Happy Elvis Presley Day?

There has been a movement to get January 8 to be a national day in honor of Elvis Presley. In 2012, some members of Congress signed a resolution to name the day in honor of the King of Rock and Roll, but other activities distracted the legislators from following through.

Of course, Elvis fans chose the date because Elvis was born on January 8, 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi. But almost as importantly, January 8 is also the date in 1946 when the eleven-year-old Elvis, hoping for a bicycle or a rifle, was instead given a guitar. For his birthday, his mother Gladys took him to the hardware store where she bought him the instrument that would inspire his musical career and change history.

So, while the fiscal cliff and other matters distracted Congress from giving us an Elvis Presley day in 2013, we can still recognize that boy and his guitar here. One of my favorite Elvis Presley performances with a guitar is “One Night” from his 1968 “Comeback” TV special.

Elvis’s “One Night” was a slightly cleaned up version of Smiley Lewis’s recording of “One Night (of Sin),” a song that, depending on the source, is about an orgy or a trip to a whorehouse and was written by Dave Bartholomew, Pearl King, and Anita Steiman. “Colonel” Parker and the record company had reservations about the steamy song that Elvis liked, so the lyrics were cleaned up a little, including the change of “One night of sin is what I’m now paying for” to “One night with you is what I’m now praying for.”

The “clean” version was a hit in 1958. Although Elvis also recorded the original “dirty” version, it was not released until 1992. For a comparison of the two versions, check out this article on Crooked Timber. Below you can hear Smiley Lewis’s take on “One Night (of Sin).”

Although Elvis’s cover using the original lyrics was decades from being officially released, in his 1968 performance, he goes back to the original song in both attitude and some of the lyrics, singing the original lines “The things I did and I saw / Would make the earth stand still” instead of the clean version’s “The things that we two could plan / Would make my dreams come true.” And whereas Lewis’s take on those lyrics is slower, more regretful, and bluesy, Presley’s 1968 performance is steamy, funny, and steeped in joyful sexuality.

Elvis’s 1968 stage presence is a long way from an eleven-year-old with his first guitar. Music writer Greil Marcus has described the performance, “No one has ever heard him sing like this; not even his best records suggest the depth of passion in this music.” (Mystery Train, p. 126.) He adds, “It was the finest music of his life. If ever there was music that bleeds, this was it.”

This performance alone should earn the King an Elvis Presley Day.

What is your favorite Elvis Presley guitar performance? Leave your two cents in the comments?

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