an excellent response of a commercial nature.
The above mentioned depressive state and the consequent abuse of drugs put in place by the singer in order to fight it inevitably affected his already precarious psychological balance. As a result of this, he began to manifest signs of a volubility and irritability remarkable: this state of affairs ended up breaking his relationships with members of his entourage. Animated by resentment, they later wrote and published a heavily defamatory book against him, entitled Elvis: What Happened? (Elvis, what happened?). This biography was written jointly by Red West, Sonny West and Dave Hebler, who for almost twenty years had been the “historical members” of the so-called “Memphis Mafia”. Obviously the singer became aware of the book, he got a copy and read it: this contributed further to the worsening of the depressive state that already afflicted him for some time.
The divorce became effective in October 1973. In that period the singer”s health began to decline rapidly. During that same year he was hospitalized twice for drug overdoses: the first time he spent three days in a coma in the hotel suite where he was staying, while in the second episode, which occurred at the end of the year, he was hospitalized in a coma state for a pethidine overdose. According to his trusted physician George C. Nicophoulos, Elvis thought “he wasn”t like a junkie buying the stuff on the street due to the fact that he was taking drugs prescribed by a doctor.” Over the next three years he produced six albums of songs that met with mixed reviews from critics and audiences; five of these albums entered the top five for some time and three reached the top spot. The various singles had some success but did not reach the top of the charts.
A sign of problems related to the singer”s health was that, although he continued to engage in a large number of concerts, the duration of these was reduced, and as a rule they did not last more than an hour, sometimes 50 minutes. Despite the problems that afflicted him, the singer continued to perform in many tours, most of them in the United States without stopping, and did not change his lifestyle despite the warnings of doctors. John Wilkinson, guitarist who worked in the last years with Presley, portrayed him in disturbing details: “Swollen like a wineskin, stammering, a real wreck… there was something absolutely wrong with his physique… he was so sick that the words in his songs were totally indecipherable…”.
Although his physical condition was often critical, on some occasions he did not fail to produce performances of unquestionable level, such as his performance in Rapid City at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center on June 21, 1977, during which he performed a heartfelt and vocally valid interpretation of the song Unchained Melody, a song later used in the eighties as the soundtrack of the film Ghost in the 1965 version recorded by The Righteous Brothers. He performed continuously until shortly before his death, held his last concert on June 26, 1977 at the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis in front of an audience of 18,000 people (excerpts of the soundtrack from that last performance are contained in the CD released in 2002 and titled Adios: The Final Performance).
During 1977 was produced by CBS a television special, made by assembling a series of shots taken during the course of some of the last concert performances of the singer. The clips of footage used in order to assemble the final product then broadcast, lasting about an hour, showed the image of an artist now unmade, sometimes in a state of confusion, clearly aged, frighteningly overweight, and overall in very bad shape. These conditions are more appreciable viewing of amateur films shot at the time, behind the scenes, before the entry of the singer, which are visible on various websites dedicated to the huge amount of memorabilia related to the character.
During the course of the performances he interpreted as usual what was considered his most classic repertoire, re-proposing some versions of his record hits, sometimes with variations that the physical conditions in which he was inevitably made ridiculous and grotesque. The recording of these performances, however, represents the last media testimony of the typical concert activity in which he had produced throughout the seventies, and was called Elvis in Concert. From the soundtrack of the same special, was also derived an album, published after the death of the singer, which at the time reached positions of a certain importance in the charts compiled by Billboard magazine.
The gossip and the popular vulgate around the character attributed him in the course of the decade several and sometimes unlikely relationships of a sentimental nature with an unspecified number of women, as well as alleged reacquaintances with his ex-wife Priscilla, but the important stable relationships of which we have reliable information were basically two. The first one was the one that the singer had with Linda Thompson, former “beauty queen”, at the time also elected “Miss Tennessee”, who he met at the end of 1973 and who remained close to him for about four years, trying to distract him from his unhealthy habits of life. The second one was the one he had with Ginger Alden, model and actress, whom he met after the end of the sentimental relationship with his previous partner, who was by his side during the last sad and troubled period of his life. Alden was also the woman who assumed the role of the last “official girlfriend” of Elvis, whose lifeless body was found in the bathroom of Graceland, on August 16, 1977.
After a performance held on August 15, the singer returned to Memphis to rest and devote himself to a new tour, which should have started around the second half of the month. On August 16, shortly after midnight, he returned to Graceland and, despite having already taken a large dose of barbiturates, he stayed up until the early hours of the morning, spending time with his family and his staff, relaxing and taking care of the last details of the concert that was to take place in Portland, the next day. At 4:30 a.m. he took to the piano to play two gospel songs and the country tune Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, the last piece he ever sang. Half an hour later he retreated to his room to try to rest before departure but, still unable to sleep, decided to take another dose of barbiturates.
At 9:30 he took the book entitled A scientific search for the face of Jesus, written by Frank O. Adams, and headed for the bathroom. After 4 hours, at 13:30, he was found in the bathroom by his partner Ginger Alden, who immediately gave the alarm. The singer was lying on the floor. He was transported by ambulance to Baptist Memorial Hospital, where he arrived at 14:56, the resuscitation attempts made during the transport were useless and at the arrival it was clear that the death had already occurred for several hours. At 15:00 he was declared dead, which in an official statement was attributed to “cardiac arrest”, although there was still no medical-legal evidence. Elvis Presley was 42 years old.
Presley”s movements were monitored daily by journalists, who often wandered in front of the house. The media became aware of the fact immediately and word of the death spread quickly. Less than an hour after the death of the singer a thousand people had already gathered in front of the gate of Graceland: an hour later their number was already around three thousand. In the afternoon it reached and exceeded twenty thousand, and in the late evening it reached and exceeded eighty thousand people. Even the subsequent course of the funeral was characterized by that form of particular and sometimes grotesque folklore, which throughout the evolution of the career of the singer had been fueled by the devotion that his fans had always paid tribute.
From all over the world rained huge amounts of orders to Memphis florists, who were commissioned to package thousands of floral cushions in the shape of guitars, in reference to the instrument that had always accompanied the singer throughout his career, of dogs, in reference to the song Hound Dog, teddy bears, in reference to the song (Let me be Your) Teddy Bear (Teddy Bear), broken hearts, in reference to the song Heartbreak Hotel, and funeral wreaths of various shapes, but which were inspired in their form to the iconography that was born and had subsequently developed around the image of the singer. Two special flights were organized in order to transport five tons of flowers from California and Colorado.
The course of the funeral was also afflicted by the occurrence of some incidents, depending both on the enormous and chaotic crowd that was created at that time, both by the aura of fanaticism and collective hysteria that had always characterized the relationship that his most devoted admirers had entertained with their idol. Graceland, the majestic estate purchased by the singer in 1957, has become a veritable museum: open to the public since 1982, it has become a sort of rock sanctuary, a place of continuous pilgrimage for his countless fans. Graceland is also the second most visited home in the United States, with an average of over 10 000 visitors per week, after the White House, the historic home of the nation”s president.
The circumstances of death
On August 16, 1977 Elvis was found lifeless by his girlfriend Ginger Alden in his bathroom at Graceland, presumed dead of a heart attack. However, there have been many hypotheses about the causes of his death, about which there are still doubts and perplexities. According to a well-known biographer of the singer, Peter Guralnick, his personal doctor years later expressed himself, when asked about the modalities of his death: “Elvis had vomited and crawled for a few meters before dying”. After performing the autopsy of the body, in his body was found the presence of traces of fourteen different drugs, which were later found to have been legally prescribed by his personal physician.
The doctors who treated Elvis at the time had already tried to convince him to replace this diet with a healthier and regular one, without obtaining the slightest success, since 1974, about three years before. Not negligible then also the hypothesis of an anaphylactic shock, caused by a partial allergy to codeine, a substance present in high doses in drugs against toothache that he was taking in large doses during those days.
After the disappearance of the singer was immediately spread a considerable amount of singular, varied and fanciful inferences, which contributed to the birth and subsequent consolidation of a particular urban legend, which enjoys a certain credit. At the time, these rumors claimed that the singer was not really dead, but in fact he was still alive and that his departure was just a staged event, put in place in order to allow him a kind of final escape from the existence too wearing that he, now totally enslaved to show business, had been forced to lead.
Since the date of his death, the presence of the singer has been reported a bit ”everywhere, in various locations around the world. Over the years have come to the knowledge of the various chronicles a multitude of different, often improbable and sometimes ridiculous sightings of Elvis. It exists a discreet number of associations, in particular American ones, engaged in sustaining to the bitter end and with conviction these theories. Among the most unlikely hypothesis among all those that have been formulated over the years, stand out for example the one that reveals the possible alien origin of the singer. This hypothesis is also mentioned during the development of the final scenes of the film Men in Black and it is also referred to it in a song performed by the Dire Straits band entitled Calling Elvis.
Another hypothesis is the one according to which the disappearance of the singer was actually the inevitable result of his forced inclusion in a program put in place by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and concerning the “protection of witnesses”. Among the strangest stories that were born also thanks to that particular aura of mystery that has always gravitated around the character, it should not be forgotten the one that attributes his involvement in the plot that during the sixties had as a consequence the murder of the American president John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
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(NB: in brackets is indicated the number of weeks at the top)