All Shook Up, by Elvis Presley (his 1st of twenty-one #1s)
7 weeks, from 12th July – 30th August 1957
And so it begins…
Between the 12th July 1957 and the 6th February 2005, Elvis Presley will score 21 UK #1 singles… (The most any artist we’ve met so far has managed is four). He will spend 80 weeks at #1, 386 weeks in the Top 10, 1062 weeks in the Top 40, 1304 weeks in the Top 75… And that’s before we get started on the albums chart… Elvis won’t just dominate the UK charts; he’ll hump their brains out.
I feel like whatever way I introduce the ultimate pop star (rock star, performer, King of Whatever) it won’t be enough. I’ve already struggled to set the scene for Sinatra, and I’m sure I’ll struggle similarly when it comes to The Beatles, Michael Jackson and co. Best thing is, I think, to just jump straight into the song.
‘All Shook Up’ is actually a fairly low key start for Elvis. There’s a roly-poly riff, a little Hawaiian guitar and someone slapping on a cardboard box (?). There’s no solo, no change of pace, and it’s over inside two minutes. Although I knew what to expect from this song, it does sound a little underwhelming as the record that announced ELVIS PRESLEY’S!! ARRIVAL at the top of the charts. (Of course, this was far from being his debut single – it was Presley’s 7th Top Ten appearance – and I can’t help feeling that some of the singles that went before, such as ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, ‘Hound Dog’ or ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, would have made much more of a statement as his first #1).
What the minimalist production does do, however, is show off Elvis’s voice to perfection. We’ve got the now iconic I’m all shook up – uh huh huh… which impersonators will be doing dodgy copies of until the end of time. We’ve also got the beautiful moment at the end of either verse (not that this song really has ‘verses’, but still) when the instruments pause and we are left with nothin’ but Elvis: My heart beats so an’ it scares a-me to death…
My favourite bit of the whole song, though, comes towards the end. And it’s not a lyric or a guitar lick or anything like that. For a song that’s about the feeling of being in love, and of being all shaken up from falling in love, the lyrics are quite tame. Lots of knees shakin’ and tongues gettin’ tied and so on. But just before the second last I’m all shook up, in a moment of silence, Elvis lets out a little grunt – a tiny little orgasmic sigh – and in that moment we catch the merest whiff of the scandalous Elvis: the Elvis that was causing a moral panic, ‘Elvis the Pelvis’ who couldn’t be shown from below the waist on TV.
I suppose I should state from the beginning that I know every one of Elvis’s chart-toppers very well. There will be no surprises as far as he’s concerned. I bought my first Greatest Hits when I was around sixteen and never looked back and, while I don’t listen to him as often as I used to, he’s been a pretty constant part of my life’s soundtrack for near twenty years. But it will be interesting to listen to these records in a more critical way, to dissect them as the little pieces of history that they are.
Of course, there’s the well-trodden argument that even by 1957 Elvis had sold-out. Purists will tell you that he recorded all his best, his rawest and most compelling singles, during the Sun years, before he signed to RCA. And there’s some truth to that. There’s also some (a lot?) of truth to the notion that he recorded some utter drivel in the 1960s. But it would be criminal to discount the late-50s singles – utter cornerstones of pop music the lot of them – many of which we will be encountering on this countdown erelong. And ‘All Shook Up’ – while it has never been one of my favourites – deserves its place amongst them…