197. ‘Crying in the Chapel’, by Elvis Presley

Well, well, well. Look who’s back. The man with the most #1 singles ever (then and now), whose every release was once guaranteed several weeks at the top of the British pop charts, assumes his rightful place. Bow down to The King.

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Crying in the Chapel, by Elvis Presley (his 15th of twenty-one #1s)

1 week, from 17th – 24th June / 1 week from 1st – 8th July 1965 (2 weeks total)

He’s taken a break from his ever-diminishing run of lame movie-soundtracks, to get all holy on us. Elvis does gospel. You saw me crying in the chapel, The tears I shed were tears of joy… he croons, over a simple guitar strum – reminiscent of ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ – and a tinkling piano – reminiscent of ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’. I know the meaning of contentment, Now I’m happy with the Lord…

This is by far the most overtly religious chart-topper yet. In fact, the only others to have referenced The Almighty and his Gang were ‘Answer Me’, way back in 1953, and ‘Mary’s Boy Child’, from Christmas 1957. But this isn’t a preachy, buttoned-up number. This is Elvis we’re talking about, and he’s in his element. He whispers, he purrs, he croons, while the way he lowers his voice for the …just to sing and, Praise the Lord… line would get even the most pious of nuns a little hot under the collar.

No, Elvis is enjoying himself here. I once read a description – I can’t remember where – of Elvis’s gospel records as being sung as if ‘The King was trying to blow the pearly gates from their hinges’. You can imagine him striding up to God and asking him to make some room on the throne…. But not here. Elvis keeps it low-key on this disc. Actually, his vocals aside, it’s pretty dull. I always skipped this one back when I had his Greatest Hits on heavy rotation.

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But it is in keeping with what has been a very eclectic 1965. We’ve had ballads, country-pop, Latin soul, some cabaret-pop and some Phil Spector Wall of Sound gloss. And now some gospel. While it’s easy to say ‘well, only someone like Elvis could take this to #1’, bear in mind he hasn’t been drowning in hit records recently. This is his first chart-topper for two years; while he won’t reappear again until the 1970s. His recent hits before this one included ‘Bossa Nova Baby’ (#13) and ‘Do the Clam’ (#19). This record got to the top for reasons beyond Elvis’s fading star-power. Maybe it was Christian-power…? Church-goers heading out in force to get what is basically a hymn-in-disguise to the top of the charts? It worked for Cliff in the ‘80s and ‘90s…

It would also be remiss to suggest that Elvis was attempting some kind of reinvention here. He was always, in fairness, a deeply religious man, and had released his first gospel album, ‘His Hand in Mine’, years before. (‘Crying in the Chapel’ was actually recorded way back in 1960, but for some reason never saw the light of day until five years had passed.) He’d go on to release several more before his death, including the seminal ‘How Great Thou Art’ in 1967. Nope, it seems that this was simply one of his few gospel singles that caught on with the general public. It’s a million miles away from the swinging sixties, and you know what, that’s fine for a couple of weeks.

It’s interesting, looking at Elvis’s discography, to see how he seems to have been much more appreciated by British audiences come the mid-sixties. Between ‘Surrender’ in mid-1961, and now, he scored just one Billboard Hot 100 #1 – ‘Good Luck Charm’. Across the Atlantic he racked up seven, including this one. You can’t help but feel that Britain got this the wrong way around – all the early classics, your ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Don’t Be Cruel’, were US chart-toppers. Whereas in the UK we waited until the ‘Rock-a-Hula-Baby’ phase to go truly Elvis-mad. Definitive proof of this, if it were needed, can be found in the fact that the abominable ‘Wooden Heart’, a 6-week UK #1, didn’t see the light of day in the States. The Americans got that one spot on!

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