Elvis Presley’s first Ed Sullivan Appearance

I finished up Peter Guralnick’s “part one” bio of Elvis Presley last week, a book called Last Train To Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley. It’s a fascinating and exhilarating look at “50’s Elvis,” including his first TV appearances in 1956.

Earlier in ’56, Elvis had made his first television appearances on shows hosted by the Dorsey Brothers, Milton Berle, and Steve Allen. These appearances shocked – SHOCKED! – the nation’s old guard. The media, parents, and citizens of high moral fortitude (yeah right) were appalled at the sexual connotations set forth by Mr. Presley. Of course, his actions then wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in today’s cesspool of cultural waste – but in 1956, ooo-weee, look out America, Elvis the Pelvis is comin’ for your kids!

On September 9th, 1956, Elvis made his first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Mr. Sullivan was recovering from a serious car accident, so Charles Laughton actually hosted the program in the New York City studio. Across the country in Hollywood, Elvis was filming his first motion picture, Love Me Tender, so his first appearance on Ed Sullivan was simulcast from CBS Television City.

The clips below skip the intros by Laughton, so if you have a Netflix account, I’d recommend watching the entire show (available streaming). But what we have here with Elvis’s performances are pure magic. The show was viewed by 60 million Americans that night – a staggering 82.6% of the total television audience. I’m sure it changed some minds and solidified some others.

But man oh man, to be a music lover in the year 1956. It’s hard to imagine now, but try to think back to the mindset of 1950’s America – you flip on the television on a Sunday night and you see this

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“Ready Teddy” is my favorite of the bunch. I love the way he kicks off the song with a finger point to the drummer – going from 0 to 60 in about 5 seconds. This is pure Elvis – unrestrained and one of a kind.

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Let There Be Drums

Thanks to Tom Petty’s Buried Treasure, his radio show on Sirius-XM’s Deep Tracks, I heard a gem this morning. An instrumental that reached #7 on the Billboard charts in 1961, featuring the drum work of Sandy Nelson. I’m not sure how today’s modern drummers would judge the technical prowess of Nelson’s drumming on the song. All I can say is, for me, in the year 2009, a catchy rhythm is a catchy rhythm, regardless of the year. Turn it up LOUD and enjoy.

Sandy NelsonLet There Be Drums (mp3) – from The Very Best Of Sandy Nelson

Any other instrumental tunes that showcase the drums? Older or newer?

In Dreams

Deep within me, in my register of perfectly constructed love songs, Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” ranks right near the top. In my four decades on earth, very few songs have managed to so profoundly move me, to elicit such emotion, as “In Dreams”.

The song is such a rich, unique tapestry of sounds – shifting from one distinct section to the next – that there’s something new to appreciate with each listen. It’s no accident. Most Western pop songs follow a relatively similar structure: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus. When Orbison was inspired to write “In Dreams”, he bucked the trend, writing five completely unique elements. Where most songs followed, ABABCAB, “In Dreams” was ABCDE.

“A candy-colored clown…”
“I close my eyes…”
“In dreams I walk with you…”
“But just before the dawn…”
“It’s too bad that all these things…”

All are different, and each builds exponentially in intensity. Orbison starts the song in a calm, reflective, low voice. By the grand finale – “Only in dreams, in beautiful dreams” – it’s a plaintive and desperate wail, in that gorgeous signature falsetto.

Purists will probably scoff at this, but I discovered the song not by hearing the 1963 original, but by hearing the T-Bone Burnett and David Lynch produced version that was recorded in 1987, and released on In Dreams – The Greatest Hits. The song had sort of a rebirth in 1986, when it was prominently featured in Lynch’s Blue Velvet, with Dean Stockwell’s creepy sing-along. The remake is the version I fell in love with, and the version I still listen to. The are some nuances that make it different from the original, and though I love both versions, I always come back to the newer version I originally fell in love with. I’ll take the criticism.

This is a song made for the broken hearted, the lovesick, the downtrodden. This is a song that almost makes you wish your heart were broken again, just to truly relate to the song again! But it remains powerful, even for the happily wed like me. Maybe because a lot of music is about reminiscing, and it brings me back to those times I could step into Orbison’s shoes…

Roy OrbisonIn Dreams (mp3)


And the original comes from:

Elvis is Back!

Well, not exactly, but it is his birthday today. The King would have turned 73 today if he had managed to keep that ticker going. But he didn’t. Thankfully, we have the music (and the movies – can I get a Clambake!); and the music never gets old for me. There’s so much that I still haven’t heard.

This past week, I used my iTunes gift card to pick up Elvis is Back! It was his first studio release after returning from his stint in the U.S. Army, where he did his duty and managed to seduce a young Priscilla Beaulieu over in Germany.

In March 1960, Elvis and his gang hit RCA’s Studio B in Nashville. They recorded into April. Musicians included the usual suspects: Scotty Moore on guitar, D.J. Fontana on drums, Bob Moore on bass, and the Jordanaires providing their trademark vocals. Floyd Cramer also played piano on the album. He would hit it big that same year with an instrumental: “Last Date”. You know the tune…

Floyd CramerLast Date
So the resulting album from these sessions was Elvis is Back! Now, if you don’t care for Elvis’s music – particularly pre-Hollywood “early Elvis” – I don’t understand you. There’s something so appealing and universal about these songs, that voice. It’s always struck a chord with me, and it looks to have the same effect on my kids. They won’t shake their moneymakers to just any ol’ tune. But when the first chords of an Elvis song plays, their primal instinct is to move – to smile… It’s really a testament – not just to music in general – but to the timelessness of Elvis Presley in his prime.

Happy Birthday to the King!

Elvis Presley – Reconsider Baby (mp3)

Buy the remastered version of Elvis is Back! on Elvis Presley - Elvis Is Back! (Remastered)

Warmth of the Sun Giveaway

This Tuesday, Epic will release ‘The Warmth of the Sun’, a retrospective of three decades of Beach Boys music chosen by the Boys themselves – yes, even Brian Wilson (along with Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and Mike Love). To complement the release, there’s an 11-part series of free podcasts filled with interviews and quality Beach Boys tuneage being released over 11 weeks. You can subscribe to them in iTunes.

So naturally, it’s time for another Ickmusic give-it-away! A comment below puts you in the running. Pretty simple, hey? As always, points for originality. And extra points to anyone who can throw Brian Wilson and “warmth of the sun” into a limerick.

The Warmth Of The Sun (CD and Digital Album)
1. All Summer Long (new stereo mix)
2. Catch A Wave
3. Hawaii
4. Little Honda
5. 409
6. It’s OK
7. You’re So Good To Me (new stereo mix)
8. Then I Kissed Her (new stereo mix)
9. Kiss Me, Baby
10. Please Let Me Wonder (new stereo mix)
11. Let Him Run Wild (new stereo mix)
12. The Little Girl I Once Knew
13. Wendy (new stereo mix)
14. Disney Girls (1957)
15. Forever
16. Friends
17. Break Away
18. Why Do Fools Fall In Love
19. Surf’s Up
20. Feel Flows
21. All This Is That
22. ‘Til I Die
23. Sail On, Sailor
24. Cool, Cool Water
25. Don’t Go Near The Water
26. California Saga (On My Way To Sunny Californ-i-a)
27. California Dreamin’
28. The Warmth Of The Sun

Buy The Warmth of the Sun

Subscribe to the Podcast Series.

Check out the Beach Boys Official Site.

’56 Dells

It’s back to basics tonight as we go back before my time, when the doo-wop groups were arriving on the scene. The Dells came together in 1953 in the southern suburbs of Chicago. Two of the members, Johnny Funches and Marvin Junior, sat down and penned this great tune, which shot to the Top 5 R&B charts in 1956. Funches sings lead on this one. This song is one that I have loved since the first time I heard it in my early teens. My first job ever was at a frame shop in Racine, Wisconsin. The radio in the back room was perpetually playing the oldies station, and this was one of the great songs that caught my ear.

This is one of the most popular doo-wop ballads of all time, so this certainly isn’t an obscure tune. But someone out there will hear this for the first time, and be moved. Enjoy.

The Dells: Oh, What a Night (mp3)

Be Saved, Elvis Style

Regardless of how religious you are, you can’t help but be a little moved by the power of the King in this outtake from ‘How Great Thou Art’. I picture a Southern Baptist church on a sunny Sunday morning (think the scene from ‘Blues Brothers’ with Elvis in James Brown’s place). Elvis and his boys amble up to the front of the pews, turn around, look sheepishly at the ground, clear their throats, and unleash upon the congregation this 2 minutes and 47 seconds of salvation…

Elvis Presley: Run On – Alternate Take (mp3)

Toussaint Tuesday

Less than 2 weeks after I started this blog, I posted one of my faves by Toussaint McCall. Since my readership has increased a lot since those days waayyyyy back in December 2004, I felt it necessary to offer up this re-post.

Click here now to see my post on Toussaint’s classic: “Nothing Takes the Place of You” (mp3 link here for the exceptionally lazy, but if you’re gonna do that, I give you link here to check out the CD which is only available as an import in the U.S. , yes I’m rambling).