Saturday, May 21, 2011

Standing On the Shoulder of a Giant

May 1961

Of all the artists whose songs the Beatles are covering, and there are many, there are none so important as the King, Elvis Presley.

As Paul McCartney has said, when they first saw Elvis their first thought was "That's him!  The messiah has arrived!" And John Lennon, "Before Elvis there was nothing.   Heartbreak Hotel was the turning point."

In their playlists from 1961, Elvis still has a commanding presence.  Here are the documented Elvis songs they were playing from this period.
Are You Lonesome Tonight
Baby I Don’t Care
Blue Moon of Kentucky
Blue Suede Shoes
Don't Be Cruel
Good Rockin' Tonight
Heartbreak Hotel
His Latest Flame
Hound Dog
I Feel So Bad
I Forgot to Remember to Forget
I Got a Woman
I'll Never Let You Go
I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Cry
It's Now or Never
Just Because
Lawdy Miss Clawdy
Love Me Tender
Loving You
That's All Right (Mama)
That's When Your Heartaches Begin
Tonight is so Right for Love
Wild in the Country
Wooden Heart

Some very predictable choices there, but some rather unexpected ones, too.  "It's Now or Never" is a song with new lyrics put to a 19th Italian aria called "O Solo Mio" (the quintessential gondolier's song).  Hard to imagine the hardcore German audience sitting still for that one.  And "Blue Moon of Kentucky" is a wonderful early Bluegrass song that was covered first by the King, and then on the rebound by the Beatles. I can really hear the Beatles practicing their tight harmonies behind Stuart Sutcliffe in their version of Presley's "Loving You".

Elvis is a source of so many of the varied styles that were being adopted and adapted by the Beatles to form something completely new that would stun the world.  But not yet, they are still working it all out in the woodshed called Hamburg.

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