The Story Behind The Song: Love Me Tender

By: Elvis Australia
October 19, 2008

Elvis Presley 'Love Me Tender'
Elvis Presley 'Love Me Tender'
The Story Behind The Song: Love Me Tender; Written by George R Poulton, Vera Matson, Elvis Presley, 1956.

Elvis Presley might not have had one of his hit records if the Poulton family hadn't left England in 1835 to seek a new life in America. They settled in Lansburgh, New York, where young George learnt violin and piano, and hoped to move into conducting. At the age of 12 he also tried composing and, over the next two decades, had more than 20 songs published.

It was the age of minstrel shows, which often featured jaunty, upbeat songs. With this in mind, Poulton composed a tune, with words by lyricist William Whiteman Fosdick, which would be a contrast - a simple sentimental ballad with the highly traditional theme of a beautiful young woman with shining hair.

They called the song Aura Lee and it was published and copyrighted in Cincinnati in 1861: As the blackbird in the spring, 'Neath the willow tree Sat and pip'd I heard him sing Sing-ing Aura Lee.

Aura Lee! Aura Lee!

Maid of golden hair; Sunshine came along with thee, And swallows in the air.

Although Aura Lee was successful as a minstrel song, it gained unexpected popularity with the trainee soldiers at West Point, where it quickly became a graduating class song and gained new words (by LW Becklaw), soon becoming known as Army Blue. The song was also known later as The Violet and The Girl With the Golden Hair.

Soon after Aura Lee was released, the American Civil War began. Music is often part of war. Certain music gains a special currency among the combatants - and so it was with this conflict. Drums, fifes, fiddles, banjos and brass were played by camp fires, at ceremonies, while marching, and even during battle.

Aura Lee became a favourite for troops on both sides of the conflict. The image of the lovely girl was even added to another war song, The Yellow Rose of Texas: Talk about your Clementine Or sing of Aura Lee.

After the war, Aura Lee was taken up by barber-shop quartets and recorded by many artists, but its military connection still hovered. In the 1936 movie 'Come and Get It', Frances Farmer sang it as two different characters (she played a mother and daughter) in different voices.

Elvis Presley on the set of 'Love Me Tender'. From the book, Inside Love Me Tender
Elvis Presley on the set of 'Love Me Tender'. From the book, Inside Love Me Tender Off site link

It reappeared in 'The Last Musketeer' (1952) and 'The Long Grey Line' used it as a West Point song, under the titles, in 1955. Only a year later, Poulton's melody was to be launched to a much wider international audience.

An entertainment phenomenon called Elvis Presley had caused musical hysteria with his recording of Blue Suede Shoes - a hysteria that gained momentum through Heartbreak Hotel, then Hound Dog. With the royalties from these successes, Elvis bought a roomy house in Audubon Drive, Memphis and, having reached impressive heights in recording and television studios, started to cast his eye on a possible movie career.

With the doubtful guidance of 'Colonel' Tom Parker, a Dutch immigrant made an honorary colonel, in 1956 Elvis was contracted into his first role, in a movie to be called Love Me Tender. And it was decided that in it he would sing his first-ever non-rock ballad. (Sic)

So a song was needed. The music director on the movie was Ken Darby, who found the 95-year-old melody Aura Lee. The simple tune needed no restructuring, but new words were called for. It is believed that Darby himself was responsible for the revised lyrics, but he gave the credits to his wife Vera Matson - and Presley. So was born the song Love Me Tender.

Elvis Presley on the set of 'Love Me Tender'. From the book, Inside Love Me Tender
Elvis Presley on the set of 'Love Me Tender'. From the book, Inside Love Me Tender Off site link

Elvis recorded it in August 1956 on a large sound stage without his usual band and backing singers. The second take was declared satisfactory and Love Me Tender was unleashed on a Presley-enthusiastic world. It topped the Billboard chart, remaining number one for five weeks.

Presley and his manager had no compunction about rearranging existing songs to suit themselves. Wooden Heart was a combination of new English words added to the German tune Muss Ich Denn, the French Plaisir d'amour became Can't Help Falling in Love and It's Now or Never was a rewrite of O Sole Mio.

After Presley, other artists stepped up to the recording mic with Love Me Tender: Connie Francis, the Platters, Tony Bennett, Marty Robbins, Kenny Rogers, Engelbert Humperdinck, Paul Anka, Ray Conniff, the Lettermen, Linda Ronstadt, even Frank Sinatra. It was difficult, however, to escape the shadow cast by Presley's intimate and huskily crooned performance.

Elvis Presley made the golden ballad Love Me Tender his own
Elvis Presley made the golden ballad Love Me Tender his own

• Taken from Love Me Tender: The Stories Behind the World's Favourite Songs by Max Cryer, published by Frances Lincoln on Thurs.Love Me Tender Written by George R Poulton, Vera Matson, Elvis Presley, 1956

All photos from the book, Inside Love Me Tender Off site link

Me Tender: The Stories Behind the World's Favourite Songs
Max Cryer

Love Me Tender tells the remarkable stories behind 40 popular and traditional songs. Some evolved from folksongs, some are from musical theatre, while others hit the mark because a particular recording appeared at just the right time. In some cases, one word made all the difference: Paul McCartney composed a tune but could only think of the words ‘scrambled eggs' to fit it, but fortunately he later came up with the perfect solution – Yesterday. In a book full of surprises and curiosities, Max Cryer reveals stories from all around the world, and from artists as diverse as Marlene Dietrich, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland and Elton John. This truly fascinating book makes enthralling reading.

Some of the world's best-loved songs have had remarkable origins. Had Robert Burns not heard an old man sing a quavering version of an ancient Scottish country song, we would never have had Auld Lang Syne. Miss Jane Ross wrote down the tune she heard played by a piper at an Irish village fair in 1855. Had she not done so, the rest of the world would not have heard Danny Boy. Marie Antoinette heard a peasant nurse sing an obscure lullaby to her princely son. The empress's unexpected promotion of the song resulted in its now being listed by The Guinness Book of Records as one of the three most familiar songs in the world.

About The Author

Max Cryer is a writer, entertainer and broadcaster, who has performed on the opera stages in London and in cabaret in Las Vegas and Hollywood. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of popular song, with a special interest in music theatre, and is an avid collector of musical manuscripts. His career has included stints as a teacher, compere, television presenter and quizmaster, but he now devotes most of his time to writing.

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