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1956–1958: Commercial breakout and controversy
On January 10, 1956, Presley made his first recordings for RCA in Nashville. Extending the singer's by now customary backup of Moore, Black, and Fontana, RCA enlisted pianist Floyd Cramer, guitarist Chet Atkins, and three background singers, including first tenor Gordon Stoker of the popular Jordanaires quartet, to fill out the sound. The session produced the moody, unusual "Heartbreak Hotel", released as a single on January 27. Parker finally brought Presley to national television, booking him on CBS's Stage Show for six appearances over two months.
Unlike many white artists ... who watered down the gritty edges of the original R&B versions of songs in the '50s, Presley reshaped them. He not only injected the tunes with his own vocal character but also made guitar, not piano, the lead instrument in all three cases." It became the first rock-and-roll album to top the Billboard chart, a position it held for 10 weeks.
While Presley was not an innovative guitarist like Moore or contemporary African American rockers Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, cultural historian Gilbert B. Rodman argues that the album's cover image, "of Elvis having the time of his life on stage with a guitar in his hands played a crucial role in positioning the guitar ... as the instrument that best captured the style and spirit of this new music."
1958–1960: Military service and mother's death
On March 24, 1958, Presley was conscripted into the U.S. Army as a private at Fort Chaffee, near Fort Smith, Arkansas. His arrival was a major media event. Hundreds of people descended on Presley as he stepped from the bus; photographers then accompanied him into the fort. Presley announced that he was looking forward to his military stint, saying he did not want to be treated any differently from anyone else: "The Army can do anything it wants with me."
Soon after Presley commenced basic training at Fort Hood, Texas, he received a visit from Eddie Fadal, a businessman he had met on tour. According to Fadal, Presley had become convinced his career was finished—"He firmly believed that." But then, during a two-week leave in early June, Presley recorded five songs in Nashville. In early August, his mother was diagnosed with hepatitis and her condition rapidly worsened. Presley, granted emergency leave to visit her, arrived in Memphis on August 12. Two days later, she died of heart failure, aged 46. Presley was devastated; their relationship had remained extremely close—even into his adulthood, they would use baby talk with each other and Presley would address her with pet names.
After training, Presley joined the 3rd Armored Division in Friedberg, Germany, on October 1. Introduced to amphetamines by a sergeant while on maneuvers, he became "practically evangelical about their benefits"—not only for energy, but for "strength" and weight loss, as well—and many of his friends in the outfit joined him in indulging.
Presley returned to the United States on March 2, 1960, and was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant on March 5. The train that carried him from New Jersey to Tennessee was mobbed all the way, and Presley was called upon to appear at scheduled stops to please his fans. On the night of March 20, he entered RCA's Nashville studio to cut tracks for a new album along with a single, "Stuck on You", which was rushed into release and swiftly became a number one hit.
G.I. Blues, the soundtrack to Presley's first film since his return, was a number one album in October. His first LP of sacred material, His Hand in Mine, followed two months later. It reached number 13 on the U.S. pop chart and number 3 in the UK, remarkable figures for a gospel album. In February 1961, Presley performed two shows for a benefit event in Memphis, on behalf of 24 local charities. During a luncheon preceding the event, RCA presented him with a plaque certifying worldwide sales of over 75 million records. A 12-hour Nashville session in mid-March yielded nearly all of Presley's next studio album, Something for Everybody.
As described by John Robertson, it exemplifies the Nashville sound, the restrained, cosmopolitan style that would define country music in the 1960s. Presaging much of what was to come from Presley himself over the next half-decade, the album is largely "a pleasant, unthreatening pastiche of the music that had once been Elvis's birthright." It would be his sixth number one LP.
Another benefit concert, raising money for a Pearl Harbor memorial, was staged on March 25, in Hawaii. It was to be Presley's last public performance for seven years.
Lost in Hollywood
Parker had by now pushed Presley into a heavy film making schedule, focused on formulaic, modestly budgeted musical comedies. Presley at first insisted on pursuing more serious roles, but when two films in a more dramatic vein—Flaming Star (1960) and Wild in the Country (1961)—were less commercially successful, he reverted to the formula. Among the 27 films he made during the 1960s, there were few further exceptions. His films were almost universally panned; critic Andrew Caine dismissed them as a "pantheon of bad taste". Nonetheless, they were virtually all profitable. Hal Wallis, who produced nine of them, declared, "A Presley picture is the only sure thing in Hollywood."
In the first half of the decade, three of Presley's soundtrack albums hit number one on the pop charts, and a few of his most popular songs came from his films, such as "Can't Help Falling in Love" (1961) and "Return to Sender" (1962). ("Viva Las Vegas", the title track to the 1964 film, was a minor hit as a B-side, and became truly popular only later.) But, as with artistic merit, the commercial returns steadily diminished. During a five-year span
1964 through 1968—Presley had only one top-ten hit: "Crying in the Chapel" (1965), a gospel number recorded back in 1960. As for non-film albums, between the June 1962 release of Pot Luck and the November 1968 release of the soundtrack to the television special that signaled his comeback, only one LP of new material by Presley was issued: the gospel album How Great Thou Art (1967). It won him his first Grammy Award, for Best Sacred Performance. As Marsh described, Presley was "arguably the greatest white gospel singer of his time [and] really the last rock & roll artist to make gospel as vital a component of his musical personality as his secular songs."
Shortly before Christmas 1966, more than seven years since they first met, Presley proposed to Priscilla Beaulieu. They were married on May 1, 1967, in a brief ceremony in their suite at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. The flow of formulaic films and assembly-line soundtracks rolled on. It was not until October 1967, when the Clambake soundtrack LP registered record low sales for a new Presley album, that RCA executives recognized a problem. "By then, of course, the damage had been done", as historians Connie Kirchberg and Marc Hendrickx put it. "Elvis was viewed as a joke by serious music lovers and a has-been to all but his most loyal fans."
01. Heartbreak Hotel - Take 5 02:17
02. I Was The One - Take 2 02:32
03. I'm Counting On You (Take 2 Incomplete Dry Echo Tape) 01:35
04. Lawdy Miss Clawdy (Take 6) 02:19
05. Shake Rattle & Roll (Take 12) 01:41
06. I Want You I Need You I Love You (Take 3) 03:05
07. Don Davis Interviews Elvis 03:53
08. Rip It Up (Take 15) 02:04
09. Old Shep (Take 5) 04:01
10. Mean woman Blues - Version 2, BX-7 (Take 7) 02:32
11. Loving You (Binaural KX Main Version, Take 15) 01:40
12. Are You Lonesome Tonight - Takes 1 & 2 03:39
13. I Gotta Know - Takes 1 & 2 02:58
14. Such A Night - Take 1 03:14
15. Make Me Know It - Takes 17 & 18 02:47
16. Fever - Takes 2, 3 & End Taken Out 04:00
17. It's Now Or Never - Takes 3 & 4 03:56
18. Stuck On You - Takes 1-FS, 2 02:36
19. It Feels So Right - Take 2 02:06
20. Wooden Heart (take 1)
22. Pocketful Of Rainbows (version 1, take 4-7)
01. King Creole (revised version - take 13 - master) 02:18
02. Trouble (take 5 - master) 02:31
03. Young Dreams (take 8 - master) 02:41
04. Hard Headed Woman (take 10 - master) 02:03
05. Don't Ask Me Why (take 12 - master) 02:14
06. Sentimental Me (Take 1) 06:42
07. I'm Coming Home (Take 2) 02:42
08. In Your Arms (Take 1) 02:13
09. Judy (Take 1) 03:16
10. I Want You With Me (Take 1) 02:26
11. Little Sister (Take 3) 02:54
12. His Latest Flame (Take 2) 02:26
13. I'm Coming Home (Takes 1, 2) 03:23
14. I Feel So Bad (Take 1) 02:59
15. Starting Today (Take 2) 02:11
16. Your Cheatin Heart (Take 9) 02:53
17. Doncha Think It's Time (Take 47) 02:05
18. A Big Hunk O Love (Take 1) 02:27
19. Ain't That Loving You Baby (Take 1) 02:34
20. I Need Your Love Tonight (Take 15) 02:15
21. A Fool Such As I (Take 9) 02:50
22. I Got Stung (Take 12) 02:04
23. Press Interview Whit Elvis (At Brooklyn Army Terminal) 05:27
24. Elvis Presley's Newsreel Interview 02:23
25. Elvis Presley - Pat Hernon Interviews Elvis (In The Library Of The USS Randall At Sailing) 02:16
Part 1: Elvis 1
Part 2: Elvis 2
Part 1: Elvis 1
Part 2: Elvis 2
Part 1: Elvis 1
Part 2: Elvis 2