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The Beatles are the most famous group in popular music history and Elvis Presley is the most famous solo singer.
Born Elvis Aaron Presley on 8 January 1935 in East Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis was to begin his phenomenal music career in 1954, just two years before John Lennon founded the Quarry Men.
In the British charts Elvis was to share the same number of No. 1 hits as The Beatles and remains the artist who has spent more weeks in the No.1 position in the charts than anyone else. He’s also spent more weeks in the charts than any other artist, had the largest number of hits and more Top Ten entries than any other artist. His chart success in America was also incredible, beginning with his No. 1 hit ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ in 1936 and stretching until 1981, a few years after his death at the age of 42 on 16 August 1977.
Elvis was a major influence on The Beatles and on John Lennon in particular. John once said, "Nothing really affected me until I heard Elvis. If there hadn’t been Elvis, there would not have been The Beatles".
When the Quarry Men formed they began to introduce Elvis numbers into their repertoire, performed by either John or Paul, which included ‘All Shook Up’, ‘Blue Moon Of Kentucky’, ‘Hound Dog’, ‘Jailhouse Rock’, ‘Mean Woman Blues’, ‘I Forgot To Remember To Forget’, ‘I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry Over You’, ‘It’s Now Or Never’, ‘That’s All Right (Mama)’ and ‘Love Me Tender’ (a showcase for Stuart Sutcliffe).
George Harrison was to comment, "I remember at school there was all that thing about Elvis. When a record came along like ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ it was so amazing. We know Elvis is great. He stopped being a rocker and they made him go into the army, and by the time he came out he was a clean, healthy American, doing clean, healthy songs and films. But basically he’s got such a great bluesy voice".
Paul McCartney was to say, "Every time I felt low, I just put on an Elvis record and I’d feel great, beautiful".
When Brian Epstein began touting The Beatles to the British record companies, he told them that The Beatles would become bigger than Elvis and when The Beatles eventually flew to America to appear on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’, there was a congratulatory telegram from Elvis, which was read out on the air — although it was Colonel Tom Parker who had actually sent it.
During the group’s first concert tour of America, when Brian Epstein arrived at the Hilton Hotel, San Francisco, he received a telegram from Parker offering to help as a friend and asking Brian to phone him up. Once the two were in touch with each other they became firm friends.
Journalist Chris Hutchins of the New Musical Express was travelling with The Beatles on their American tour in 1964 and on 30th August, when they were in Atlantic City, he passed on Elvis’s private number, which Colonel Parker had given him, to Paul McCartney, who phoned Elvis in Memphis.
He apologized for the fact that The Beatles hadn’t been able to take advantage of an invitation to visit Elvis at Graceland because of security reasons and said, "How do you do. I want to tell you that we all think it’s a drag that we weren’t able to get together with you".
Elvis told Paul that he’d just got an electric bass guitar, which he was learning to play. Paul asked if Elvis would be coming to Britain. "Soon, I hope", Elvis said, then asked if The Beatles would be making a film in Hollywood. Paul said that they’d continue to make their films in England.
Elvis said, "Tell the other Beatles that I think they’re doing a great job" and the two of them then discussed records. Elvis remarked that he liked the cover of the ‘With The Beatles’ album, with their faces in half-light, and said it reminded him of the faces in the British movie ‘Children Of The Damned’. The conversation ended with them agreeing that they’d try to get together as soon as possible.
That event happened on a sunny evening in California, on Friday, 27th August 1965.
Chris Hutchins was once again the mediator and The Beatles arrived at Elvis’s home on 565 Perugia Way, Bel Air, at 10.00 p.m. from nearby 2850 Benedict Canyon, where they were staying.
Elvis met them at the door and be was dressed in a red shirt and grey trousers. After greeting them, he took them into the living room where there were members of his ‘Memphis Mafia’. Brian Epstein, Neil Aspinall, Mal Evans and Tony Barrow accompanied the Beatles.
The main room was large and circular and Priscilla Presley was also there. Initially there was a degree of nervousness and, to break the ice, Elvis said, "Look, guys, if you’re just going to sit and stare at me, then I’m going to bed". Everyone laughed. George squatted on the floor, Ringo began to look through Elvis’s record collection and Brian and the Colonel began to chat.
Elvis suggested that they sing and play together and three guitars were brought over, including an electric bass, and plugged into amplifiers. John played rhythm and Elvis was on bass. "Now here’s how I play bass", he told Paul, "Not too good, but I’m practicing!" Paul played piano and George played third guitar. Elvis turned to Ringo and said, "Too bad we left the drums in Memphis".
Paul said, "Elvis, lad, you’re coming along quite well there on the old bass. Keep up the rehearsals and me and Mr. Epstein will make you a star".
While they were playing ‘You’re My World’, John said, "This beats talking, doesn’t it?"
The jam session lasted for an hour, during which Elvis drank, 7-Up and The Beatles drank scotch and coke. Elvis didn’t smoke.
John knew that Elvis liked Peter Sellers, so he imitated his voice, saying, "Zis is ze way it should be; ze small homey gathering wiz a few friends and a leettle music".
Paul was later to say that their jam session was captured on Elvis’s tape machine, but George denied that there was ever a recording.
In the meantime Parker had escorted Epstein into the games room and unveiled a roulette table which had been disguised as a coffee table. The two gamblers began to play. Epstein asked the Colonel if Elvis would be touring in the future and Parker told him, "We’d love to hit the road, but we have to think of giving the maximum enjoyment to the maximum fans and the best way to do this is by making films, which can be seen by millions".
Elvis and The Beatles began to discuss various topics, including songwriting, films, tours and records.
John said, "When the fans went for you, you were up there all alone. With us, it’s four against everybody and we can draw support from each other".
When they were discussing life on the road, Elvis said, "I remember once in Vancouver. We’d only done a number or two when some of the fans rushed the stage. It was lucky the guys and I got off in time. They tipped the whole damn rostrum over".
He also told them, "I once took off from Atlanta, Georgia, in a small two-engine plane and one of the engines failed. Boy, was I scared! I really thought that my number was up. We had to take everything out of our pockets that was sharp and rest our heads on pillows between our knees. When we finally got down safely the pilot was soaking in sweat, although there was snow on the ground outside".
George then told him how The Beatles had been flying out from Liverpool when a window on the plane suddenly swung open.
Another topic was cars, with Elvis and John talking about their recently acquired Rolls-Royce Phantom Vs.
The meeting lasted for three hours and The Beatles left at 2.00 a.m. As they departed, John said, "Tanks for de music, Elvis. Long live ze King". Parker had given each of them a boxful of Elvis records. Epstein promised to send Parker a Shetland pony and Parker said he’d give Brian a cocktail cabinet. The Beatles invited Elvis to join them the following evening at Benedict Canyon, but he didn’t make it — although some members of his entourage did.
Commenting on the meeting, Ringo said, "Fantastic. He was just like one of us, none of the old Hollywood show-off thing".
The Beatles as a group never met Elvis again. On the death of Epstein, Elvis sent a message to The Beatles expressing ‘Deepest condolences on the loss of a good friend to you and all of us’.
George managed to visit Elvis backstage at Madison Square Garden in June 1972 and Ringo visited Elvis backstage at one of his Las Vegas shows.
Elvis was to record several Beatles compositions, including ‘Hey Jude’, ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Something’.
Copyright: Bill Harry, from 'The Beatles Encyclopedia', published by Virgin Publications.
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