(Pictured: Elvis in the 70s.)
On the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death, we present 40 things about Elvis, observations personal and otherwise:
1. We heard about the death of Elvis while on our last-ever family vacation.
2. I didn’t want to go, but there was no way I was going to be left unchaperoned for a week with my girlfriend just back from Europe.
3. The public brouhaha surrounding the death of Elvis looks familiar now, but in 1977, it was something new.
4. Elvis’ death was not mentioned in People magazine until three weeks later.
5. There are a lot of people who think he’s not really dead.
6. In 1954, when young Elvis was interviewed on WHBQ in Memphis, one of the most important questions concerned what high school he attended.
7. When he said, “Humes,” the audience instantly knew that Elvis was white.
8. Elvis’ first national TV appearances were on the The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show, six times between January and March 1956, followed by two appearances with Milton Berle.
9. He appeared on The Steve Allen Show in July 1956, when Allen made him sing “Hound Dog” to a basset hound wearing a tuxedo, the sort of dick move for which Allen was famous.
10. January 6, 1957, the night Elvis appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and was shot only from the waist up, was the day my wife’s parents got married.
11. The 1/6/57 show was Elvis’ third appearance on Sullivan in four months.
12. The opening track of his Christmas album, “Santa Claus Is Back in Town,” was pretty strong stuff for 1957, although the moaning, heavy breathing, and other lascivious noises some critics claimed to hear throughout the album just aren’t there.
13. The oft-told tale that Irving Berlin hated the Elvis version of “White Christmas” and tried to get it banned is apparently false.
14. The only Elvis movie I have seen start-to-finish is Girl Happy.
15. It’s terrible, all except for Shelley Fabares, who is perfection.
16. Throughout the 1960s, long as Elvis’ movies laid golden eggs, Colonel Tom Parker wouldn’t kill the goose, even when Elvis began to object.
17. Imagine if he’d been managed by a forward-looking businessman like Brian Epstein.
18. All of Elvis’ most famous songs of the 50s were enormous country hits, but he was entirely absent from the country charts during the movie years between 1961 and 1970.
19. Between the summer of 1969 and the fall of 1970, Elvis hit the pop Top 10 with “In the Ghetto,” “Don’t Cry Daddy” and “The Wonder of You,” and #1 with “Suspicious Minds.”
20. During this period, “Kentucky Rain” made it only to #16. If you are surprised by anything you are reading here, that might be it.
21. “The Wonder of You” is the first Elvis record I can remember hearing on the radio.
22. This was not long before Elvis made his famous visit to the White House.
23. “I Really Don’t Want to Know,” which charted early in 1971, is one of my favorite Elvis performances, but “Suspicious Minds” is #1.
24. During the week of October 28, 1972, “Burning Love” was kept out of the #1 spot on the Hot 100 by Chuck Berry’s “My Ding-a-Ling.”
25. Rick Nelson’s “Garden Party” was in the Top 10 the same week, a good one for 50s icons.
26. On June 25, 1977, Elvis hit the Hot 100 with “Way Down,” which was listed along with its B-side, “Pledging My Love.”
27. The record hit #40 on July 16, then went 36-35-31-31 before falling to #47 on the chart dated August 20, four days after Elvis died.
28. Because Billboard was always behind the street, “Way Down” fell to #53 on August 27, but zoomed back to #35 on September 3.
29. During the week of September 10, the two hottest records within the Top 40 were “Way Down” and Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” both up 11 spots.
30. “Way Down” peaked at #18 on September 24 and remained in the Hot 100 until November.
31. It hit #1 on the Billboard country chart of August 20, 1977.
32. The first Elvis tribute record, “The King Is Gone” by Ronnie McDowell, debuted on September 10 and reached #13 on the Hot 100 at the end of October.
33. The greatest of all Elvis tribute songs, however, is Mojo Nixon’s “Elvis Is Everywhere.”
34. During a 1977 visit to my town, Madison, Wisconsin, Elvis saw two guys fighting outside a gas station and got out of his limo to stop it.
35. There’s a historical marker on the site.
36. If you have not read Peter Guralnick’s two-volume Elvis biography, Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love, you must.
37. Also worth reading today: Professor O’Kelly talks about seeing the ghost of Elvis on Union Avenue; Any Major Dude With Half a Heart has two Elvis posts with music: one featuring Elvis covers and another featuring movie songs.
38. The second post in the history of this blog was about Elvis.
39. One of the few music pieces I ever sold was about our 1997 visit to Graceland (first part here, second part here, third part here).
40. As I argue in my Graceland piece, Elvis represents both what Americans dream of and what we fear. If he had not existed, we’d have had to invent him.