#476: King Of The Whole Wide World 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 #1117 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”, and “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear” peaking at #1. He also starred in several films. 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 in the fall and winter of 1957 and into 1958 with “Jailhouse Rock”, “Don’t” and “Hard Headed Woman”. But during his chart-topping ways, he 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. 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.
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”.
“King Of The Whole Wide World” is a song that asserts that if you can sing you are the king of the world, even if you don’t have any material possessions. Poor men, the lyrics tell us, just want a girl to love and an oyster to eat. But rich men want a princess and a pearl. An article titled “11 Surprising Health Benefits of Singing,” adds to the argument that singing is good for the soul. The benefits include 1) a strengthened immune system, 2) lungs get a physical workout, 3) better posture, 4) better sleep, 5) natural anti-depressant, 6) lowered stress levels, 7) enhanced mental alertness, 8) singing can widen your circle of friends, 9) enhances confidence, 10) helps babies prepare their brains for language and 11) deepens appreciation for other singers. So, insofar as singing helps boost confidence, is a natural upper, lowers stress, increases mental alertness and wards off depression, Elvis could indeed have felt like the king of the whole wide world.
“King Of The Whole Wide World” was written by Bob Roberts and Ruth Batchelor. Roberts was born in 1914 with the birth name Robert Silbert. The Cheers, a white rock ‘n roll group, recorded his song “Arivederci”, the B-side to their #15 hit from the winter of 1954 titled “Bazoom (I Need Your Lovin’)”. Roberts also penned songs recorded by Dinah Shore, Jaye P. Morgan, the Lennon Sisters, Keely Smith, Doris Day, Bobby Rydell, Burl Ives, Walter Brennan, Ben E. King, Cliff Richard, Billy Fury and others. In the late 50s he co-wrote a Top Ten hit for Annette titled “Tall Paul”, and her less successful followup, “Jo-Jo the Dog Faced Boy”.
Ruth Batchelor was born in New York City in 1934 and began her songwriting career as a writer for Elvis Presley. In 1958 she appeared in an episode for the TV crime series Dragnet. That year she also appeared as a townswoman at a Victory Ball in the 1812 film The Buccaneer, about the American defeat of the British in New Orleans. And in 1960 she appeared as a waitress in the Kirk Douglas film Strangers When We Meet. In 1962 she began penning some songs for the motion picture soundtracks for three Elvis Presley films. These were Kid Galahad, Girls! Girls! Girls! and It Happened at the World’s Fair. They were released sequentially in August 1962, October 1962 and April 1963. Batchelor later went on to pen songs for the 1966 film Stagecoach and the 1971 film The Love Machine. She also wrote songs recorded by Ruth Brown, Kathy Kirby, Johnny Thunder, Gary U.S. Bonds, Dionne Warwick, the Isley Brothers, and a number of other songs co-written with Bob Roberts. She appeared on The David Frost Show in 1976 and died at the age of 58 in 1992.
“King Of The Whole Wide World” peaked at #2 in Little Rock (AR), #3 in Olympia (WA), #4 in Vancouver (BC) and Fargo (NC), #6 in Toronto and Atlanta, #7 in Fresno (CA), #8 in San Diego, #9 in Ottawa, and #10 in Winnipeg (MB) and Calgary (AB).
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.
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.
March 6, 2020
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.
Lulu Belle and Scotty, “Mountain Dew“, 1939.
“Ruth Batchelor,” Discogs.com.
“Bob Roberts,” discogs.com.
“11 Surprising Health Benefits of Singing,” Takelessons.com.
“C-FUNTASTIC FIFTY,” CFUN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, September 22, 1962.
For more song reviews visit the Countdown.