#66: King Creole 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”. 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 Blackboard Jungle – a 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, Elvis Presley has sold over one billion records, more than any other recording artist.
In 1956 Elvis Presley continued his chart-topping ways in Vancouver (BC) with “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You”, “Hound Dog”, “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Love Me Tender”, “Paralyzed” and “When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again”. Elvis’ eighth number-one hit on the Vancouver pop chart in 1956 was “Poor Boy”.
Elvis started off 1957 topping the Vancouver pop charts with “Too Much”, “Playing For Keeps”, “All Shook Up”, “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear”, “Mean Woman Blues”, “Jailhouse Rock” and “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care” peaking at #1. During this chart-topping streak, one of Presley’s Top Ten hits in Vancouver was “(There’ll Be) Peace In The Valley“. Another was “Treat Me Nice”. His second film, Loving You, was released in 1957. Though it was not featured the film, the song “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?” made it onto the Loving You Soundtrack album.
Elvis kept on topping the charts into 1958 with “I Beg Of You”, “Don’t”, “Wear Your Ring Around My Neck”, “Hard Headed Woman”, “I Got Stung” and “One Night”. In the midst of this chart run came the release of the film King Creole. The theme song, “King Creole”, charted on the Vancouver pop charts.
The film, King Creole, is based on the Harold Robbins 1952 novel A Stone For Danny Fisher. Adapted from the Brooklyn, New York, setting, King Creole is set in New Orleans. Nineteen-year-old high school student Danny Fisher (Presley) works before and after school to support his surviving family: his father and sister Mimi. After Danny’s mother died, his grieving father lost his job as a pharmacist, and moved his impoverished family to the French Quarter in New Orleans. At work one morning, Danny rescues Ronnie (Jones) from her abusive date. After a taxi ride to Danny’s high school, Ronnie kisses him. Danny responds to witnessing schoolmates’ teasing by kissing Ronnie back and then punching one of them in the face when he makes a teasing remark. Danny is summoned, where his teacher tells the Principal that Danny will not graduate because of his poor attitude. Danny decides to drop out of school to find work.
Later that night, Danny meets Ronnie again at The Blue Shade nightclub, where Danny is now employed. At first, she pretends not to know him, as she is accompanied by her boyfriend and the club’s owner, Maxie Fields, aka “The Pig”. When Maxie does not believe her, she claims she heard Danny sing once. Maxie insists that Danny prove he can sing. His rendition of “Trouble” impresses Charlie LeGrand, the honest owner of the King Creole nightclub, the only nightspot in the area not owned by Maxie. Impressed, LeGrand offers Danny a job as a singer at his club. Late in the movie, Presley sings “King Creole”.
“King Creole” was written by the songwriting duo of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Both were born on Atlantic coast to Jewish families in 1933, the year Adolph Hitler came to power in Germany. Leiber left Baltimore and Stoller left Long Island. They met in Los Angeles in 1950 when they were each seventeen years old. The duo wrote over 70 songs that made the pop charts across three decades. Their first song was in 1952, “Hard Times,” Charles Brown’s final Top Ten R&B hit. Lieber and Stoller’s last hit record was “I Keep Forgettin’” recorded by Michael McDonald in 1982. In between they collaborated with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil to compose “On Broadway” for The Drifters. They also co-wrote “There Goes My Baby” for The Drifters with Ben. E. King. When Ben E. King went solo, Lieber and Stoller co-wrote “Stand By Me”. Leiber and Stoller had one of their best successes with The Coasters who recorded the duo’s “Searchin’” “Yakety-Yak,” “Charlie Brown”, “Love Potion No. 9” and “Poison Ivy” among others.
But Leiber and Stoller struck gold writing songs that are now part of Elvis Presley’s most memorable tunes. These include “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Don’t,” “King Creole”, “You’re So Square (Baby I Don’t Care)” and “She’s Not You.” They also wrote “Trouble” for Elvis from the 1958 film King Creole. Other notable hits they wrote include “Kansas City”, a hit for Wilbert Harrison in 1959; “Black Denim Trousers And Motor Cycle Boots” for The Cheers in 1955; And “The Rev. Mr. Black” for The Kingston Trio in 1963. In addition to being a successful songwriting team, Leiber and Stoller founded Red Bird Records in 1963. The label released “The Leader Of The Pack” and “Remember Walking In The Sand” for The Shangri-Las, “Chapel Of Love” for The Dixie Cups and “I Wanna Love Him So Bad” by The Jelly Beans.
“King Creole” is a song about a rock ‘n roll singer and guitar player. He “lays down a beat like a ton of coal.” And King Creole is “gone, gone, gone,” meaning he is very cool, out of this world. In this case, King Creole is also “gone,” infatuated with rock ‘n roll. When he performs he’s “jumpin’ like catfish on a pole.” He’s a hip shaking King Creole. And King Creole sings about life in New Orleans. He sings about a “crawdad hole.” This is a place where you fish for crayfish, which are found usually under a rock in the water. A crawdad hole is a fishing hole (where you catch crayfish). Crayfish are two t0 six inches long, compared to lobsters which are 8 to 20 inches long. Crayfish are freshwater shellfish and lobster are saltwater shellfish. King Creole also “sings a song about a jelly roll.” In New Orleans and the Deep South, a ‘jelly roll’ is slang for performing oral sex on a female. He also sings a song about “pork and greens.” This is a popular dish down south.
“King Creole” peaked at #1 in Vancouver (BC), Buffalo, Burlington (VT), Jacksonville (FL), and La Crosse (WI), #2 in Ottawa, and Fort Dodge (IA), #3 in Denver, and Las Vegas, #4 in Seattle, #5 in Spokane (WA), #6 in Syracuse (NY), Troy (NY), Duluth (MN), Shreveport (LA), and Minneapolis/St. Paul, #7 in San Diego, London (ON), and Honolulu, #8 in Portland (OR), #9 in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh, and #10 in Janesville (WI).
But during his chart-topping ways, Elvis got a letter from Uncle Sam. Sergeant Elvis Presley served with the U.S. Army from March 24, 1958, to March 2, 1960. Meanwhile, Presley managed to climb to the top of the charts once in 1959 with “Big Hunk o’ Love”.
His return to civilian life saw a return to a string of successful single, album and film releases. In April 1960 Elvis topped the Billboard Hot 100 with “Stuck On You. His followup, “It’s Now Or Never”, also topped the pop charts in August 1960, including in Vancouver. The B-side, “A Mess Of Blues”, also charted on CKWX as a double-sided number-one hit.
In November 1960, Elvis was back at number-one with “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”. His chart-topping ways continued in March 1961 with “Surrender”. 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 6th studio album, Something For Everybody. It went on to become his 13th hit album.
In September 1961, in Vancouver Presley topped the charts with “Marie’s The Name (His Latest Flame)” and “Little Sister”. Late in the fall the King of Rock n’ Roll had another Top Ten hit titled “Can’t Help Falling In Love”. The song was from the soundtrack from the film Blue Hawaii. The title track charted on the record surveys on Top40 radio in Vancouver in the winter of 1961.
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. Also in 1962 Elvis was filming a number of movies. The first to be released in the summer of ’62 was Kid Galahad, which included the song “King Of The Whole Wide World”. Presley also enjoyed hit singles with “Good Luck Charm” and “She’s Not You”.
His next film, Girls! Girls! Girls!, was released in late October. However, the debut single from the soundtrack, “Return To Sender”, was released in September prior to the film appearing in theaters. In Vancouver (BC) the title track from the film, “Girls! Girls! Girls!” also charted on the C-FUNTASTIC FIFTY.
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”, “Witchcraft”, “Bossa Nova Baby”, “Such A Night”, “Ain’t That Loving You Baby”, “Crying In The Chapel” and “Puppet On A String“.
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.
In 2022 a film about Presley, as seen through the narrative view of Col. Tom Parker, was released titled Elvis. Presley was played by Austin Butler.
January 27, 2023
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, (Dolphin Books, 1978).
Elizabeth Nix, “7 Fascinating Facts About Elvis Presley,” History.com, July 1, 2014
Wendy Sauer, Elvis Presley: A Complete Reference, (McFarland, 1984).
Gabriella Paiella, “Austin Butler is a hunk of burning love,” GQ, May 25, 2022.
“Elvis Solved the ‘Escort West’ Mystery,” Iverson Movie Ranch Blogspot, February 14, 2015.
Bobby Deen, “Pork and Greens Stir-Fry,” Pauladeen.com.
William Grimes, “Jerry Leiber, Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyricist, Dies at 78,” New York Times, August 22, 2011.
David Fricke,”Leiber and Stoller: Rolling Stone’s 1990 Interview With the Songwriting Legends,” Rolling Stone, August 22, 2011.
Leiber and Stoller – About, Leiber Stoller.com.
“Teen Canteen Survey,” CKWX 1130 AM, Vancouver, BC, August 2, 1958.
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