Although today sees the 25th
anniversary of Elvis' death, "The King's alive!" more than ever. The remix of Elvis' A
Little Less Conversation by Dutch DJ JXL for the Nike FIFA World Cup 2002
commercial became Elvis' 18th number one hit in the UK; he is now one #1 hit
ahead of The
Elvis Aaron Presley and his twin brother Jesse Garon were born in East Tupelo,
rural Mississippi, on January 8, 1935. Jesse died only a few hours after
birth. The brothers were the sons of Gladys and Vernon Presley, a couple of
poor, religious farmers.
Elvis sang in the choir of the Fundamental Assembly of God. At 10, he won a
singer contest. In 1946, he learned to play the guitar. He was influenced by
musicians like Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Muddy Waters and Bukka White. Elvis's
family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, the "birthplace of blues", in
1949 where he attended high school. He spent a lot of time in the African
American neighborhood. He listened to the music of B.B. King, Furry Lewis and
other blues musicians in the clubs in Beale Street.
After graduation in 1953, Elvis worked for several months as a truck driver.
Still in 1953, he saw the Sun Studios sign "Make your own records - $2
for 4 songs". Elvis recorded That's When Your Heartache Begins and
My Happiness as a birthday present for his beloved mother (as the
legend goes or just for his own pleasure, as you like).
On January 4, 1954, Elvis recorded I'll Never Stand In Your Way and Casual
Love Affair. This time, Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Studios, who had
just been looking for a white artist who could sing like a "Negro",
preserved Elvis' address. This was the white country musician with an R&B
feeling he was looking for.
In his first professional recording session, Elvis played with Bill Black
(bass) and Scotty Moore (guitar). They chose four compositions by Arthur
"Big Boy" Crudup, among them That's All Right Mama, which
became his first regional success. The song was not played by many DJ's
because they thought it was by an African American singer. In his first
smaller concert tours, Elvis called himself "The Hillbilly Kid" and
"The King of Western Pop".
In September 1954 came Elvis' second local hit with Good Rockin' Tonight.
In 1955, the US disc jockeys elected him the most promising Country &
Western artist. Bob Neal had replaced Scotty Moore as manager of Elvis and
drummer D.J. Fontana completed the band. Elvis' follow up hits were Milk
Cow Blues, You're A Heartbreaker and Baby, Let's Play House.
At the end of 1955, the illegal Dutch immigrant Colonel Parker bought Elvis
out of his contract with Sam Phillips for $35,000 and immediately got him a lucrative new one with RCA. Colonel Parker was an able manager
and business man - who took a 25% share of Elvis' income. The $5,000 advance
Elvis got after the RCA deal and with which he bought his mother a pink
Cadillac was only the beginning of an also financially very successful career.
In Nashville, Elvis recorded the first songs for RCA, among them I Got A
Woman, Heartbreak Hotel and I Was The One. On February 2,
1956, Elvis Presley made his TV debut in the Stage Show by the Dorsey
Brothers, Tommy and Jimmy, on CBS. Elvis presented his new single Heartbreak
Hotel - a performance that changed the history of Rock 'n' Roll. In
contrast to a man like Bill Haley, Elvis Presley seemed loud and aggressive.
Most parents saw in Elvis and his subtle-erotic shows a vulgar danger for
their children. For the young generation however, he was the new Messiah.
Milton Berle (from where he got the nickname "Elvis the Pelvis"),
Steve Allen (in his show Elvis sang Hound Dog) and Ed Sullivan (the
show is estimated to have reached some 56 million people) invited Elvis in
their TV shows and helped Heartbreak Hotel become his first US #1 hit
and sell over seven million copies worldwide; Heartbreak Hotel reached
#12 in Germany and #2 in the UK. Colonel Parker persuaded Paramount to sign
Elvis to a three-picture contract - and they did not regret it.
Other singles followed quickly, among them I Want You, I Need You, I Love
You (UK #14, UK #3), Hound Dog (UK #2, US #2), Don't Be Cruel
(Germany #12, US #1). An almost endless series of hits followed with Love
Me Tender (UK #11, Germany #16, US #1), Love Me (US #6), Too
Much (UK #6, US #2), All Shook Up (UK #1, Germany #16, US #1), Jailhouse
Rock (UK #1, Germany #10, US #1). Elvis dominated the charts with ballads
and Rock 'n' Roll dance numbers.
In March 1957, Elvis bought the former church Graceland and made it into his
home with 24 rooms. Elvis was drafted and had to join the army on March 24,
1958. Colonel Parker started an unprecedented PR campaign to maintain his star
in the news for the 17 months he had to serve in Friedberg, Germany. New
singles were released, among them Hard Headed Woman (UK #2, Germany #17,
US #1), I Beg You (US #8), Wear My Ring Around Your Neck (UK #3,
US #3), One Night (UK #1, US #4), I Got Stung (UK #8, Germany #23,
US #1), A Fool Such As I (UK #1, US #2), A Big Hunk of Love (UK
#4). In the same period, the Elvis movie King Creole came into the
On March 1, 1960 Elvis left Germany and four days later, he was released from
the army. He did not waste time and in the summer of 1960, his English version
of the Italian classic O Sole Mio, It's Now Or Never made it to
#1 in the US and the UK charts, in Germany #2. It sold over nine million
Until 1962 Elvis toured regularly and his singles became hits, among
them Are You Lonesome Tonight? (UK #1, Germany #6, US #1), Wooden
Heart, based on a German folk song (UK #1, Germany #2), Surrender (UK
#1, Germany #6, US #1), His Latest Flame (UK #1, US #4), Can't Help
Falling in Love (UK #3, Germany #22, US #2), Good Luck Charm (UK #1,
Germany #6, US #1), Return To Sender (UK #1, Germany #15, US #2). Elvis
broke new records in showbiz, e.g. in 1960 he got $125,000 for his appearance
in the Frank Sinatra Show.
In 1961 Colonel Parker announced Elvis' retirement from the touring business
(it would take eight years). Instead, he began a career as a B-movie star (Rolling
Stone) with films like Blue Hawaii and Fun In Acapulco. In
total, Elvis starred in 33 movies, 21 of which were made between 1961 and
However, Elvis continued his series of hits with songs such as (You're The)
Devil in Disguise (UK #2, Germany #2, US #2) or Crying In The Chapel
(UK #1, Germany #23, US #3).
Elvis was also said to have numerous affairs, e.g. with the actress Ann-Margret.
In early 1964, he bought the ocean-going yacht USS Potomac, which had formerly belonged to
FDR, for $550,000.
In March 1965, Elvis Presley and Colonel Parker celebrated their ten year
partnership. According to estimates they had made some $150 million with some
100 million records sold and another $135 million at the cinema box office. The former rebel
had become an established show star.
On May 1, 1967, Elvis married the then 21-year old Priscilla Beaulieu, his
long time girlfriend, at the Alladin Hotel in Las Vegas. On February 1, 1968 his
daughter Lisa Marie was born; she would later, in a bizarre episode, become
the wife of Michael Jackson for a brief period.
In the late 1960s, Elvis shot one film after the other, e.g. in 1968 alone Stay
Away Joe, Speedway and Live A Little, Love A Little
premiered. On December 3, 1968, he made his comeback as a live entertainer in
an NBC TV show. Shortly afterwards, he recorded 21 songs in Memphis which were
largely released on the album From Elvis To Memphis (UK #2, Germany #14,
US #8). The biggest hit was In The Ghetto, a number one in the US, UK
and Germany. A series of new singles followed, among them Suspicious Minds
(UK #4, Germany #7, US #1) and The Wonder Of You (UK #1, Germany #22,
In February 1972, Elvis and Priscilla separated. Priscilla got a one time
settlement of $5 million plus a monthly check of $25,000 for her daughter Lisa
Marie (who later became famous with her leading part in the soap opera Dallas
as well as with movies such as Naked Gun comedy aside Leslie
Nielsen). 1972 was the year of his last top 20 hit (during his lifetime): Burning
Love (UK #5, Germany #31, US #2).
On January 14, 1973 a third of the world's population (if one trusts these
statistics), including the writer of these lines, watched the worldwide TV
satellite broadcast of Elvis's TV show Aloha From Hawaii. He
played for weeks in Las Vegas and often went on mini-tours. In 1972 alone, he
performed 164 times on stage. Among the hits of this period were Burning
Love and Always On My Mind (UK #5).
After the divorce, Elvis lived more and more in retirement in Graceland,
several villas and isolated hotel suites. His live performances were of poorer
quality and he gained weight, partly 250 pounds. Besides overeating, he abused
prescription drugs. The number of shows cancelled for health reasons
increased. Still, on New Year's Day 1976, Elvis gave his best attended concert
ever in front of 60,000 spectators at the sports stadium in Pontiac, Michigan.
He recorded a new album, From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee
His last recordings were made in April 1977 after a concert in Saginaw,
Michigan. He gave his last concert in the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis
on June 26, 1977. On August 16, 1977 his fiancé Ginger Alden found Elvis dead
in his bathroom. Officially, he died from "cardiac arrhythmia" - a
euphemism for years of abuse of all sorts of prescription drugs, which,
together with his unhealthy lifestyle, led to his premature death [sentence
updated on August 27, 2002]. Some
80,000 people attended his funeral in Graceland on August 18.
In 1982 Priscilla Presley opened Graceland to the public and published her
autobiography Elvis and Me. Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana, who had
toured and recorded with Elvis for 14 years, realized in 1997 the project All
The King's Men with people like Keith Richards, Ron Wood and Jeff Beck in
order to honor the King of Rock 'n' Roll with a tribute album. Disney's
animated film Lilo and Stitch features six Elvis songs on its
soundtrack, which has already sold over 250,000 copies and rose to number one on
the Billboard soundtrack chart. And there is of course the above
mentioned remix of A Little Less Conversation. "Elvis is
alive!" more than ever.
This article is largely based on Christian Graf, Burghard Rausch: Rockmusik
Lexikon. Amerika, Afrika, Australien, Asien, Fischer TB, Band 2, 1999. Rockmusiklexikon von Graf und Rausch bestellen
August 28, 2002: check also Peter Guralnick: Careless Love. The Unmaking of
Elvis Presley. Little Brown & Co. 1999, 767 p. Get the biography from Amazon.com.
Peter Guralnick: Last Train To Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley.
Little Brown & Co. 1995, 560 p. Get it from Amazon.com.
Hits. RCA, September
2002. Get it from Amazon.de,
Amazon.ca. As the title indicates, the CD contains the first ever collection of all 30 of
Elvis #1 hits: Heartbreak Hotel, Don't Be Cruel, Hound Dog, Love Me Tender,
Too Much, All Shook Up, (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear, Jailhouse Rock, Don't,
Hard Headed Woman, One Night, (Now And Then There's) A Fool Such As I, A Big
Hunk O' Love, Stuck On You, It's Now Or Never, Are You Lonesome Tonight?,
Wooden Heart, Surrender, (Marie's The Name) His Latest Flame, Can't Help
Falling In Love, Good Luck Charm, She's Not You, Return To Sender, (You're The)
Devil In Disguise, Crying In The Chapel, In The Ghetto, Suspicious Minds, The
Wonder Of You, Burning Love, Way Down + A Little Less Conversation (remixed by
Big Beat DJ Junkie XL).
Elvis, JXL: A Little Less Conversation. RCA, 2002. Get the single from Amazon.com,
was originally a #69 in the US
single charts in 1968 for Elvis; it did not make it at all in the UK charts.
By the way, the song was part of the soundtrack of the 2001-remake of the Rat
Pack classic Ocean's Eleven with George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Julia
Elvis Presley - The 50 Greatest Hits. RCA, 2001.
Elvis is the only solo artist who had nine #1 albums in the US charts: Elvis
Presley, Elvis, Loving You, Elvis Christmas Album, GI
Blues, Something for Everybody, Blue Hawaii, Roustabout
and Elvis Aloha from Hawaii. He had 149 singles in the US charts, more
than any other artist.
List of Elvis' eighteen number
one UK singles:
1. All Shook Up, June 1957
2. Jailhouse Rock, January 1958
3. One Night/I Got Stung, January 195
4. A Fools Such As I/I Need Your Love Tonight, April 1959
5. It's Now Or Never, November 1960
6. Are You Lonesome Tonight? January 1961
7. Wooden Heart, March 1961
8. Surrender, May 1961
9. His Latest Flame/Little Sister, November 1961
10. Rock A Hula Baby/Can't Help Falling In Love, February 1962
11. Good Luck Charm, May 1962
12. She's Not You, August 1962
13. Return To Sender, November 1962
14. (You're The Devil) In Disguise, July 1963
15. Crying In The Chapel, May 1965
16. The Wonder Of You, July 1970
17. Way Down, August 1977
18. A Little Less Conversation (remix by JXL), June 2002.