With the news that two albums which combine Elvis Presley’s voice with newly recorded orchestration have both reached number one in England in the span of one year, credit should be given where credit is due: to Priscilla Presley.
In the years following her ex-husband’s death, Priscilla has taken on the role to keep The King’s legacy alive by first opening Graceland to the public in 1982. Since then, she has participated as a creative consultant and/or producer of various projects relating to Elvis’ vast canon of work.
If you know the history of Elvis’ relationship with Priscilla, the success of these two albums (in part due to Priscilla’s vision) shouldn’t come as a surprise to you. When Elvis Presley met the young teenaged Priscilla, they immediately bonded over their similar taste in music – and not just rock and roll.
It was September 13, 1959. Stationed in Germany, Elvis was six months away from completing his two years of service in the U.S. Army. That night, he met a 14-year-old girl, Priscilla Beaulieu (bowl-yo), when she attended a party at his house in Bad Nauheim.
Instantly taken with her beauty, Elvis talked with Priscilla in-between performing impromptu songs while playing the piano. He thought she looked mature enough to be a junior or senior in high school, but Priscilla was only in ninth grade.
Elvis was happy to talk to a girl from the States and was curious to find out what music the kids her age were listening to. Priscilla assured Elvis they were all listening to his music.
Then, Elvis asked Priscilla what kind of music she liked to listen to. She told him Mario Lanza, an American opera singer turned film star.
“You’re kidding. How do you know about Mario Lanza?” Elvis asked.
Priscilla said she loved Lanza’s album, The Student Prince. Elvis was impressed and said that was his favorite.
How ironic, or coincidental, that the following year Elvis would record an operatic English version of the Italian standard “O Sole Mio” called “It’s Now or Never.” Mario Lanza, who passed away in October 1959 at the young age of 38, had recorded his version of “O Sole Mio” in 1949. Was this song choice influenced at all by Priscilla?
“‘O Sole Mio’ has always been one of my favorite songs,” Elvis told a reporter in 1960. “I liked the Tony Martin version ‘There’s No Tomorrow,’ and I often play the record by Jan Peerce, the opera singer.”
While in Germany, Elvis recorded his own version of “There’s No Tomorrow” and preserved it on tape in a private home recording sometime between April and December 1959.
Elvis loved the song so much that he commissioned new lyrics to be written for him. The new song would be called “It’s Now or Never.” Elvis recorded “It’s Now or Never” after he got out of the army in April 1960. It would become his biggest-selling single ever with international sales surpassing the 20-million mark.
Whether Priscilla influenced this song selection or not, she had proven to Elvis that she was quite mature for her age and had great taste in music. In fact, Priscilla admitted that Elvis used to send her various 45 rpm records in the mail to keep their relationship going once he left Germany. Having similar interests in music could only help intensify the connection that Elvis and Priscilla had.
After they were married, Priscilla was astute enough to recommend the song “An American Trilogy” to Elvis, recorded by country singer Mickey Newbury in 1971. It soon became a legendary staple sung by Presley at his live concerts. Here is the orchestrally-enhanced version from the If I Can Dream album:
“I said, ‘There’s a song I think you really should listen to,'” Priscilla recalled. “And he said, ‘Well, put it on.’ So I did, and he just sat there at the desk. He put his head down and kind of nodded to it. He closed his eyes and said, ‘Damn, damn good song.’ And the next thing I know, we’re back in Vegas, and he ate it up and spit it out.”
Fast forward to 2016: The latest Elvis release couples Presley’s voice with the orchestration of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for the album, The Wonder of You. This album is a follow-up to the successful If I Can Dream album from last year, in which Priscilla served as Executive Producer. She was instrumental in convincing the record company to support this project.
“He was an artist in the truest sense,” Priscilla said of Elvis. “He’d have loved to have more of an orchestra on his original records, but they – his management, his label – put constraints on him.”
For more fascinating Elvis Presley facts, check out the author’s book, ELVIS: Behind The Legend: Startling Truths About The King of Rock and Roll’s Life, Loves, Films and Music