The King is back in the building. Buddy Holly replaced at the top by Elvis himself. What halcyon days!
A Fool Such as I / I Need Your Love Tonight, by Elvis Presley (his 4th of twenty-one #1s)
5 weeks, from 15th May – 19th June 1959
One of these songs I’ve known for a very long time – since I got my first Elvis ‘Best Of’ way back when –so let’s start there. Now and then, There’s a fool, Such as I… I used to think that the scarily deep baritone that opens and closes this record was Elvis himself. It wasn’t, unfortunately. A chap called Ray Walker provided the voice, and it makes this whole track.
I really like this song. At least… I thought I did. I had it marked as one of my favourite ‘fifties-Elvis’ numbers, better than the silliness of ‘Teddy Bear’ or the mumbling verses of ‘King Creole’. Listening back to it now, though, I’m not so sure. The way Elvis sings it – he’s slightly restrained, slightly clipped… The vocals are weirdly ‘posh’, if you can imagine what I mean. There’s none of the growl he was giving us on ‘Jailhouse Rock’, and none of the saucy wink from ‘One Night’. It seems to me, listening to the song fresh after such a long absence, that Elvis might have been phoning it in here.
‘A Fool Such as I’ had been recorded before – back in the depths of the pre-rock era (AKA 1952), so perhaps Elvis had the original in the back of his mind as he enunciated, giving birth to the previously undiscovered Plummy Elvis. And while obviously everyone knows that Elvis phoned in pretty much everything he did between 1961 and ’68, it’s distressing to think that Elvis’s ‘phoning it in’ period might have started as early as 1959!
Still, the solo swings like I remember. And, to be fair, Elvis does let loose a little in the final verse. I’m a fool, But I love you dear, Until the day I die… And he just about redeems the whole thing by belting these lines out towards the end. He should, though, have been very grateful to Mr. Walker for his deep voice and to whoever was playing the guitar. They definitely helped paper over the cracks.
This record, and in fact all of Elvis’s early chart-toppers, are sometimes co-credited to The Jordanaires, AKA his backing singers. They also pick up some of the slack here (though I can’t remember even noticing them on songs like ‘All Shook Up’.) The Official Charts company don’t recognise them, however, so I won’t. But they’re there on the vinyl above, if you squint hard enough. I suppose it’s a case similar to the days when every record was ‘accompanied’ by an orchestra. I mentioned in a post a while back how the conductors of these orchestras had been airbrushed out of history, and it seems to be happening with backing groups now too.
On then to the song I don’t know so well. Tell the truth I’d never heard this before and, when I saw that it was called ‘I Need Your Love Tonight’, I feared the worst. Maudlin ballad ahoy! But no…
The piano comes blasting in, rolling like a runaway train. And Elvis? Well, he needs your love tonight. And not in a mopey, crooning-in-the-window-at-the-moon kind of way (as we recently heard in Connie Francis’s flip-side ‘Carolina Moon’). No siree. I’ve been waiting just for tonight, To do some lovin’ and hold you tight, Don’t tell me baby you needa go, I got the Hi-Fi high and the lights down low…
This is fun stuff. This is rock ‘n’ roll. This possibly should have been the lead track. And Elvis does sound like he’s having a little more fun here. I count an ‘Oh-oh’, an ‘Uh-uh’, an ‘Ooh-ooh’, an ‘Oh Gee’, a ‘Wowee’, a ‘Wow’, and a ‘Pow-Pow’ among the lyrics. There’s even a bit of a rhumba during the bridge. But it really is the flip-side of ‘A Fool Such as I’ – they were well-placed together – as in the former he is lamenting the woman he loved while in this he’s pulled himself together and is promising her a night she won’t forget. G’wan yourself Elvis!
I still, though, get the faintest tang of him phoning it in here, even on this little rocker. I may be wrong – I may be listening for something that just isn’t there – but I can’t help but feel like I’m getting a whiff. He still isn’t quite going for it in the same way he did just a few months ago on ‘I Got Stung.’
As a little aside, ‘I Need Your Love Tonight’ is listed several times on Spotify as being ‘Live’, though there is nothing in the recording to suggest that it was performed in front of an audience. The link below is, to the very best of my knowledge, the version that topped the UK charts in the spring of ’59.
This #1 pulls Mr. Presley level with Guy Mitchell and Frankie Laine as the acts with the most UK chart-toppers. They all have four, though Frankie Laine is still well out in front in terms of weeks-at-number-one (Elvis has eighteen weeks from four #1s; Frankie Laine got that many just from ‘I Believe’). And if you think that this means Elvis will be boosting ahead any time soon you’d be wrong – we won’t be seeing him again for well over a year.
Thus, we bid farewell to rock ‘n’ roll Elvis. It’s been nice meeting him, or rather rediscovering him. He’s off into the army now; and when we hear from him next it will be with something rather different.