Elvis was released from active duty in the army in Germany and returned to the U.S. on March 3, 1960. Just one month later, Presley released his first studio album after his two-year military service called Elvis Is Back! on April 8, 1960.
Having been absent from the rock and roll scene for the past two years and also having suffered the loss of his mother, Gladys, the post-army Elvis was nervous wondering if the public would still embrace him like they did in the 1950s.
To welcome him back, Frank Sinatra created an entire special around Elvis called The Frank Sinatra Timex Show: Welcome Home Elvis. The show was taped in Miami at the Fontainebleau Hotel on March 26, 1960 and subsequently aired on May 8. By that time, one of the songs Elvis sang on the show, “Stuck on You”, had already hit number one.
Elvis appeared more mature and subdued in his formal black tuxedo. But the spark of sexuality and rebelliousness was still evident during Elvis’ performance. Having been censored on television in the 1950s only being shown from the waist up, Elvis did not move around as much as he used to. However, a nod of the head or shake of the shoulder still made the girls in the audience scream with delight.
However, Elvis seemed to be a slightly different performer musically and stylistically when he got out of the army. Here was the rock and roll rebel no longer growing sideburns and wearing a tuxedo onstage with a professed hater of rock and roll, Frank Sinatra.
Had two years in the army really changed Elvis? As Jerry Schilling, member of The Memphis Mafia, later observed: “He [Elvis] went in as James Dean and came out as John Wayne.”
Rock and roll fans were upset that Elvis was moving away from his defiant style towards a more mainstream pop sound. However, there were many factors at play for Presley’s subtle shift in musical style and image – the main reason being that his true passions were emerging.
Elvis originally wanted to be a crooner like Dean Martin and, in his view, was riding the wave of rock and roll. As the music changed during the years he was in the army, from 1958 to 1960, Elvis felt compelled to follow the pop music trend rather than keep cranking out the 1950s-style rock and roll hits that he was famous for.
“Most of the records in the top 50 sellers are rock and roll. But in the two years I was in the army, I think the music got better,” Elvis said in September 1960. “There wasn’t so much of the wild stuff.”
Moving away from the “wild stuff,” Presley’s first three singles out of the army were “Stuck on You,” “It’s Now or Never,” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” These mellow ballads and pop songs all became number one hits in the U.S. in 1960. “It’s Now or Never,” in particular, exposed Elvis to a more adult audience where “many easy listening stations found they could play a Presley single for the first time.” Also, having served in the military gave Presley more respectability with the establishment who censored him on The Ed Sullivan Show just a few years earlier.
“You get this new Elvis, the Elvis that Colonel Parker wanted, the Elvis that had grown up exactly the same way that his core audience had grown older,” said historian Ernst Jorgensen. “They had gone from teenagers to being young adults, so for him it was the perfect launch. The public widely accepted that but obviously this was a transition.”
Presley’s first album released after returning from the army, Elvis Is Back, was a mixture of rock, pop and rhythm & blues. This mixture of a newfound maturity combined with a subdued sensuality is what makes Elvis Is Back! such a great record. Highlights include “Such A Night”, “Fever”, “The Girl of My Best Friend” and “It Feels So Right.” As author John Robertson describes it: “This was growing older with style, adapting to the restrictions of adulthood and fame without shedding a fraction of his soul.”
Although the album initially received mixed reviews, Elvis Is Back! reached number 2 in the US and number 1 in the UK. As was customary in the 1950s and 1960s, the hit singles like “Stuck On You” and “Fame and Fortune” were not included on the album.
The Legacy Edition 2-CD set of Elvis Is Back! was released in 2011 and includes the 12 songs from the original album plus 7 bonus tracks originally released as singles (both A and B sides) in 1960 and 1961. The second disc is the album, Something for Everybody, which was released in 1961, plus five bonus tracks.
For more fascinating Elvis Presley stories, 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
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