This is starting to concern me. I had to take a break from writing this blog due to a heavy work schedule, and the first interruptions of the hiatus came when Jerry Ragovoy died, followed by the passing of Amy Winehouse. Finally, I had a new post up today - one that didn’t involve any untimely deaths - only to discover a few minutes ago that songwriting legend Jerry Leiber has died. Along with Mike Stoller, Leiber was responsible for writing a slew of early rock-era staples, like “Charlie Brown" by the Coasters, "Stand By Me" by Ben E. King, and "Jailhouse Rock" by Elvis. Just to name a few.
Granted, Leiber lived a good long life, but it’s still sad to see him go. And I’m calling it here: if I make another random Tumblr entry and someone else drops off, I’m going to start taking this personally.
From the soundtrack album Loving You (2005 Edition)
In the late 1950s, there were few cooler musicians - or few cooler people - than Elvis. The guy with the weird name, the greaser sideburns, and the swivelin’ hips had brought an element of sex and danger to popular music, setting up a culture clash between teens and adults that would become a major fault line in the coming decade, and doing his part to help bring rhythm and blues to the masses. In the mostly conservative and still racially charged atmosphere of America in the 1950s, these were all pretty revolutionary things. Revolutionary, and potentially explosive.
Not that Elvis was thinking in terms of a revolution. He was just a Southern kid that liked good music and enjoyed performing, and he happened to be in the right place at the right time (for the best writing on Presleyanywhere, you must get your hands on anything by StanleyBooth that you can). He particularly enjoyed old gospel, blues, and R&B numbers, and modified some of those older numbers for his own releases. One such song was “One Night,” a single that appeared in 1958 - but which was earlier recorded with lyrics that were a little too raunchy for the kids listening in 1957.
Fortunately, that earlier version eventually did surface, and is now available as part of the Loving You soundtrack. Listening to the sneer in Elvis’s vocals, it seems clear he was enjoying singing the slightly rawer (and more honest) lyrics, and it’s just a cool little blues vamp he and the band have going.
Many people suggest that Elvis lost his edge, or at least his innocence, after his stint in the army. Certainly, he recorded quite a bit of fluff throughout the 1960s. Whether he lost his edge or not, tracks like “One Night of Sin” show the kind of music he was interested in, and capable of making, in those first couple of years at the top.
For years, friends and I have occasionally gotten together and compared notes on our experiences growing up listening to oldies radio, and how the playlists were painfully limited. I’ve talked about it here, as well, and it’s merely the complaint of a serious music fan: “How could they only play those same 50-100 songs, over and over, when there was so much other amazing music also available? Why not mix it up a bit??”
But there were some things the local oldies station did get right. For example, they played the hell out of Elvis’s “Jailhouse Rock,” and that’s just one of those songs that can stand up to repeated radio plays, year in and out, without ever sounding played out. It has what I believe is Presley’s best ever vocal - just a raw, energetic, primal rock performance on a fun Leiber & Stoller track. Nothing fancy. And while Elvis made a ton of forgettable flicks, this one is actually pretty decent.
Kind of hard to do with a laptop and Youtube, but if you get this one on your iPod, it’s best to play this one in the car when you hit the highway. Crank the volume and just let it rip on the open road. That’s what this song was made for.
(By the by: I have no idea what the www.joindad.com advertisement on the Youtube clip is. This just happened to have the best audio of the song, so I went with it…)