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Elvis Presley Comeback a Phenomenal Maneuver


By: Robert Hilburn
Source: Los Angeles Times, Sunday, March 15, 1970
January 9, 2018
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Elvis Presley: Crown Shines Again

Original article from the Los Angeles Times - Sunday, March 15, 1970

Though he never lost the title of 'King', it was an empty crown that Elvis Presley wore during much of the decade of the 1960s.

While it is hard to have ever thought of Presley in need of a comeback, it was precisely the situation in which he found himself just a few months ago.

Despite his unparalleled success of the late 1950s and early 1960s (more than 250 million records sold and more than 30 movies), Presley's sales slowed to a trickle and his films became embarrassingly dull during portions of the past decade.

The rock world had seemingly passed Elvis for a different perspective. Dylan had shown performers and audiences that songs could have content as well as heavy backbeat. Various new groups, from the Jefferson Airplane to Cream, ventured down experimental paths.

Unbelievably, Presley, who had been the most important musical influence of his generation, was only a memory to many of his strongest fans during much of the 1960s. For those who were excited by his early recordings (a list that begins with John Lennon and Paul McCartney and extends into the millions), Presley would always be a special figure, but it seemed that he would be a figure tucked neatly and permanently into the past.

Between 1961 and 1968, Presley had only two records ('Crying in the Chapel' and 'Return to Sender') among the top 25 sellers of any year. He did have several best-selling soundtrack albums but soundtrack albums are a specialized market that have little impact on the musical world.

But the Presley status in the contemporary music scene has changed faster and more convincingly than anyone thought possible. In the past 14 months, Presley has shattered every Attendance record imaginable in Las Vegas, attracted more than 200,000 persons for six shows at the Houston Astrodome, had three $1 million single records, three $1 million albums, was featured in one of the season's highest rated television specials and named top single record artist of the year by Cash Box magazine.

It is one of the most staggering reversals of form in the history of pop music. Presley now stands as the nation's top concert attraction and the nation's leading male singer on record. The crown is shining again.

To understand the Presley phenomenon, certain basic facts must be remembered. First, Presley has unquestioned talent as a singer-performer - and he has enormous charisma. It is a combination he demonstrated even in his pre-RCA days when he toured the country music circuit drawing screams from his audiences long before there was a legend surrounding his name.

Second, his career has been handled brilliantly by Col. Tom Parker, who was a proven manager before he ever met Presley. Parker's earlier artists included Eddy Arnold, Gene Austin and Hank Snow. He has managed Presley with an honesty and dedication that is unique in the entertainment field. The results have been equally unique.

Symbol to Generation

Third, Presley is a symbol to his generation as strong as the Beatles are to theirs. He was a spokesman; without ever venturing into politics or lectures, for an age that wanted to express itself. The silent youth of the 1950s found expression in music and Presley was the center of that music. Thus, a large segment of his early fans feel a special bond with Presley that transcends the music.

Each of these factors has played an important role in the development of Presley, from his initial rise to his recent resurgence.

Presley's original merger of country-western, gospel and rhythm and blues still serves as the backbone of rock 'n' roll. The story of how he walked into Sam Phillips' Sun Records in Memphis in 1953 to make a record of 'My Happiness' for his mother and the resulting record contract has been repeated hundreds of times.

Similarly, the success of his first record, 'That's All Right', in the South and the subsequent purchase of his contract by RCA for $35,000 are well known.

It was the move from Sun to RCA in 1955 that was one of the first important steps engineered by Parker, who had first been attracted to Presley through reports of the excitement he created at the country shows in the South.

Though the figure seems small today, the $35,000 contract price was large in those days for an artist who had only a few regional hits. But the wisdom of that move was demonstrated in 1956 when Presley introduced 'Heartbreak Hotel' on 'national television and became an overnight sensation.

Because of his voice, good looks, physical gyrations and country-rock beat, Presley caused girls to scream and parents to shudder. Critics, who had been used to writing polite stories about Frank Sinatra and the other pop stars of the day, were outraged and confused by this new music and this new star.

After 'Heartbreak Hotel', the hits came with unprecedented consistency. During this period, Presley appeared on numerous network television shows. Parker was confident of Presley's appeal and wanted to expose it to as wide an audience as possible.

In 1958, Presley signed a seven-year movie contract with Hal Wallis. It was the natural move. Films in the 1950s were the real center of the entertainment world. It was where the money was. As soon as the films started, the television appearances stopped. Parker decided the public would have to pay to see Presley. It was a formula he would use over the years. Concerts also stopped.

Over the next few years, however, the concentration on movies led to a decline in Presley's force as a record artist. Though the soundtrack albums sold well ('Blue Hawaii' has sold three million copies), the single hits gradually stopped. In time, the movies lost much of their box-office appeal. The crown was beginning to tarnish.

'It was getting harder and harder to perform to a movie camera', Presley said in Las Vegas. 'The inspiration wasn't there'. He obviously wanted to return to live audiences.

Though one can only speculate on the reasons for the timing of the shift back to records and concerts, the musical rebirth of Presley can be traced to his recordings in 1968 of two Jerry Reed songs, 'Guitar Man' and 'U.S. Male'.

The songs were only mild hits, but the old Presley fans knew something was happening. The beat and vocal on both records seemed to come from Nashville and Memphis rather than Hollywood.

Soon after these records, plans for a Presley network television special were announced. This was followed by Presley's first Memphis recording session in years. The result, an album titled 'From Elvis in Memphis', was some of the best vocals he had ever done. 'In the Ghetto' was one of the songs in the album.

The next significant step in the comeback, of course, were the four-week engagements last August and January at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. In returning to concerts in the biggest showroom in the nation's most competitive city, Parker was bringing Presley back right at the top.

The Las Vegas appearances were important for two reasons. Most important was the demonstration of Presley's tremendous box-office potency. In addition, however, the concerts exposed Presley to a new generation of pop music writers.

Though many of the younger writers had liked the old Presley records, they had drifted away from his later recordings and had to be convinced that he still held interest for the music scene. Further, many of them had never seen him perform live.

Successful Engagements

The engagements were successful beyond all expectations. Not only did Presley play to capacity audiences every night, the praise from the critics was universally enthusiastic.

But the Las Vegas audience was not really a Presley audience. It was largely an older generation that was attracted by the Presley name and the fact it was 'the' show to see in town. Thus the Houston Astrodome appearances Feb. 27-March 1 took on additional significance. It would be the first time Presley appeared before a general audience in nearly a decade.

For anyone at the Astrodome two weeks ago, the result was never in doubt. Presley's appearance as part of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, an annual event in Houston that is so much part of the civic life that schools close one day so that youngsters can attend, was a total triumph.

Elvis Presley | As is visable in this photos, the afternoon show on the first day was unexpectedly low on attendance.
As is visable in the above photo, the afternoon show on the first day was unexpectedly low on Attendance.

Elvis went back to his hotel and told friends that maybe he didn't have it anymore. One of them pulled him to the window and had him look outside. A huge, seemingly unending line of cars waited to get into the Astrodome parking lot for the evening performance. The singer then said that maybe he did have it, after all.

Those who made that Friday afternoon gig got a special one-off treat:

Dick Weekley, the affable rodeo general manager, said the response was beyond anything in the 38-year history of the Houston event. As soon as Presley's appearance was announced, ticket requests began coming in at the rate of 900 a day.

Inside the Astrodome, persons of various ages raced down the stairs to be as close as possible to a car carrying Presley to the portable stage in the center of the stadium. There were many scenes in which mothers and their teen-age or pre-teen-age daughters would vie for the binoculars.

Elvis Presley : Houston Astrodome : March 1, 1970 : Afternoon Show. 
Elvis Presley : Houston Astrodome : March 1, 1970 : Afternoon Show.

Throughout each of the shows, the applause and screaming were plentiful. Flashbulbs popped constantly as Presley went through some of the old songs and some of the new, all with varying degrees of physical gyrations.

Though Presley was equally effective both places, the Houston audience made the Astrodome show far more rewarding than the Las Vegas appearances even though most of the audience was half a football field away. The Houston audience was more responsive, more excited, more appreciative. It left little doubt about Presley's place on the contemporary scene.

It was obvious from the reaction in Houston that Presley's audience not only enjoys him as a performer but that a sizable portion of his audience reveres him. Because of his talent and his role as a symbol for his generation, Presley has the charisma that is reserved for the very few.

One scene in Houston was illustrative of the feeling about Presley. While he performed from a portable stage in the center of the stadium, some 40 policemen and security guards lined the wall that separates the field from the audience.

Elvis Presley : Houston Astrodome : March 1, 1970 : Afternoon Show.
Elvis Presley : Houston Astrodome : March 1, 1970 : Afternoon Show.

At one point, a youth in his early 20s walked through a gate and began strolling toward the middle of the field. When a policeman called to him, the young man began running deliberately toward the stage and Presley.

Normally, this type of scene will cause an audience to applaud the runner or boo the police, but there was a clear feeling of tension in the Astrodome. What was the intruder up to? All too often, charismatic figures attract the unbalanced. There was an obvious, audible sigh of relief when a policeman tackled the young man a few feet from the stage. The concert resumed but it took a few moments for the audience's attention to return fully to the music.

Perhaps more than any other scene in Las Vegas or Houston, the tension shown when Presley was threatened (even the vague possibility of a threat) demonstrates the unique bond between him and his audience.

More than a performer, Presley is a phenomenon. It is his exceptional talent as a singer and showman that enabled him to attract his original audience and to attract a new one today. But talent is only one reason he wears a crown.

The other reason centers around the special relationship with his audience. It was something you couldn't find in Las Vegas, but it was something you couldn't miss in Houston.

Attendance

Friday, February 27, 1970 (AS)
All Shook Up: I Got A Woman: Blue Suede Shoes: Don't Cry Daddy: Heartbreak Hotel: Hound Dog: Love Me Tender: One Night: Release Me: Walk A Mile in My Shoes/In the Ghetto: I Can't Stop Loving You: Polk Salad Annie: Introductions: Suspicious Minds: Can't Help Falling In Love: Love Me Tender (instrumental)
Attendance: 16,708

Friday, February 27, 1970 (ES)
All Shook Up: I Got A Woman: Blue Suede Shoes: Don't Cry Daddy: Heartbreak Hotel: Hound Dog: Love Me Tender: Kentucky Rain: Release Me: Walk A Mile in My Shoes/In the Ghetto: I Can't Stop Loving You: Polk Salad Annie: Introductions: Suspicious Minds: Can't Help Falling In Love: Love Me Tender (instrumental)
Attendance: 36,299

Saturday, February 28, 1970 (AS)
All Shook Up: I Got A Woman: Long Tall Sally: Don't Cry Daddy: Heartbreak Hotel: Hound Dog: Love Me Tender: Kentucky Rain: Release Me: Walk A Mile in My Shoes/In the Ghetto: I Can't Stop Loving You: Polk Salad Annie: Introductions: Suspicious Minds: Can't Help Falling In Love: Love Me Tender (instrumental)
Attendance: 37,733

Saturday, February 28, 1970 (ES)
All Shook Up: I Got A Woman: Blue Suede Shoes: Don't Cry Daddy: Heartbreak Hotel: Hound Dog: Love Me Tender: Kentucky Rain: Release Me: Walk A Mile in My Shoes/In the Ghetto: I Can't Stop Loving You: Polk Salad Annie: Introductions: Suspicious Minds: Can't Help Falling In Love: Love Me Tender (instrumental)
Attendance: 43,634
This was a record-setting number of people at one show, unbroken until 1978 by Charlie Pride.

Sunday, March 1, 1970 (AS)
All Shook Up: I Got A Woman: Blue Suede Shoes: Don't Cry Daddy: Heartbreak Hotel: Hound Dog: Love Me Tender: Kentucky Rain: Release Me: Walk A Mile in My Shoes/In the Ghetto: I Can't Stop Loving You: Polk Salad Annie: Introductions: Suspicious Minds: Can't Help Falling In Love: Love Me Tender (instrumental)
Attendance: 40,858

Sunday, March 1, 1970 (ES)
Blue Suede Shoes: I Got A Woman: Long Tall Sally: Don't Cry Daddy: Heartbreak Hotel: Hound Dog: Love Me Tender: Kentucky Rain: Release Me: Walk A Mile in My Shoes: In The Ghetto: I Can't Stop Loving You: Polk Salad Annie: Introductions, including country star Charlie Pride: Kaw-liga (one-liner): The Easy Part's Over (one-liner): Suspicious Minds: Can't Help Falling In Love: Love Me Tender (Instrumental)
Attendance: 27,777

Elvis Presley | Houston Astrodome | 1970

Elvis Presley arrived in Houston on February 25.

He used Kirk Kerkorian's private jet, and was accompanied by his father, the Colonel and members of his backing crew. On arrival at the tiny air terminal and said with a grin 'I thought we were going somewhere, man...'. TV cameras panned across a shock of blue-black hair, white suit, white boots and red, white and black accessories. Elvis holds a brief press conference at the airport, before checking into the Astroworld hotel.

Articles about Elvis Presley Elvis Presley Video The Houston Press Conference : February 25, 1970

Elvis Presley : Houston Astrodome Concerts : February 27, 28 and March 1, 1970

Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley : Houston Astrodome : February 25, 1970
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley : Houston Astrodome : February 27, 1970
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley : Houston Astrodome : February 28, 1970
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley : Houston Astrodome : March 1, 1970
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley : Leaving The Houston Astrodome : March 2, 1970

Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley Houston Astrodome : March 3, 1974

Articles about Elvis Presley Elvis Presley Video The Houston Press Conference : February 25, 1970

February 1970

Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley : Houston Astrodome : February 25, 1970
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley : Houston Astrodome : February 27, 1970
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley : Houston Astrodome : February 28, 1970
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis introducing drummer Bob Lanning at the Astrodome, Houston, February 1970
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley, backstage with fans in Las Vegas : February 18, 1970

March

Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley : Houston Astrodome : March 1, 1970
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley : Leaving The Houston Astrodome : March 2, 1970
Elvis Presley Photos Elvis Presley at Easter : March 29, 1970

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