Elvis Presley – Suspicious Minds & Las Vegas

Elvis Presley – Suspicious Minds & Las Vegas

The 1969 pop charts were one of the strongest in years with the political, ‘Bad Moon Rising’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘Something in the Air’ by Thunderclap Newman mixing with the innovative, David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ and the classics, The Rolling Stones ‘Honky Tonk Women’ and The Beatles ‘Come Together’.

“Suspicious Minds” was Elvis Presley’s seventeenth and last number-one single in the United States. Rolling Stone later ranked it #91 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time

“Suspicious Minds” is a song about a mistrusting and dysfunctional relationship, and the need of the characters to overcome their issues in order to maintain it. ‘Suspicious Minds’ was a serious pop song about deep love, suspicion and hurt and with a dramatic operatic power.

Elvis’ musical strength had always been as a great interpretive singer and it would only be the absolute passion he injected into the song that would elevate it to the #1 slot amongst these other classics. Improved by Elvis superb interpretation, the stirring backing vocals, and the tight Memphis Horns, the cover became Elvis’ definitive latter-period song.

Suspicious Minds was written and recorded ( without success) in 1968 by Mark James – a staff song writer for Memphis Soul producer Chips Moman’s American Sound Studios. While James would also go on to write the other Elvis hits ‘Always On My Mind’, ‘Raised On Rock’, ‘It’s Only Love’ and ‘Moody Blue’ there was a special magic about ‘Suspicious Minds’

Even though James’ recording initially was not commercially successful, Elvis decided he could turn it into a hit on reviewing the song as presented to him by Chips Moman, in 1969. Originally country singer B.J Thomas was in line to record Suspicious Minds before the song was given to Elvis — who insisted on recording the song even when his manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker, threatened that he wouldn’t over the question of publishing rights.

In December 1968, Elvis, dressed in a black leather outfit, appeared in an hour-long television special titled, Elvis. Calm, sexy, and humorous, Elvis wowed the crowd. The 1968 “comeback special” energized Elvis. After the success of his television appearance, Elvis got back both into recording and live performances – his first for some 10 years.

In July 1969, Parker booked Elvis at the largest venue in Las Vegas, the new International Hotel. Elvis’ shows there were a huge success and the hotel booked Elvis for four weeks a year through 1974. The rest of the year, Elvis went on tour.

He first performed Suspicious Minds at the Las Vegas Hilton on July 31, 1969 and almost invariably Suspicious Minds would be Elvis’ closing song, later usually accompanied by extravagant karate moves.

Known the world over by his first name, Elvis is regarded as one of the most important figures of twentieth century popular culture. He was blessed with a rare combination of talent, looks, and magnetic charm. His legendary career, with its attendant controversies and widespread acclaim, afforded him extraordinary fame and unprecedented success.

Elvis starred in 33 successful films, made history with his television appearances and specials, and knew great acclaim through his many, often record-breaking, live concert performances on tour and in Las Vegas.

Globally, he has sold over one billion records, more than any other artist.

His American sales have earned him gold, platinum or multi-platinum awards. Among his many awards and accolades were 14 Grammy nominations (3 wins) from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award which he received at age 36, and his being named One of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation for 1970 by the United States Jaycees.

Without any of the special privileges, his celebrity status might have afforded him, he honorably served his country in the U.S. Army. His talent, good looks, sensuality, charisma, and good humor endeared him to millions, as did the humility and human kindness he demonstrated throughout his life.

Elvis Presley’s artistic decline in the 1960s is symbolised by the coincidence of his most derided movie, Clambake, opening at about the same time as the Beatles released their groundbreaking Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

A year later, in 1968, Elvis’ live TV special marked the comeback of Elvis the Entertainer.

Elvis the Recording Artist, however, had not had a #1 hit in seven years when in January 1969 he entered the famous American Sound Studios in Memphis..

At first the old soul music veterans at the studio were dubious about working with the washed-up ex-king of rock ‘n’ roll. Elvis soon had them convinced otherwise. Eight days into the session, on January 20, he recorded the Mac Davis-penned In The Ghetto; two days later Suspicious Minds, which by the end of 1969 would top the US charts.

SUSPICIOUS MINDS – “Lyrics” by Mark James

We’re caught in a trap
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much baby

Why can’t you see
What you’re doing to me
When you don’t believe a word I say?

We can’t go on together
With suspicious minds
And we can’t build our dreams
On suspicious minds

So, if an old friend I know
Drops by to say hello
Would I still see suspicion in your eyes?

Here we go again
Asking where I’ve been
You can’t see these tears are real
I’m crying

We can’t go on together
With suspicious minds
And be can’t build our dreams
On suspicious minds

Oh let our love survive
Or dry the tears from your eyes
Let’s don’t let a good thing die

When honey, you know
I’ve never lied to you
Mmm yeah, yeah

For the bulk of the 1960s, Elvis had been trapped in a cycle of making three movies a year, and recording their attendant soundtracks in either Nashville or Hollywood.

After the success of his Christmas special on NBC in December 1968, Presley made a decision not to continue with business as usual, but instead to return to recording in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, to take advantage of the thriving soul music scene active at the city’s studios such as Stax and Hi Records.

Presley chose American Studios, run by songwriter Chips Moman, for several reasons.

1) Their music staff was populated by session musicians steeped in Elvis’ upbringing in blues, country, gospel, and rock and roll;

2) They knew how to give the music a “commercial” gloss, Moman having already produced or written hits for Aretha Franklin and The Box Tops;

3) After hitting the top ten on the singles chart only once since 1963 with a song that had been recorded in 1960, Presley needed hits.

The choice would prove fortuitous, as singles gleaned from these sessions would yield three top ten hits, including the last chart-topper of Presley’s career, his latter-day signature song “Suspicious Minds.”

The album work would be equally respected, From Elvis in Memphis being considered by myriad sources as one of Presley’s greatest. In 2003, the album was ranked number 190 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

The success of this material, infused Presley’s career with a new vigor, and re-acquaintaned with his talents both in the studio and in live performance during the early years of the new decade.

“Suspicious Minds” was a product of January 23, 1969 session, that took place between 4 am and 7 am. It took eight takes to produce the final song that was later overdubbed by Presley the same night. Also in the same sessions were recorded “I’ll Hold You In My Heart (Till I Can Hold You In My Arms)”, “Without Love (There Is Nothing)”, and “I’ll Be There”.

The song is noted for its change of Rhythm, in the Bridge section, from 4/4 to a slower 6/8 and back again to the faster 4/4 rhythm. The first verse repeats over and over again, until it completely fades out, it features a bass guitar, organ, strings, trumpets, trombones, and drums. Session producer Felton Jarvis made the unusual decision to add a premature fade-out to the song starting at 3:36, mirroring the way Presley used to perform it in his live Las Vegas stage act.

The fadeout lasts for about 15 seconds before fading back in, conveying a message of relationship in the song.

Bobby Wood  explains,  –  “As a band we always came up with our own arrangements. On ‘Suspicious Minds’ we basically copied what we had played on the Mark James original. I remember that we worked as we always did and we had a lot of fun recording with Elvis. I found out later that Elvis loved those sessions and worked harder than he had in years. I think he respected our talents as well as we did his. We worked a lot differently at American from what Elvis was used to. It usually took Chips and the other engineers a good long while to get “a sound.” That was rough on the singers. They’d have to stand there and sing the same song over and over for an hour, before we’d even record a take.

In fact on the third night Elvis lost his voice with bad laryngitis. We most always recorded horns, strings and backgrounds as an overdub. I think Joe Tex was the only one that wanted horns on the original session. At the time we didn’t even think that this was part of Elvis’ musical renaissance or anything. We were trying our best to record a hit, be it Elvis or Joe Tex or nobody. Though we pretty much knew it was a hit record when we recorded it.”

While Elvis’ regular producer Felton Jarvis was also involved, it was American’s producer Chips Moman who controlled the session and it is his voice you can hear on the session recordings as he drives Elvis and the band for better and better takes.

Marty Lacker explains, “During the sessions I spent most of my time in the control room with Chips. Elvis came in and said to Chips that he didn’t know what to do because he didn’t have any good songs left to record, describing the crap that Parker and Freddy Bienstock had sent him. That was the point when Chips suggested ‘Suspicious Minds’ and that he thought it would be great for Elvis. He was also up front in telling Elvis that he had cut it already on Mark James but that it didn’t do anything on the charts.”

Chips Moman said –  “Elvis had a good ear for music, and if he didn’t think he could do a song he’d toss it out. However when it came time to do the American sessions there was a lot of them old Hill and Range songs that some of the people around him wanted him to cut real bad, and they kept pushing for them. I don’t even want to tell you what I thought of some of those songs! Truth is, the trouble wasn’t really with Elvis but with some of those publishers.”

The impact that Chips Moman had cannot be understated. This creative and musically innovative setting obviously invigorated Elvis and throughout the eight takes you can hear him striving for that consummate perfection as he pours his soul into every word. By Take 6 Elvis is still faltering over the timing yet asks for Chips to “Save the last take for me.”

Elvis recognised the greatness of the song and worked at it for 3 hours until it was time for everyone to head home into the dawn. Interestingly for collectors the 1987 RCA release ‘The Memphis Record’ features the final ‘Suspicious Minds’ Master with the backing-vocal & strings overdubs but without the added brass section nor with the extended fade-out.

Unusually for an Elvis release, Chips Moman also recorded a dual-track for Elvis’ lead vocal thus increasing the emotional power of the lyric.

Welcome to Las Vegas, where Elvis has definitely not left the building.

On the Las Vegas Strip, Elvis’ spirit lives on in shows like “Legends in Concert” and “Viva Elvis.” Hundreds of couples tie the knot in Las Vegas each year with “Elvis” officiating at their wedding and the city is home to the world famous Flying Elvis — a 10-member skydiving team dressed as the king.

Graceland may be home to his shrine but it’s Las Vegas that pays homage to the spirit of Elvis the entertainer.

Elvis’ enduring popularity in Vegas is a tribute to the bonds forged between the singer and the city in a seven-year run between 1969 and 1976, a period fondly remember as the “Vegas Years.” It’s a legacy that continues to this day.

“He was the show in town — the one everyone wanted to go to because he was just really hot and was coming back with new music,” said singer Terry Blackwood, a member of the Imperials who sang backup for Elvis. “Everyone wanted to see Elvis.”

When Elvis returned to Vegas on July 31st 1969 for his stunning live season he had decided to use ‘Suspicious Minds’ as the key song of the concert. Often extending the song to over 7 minutes, he included a fade and return for dramatic effect. The fact that Elvis chose a totally unknown song as the center-piece to his concerts is astounding and demonstrates his belief in the song.

The rave reviews were a testimony to Elvis’ newly found excitement in rediscovering a loving audience who believed in the power of his performances.  Reviewer Bill Crawford noted, “With his left leg moving like a jack hammer, Elvis runs the gamut of his old favourites. His newest song ‘Suspicious Mind’ is a sensuous medium rock ballad that is sure to sell.”

Elvis first performed in Las Vegas in 1956 when he was just 21 years old. He was booked in the Venus Room at the New Frontier hotel, which billed him as “The Atomic Powered Singer.”

While he was already becoming quite popular with teens around the country, Elvis was not the typical Las Vegas Strip entertainer of the time and his shows were met with a cool reception.

Bill Willard, a reviewer for the Las Vegas Sun newspaper, panned Presley’s performance writing, “For the teenagers, the long, tall Memphis lad is a whiz; for the average Vegas spender or show-goer, a bore. His musical sound with a combo of three is uncouth, matching to a great extent the lyric content of his nonsensical songs.”

Willard may have captured the dismay that older Vegas audiences had with the young upstart, but Las Vegas resident Ed Jameson caught a vision of the future Elvis would have in Vegas.

Penning a rebuttal to Willard’s review, Jameson wrote, “He is not a Rock ‘n’ Roller nor is he a cowboy singer. He is something new coming over the horizon all by himself and he deserves his ever-growing audience. Nobody should miss him. Parents would do well to take their children to hear him. It would be a good way to get to know and understand your own kids.”

Elvis ended his two-week run unable to capture success in Vegas, but that didn’t end his relationship with the city. While he wouldn’t return to a Las Vegas stage for 13 years, in 1963 he spent several weeks in town to film the hit movie “Viva Las Vegas,” which co-starred Ann-Margret.

The movie was a huge success, costing only $1 million to make and earning $5 million. It also spawned what many consider Sin City’s theme song, “Viva Las Vegas.

This was one of the two dozen or so formulaic musicals Elvis made in the ’60s, but it teamed him with his most formidable leading lady, Ann-Margret, who could sing and shimmy like the King and gave him his only real workout in the chemistry department. It may be the last of his musicals where he acts like he really has something to prove.

“Viva Las Vegas” also featured a Vegas wedding between Elvis and his co-star Ann-Margret. Four years later, reality mirrored the cinematic fairytale when Elvis’ real-life love story played out in Las Vegas.

On May 1, 1967, Elvis age 32 married Priscilla Anne Beaulieu, age 21, at the Aladdin Hotel.

Despite his history in the city, it wasn’t until The International hotel opened in 1969, that Elvis truly became synonymous with Las Vegas. While Barbra Streisand opened the showroom at the International,  Elvis would make it world famous.

In 1969 Elvis performed his first show at the International to a sold-out crowd and he went on to perform regular engagements at the property for seven years — a total of 837 consecutive sold-out performances in front of 2.5 million people.

The opening show on July 31, 1969 was a who’s who of the entertainment business, with an audience full of celebrities including Tom Jones, Juliet Prowse and Sammy Davis Jr.

The sheer numbers from these performances are mind-boggling. In one 29-day period Elvis entertained 101,509 guests, bringing in $1.5 million in ticket sales. In the course of his 800-plus performances in Vegas, Elvis sold $43.7 million in show tickets, about $280 million in 2011 dollars. In the months when Elvis was performing, 1 in 2 visitors to Las Vegas saw his show.

The hotel became the Hilton in 1971 and over the years more people saw Elvis perform there than anywhere else in the world.

Elvis performed two shows a night — at 8 p.m. and midnight for a month-long stretch at a time. Elvis usually get to bed about 3 a.m. but sometimes the group would be up all night.

Blackwood said – “On average of about once a week, Elvis would come to our dressing room and say, ‘Hey guys, would you come up to the penthouse tonight — I’d love for you to come up and just hang out with me.’ Of course when Elvis invites you, you can’t say no. So we would all go up to the penthouse. He wanted to go up there and sing.”

“He’d sit at the piano or one of our guys would sit at the piano and would play and we’d sing gospel music and that’s about all we would do. Or he had a big stereo and he would play black gospel groups. He loved traditional black gospel music. We’d listen to it and go over and sing it. He had a ball singing … I would say I’ve never known a man who loved music more than Elvis.”

Tickets to Elvis’ dinner show were $17.50 and included lobster or steak. The midnight show, which included drinks, cost a little less, but those who wanted a close-up view of Elvis had to pay a bit more.

The Imperials worked with Elvis until 1972 and Blackwood said the group always enjoyed working with him.

Blackwood said – “He was passionate about his music. He was passionate about giving the people his very best. He was passionate about hiring musicians and singers that he felt were the best he could give. In that sense he was really a perfectionist about his music. He was serious about it. I think a lot of the time there are music people who think he was not serious and he was just having fun — and he was doing that — but he was very serious about what he wanted the people to experience when he sang.”

Even though Elvis was scheduled for more appearances at the Hilton, December 2-12, 1976, turned out to be his last engagement there.

Elvis died of a heart attack on Aug. 16, 1977 at his Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tenn.

Elvis was fated to never perform again in Las Vegas, but the city never forgot the entertainer. Perhaps it was fated that a city which embraced Elvis the entertainer, would want to hold on to Elvis the myth. Even before his death, tribute artists were performing as Elvis. The King used to love catching Brendan Boyer’s impression of him, during the Irish Show Band’s performances in the Stardust Lounge in the ’70s. Las Vegas continues to offer tributes to Elvis nightly, 365 days a year.

A year after Elvis’ death a statue was dedicated in his honor at the Hilton hotel. Initially on display outside the Hilton showroom in a glass case, the statue was moved outside of the hotel’s front door in 2006.

At the Hard Rock Hotel, one of Elvis’ ’70s jumpsuits, a gold lamé jacket and a guitar are enshrined under glass. While at the Hard Rock Café gold records, belts, a smashed guitar and a telegram from Elvis and the Colonel to the Beatles are just some of the Elvis memorabilia on display.

In 2010 the Strip’s entertainment titan, Cirque du Soleil, partnered with CYK and its subsidiary, Elvis Presley Enterprises, plus MGM Mirage to create an Elvis Presley show at CityCenter, an $8 billion, 66-acre hotel, entertainment, dining and retail project at the heart of the Las Vegas Strip.

The show is a combination of live music and singers, projections and dance along with the latest multimedia sound and lighting.

“We are working closely with our partners to ensure the public will have an unforgettable encounter with the King of Rock and Roll,” said Guy Laliberté, founder of Cirque du Soleil. “Elvis had a unique relationship with his adoring fans in Vegas and a large part of our mission is to recreate the excitement and the spirit of joy he generated here.”

Elvis’ Las Vegas appearances

April 23 – May 9, 1956:  Elvis’ first Vegas appearance – Elvis made his first appearance in Las Vegas at the New Frontier Hotel in the spring of 1956. Hotel hype praised the “atomic powered” singer. While the nation’s youth was in the grip of Elvis hysteria and “Heartbreak Hotel” was No. 1 on the Billboard pop charts, audiences in Las Vegas gave Elvis a cool reception.

July, 1963: “Viva Las Vegas” – Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret are in Las Vegas filming what would be Presley’s 15th film, “Viva Las Vegas.” The film wouldn’t be released until June, 1964.

May 1, 1967:  Wedding bells – Elvis Presley and Priscilla Anne Beaulieu are married in a private ceremony at the Aladdin Hotel.

July 31 – Aug. 28, 1969:  The King is back – Thirteen years after his first appearance, Elvis returns to Las Vegas. He is booked for a four-week, 57-show engagement at the newly built International Hotel. The show breaks all existing Las Vegas attendance records. Elvis’ first live album is recorded during the shows.

January – February, 1970:  A second appearance – Elvis returns to Las Vegas for a month-long engagement at the International Hotel. Once again, Elvis breaks attendance records.

Aug. 10 – Sept. 7, 1970:  A hit – Another popular month-long appearance at the International Hotel. MGM films some of the rehearsals and stage performance for its documentary “Elvis – That’s the Way It Is.”

January – February, 1971:  Another month-long appearance at the International Hotel.

Aug. 9 – Sept. 6, 1971:  Record audiences – Elvis returns to Las Vegas and appears at the International Hotel, now called the Las Vegas Hilton. During his month-long appearance he is given the Bing Crosby Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. This award would later be renamed the Lifetime Achievement Award presented each year during the Grammy Awards. Elvis was 36 years old.

1972 – 1975:  Elvis performs at the International in Vegas –
Jan. 26 – Feb. 23, 1971:
Jan. 26 – Feb. 23, 1973:
Aug. 6 – Sept. 3, 1973:
Jan. 26 – Feb. 9, 1974:
Aug. 19 – Sept. 2, 1974:
March 18 – April 1, 1975

Aug. 18 – Sept. 5, 1975:  Elvis opens at the Hilton, but ends his appearances on Aug. 20, 1975, when he is flown to Memphis and hospitalized.

Dec. 2-15, 1975:  Elvis returns to the Hilton to make up for shows that were cancelled because of his ill health.

Dec. 2-12, 1976: Elvis appears at the Hilton for a two-week engagement. It turns out to be his final Las Vegas appearance.

August 16,1977:  Elvis dies at Graceland in Memphis, Tenn.

About Elvis Presley – January 8, 1935 — August 16, 1977

After a difficult birth, Elvis Presley was born to parents Gladys and Vernon Presley at 4:35 a.m. on January 8, 1935 in the couple’s small, two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi. Elvis’ twin brother, Jessie Garon, was stillborn and Gladys was so ill from the birth that she was taken to the hospital. She was never able to have more children

Since Elvis moved often, he had only two things that were consistent in his childhood: his parents and music. With his parents usually busy at work, Elvis found music wherever he could. He listened to music in church and even taught himself how to play the church piano. When Elvis was eight, he often hung out at the local radio station. When he turned eleven, his parents gave him a guitar for his birthday.

He and his parents moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1948, and Elvis attended Humes High School there in 1953.

Although Elvis joined R.O.T.C., played on the football team, and worked as an usher at a local movie theater, these activities did not stop other students from picking on him. Elvis was different. He dyed his hair black and wore it in a style that more closely resembled a comic book character (Captain Marvel Jr.) than other kids in his school.

With problems at school, Elvis continued to surround himself with music. He listened to the radio and bought records

Gladys doted on her sandy-haired, blue-eyed son and worked very hard to keep her family together. She especially struggled when Vernon was sentenced to three years in the Parchman Farm Prison for forgery. (Vernon had sold a pig for $4, but had changed the check to either $14 or $40.). With Vernon in prison, Gladys could not earn enough to keep the house, so three-year-old Elvis and his mom moved in with some relatives. This was the first of many moves for Elvis and his family

Elvis’ musical influences were the pop and country music of the time, the gospel music he heard in church and at the all-night gospel sings he frequently attended. By the time Elvis graduated from high school, he could sing in various styles, from hillbilly to gospel. More importantly, Elvis also had a style of singing and moving that was all his own. Elvis had taken all that he had seen and heard and combined it into a unique new sound.

After moving with his family to Lauderdale Courts, an apartment complex, he often played with other aspiring musicians who lived there. To listen to a wider variety of music, Elvis crossed the color line (segregation was still strongly in force in the South) and listened to African-American artists, such as B.B. King. Elvis would also often visit Beale Street in the African-American section of town and watch black musicians play.

Popular on the Country and Western live circuit, Elvis was also popular on “black” R&B radio. In fact, he not only dressed like he was a black entertainer, but sounded like one too. The racial barrier that had plagued music for so long was about to be torn down. People ‘in the know’ couldn’t be more excited, but people ‘in the norm’ couldn’t be more terrified

After spending the year after high school working a day job, playing at small clubs at night, and wondering if he would ever become a full-time musician, Elvis received a call from Sam Phillips at Sun Records on June 6, 1954 offering him a big break.

Sun Records producer/label owner Sam Phillips in July 1954 had been looking for a white singer who could sound black; the serendipitous arrival in his Memphis storefront studio of a 19-year-old truck driver; the bland set of pop demo tracks he laid down with guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black; and the sudden alchemy when Elvis Presley switched to Arthur Crudup’s blues tune ‘That’s All Right (Mama).’

Elvis began making appearances on popular radio shows such as the famous Grand Ole Opry and the Louisiana Hayride.

Elvis was so successful on the Hayride show that they hired him to perform every Saturday for a year. It was then that Elvis quit his day job. Elvis toured the South during the week, playing anywhere there was a paying audience, but had to be back in Shreveport, Louisiana every Saturday for the Hayride show.

High school and college students went wild for Elvis and his music. They screamed. They cheered. They mobbed him backstage, tearing at his clothes. For his part, Elvis put his soul into every performance.

Plus, he moved his body – a lot. This was so very different than any other white performer. Elvis gyrated his hips, jiggled his legs, and fell to his knees on the floor. Adults thought he was lewd and suggestive; teenagers loved him.

As Elvis’ popularity soared, he realized that he needed a manager, so he hired “Colonel” Tom Parker. In some ways, Parker took advantage of Elvis over the years, including taking an overly generous cut of Elvis’ proceeds. However, Parker also steered Elvis into the mega-star he was to become.

Over the next few weeks and months, there would be similar fusions of country and R&B, including ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’ and ‘Mystery Train’; together, these singles would launch Elvis and rock & roll into the stratosphere.

Accompanied by guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, Presley was one of the originators of rockabilly, an uptempo, backbeat-driven fusion of country and rhythm and blues.

With shy persistence, but noticeable talent, Elvis soon acquired a recording contract with Sun Records, a “black” R&B label in Memphis. Sun also became the earliest indie label to gain notoriety in the rock and roll genre; thanks to Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis, just to name a few of their artists.*

With relentless touring, a steady stream of five unique singles on Sun Records, and rise to radio fame on KWKH, Shreveport’s “The Louisiana Hayride”, Elvis had arrived!

Elvis’ Sun recordings were finally compiled into a single, must-own album in 1976.

Elvis soon became too popular for the Sun Records studio to handle and in 1955 Phillips sold Elvis’ contract to RCA Victor. At the time, RCA paid $35,000 for Elvis’ contract, more than any record company had ever paid for a singer.

By 1956, he was an international sensation. With a sound and style that uniquely combined his diverse musical influences and blurred and challenged the social and racial barriers of the time, he ushered in a whole new era of American music and popular culture.

Elvis’s first RCA single, “Heartbreak Hotel”, released in January 1956, was a number one hit.

He became the leading figure of the newly popular sound of rock and roll with a series of network television appearances and chart-topping records. His energized interpretations of songs, many from African American sources, and his uninhibited performance style made him enormously popular—and controversial.

To make Elvis even more popular, Parker put Elvis on television. On January 28, 1956, Elvis made his first television appearance on Stage Show, which was soon followed by appearances on the Milton Berle Show, Steve Allen Show, and the Ed Sullivan Show.

Ed Sullivan’s CBS variety show was one of television’s cornerstones for nearly two decades, but it seems the only reason anyone remembers it now is that the Beatles and Elvis performed on it.

For millions of Americans, their first introduction to the singer came via his three appearances on the Sullivan show (for which Elvis’ manager, Col. Tom Parker, negotiated an unprecedented $50,000 fee) in 1956-57.

Elvis had appeared on TV several times already in 1956, but these are the performances that people remember, especially because, for some segments, he was filmed only from the waist up, with his below-the-belt gyrations hidden from viewers at home. Whether this was censorship by CBS, an accident, or a publicity stunt by Parker is still a matter of controversy.

In March 1956, Parker arranged for Elvis to get an audition with Paramount Movie Studios. The movie studio liked Elvis so much that they signed him to do his first movie, Love Me Tender (1956), with an option to do six more.

About two weeks after his audition, Elvis received his first gold record for “Heartbreak Hotel,” which had sold one million copies.

Elvis’ popularity was skyrocketing and money was flowing in. Elvis had always wanted to take care of his family and buy his mom a house that she had always wanted. He was able to do this and so much more.

In March 1957, Elvis purchased Graceland, a mansion that sat on 13 acres of land, for $102,500. He then had the entire mansion remodeled to his own tastes.

Just as it seemed that everything Elvis touched turned to gold, on December 20, 1957, Elvis received a draft notice in the mail. Elvis had both the opportunity to be excused from the military and the ability to get special dispensation, but instead, Elvis chose to enter the U.S. Army as a regular soldier. He was stationed in Germany.

With a nearly two year hiatus from his career, many people, including Elvis himself, wondered if the world would forget him while he was in the army. Parker, on the other hand, worked hard to keep Elvis’ name and image in the public eye. Parker was so successful at this that some would say Elvis was almost more popular after his military experience than he was before it.

While Elvis was in the army, two major events happened to him.

The first was the death of his beloved mother. Her death devastated him.

The second was that he met and started dating 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, whose father was also stationed in Germany. They married eight years later, on May 1, 1967, and had one child together, a daughter named Lisa Marie Presley (born February 1, 1968).

When Elvis was discharged from the army in 1960, fans once again mobbed him. Elvis was as popular as ever and he got started right away recording new songs and making more movies. Unfortunately, it had become obvious to Parker and others that anything with Elvis’ name or image on it would make money, so Elvis was pushed to make movies in quantity rather than in quality.

With few exceptions, from 1960 until 1968, Elvis made very few public appearances while he focused on making movies. In all, Elvis made 33 movies.

Elvis’ first two movies, Love Me Tender (1956) and Loving You (1957), were quick, forgettable attempts by Hollywood to cash in on Elvis’ music stardom. His third film Jailhouse Rock, however, was more of a showcase for his talents. The plot Elvis plays an ex-con with a short temper, a gift for music, and a way with women set the template for most of his 1960s movies, but this one had more dramatic grit and that galvanizing, brilliantly choreographed title number.

Jailhouse Rock is an American musical film directed by Richard Thorpe, released by MGM on October 17, 1957. The film stars Elvis Presley in his third film and MGM debut, Judy Tyler, and Mickey Shaughnessy.

In King Creole, Elvis dreamed of being the next James Dean; this movie, the last he filmed before his two-year army stint, was about as close as he got. Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) directed Elvis as a New Orleans nightclub singer trying to get out from under the thumb of a local crime lord (a surprisingly scary Walter Matthau, against whom Elvis holds his own). There’s a desperate edge in both his acting and his performance of hard-driving tunes like ‘Trouble’ and ‘Hard Headed Woman.’

Elvis gives a strong, largely non-musical performance as the star of this Western Flaming Star in 1960; he plays a mixed-race man torn between his white and Kiowa Indian families. Future (Dirty Harry) filmmaker Don Siegel directed.

In Wild in the Country 1961, Elvis stars as a troubled aspiring writer who becomes romantically entangled (and not in a fun way) with three different women (Tuesday Weld, Millie Perkins, and Hope Lange). After this, Elvis turned (or was diverted by Parker) away from dramatic roles and toward the frothy musical comedies that would mark the rest of his movie career.

Elvis’ most successful movie, Blue Hawaii (1961), became a basic template for many of his later movies. Elvis became increasingly upset about the poor quality of his movies and songs.

While Elvis was away from the stage, other musicians appeared on the scene. A few of these groups, such as the Beatles, riled up teenagers, sold lots of records, and threatened to make Elvis share his title of “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” if not take it away. Elvis had to do something to keep his crown.

Following years of mediocre movies and middling chart performance at a time when rock seemed to have outgrown, Elvis returned to the stage for the first time in a decade hungry and desperate on this NBC special, and it paid off in the raw, intimate, unplugged performances of his early hits.

In December 1968, Elvis, dressed in a black leather outfit, appeared in an hour-long television special titled, Elvis. Calm, sexy, and humorous, Elvis wowed the crowd. The 1968 “comeback special” energized Elvis. After the success of his television appearance, Elvis got back both into recording and live performances.

In July 1969, Parker booked Elvis at the largest venue in Las Vegas, the new International Hotel. Elvis’ shows there were a huge success and the hotel booked Elvis for four weeks a year through 1974.

The rest of the year, Elvis went on tour.

American Sound Studios, Memphis

Founded by Chips Moman and Don Crews in 1964, American Sound Studio was located at 827 Thomas Street in Memphis, Tennessee.

Originally known as the 827 Thomas Street Band, and later nicknamed after moving to Nashville, the Memphis Boys were a group of musicians whose careers started in the Memphis area in the early 60’s. According to Billboard Magazine, they played on more hit records in a six month period than any other group of studio musicians in history.

Among the many hits that the Memphis Boys recorded are Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds”, “In the Ghetto”, and “Kentucky Rain”, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”, Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind”, Billy Swan’s “I Can Help”, Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man,” and B.]. Thomas’ “Hooked on a Feeling”. When Elvis first walked into American Sound Studios, he remarked, “What a funky, funky place.” It was the first time since his Sun Records days that Elvis had recorded in Memphis.

The Memphis Boys consisted of Bobby Wood, Bobby Emmons, Gene Chrisman, Mike Leech, Reggie Young, and Tommy Cogbill.

When most writers tell the story of Memphis music, they include four recording studios. American Sound Studio is one of those four. Unlike Sun, Stax or Hi/Royal Sound, this studio was never associated with a particular record label. Instead studio founder Chips Moman took in many customers. The list of hit songs recorded in this stdio is long.

Elvis probably did some of his best recording here in 1969.

Chips in later years liked to brag that he revitalized Elvis’ career. Even if this is not quite true the location of his studio deserves an historic marker. The studio building was demolished by 1990, and its replacement building is vacant today.

Re-energized after the Comeback Special, Elvis spent early 1969 recording such powerful songs as ‘Kentucky Rain’ and ‘In the Ghetto’ for his album From Elvis to Memphis 1969, his last great collection of new studio material. Also recorded at the time was the terrific single ‘Suspicious Minds,’ included on later CD reissues of the album.

Elvis “mug-shot” from 1970 when he was presented with an honorary police badge

On Dec. 21, 1970, the King showed up at the White House and was granted an audience with the president. Elvis, who liked to collect badges, wanted to be made a ‘Federal Agent-at-Large’ for drug enforcement. He brought along a gun, a Colt .45 as a gift for Richard Nixon. Reprints of the official White House photo taken that day of the two men shaking hands are reportedly the most requested items at the National Archives. The surreal meeting was dramatized in the 1997 cable movie Elvis Meets Nixon.

The Elvis concert “Elvis : Aloha from Hawaii” in 1973 reached 1.5 billion people around the world via satellite, a novelty at the time.

Ever since Elvis had become popular, he had worked at a breakneck speed. He was recording songs, making movies, signing autographs, and giving concerts with little to no rest. To keep up the fast pace, Elvis had started taking prescription drugs.

By the early 1970s, the long and continued use of these drugs began to really cause problems. Elvis started having severe mood swings, aggression, erratic behavior, and gained a lot of weight.

By this time, Elvis and Priscilla had grown apart and in January 1973, the two divorced. After the divorce, Elvis’s drug addiction got even worse. Several times he was hospitalized from overdoses and other health problems. His performances began to severely suffer. On many occasions, Elvis just mumbled through songs while on stage.

On the morning of August 16, 1977, Elvis’ girlfriend, Ginger Alden, found Elvis on the bathroom floor at Graceland. He wasn’t breathing. Elvis was taken to the hospital, where doctors were unable to resuscitate him. He was pronounced dead at 3:30 p.m. Elvis died at age 42

According to rock journalist Lester Bangs, a reporter asked Col. Tom Parker what would happen now, and Parker reportedly replied, ‘Why, nothin’, son, it’s just like when he was in the army.’

Indeed, while the rumors persisted for a long time that Elvis had faked his own death, in another sense, he never really went away, and his career never really stopped.

In his post-mortem career, which has now lasted many years longer than his live career did, he’s continued to release albums and compilations (Tupac’s got nothing on Elvis), he’s routinely topped Forbes’ list of the biggest earners among dead celebrities, and he’s remained as ubiquitous in pop culture as he ever was.

Parker allowed filmmakers Matthew Leo and Andrew Solt access to never before seen movies of Elvis from the King’s private archive; he also allowed them to tie their montage of home movies and concert footage together with re-enactors playing Elvis and speaking for him.

The resulting documentary ( This is Elvis (1981) )  traced Presley’s career from its early peak through its long, slow decline, was controversial at the time because of the reenactments .

Five years after Elvis died there, Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley opened the Memphis mansion’s musical-note gates to the public in 1982, and it became one of America’s top tourist attractions. Pilgrims eager to see Elvis’ Jungle Room and trophy room helped make Graceland into America’s second most-visited private residence (after the White House) and earned it National Historic Landmark status in 2006.

About Mark James

Mark James is a songwriter, famous for writing hits for singers BJ Thomas, Brenda Lee and Elvis Presley.

Mark James, whose real name is Francis Zambon, was born in 1940 and grew up in Houston, Texas, befriending B J Thomas while both were still young.

By the late 1960s, James was signed as a staff songwriter to Memphis producer Chips Moman’s publishing company, Moman produced Thomas’s versions of “The Eyes Of A New York Woman”, “Hooked On A Feeling” and “It’s Only Love” in 1968-69, and all achieved success.

The songwriter wrote, sang and issued his own version of “Suspicious Minds”, also produced by Moman, on Scepter Records in 1968 but without success and in the same arrangement the song became a worldwide smash hit for Elvis Presley in 1969.

Mark James explained — “I lived and breathed working at American Studios. I wrote songs night and day. I was really driven to get songs on the radio. When I went home at night, most of the time I’d only sleep a few hours because I had another session in the morning or because I was writing most of the night hoping to go back in the studio, the next day with a good song to record.

I had the idea for ‘Suspicious Minds’ and it started coming to me one night. First the title came and I thought about it and lived with it a while. Then the lyric came to me, “caught in a trap, I can’t walk out because I love YOU too much, baby.” What I was trying to say is that we can’t live together or attain our dreams or build on anything if we don’t trust one another. ‘Suspicious Minds’ captured a lot of soul. I was a writer trying to write a great song, a hit song and it came off just right”

Elvis recorded other songs written by Mark James namely:- “Its Only Love”,” Raised On Rock” and “Moody Blue.”

Incredibly James’ greatest personal success came with “Always on My Mind,” a writing collaboration with Johnny Christopher and Wayne Carson Thompson and issued as a b-side to Separate Ways by Elvis Presley in 1972 in the USA.

It was a hit for Elvis but it was a huge hit for Willie Nelson in 1982. Mark James won a Grammy Award for Song of the Year for Willie Nelson’s version. UK duo The Pet Shop Boys had a UK #1 and US #4 with their 1987 revival of the song.

James also wrote the song Moody Blue, which is also the name of Elvis’ last album. In 1979 Mark James wrote a beautiful song about Elvis called “Blue Suede Heaven” It was featured in the documentary “The Echo Will Never Die” with Kasey Casem” It is a strange coincidence but when you hear what a wonderful voice he had, like B J Thomas, you fail to understand that the songs he wrote were not his own hits. Perhaps he needed a great manager like Elvis’. However it was a great shame that Elvis could not have had a permanent arrangement with the likes of Mark James, Dennis Linde and Jerry Chesnut to produce new songs for him for one album.

The 70’s albums could have been great. I think it is the Elvis “Today” album where there is not one original song i.e. not already recorded by another artist. Imagine Billy Swan and the aforementioned writers doing 10-12 new songs for him?

Incredibly all the songs Elvis recorded of Mark James were hit singles peaking at:

“Suspicious Minds” # 2 [1969]
“Always on my mind” # 9 [1972]
“Raised on Rock” # 36 [1973]
“Moody Blue” # 6. [1977]

Posthumous Hits:

“Its Only Love” # 3 [1980]
“The Elvis Medley”, containing “Suspicious Minds”, #51.
“Always on my mind” reissues #59 [1985] and #13 [1997].
“Suspicious minds” “live” #15 [2001].
“Suspicious Minds” #11 [2007] whilst on the same run
“Always on my mind” #17 [2007].

“Raised on Rock” and “Moody Blue” were chosen as the titles of the albums on which they first appeared. In the states “Suspicious Minds” and “Moody Blue” were numbers one’s. “Its only love” was lifted from the Elvis Aron Presley box set in 1980

Some cover versions

A sign of a song’s staying power is how many people record covers.

Here are some of the major performers who’ve covered “Suspicious Minds.”









Presley is regarded as one of the most important figures of 20th-century popular culture. He had a versatile voice and unusually wide success encompassing many genres, including country, pop ballads, gospel, and blues.

He is the best-selling solo artist in the history of popular music



  1. WillT - November 28, 2016

    Thank you for this blog. Very informative. Really enjoyed reading and reminiscing.

  2. Petti - May 15, 2015

    If only elvis is still alive, i love his music.
    Milan 2015

  3. experimental music - December 10, 2014

    Glorious what you can find on the net these days

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