#525: Witchcraft by Elvis Presley
Elvis Aaron Presley was born on in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi, on January 8, 1935. His twin brother, Jessie Garon Presley, was stillborn. When he was eleven years old his parents bought him a guitar at the Tupelo Hardware Store. As a result Elvis grew up as an only child. He and his parents, Vernon and Gladys, moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1948. The young Presley graduated from high school in 1953. That year he stopped by the Memphis Recording Service to record two songs, including “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin”, song #1097 on this Countdown. Elvis’ musical influences were the pop and country music of the time, the gospel music he heard in church and at the all-night gospel sings he frequently attended, and the black R&B he absorbed on historic Beale Street as a Memphis teenager. In 1954, Elvis began his singing career recording “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” at Sun Records in Memphis.
In late 1955, his recording contract was sold to RCA Victor. In 1956 he had his first #1 record titled “Heartbreak Hotel.” He had a sound and style that uniquely combined his diverse musical influences and blurred and challenged the social and racial barriers of the time. Bill Haley & His Comets ushered in the rock ‘n roll into mainstream culture in 1955 when “Rock Around The Clock,” appeared in the film about juvenile delinquents and anti-social behavior in an inter-racial school. The song became an anthem for teenage rebellion. However, it was Elvis in 1956 who ensured rock ‘n roll was here to stay with his swiveling hips and R&B infused songs with sexually suggestive lyrics. He had his first number one hit with “Heartbreak Hotel” in February 1956. He starred in 33 successful films, made history with his television appearances and specials, and knew great acclaim through his many, often record-breaking, live concert performances on tour and in Las Vegas. Globally, he has sold over one billion records, more than any other recording artist.
Between 1956 and 1959, Elvis Presley continued his chart-topping ways with “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You”, “Hound Dog”, “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Love Me Tender”, “Too Much”, “All Shook Up”, “Jailhouse Rock” and “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear”, “Don’t”, “Hard Headed Woman” and “Big Hunk o’ Love” peaking at #1. But during his chart run he got a letter from Uncle Sam.
Sergeant Elvis Presley served with the U.S. Army from March 24, 1958, to March 2, 1960. His return to civilian life saw a return to a string of successful single, album and film releases. From April 1960 to March 1961, Elvis topped the Billboard Hot 100 with “Stuck On You, “It’s Now Or Never,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and “Surrender” for a total of 17 of 52 weeks in that timeframe. The album from his first film on return from serving in Germany, G.I. Blues, was a best-seller at the box office (#2 on Variety Magazine for the year 1960) and a number one album in October 1960. He released His Hand In Mine, a collection of sacred gospel music and in November, 1960, began to record his 13th studio album, Something For Everybody.
Presley continued to have major hits in 1961-62. In Vancouver he topped the charts with “Marie’s The Name (His Latest Flame)”, “Little Sister”, “Good Luck Charm” and “Return To Sender”. Other Top Ten hits included “Can’t Help Falling In Love” and “She’s Not You”. In 1962 Presley released his seventh studio album, Potluck. From that album the song “Kiss Me Quick” would peak at #34 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964. But his song, “Suspicion”, climbed onto the CFUN chart in the summer of 1962.
Elvis continued to enjoy more Top Ten hits between 1963 and 1965. His most notable hits were “One Broken Heart For Sale”, “(You’re The) Devil In Disguise”, “Ain’t That Loving You Baby”, “Such A Night” and “Crying In The Chapel”. Less successful in the USA was “Witchcraft” which stalled at #32 on the Billboard Hot 100. But in Vancouver, the song peaked at #4
“Witchcraft” is a song about a strong physical attraction to someone else who didn’t return the attraction. In this case, the man can’t even stand to have the woman’s name mentioned within his earshot. When he thinks about her his “head is spinning around and around.” In the aftermath of her rejection, he confides “my one desire is to cry… she may come back one day…” His longing and sorrow are mingled with a recognition that “she doesn’t feel the same.”
In her article “Knowing When To Walk Away From Love,” Kelly Reynolds writes “Some things just won’t work, no matter how badly we wish they would. Sometimes the match that felt so right just isn’t.” She also advises, “It is okay to walk away from something that hurts you. It doesn’t require blame or justification. It just requires you to stop fanning the flames. You will find love again, and next time it will feel better.” For the guy in “Witchcraft” it seems the best thing to do is move on and trust that someone else will appear who will fan his flame and return the attraction.
“Witchcraft” was a #5 hit on the Billboard R&B charts in late 1955 for an R&B group named The Spiders. It was penned by Dave Bartholomew and Pearl King, his spouse. Davis Bartholomew was born in 1918 in Louisiana. He learned the tuba as a child and later the trumpet. In his teens he played local clubs in New Orleans and was with Fats Pichon’s band on Mississippi riverboat dinner cruises. Bartholomew took over Pichon’s band in 1941 and also played with Jimmie Lunceford’s swing band. In 1942 Dave Bartholomew joined the US Army and became a a writer and arranger with the 196th Army Ground Forces Band. In 1949 Bartholomew produced and co-wrote a record for a very young Fats Domino titled “The Fat Man”. The single sold over a million copies by 1953.
In 1952 Dave Bartholomew wrote a song titled “My Ding-A-Ling”. While the tune was a minor hit, it was covered by Chuck Berry in 1972 and became a #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. And in 1952 Bartholomew produced “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” for Lloyd Price. The song peaked at #1 on the Billboard R&B chart for seven weeks. And in 1955 he penned “I Hear You Knocking” for Smiley Lewis. But it was with Fats Domino that Dave Bartholomew’s biggest songwriting success was to come. He wrote/co-wrote the following hits for Fats Domino: “Ain’t That A Shame”, “Blue Monday” (originally for Smiley Lewis), “I’m In Love Again”, “I’m Walkin'”, “Whole Lotta Lovin'”, “Bo Weevil” and “Let The Four Winds Blow”. Bartholomew also produced “Blueberry Hill” for Fats Domino.
Elvis Presley’s “Witchcraft” peaked at #1 in Philadelphia, #2 in Chilliwack (BC) and Columbia (SC), #3 in Evansville (IN), #4 in Dallas, Tucson (AZ), Denver, Milwaukee (WI), Saskatoon (SK) and San Bernardino (CA), #5 in Lincoln (NE), #6 in Buffalo and Davenport (IA), #7 in Los Angeles and Newport News (VA), and #8 in Pittsburgh (PA) and Wichita (KS).
After 1965, Elvis found it increasingly challenging to enter the Top 30. Between the end of 1965 and the winter of 1968 Presley released 22 singles and only four of these made the Billboard Hot 100’s Top 30. But in 1969, Presley had his best year since 1962 charting three singles into the Top Ten with “In The Ghetto”, “Suspicious Minds” and “Don’t Cry Daddy”. Between 1970 and 1983 Elvis released 36 singles, including eight posthumous singles. Of these, “Burning Love” and “The Wonder Of You” were his most successful and six others made the Top 20 on the Billboard charts.
Over his recording career Elvis Presley earned 14 Grammy Award nominations including for Record of the Year with “A Fool Such As I” (1959) and “Are You Lonesome Tonight” (1960) and won six Hall of Fame Awards. After his comeback tour in 1968 Presley had continued to tour extensively, with 168 concerts in 1973, a pace he kept through the mid-70’s. By 1976 he was suffering from multiple ailments: glaucoma, high blood pressure, liver damage, and an enlarged colon, all believed to be related to prescription drug abuse. He died on August 16, 1977, and a funeral was attended by over 80,000 mourners. His legacy continues to live on. There were also numerous sightings of Elvis including around the 40th anniversary of his death in 2017.
September 2, 2019
graceland.com (Elvis bio)
“Elvis Presley: Rock’s First Icon,” Rolling Stone, September 22, 1977.
Paul Lichter, The Boy Who Dared to Rock: The Definitive Elvis, Garden City, NY: Dolphin Books, 1978.
Elizabeth Nix, “7 Fascinating Facts About Elvis Presley,” History.com, July 1, 2014
Wendy Sauer, Elvis Presley: A Complete Reference, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1984.
“Mort Shuman Dies 52; Devotee of Jacques Brel,” New York Times, November 4, 1991.
Christopher Hawtree, “The Last Dance of Doc Pomus,” Telegraph, UK, August 16, 2007.
Alex Halberstadt, Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life & Times of Doc Pomus, De Capo Press, 2007.
“Dave Bartholomew, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Dies at 100,” Billboard, June 24, 2019.
Kelly Reynolds, “Knowing When to Walk Away from Unrequited Love,” Tiny Buddha.com.
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