Showing posts with label Elvis movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Elvis movies. Show all posts

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Monday, January 25, 1960: el

According to John Tobler’s book, This Day in Rock: Day by Day Record of Rock’s Biggest News Stories (Carroll & Graf, 1993), Elvis Presley’s first RCA single, Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One, was released on January 25, 1956--exactly four years earlier than the above date. (Certain web sources proffer a slightly later date, although the discrepancy is minor and ultimately insignificant.)

On January 25, 1960, Elvis had just about five weeks left in the Army. No one had yet heard of the Beatles; the band as such didn't exist. The band that would become the Beatles was still known as The Quarrymen--the band members hadn’t yet decided on the name The Silver Beetles. In a wonderful sort of symmetry, precisely four years later--January 25, 1964--the Beatles first American single, “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” was one week away from becoming the band’s first #1 hit on the American charts, where it would remain perched for almost two months. As everyone knows, 1964 was the annus mirabilis of the Beatles, during which they had nine different singles sharing either the #1 or #2 spot on and off throughout the year. Chart information for 1964 is as follows (courtesy Joel Whitburn, Billboard Top 1000 Singles 1955-1990, Hal Leonard Publishing, 1991):

Song Title/Peak Date/Peak Position/Weeks at Peak Position
I Want to Hold Your Hand/February 1/#1/7 weeks
Please Please Me/March 14/#2/3 weeks
She Loves You/March 21/#1/2 weeks
Can’t Buy Me Love/April 4/#1/5 weeks
Twist and Shout/April 4/#2/4 weeks
Do You Want To Know a Secret/May 9/#2/1 week
Love Me Do/May 30/#1/1 week
A Hard Day’s Night/August 1/#1/2 weeks
I Feel Fine/Dec. 26/#1/3 weeks

In contrast, Elvis Presley had no songs in the Top 40 in 1964 (or 1965, or 1966, or 1967, or…). It wasn’t until late 1969 that Elvis had another #1 hit, his first big hit in many years. Instead of making records, he was busy making movies. During the years from 1960 (Post-Army, Pre-Beatles) to 1964 (Beatlemania), Elvis made the following movies, released in the following order:

G.I. Blues (1960)
Flaming Star (1960)
Wild in the Country (1961)
Blue Hawaii (1961)
Follow That Dream (1962)
Kid Galahad (1962)
Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962)
It Happened at the World's Fair (1963)
Fun in Acapulco (1963)
Kissin’ Cousins (1964) [Arguably his worst film, the absolute bottom of the barrel, infelicitously released at the onset of Beatlemania]
Viva Las Vegas (1964)
Roustabout (1964)

Hence, while Elvis was preoccupied with his movie career, the Fab Four were becoming one of the most famous bands in popular music history. The criss-cross that occurred in 1964 (one's fortunes up, the other's fortunes down, and I don't mean by fortunes "money") could not have gone unnoticed by either the Beatles or Elvis. In his biography, Elvis (1980) Albert Goldman writes:

No wonder then, that when the Beatles first came to America--welcomed on the Ed Sullivan Show by a telegram wishing them every success and signed by Elvis Presley (though dispatched without his knowledge by Colonel Parker)--Elvis refused point-blank to meet these dubious young men who aspired to the hand of his daughter, the American youth audience. “Hell, I don’t wanna meet them sons o’ bitches!” exploded Elvis when the Colonel ran the proposition by him for the first time during the Beatles’ initial tour in 1964. (Avon Books paperback, 1981, p. 447)

Elvis didn’t meet the Beatles until the third week of August 1965 (the event recounted with different rhetorical flourishes in different biographies) while in Los Angeles filming Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966), which could be considered his worst film--if it weren't for Kissin' Cousins. He hadn’t been in the recording studio for years, except, of course, for the purpose of recording material for his soundtracks. After the Beatles met Elvis in August, the rest of 1965 worked out as follows:

The Beatles--Rubber Soul (album), December 1965 (U. S.)
Elvis Presley--Harum Scarum (movie), December 1965 (U. S.)

Thus the remark John Lennon made just a few months later, “We’re more popular than Jesus now,” uttered during an interview conducted on March 4, 1966, was made only after he and the other members of the Beatles had met Elvis. Michael Jarrett, in Sound Tracks, A Musical ABC, Vols. 1-3 (Temple University Press, 1998), interprets Lennon’s infamous remark as follows:

When John Lennon declared that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, what’s the chance that he really meant--in Bible Code--that they were more popular than Elvis? In both Hebrew and the language of rock ‘n’ roll, El means “God.” Lennon, however, couldn’t bring himself to say what he meant. Why? It would have been sacrilegious. Remember, it was Lennon who said, “Before Elvis, there was nothing.” (84)

In other words, Lennon could not bring himself to utter the terrible truth. He could not say, “The Beatles have become more popular than Elvis,” but perhaps, nonetheless, that's what he meant. It’s worth looking at the entire infamous remark Lennon made in 1966, the following quotation taken from

When they reached the subject of religion, Lennon said, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. … We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first--rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity.”

What if he really meant the following? I have supplied the appropriate substitutions:

Elvis will go. He will vanish and shrink. … We’re more popular than Elvis now; I don’t know which will go first--us or Elvis.

Was Lennon consciously aware of what he really meant? Could he imagine the improbability that he had displaced his precursor, the one who had, in a very real sense, made him possible in the first place? That he had, figuratively speaking, like Oedipus, committed patricide? What are we to make out of the following juxtaposition, each album representing the first formal studio recordings made by each of the artists subsequent to their August 1965 meeting?

The Beatles: Revolver (August 1966)
Elvis Presley: How Great Thou Art (February 1967; recorded 1966 except for "Crying in the Chapel," 1960)