Review : Untold Gold: The Stories Behind Elvis's #1 Hits

By: David Neale
Source: Books In Print
August 23, 2005

Untold Gold : The Stories Behind Elvis's #1 Hits
Untold Gold : The Stories Behind Elvis's #1 Hits
It is always interesting to be able to read about the background to Elvis songs. I find it gives the songs an added dimension, making them interesting for more than just their entertainment value. 'Untold Gold' looks in quite some detail at the stories behind thirty-four of Elvis' songs, ranging from 'I Forgot To Remember To Forget' in 1955 to 'A Little Less Conversation' in 2002, that reached the number-one position in a variety of charts. The charts used are heavily US-biased, but this does not detract from the pleasure the book gives.

The author certainly provides useful information about the songs included, with all sorts of anecdotes regarding the composers, the history and the development of each song. One of the most interesting chapters is that of 'Peace in the Valley,' with its brief bio of composer Thomas Dorsey and the story of how he came to write the number. This entry also causes the reader to consider Dorsey's influence on American social culture and Elvis' influence on the development of the gospel music industry. There is also an especially fine Elvis anecdote in the commentary about 'Teddy Bear': Kal Mann, who wrote the Song, met Elvis again in mid-1977 and, in spite of his protests, Elvis still insisted on calling him 'Mr. Mann,' a wonderful demonstration of Elvis' humility.

Looked at as a whole, the book deals with Elvis' place in music, his influences, and his own abilities and input, intelligently and fairly. There is a lot of sense written here and many commentators could learn a great deal from the way in which the author approaches the subject of Elvis Presley, with deference and respect. There is plenty of evidence of the amount of damage caused to Elvis and his career by Tom Parker's greed, and this is perhaps best illustrated in the chapter about 'Don't' -- who knows how much better Elvis' post-army output would have been if Leiber (sadly often referred to in the book as Lieber) and Stoller had still been writing for him, not to mention Aaron Schroeder, and Pomus and Shuman?

The Author shows a healthy regard for Elvis' pre-army film work and a justified cynicism for most-of his post-army films. Again, the blame for the lack of quality is firmly placed on Parker.

Not everything is as it should be, however. I know just how hard it is to find reliable information about some of the old songs, or about events of several decades ago -- I encountered such difficulties in my own 'Roots of Elvis' project -- but some information is readily available and should therefore be correctly passed on. Elvis recorded 'My Happiness' in 1953, not 1954; heck that is such a momentous event in pop music history that there is really no excuse for such an error. If Elvis saw Derrick and The Dominoes performing 'Hound Dog' in Las Vegas in the mid-1950s, then they must have been pretty young, for that's the group (actually Eric Clapton) that had a hit with 'Layla' in the 1970s! The act that Elvis so admired was Freddie Bell and The Bellboys. In the chapter on 'It's Now or Never,' the author seems to be unaware that Elvis not only knew, but also sang Tony Martin's version of 'O Sole Mio' (There's No Tomorrow) when in Germany; and when discussing 'Are You Lonesome Tonight,' the impression is given that Al Jolson was the first to record the number in the 1920s, although he did not do so until 1950, a fact easily checked with the Al Jolson Society in the USA. Another easily avoided error is the statement that Darrell Glenn was Artie Glenn's brother -- he was, of course, his son. The entry for 'Guitar Man' (a Country #1 in 1981) is all over the place and is the only real disappointment in the whole book. The author seems to be unaware that the song was released as the A-side of a single in 1968 and his description of its B-side, 'High Heel Sneakers,' as 'a throwaway movie tune' is as laughable as it is inaccurate. (On a totally different level, the author seems to be utterly confused by the concepts of England, Britain and the UK.)

Lately, numerous titles in the genre of Elvis fiction have been published. 'Untold Gold' shows that Elvis fact can be perhaps even more amazing: RCA failing to recognise the hit potential of 'Can't Help Falling in Love,' 'Good Luck Charm' being written during a hospital visit, Tom Parker driving off the best songsmiths in the business...

Despite several small errors and the few whoppers, I liked 'Untold Gold' a lot. I looked forward to being able to continue reading it and I found it an excellent source of fascinating facts.

Author: Ace Collins
Publisher: Chicago Press Review
ISBN: 1-55652-565-6 (Paperback, 271 pp.)

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