412. ‘Way Down’, by Elvis Presley

Do you remember the early 1960s? (Not literally – I mean in terms of this blog.) Back when every third #1 was by Elvis? Those three years in which he dominated the top spot like no one before or since, not even The Beatles? Amazingly, given the heights of his heyday, this is only his second chart-topper in twelve years. ‘The Wonder of You’ came just after his leather-clad comeback, and marked the start of the Vegas years. Since then he’s descended into a jump-suited parody of himself, mumbling his way through residencies with sweat-soaked towels round his ever-widening neck. From Sun Records, to Elvis the Pelvis, to the army, the movies and the rhinestones, there was still time for one more reinvention. Enter: Dead Elvis.

Way Down, by Elvis Presley (his 17th of twenty-one #1s)

5 weeks, from 28th August – 2nd October 1977

I don’t include the picture above to shock or to mock; more to mourn what he had become. What his management and enablers had allowed him to do to himself. I’ve loved Elvis’s music since I was young, and can find something to enjoy from every stage of his career. And I’m glad he bowed out with a rocker. ‘Way Down’ is pure cabaret razzamatazz, with the jazzy drums and the piano flourishes; but there’s rock ‘n’ roll in there. There’s a hint of disco too, believe it or not, in the churning, didgeridoo-like rhythm.

Ooh, And I can feel it, Feel it, Feel it, FEEL IT! You wonder if Elvis was capable of feeling very much at this point, and he does sound pretty bored (or pretty well sedated) during the verses. But he goes for it in the chorus. Way down where it feels so good, Way down where I hoped it would, Way down where I never could… On the one hand they sound like standard, throwaway, mildly risqué rock ‘n’ roll lyrics. But for a man in Elvis’s condition maybe he knew what he was talking about: he was having to dig very deep to feel anything. Meanwhile the line: The medicine within me, A doctor couldn’t prescribe… sounds like a very knowing reference.

I’ve always liked this one, long before I knew it was his swansong. It’s kid-friendly rock – almost a pantomime of the real thing. Would it have been a #1 smash if Elvis hadn’t died? No way. It was languishing at #42 in the week of his death, before rocketing up the charts when the news broke. Nowadays, people download or stream deceased artists’ biggest hits on hearing of their deaths. Back in 1977, those who wanted to mark The King’s passing had one choice: to go ‘Way Down’.

Sadly, Elvis isn’t actually the true star of his final antemortem release. Step forward J.D. Sumner, who ends the record with perhaps the lowest note ever sung on a chart-topping single. Way… On… Doowwwn… I did wonder if he was the same baritone as featured way back on ‘A Fool Such As I’, but sadly he wasn’t.

While this record did perhaps only hit #1 thanks to Elvis’s death, that shouldn’t suggest he had been absent from the charts. Since his last #1in 1970, Presley had scored fifteen Top 10 hits with a mix of new songs and re-releases. ‘Moody Blue’, the single before this, had reached #6. Perhaps ‘Way Down’ would have done something similar, then, if it hadn’t been for that fateful trip to the bathroom.

And this isn’t the end of the road for Elvis and the number one spot. Far from it. At the time, it gave him his seventeenth chart-topper, tying him with The Beatles. They will stay neck and neck for a good twenty-five years, until an Elvis resurgence in the ‘00s (he has twice as many #1s in that decade as he does in the ‘70s…) But still. We should still mark this occasion. One of, if not the, biggest pop star ever has left the building. Go on, order yourself a Fools’ Gold Loaf (flown in on your own private jet, naturally) and play the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s final hit, one last time…

Enjoy every #1 so far, including all 17 of Elvis’s:

Cover Versions of #1s – Nick Cave & The Villagers

The final two covers for the week, and we’re slowing the pace, ending on a chilled note…

‘The Carnival Is Over’, by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – 1986 album track

(Originally a #1 in November 1965, by The Seekers)

I didn’t have much positive to say about The Seekers’ two 1965 #1 singles, the second of which was the dirgey ‘The Carnival Is Over’. But if you want someone to take a dirge, and make it even gloomier, yet make it completely their own, then look no further than Nick Cave. Based on an old Russian folk song, and given some sixties-folk lyrics by Dusty Springfield’s brother Tom, it sold a million for Australia’s biggest band of the decade. Fellow Aussie Cave and his Bad Seeds recorded it for a covers album twenty years later – ‘the song sort of haunted my childhood’, Cave has been quoted as saying. (Until five minutes ago, I had no idea that Boney M had also recorded a version… And I had no idea that Boney M had ever sounded so miserable. Nobody can make this tune sound fun!)

‘The Wonder of You’, by The Villagers – 2017

(Originally a #1 in July 1970, by Elvis Presley)

Despite being described as an ‘indie-folk project’ on their Wikipedia page, and despite it sounding ready made for a Starbucks playlist, I have liked this version of ‘The Wonder of You’ by The Villagers ever since hearing it on the soundtrack to HBO series ‘Big Little Lies’. It is the polar opposite of Elvis’s bombastic version – lo-fi and intimate, with just a hint of old-style rock ‘n’ roll around the edges. In the show, it soundtracks an abusive husband getting flung to his death down a flight of stairs during an Elvis-themed PTA night at a primary school… (I mean, if that description doesn’t make you want to watch something, then I don’t know what will!)

I hope you enjoyed my second annual cover versions week. Normal service will be resumed in a few days, with our 377th chart-topping single.

289. ‘The Wonder of You’, by Elvis Presley

Well, look who’s back! Over five years on from his last #1, Elvis is back in the building. What version of Elvis are we on now? We’ve had the ‘Sun’ Records Elvis, Elvis the Pelvis, Army Elvis, Post-Army-Chart-Dominator Elvis, Terrible Movie Soundtrack Elvis…

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The Wonder of You, by Elvis Presley (his 16th of twenty-one #1s)

6 weeks, from 26th July – 6th September 1970

’68 Comeback Special Elvis has been and gone – he didn’t make the top of the charts, though ‘Suspicious Minds’, ‘In the Ghetto’ and ‘If I Can Dream’ were all decent-sized hits. Now we’ve arrived at Vegas Elvis. The jumpsuits, the rhinestones… It’s one of his most distinctive looks, the favoured outfit of the modern Elvis impersonator.

‘The Wonder of You’ sweeps in, the instruments sounding brassy and confident, as if the very fact that they are being played on an Elvis record is giving them an extra decibel. And the man himself can’t wait to get singing, joining in with the intro: Woah-woah-woah-woah… His voice sounds deeper, thicker than when we last heard him, crooning on ‘Crying In the Chapel’.

When no-one else can understand me, When everything I do is wrong… I’m not going to lie, this record is a big bucket of schmaltz… You give me hope and consolation, You give me strength to carry on… But I love it. I especially love giving it a good old belt out in the shower. Elvis has plenty of excellent shower-songs, but this is the ultimate. I guess I’ll never know, The reason why, You love me as you do… That’s the wonder, The wonder of you… Who is the ‘you’ in the title? Priscilla? God? The listener? It works, because any old schmuck can sing it to their loved-one and come away looking cute.

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Completing the ‘Elvis at the MGM’ feel are the crowd noises. Yes, we have our first ‘live’ number one since, I think, Lonnie Donegan a decade ago. They applaud at the start, when The King begins to sing, and they cheer at the end when the song rises to its finale. He never actually recorded ‘The Wonder of You’ in a studio, amazingly. At the very end, as the final note appears over the horizon, Elvis’s voice is faded right back into the mix. It’s a disappointingly muted end, a sign perhaps that his voice was beginning to fade. Of course, the next Elvis (Elvis MK VIII?) will be prescription drugs ‘n’ burgers Elvis.

And, sadly, the next Elvis we’ll meet on this countdown will be The Late Elvis. Yep, this is the last UK chart-topper of his lifetime. ‘The Wonder of You’ had been around for a while, though. It was written in 1959 by one Ray Peterson, and recorded by Ronnie Hilton (remember him, from way back in 1956?) and The Platters. Their versions are fine, though a lot stiffer than this one. Apparently Elvis had asked Peterson’s permission to record the song, and Peterson had replied with an ‘Um, you don’t really need to ask, cause you’re, you know, Elvis…’

Very few acts who scored number ones in the sixties managed to keep their runs going in the sixties. There was a sudden and sharp cut off: The Beatles (to be fair, they split up in 1970), The Stones, The Beach Boys, all the Beat bands… The door slammed down on New Year’s Eve 1969. Except, obviously, these rules didn’t apply to The King. In fact, with his 16th #1 he creates a whole new club: artists who have scored chart-toppers in three different decades. Even now it’s a select club, reserved for big names: Madonna, Michael Jackson (if you count The Jacksons), Eminem, Kylie… and Cliff Richard, who has hit #1 in an outrageous five different decades. Yep, plenty more Cliff to look forward to, coming up right here…

Follow along with the UK #1s Blog Spotify playlist here.

2nd Anniversary Special! Cover Versions of #1s Part II – Elvis & Little Richard

It’s two years since I started this blog and I’m exactly 250 number ones in! To celebrate, I am doing a week-long special: cover versions of #1 singles! Whenever I write a post, I not only discover and enjoy the #1 singles, I also often discover and enjoy other recordings of these hit songs.

Our next two covers are by two of the founding pillars of rock ‘n’ roll…

‘Such a Night’, by Elvis Presley (1960)

(Originally hit #1 in 1954, with Johnnie Ray)

I adore Johnnie Ray’s version of this, but Elvis’s version hits the spot just as nicely. Both singers get how sensual and sexy a song this is meant to be. Recorded for his ‘Elvis Is Back!’ album, ‘Such a Night’ is proof that Elvis could still kick it after being in the army. His voice is superb here, but just as brilliant is DJ Fontana on drums. It reached #13 in the UK when finally released in 1964.

‘Memories Are Made of This’, by Little Richard (1964)

(Originally hit #1 in 1956, with Dean Martin)

Deano crooned the life out of this, his only number one hit. Little Richard does not croon. He gives it the full treatment – it’s an experience similar, I’d imagine, to standing behind a 777 as it revs up. I’ve already covered how criminal it is that Little Richard never scored his own #1 single, and will take any chance going to bring him up! Enjoy…

Two more tomorrow…

Songs That Should Have Been #1… ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, by Elvis Presley

The Stargazers, Don Cornell, The Johnston Brothers, The Dream Weavers, Jerry Keller…? Nope, me neither. But they’ve all had the honour of topping the UK singles chart.

How well a single performs in the charts can be influenced by various things… promotion, star power, tastes and trends, time of year… pure luck. And that most fickle, unpredictable of  factors: the general public. Do enough of them like your song to make it a smash? Or will they ignore it, and let it fall by the wayside?

I’m taking a short break from the regular countdown to feature five discs that really should have topped the charts. Be it for their long-reaching influence, their enduring popularity or for the simple fact that, had they peaked a week earlier or later, they might have made it. (I’ll only be covering songs released before 1964, as that’s where I’m up to on the usual countdown.)

Next up…

Well since my baby left me…

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Heartbreak Hotel, by Elvis Presley

 reached #2 in June 1956

OK, OK, I know. Elvis doesn’t need any more number one singles. He’s had plenty. Back on my regular countdown, of actual #1s, we’re in 1964 and The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll is on fourteen (14!)

But… His dominance of the charts in the early 1960s is why I wish that this disc could have made the top. He had some brilliant, classic #1s – don’t get me wrong – but he also dragged a lot of crap to the top just through the power of his name. If only we could swap ‘Good Luck Charm’, or ‘Rock-A-Hula Baby’, or ‘Wooden Heart’, for this burst of primal energy.

This was Elvis the hip-swiveller, Elvis as Moral Panic, Elvis the Pelvis edited from the waist down… And it’s a really clever song, too. A broken heart imagined as a real place – a hotel where broken-hearted lovers cry in the gloom, and the desk-clerks are all dressed in black. It was inspired by a real-life suicide, which is some heavy shit for a pop song in 1956 (for comparison, it was kept off the top-spot in Britain by the banal, saccharine stylings of Pat Boone, with ‘I’ll Be Home’.) And when that guitar solo kicks in… Oh boy. The King was most definitely in the building.

154. ‘(You’re the) Devil in Disguise’, by Elvis Presley

Oh hey, Elvis. You still here? You want one more go at the top, before your glory days are well and truly over? Go on then…

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(You’re the) Devil in Disguise, by Elvis Presley (his 14th of twenty-one #1s)

1 week, from 1st – 8th August 1963

I know this song, I love this song, I’ve been playing air guitar to it since I was a nipper. I know it’s a rocker, and I can’t wait to write a blog post about it. But, to hear it coming after Elvis has bored us into submission with his recent #1s: (‘Good Luck Charm’), (‘She’s Not You’), or scared us off completely: (‘Rock-A-Hula Baby). Well, it’s like a real shot of adrenalin.

It starts off sedately: You look like an angel, Walk like an angel, Talk like an angel… But I got wise… I love the filthy, twangy guitar that sounds like a motorbike revving. And then boom! You’re the devil in disguise, Oh yes you are, Devil in disguise…

It’s a song about a girl that just can’t be trusted… You fooled me with your kisses, You cheated and you schemed, Heaven knows how you lied to me, You’re not the way you seemed…

His band are tight, and Elvis really lets loose. It’s good, nay great, to hear him really go for it after his half-arsed recent efforts. I think the fact that this disc wasn’t from a bloated film soundtrack helped here. And, if this is the end of Elvis as a chart-humping global icon (he will only have 2 (two!) further UK #1s in his lifetime!) then what a way to go!

But, the piece de resistance in this record has nothing to do with Elvis himself. Step forward Grady Martin with his swooping, twanging solo, possibly the rocking-est solo to appear at the top of the charts thus far. Back when I was a lad, and harboured (very) short-lived dreams about playing the guitar, this was the first solo that I wanted to learn. Now I know that there are better, more accomplished guitar solos out there but still… There’s something about the rawness and looseness of this one, especially coming from way back in 1963.

Then it’s a pause – You’re the devil in disguise – Ba dum dum dum – and in comes the low-voiced man, Ray Walker, who Elvis saves only for his very best songs, to echo his Oh yes you are… And there we have it. The King’s 10th chart-topper in just over two and a half years. Off the top of my head, I wouldn’t have guessed that Elvis and The Beatles crossed paths at the top of the charts, but they did. Here. Just the once. (Actually twice, but that’s a story for another day…) I like to think he had heard those young upstarts, and that’s what’s pushed him to really give it his all on this disc. It’s not perfect – it’s a bit Vegasy and Elvis’s voice is still in crooner-mode – but I love it. And, at the end of the day, that’s all that matters…

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Just because – he is Elvis F’ing Presley after – let’s go all Buzzfeed and rank his post-army #1s. In ascending order then, with double ‘A’-sides split apart:

‘Wooden Heart’ (ugh) >>>>>>> ‘Rock-A-Hula Baby’ (woah) >>>>>>> ‘Good Luck Charm’ (meh) >>>>>>> ‘It’s Now or Never’ (controversially low?) >>>>>>> ‘She’s Not You’ (so-so) >>>>>>> ‘Surrender’ (silly but decent) >>>>>>> ‘Return to Sender’ (soft-spot) >>>>>>> ‘(You’re the) Devil in Disguise’ (yep) >>>>>>> ‘Little Sister’ >>>>>>> ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ >>>>>>> ‘His Latest Flame’ >>>>>>> ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’

There you have it. Let me know in the comments if you agree or think I’ve lost my faculties. For The King, this is over-and-out for a while. Elvis has not quite left the building, but he’s gone for a long walk. It’ll probably do him some good…

143. ‘Return to Sender’ by Elvis Presley

In which Elvis does something unprecedented and – to this very day – unmatched. Two years, eight number ones singles. Four in 1961. Four in 1962. Of the 110 chart-weeks that have passed since he returned from his army-enforced hiatus, Elvis has been at #1 for forty-one of them… The record with which The King sealed this feat…?

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Return to Sender, by Elvis Presley (his 13th of twenty-one #1s)

3 weeks, from 13th December 1962 – 3rd January 1963

…is utter, utter cheese. Elvis wrote a letter to a girl; it came back. Return to sender, Address unknown, No such number, No such zone… They had a quarrel – a lover’s spat – and no matter how much he apologises his girl ain’t having it. That’s about it.

It’s Elvis at his most unimaginative: an early to mid-sixties movie soundtrack that got to the top of the chart by default just because it had the name ‘Elvis Presley’ on the cover. But… I love this song. Have done for years. Back when I first got my much-mentioned Elvis ‘Best Of’ as a teenager this was one of the songs I would skip to first. At the time I even went so far as to list it as my favourite Elvis song… ever. I know, I know, I was young and have since seen the error of my youthful ways. It’s not my favourite Elvis song, honest. And it’s nowhere near being his best song. But it has a charm to it, a swing and a swagger to it, that is hard to deny.

For example, I love it when the backing singers – the Jordanaires – pop up with their baritone The writing on it… before every chorus. I love it when Elvis launches into the final verse, as if impatient for it to begin: This time I’m gonna take it myself, And put it right in her ha-and… And I love the line I write I’m sorry but my letter keeps coming back… for the rasp in Elvis’s voice that went missing circa-1959, and for the fact that to someone from Scotland it sounds like he’s saying ‘Aye right, I’m sorry…’ (And therefore isn’t sorry in the slightest.)

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At the very least, Elvis sounds more alive during this than he did in his last two chart toppers – the dull ‘Good Luck Charm’ and the slightly better ‘She’s Not You’. There’s a hiccup in his voice and a wink in his eye that suggest he might even be enjoying himself here. It’s a solid pop song – very jaunty without being irritating. It sounds a bit like a mellower version of a Neil Sedaka hit. ‘Calendar Girl’, maybe.

However, this doesn’t mean that ‘Return to Sender’ is signalling an upturn in Elvis’s career. As I mentioned, this was yet another movie soundtrack tie-in – this time from ‘Girls! Girls! Girls!’, which currently holds a 40% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (Sample lyric from the title track: Big and brassy, Small and sassy, Just give me one of each kind…) In fact, you could say that this hit marks the end of Elvis’s ‘Imperial Phase’. People were getting tired of the same sub-standard pop, and a star name can only get you so far – even when that star name is The One-And-Only Elvis Presley. Amazingly, after this, Elvis will score just three more UK number one singles in his lifetime!

There we have it, then. It’s weird to think that from now on every fifth number-one I write about won’t be by The King. But I’ll cope. While it’s undeniably impressive to have had four chart-toppers a year, two years in a row; when that run includes tracks like ‘Wooden Heart’, ‘Rock-a-Hula Baby’ and ‘Good Luck Charm’ then some of the shine is inevitably lost…

140. ‘She’s Not You’, by Elvis Presley

Ladies and Gentlemen! For the eighth time in under two years! It’s… Oh, I can’t be arsed. Not really. Look – Elvis is #1. Again.

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She’s Not You, by Elvis Presley (his 12th of twenty-one #1s)

3 weeks, from 13th September – 4th October 1962

In my post on his last chart-topper – the soporific ‘Good Luck Charm’ – I crafted a pretty nifty (if I do say so myself) metaphor in which Elvis’s career equalled a long-haul flight. We were five hours in, meal-trays cleared, lights dimmed etc. etc. Very smooth sailing. And if you were hoping for a bit of turbulence with this latest record then you will be left disappointed. ‘She’s Not You’ is basically ‘Good Luck Charm’ Pt. II. Same tempo, same half-asleep Elvis. In fact, I’m pretty sure that both songs use the very same backing track (**stokes chin thoughtfully**)

Her hair is soft, And her eyes are oh so blue… She’s all the things a girl should be, But she’s not you… Elvis has a new girl, but still loves the old girl. Sigh. She knows just how to make me laugh when I feel blue… She’s everything a man could want, But she’s not you…

I must admit that, despite this song’s utter basic-ness and the fact that clearly very little effort went into the writing or the recording of it, I do like it. I always have liked it, ever since I got that Elvis Greatest Hits collection way back when. There are the bumbabumbabumbabums for a start, and the piano solo that always makes me imagine a bumblebee hovering over a flower. And it has a bit of a swing to it, most notable in the bridge, when Elvis slurs that line: And when we’re dancing, It almost feels the same… (For years I thought it was It’s so confusing…) There’s something cool, really, about auto-pilot Elvis. About Elvis not even trying, yet still dragging songs like this to the top of the charts just because he was Elvis Fucking Presley.

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Interestingly, this is the first time since the 1950s that Elvis has hit the top with two similar sounding discs. Last year, he was veering from opera to rockabilly to lederhosen. Maybe, then, the similarities between ‘Good Luck Charm’ and ‘She’s Not You’ – his eleventh and twelfth UK #1 singles – say it all about his mid-career malaise. And it’s needless to say that there is absolutely no rock ‘n’ roll to be found here. This song has had the rock sucked right out of it. This is pure, 100% middle of the road pop.

As I find in every post I write about Elvis these days, I’m out of things to say pretty quickly. We all know he’ll be along again soon, so let’s save it for whenever we see him next. I do want to note, however, just how quickly we are racing through 1962. ’61 took us on a variety of detours, down all sorts of one-week bye-ways, but ’62 has been marked by big records spending huge chunks of time at the top. Only twelve songs will make #1 in this year, the fourth lowest total in chart history (after 1954, 1992 and 2016, fact fans.) After just three more chart-toppers we will be in 1963: the official start of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ and modern pop music as we know it… Hold on, people. It’s coming.

136. ‘Good Luck Charm’, by Elvis Presley

Uh-huh-huh, Uh-huh-huh, Uh-huh-huh, Oooh yeah… Sorry, I think I just dosed off. Where was I? Oh, right. It’s Elvis again. How many #1s is that, now? I’ve lost track… Eleven? Thanks.

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Good Luck Charm, by Elvis Presley (his 11th of twenty-one #1s)

5 weeks, from 24th May – 28th June 1962

This is the sound of Elvis in complete cruise-control. If his career were a long-haul flight (bear with me…) then we would currently be five-hours in, cruising at 37,000 feet, meals served, lights dimmed, pilots snoozing with their feet up.

Don’t want a four-leaf clover, Don’t want an old horse-shoe… These are the things Elvis doesn’t need – along with a silver dollar, a rabbit’s foot on a string and a lucky penny – because he has his girl. Come on and… Be my little good luck charm, You sweet delight… I want a good luck charm, A-hangin’ on my arm, To have, To hold, Tonight…

And that’s pretty much it. Elvis sounds bored. The music sounds like one of the pre-set backing rhythms on an old Casio keyboard that I had as a kid. After two verses and two choruses, we get to the spot where the solo should be. And the solo is Elvis going ‘Uh-huh-huh’… over and over again. When you think back to the energy of his fifties number ones – his growl on ‘Jailhouse Rock’, for example – or the startling newness of his Sun Record, pre-chart topping days, then you have to feel sad that he had been reduced to songs like this. It’s not awful. It’s OK. But the problem is that it’s not trying to be anything more than just OK.

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And coming as it does, hot on the heels of Elvis’s best two post-army chart toppers – ‘Little Sister / Her Latest Flame’ and ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ – it really does feel like a step backwards. He was capable of so much more. It’s a well-known fact that Elvis was up for recording pretty much anything that his manager, Colonel Parker, suggested, and that Col. Parker had absolutely no qualms about milking his hit-record machine for all he was worth. (‘Song of the Shrimp’, ‘(There’s) No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car’ and ‘Petunia, the Gardner’s Daughter’ are all titles of songs recorded by ‘The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ between 1961 and 1967.) ‘Good Luck Charm’ is probably the one UK chart-topper record that best encapsulates this mid-career malaise.

I wrote in my previous post that the zany ‘Nut Rocker’ was just what we needed to liven things up at the top of the charts. This, however, is just what we didn’t need. I’ve listened to it six or seven times while writing this post and am pretty sure that my brain has started to melt. To think that this was the country’s number one selling song for five (5!) weeks. Really, record buying public of 1962? Really…?

133. ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ / ‘Rock-A-Hula Baby’, by Elvis Presley

Wise men say, Only fools… would be surprised at Elvis Presley claiming yet another UK #1. His sixth inside fifteen months. And with it, he takes his chart-topping singles account into double figures.

 

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Can’t Help Falling in Love / Rock-A-Hula Baby, by Elvis Presley (his 10th of twenty-one #1s)

4 weeks, from 22nd February – 22nd March 1962

One of the good things about Elvis’s post-army career is that he never released two similar records in a row. We’ve had operatics (‘It’s Now or Never’) followed by a ballad (‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’) followed by oompah (‘Wooden Heart’) followed by a return to La Scala (‘Surrender’) then a spot of rock ‘n’ roll (‘Little Sister’ / ‘His Latest Flame’) and now some more balladry.

Some supreme balladry. Because ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ is Elvis at the height of his crooning powers – a classy, classy record. Not one that I probably have to describe in too much detail, given its ubiquitousness, but I’ll give it a go anyway. A simple piano melody, the ‘ting’ of a xylophone, and The King: Wise men say, Only fools rush in, But I can’t help, Falling in love with you… Oh, Elvis, do go on… Shall I stay, Would it be a sin, If I can’t help, Falling in love with you…? That voice. There are no operatics, nothing fancy; but you’re dragged in, and left as putty in his hands. It’s a very chivalrous love song, too – with the singer almost apologising for his affections.

It’s like an update of the big fifties ballads – ‘Here in My Heart’, ‘Answer Me’ and so on – with the same OTT emoting (Take my hand, Take my whole life too…), but much more stripped back. And yet compared to its contemporaries, this record – all of Elvis’s records for that matter – sounds incredibly polished. Very crisp and very clear. As if it’s been recorded in the most palatial of recording studios using the most up-to-date equipment (to be fair, it probably was). If ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ was in a high-school class with all the other recent #1 singles – suspend your disbelief for just a second, please – then it would be the cool kid, the rich kid, the captain of the football team with the cutest cheerleader girlfriend.

Two bits stand out in particular: the twang of the guitar in the bridge, and the moment when Elvis and the backing singers combine for the final verse. Mmmm. Shivers. Elvis released some drivel in the 1960s; but when he was at the top of his game, releasing beauties such as this, there was no touching him. Cliff could but watch and weep.

For proof of the transcendent nature of this song, look no further than the fact that this is both the unofficial club anthem of Sunderland F.C. and my parents’ ‘song’ – despite the fact that they had barely started primary-school when this was at the top of the charts. And just a few weeks ago, while on holiday in Cambodia, I heard a busker performing it in the street.

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So: ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ is an utter classic. The song on the flip-side of this disc, on the other hand… Well, let’s pull no punches here: it’s Elvis at his shitty B-movie contractual soundtrack worst. ‘Rock-A-Hula Baby’, or to give it its’ bandwagon-jumping full title ‘Rock-A-Hula Baby (Twist Special)’, sets out to be a fun song, with a Rock-a-hula, rock rock-a-hula, Wow! intro, and I want to find it fun… But I can’t.

Because I don’t believe Elvis himself is having much fun here. He sounds like he’s going through the motions as he describes his Hawaiian lover with silly lines like: When she starts to sway, I gotta say, She really moves the grass around… and Although I love to kiss my little hula-miss, I never get the chance, I wanna hold her tight, All through the night, But all she wants to do is dance… And if he ain’t enjoying it, then how are we meant to?

Couple this with the terrifying guitar effects – Rock! Whhrrraa! – and the ridiculously cheesy chorus-line ending, and you’ve got a hot mess. Still, at least it’s a rocker – ridiculously fast-paced and over in under two minutes. An up-tempo bad record is always, I repeat always, better than a slow-tempo bad record.

Both sides of this disc featured on the latest Elvis film, ‘Blue Hawaii’ – a film that I’ve never seen but, going by its write-up on Wiki, might be worth checking out. Sample sentence: “Before Ellie can drown herself, Chad (Elvis’s character) saves her and administers an overdue spanking.” Quite. And though we’ve covered a fair few double ‘A’-sides up to now, none of them have contrasted as much as this pair of songs do. Surely ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ could have stood alone and still made it to #1? Surely people weren’t buying this disc for ‘Rock-A-Hula Baby’?? But it’s there, in the annals of British chart history, as much of a hit as its far-superior twin. And that egalitarianism, that chance that any song can get to number-one as long as enough people buy it, is why we love the charts. Isn’t it…?