#850: Puppet On A String 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.
Between 1956 and 1957, 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”, “Too Much”, “All Shook Up”, “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear”, and “Mean Woman Blues” 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”.
Elvis kept on topping the charts into 1958 with “Don’t”, “Wear Your Ring Around My Neck” and “Hard Headed Woman”. 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.
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 6th studio album, Something For Everybody. It went on to become his 13th hit album.
Presley continued to have major hits in 1961-62. In Vancouver he 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”, “Witchcraft”, “(You’re The) Devil In Disguise”, “Ain’t That Loving You Baby”, “Such A Night”, “Bossa Nova Baby” and “Crying In The Chapel”. At the end of 1965, Presley had a hit from the film Girl Happy titled “Puppet On A String”.
“Puppet On A String” was cowritten by Roy C. Bennett and Sid Tepper. Bennett was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1918 with the birth name Israel Brodsky. His family were recently arrived Eastern European immigrants. While he was a child he met Sid Tepper, who was also born in 1918, but in New York City. They began writing songs from the age of eleven. They both were drafted into the U.S. Army in World War II. In 1945 they began to publish songs in the Brill Building on Broadway.
When they were in their twenties, Bennett and Tepper got their first big break with “Red Roses For A Blue Lady”, a #4 hit for Vaughan Monroe in 1949. They co-wrote “Suzy Snowflake” for Rosemary Clooney who had a Christmas hit with the tune in 1951. The Ames Brothers had a hit by this songwriting team in 1954 that climbed to #3 titled “The Naughty Lady Of Shady Lane”.
In 1955, Bennett and Tepper wrote “Nuttin’ for Christmas”, a #6 hit for Art Mooney and His Orchestra, featuring six-year-old Barry Gordon. Then in 1958 Tepper and Bennett scored a #6 hit for Perry Como titled “Kewpie Doll”. In 1960 they wrote “(There’s A Little Song A-Singing) In My Heart” for Carl Dobkins Jr. Tepper and Bennett wrote five songs for the Elvis Presley film and soundtrack of Blue Hawaii. They wrote 37 other songs that Elvis recorded including “G.I. Blues” and “Puppet On A String”. They also penned the only Presley song nominated for an Oscar, “It’s a Wonderful World” (which was in Roustabout). Other recording artists who recorded Tepper and Bennett tunes include Jo Stafford, Dean Martin, Wayne Newton, Eartha Kitt, Dave Brubeck, Gogi Grant, Carl Perkins, Jim Reeves, Connie Francis, Joanie Sommers, Conway Twitty, Helen Shapiro, Jerry Keller, “D in Love” for Cliff Richard, and The Searchers.
Between 1945 and 1970 the songwriting team published over 300 songs. Both Bennett and Tepper died in 2015, months apart.
“Puppet On A String” offers a simile describing the impact that a lover has on their beloved. Given the strong physical reaction – “every time you look at me, I’m as helpless as can be….All you do is touch my hand, and your wish is my command” – the smitten lover asks the one they adore “please be kind.”
“Puppet On A String” peaked at #1 in Seattle, Atlanta, Louisville (KY), and Oklahoma City, #2 in Vancouver (BC), and Edmonton (AB), #3 in Houston, Erie (PA), Reading (PA), Raleigh (NC), Toronto, and Allentown (PA), #5 in Denver, #6 in San Antonio (TX), Milwaukee (WI), Beaumont (TX), Nashville, Minnesota/St. Paul, and Tulsa (OK), #8 in Lincoln (NE), and Cincinnati (OH), #9 in Vancouver (WA), Springfield (MA), Philadelphia, and Honolulu, and #10 in Jamestown (ND).
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.
May 21, 2022
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).
Carmel Dagan, “Roy C. Bennett Dies at 97; Wrote Songs for Sinatra, Elvis, the Beatles,” Variety, July 9, 2015.
Nick Deriso, “Elvis Presley Songwriter Sid Tepper Dies at 96,” Ultimate Classic Rock.com, April 26, 2015.
“C-FUNTASTIC FIFTY,” CFUN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, December 18, 1965.
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