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Number ones in charts not used by British Hit Singles, 1955-2004.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

ELVIS PRESLEY - "Stuck On You" (Melody Maker and Disc number one, April 1960)

It's been a hard task returning to this project, so depressing is it to think that this country could have been spared the humiliation (in all senses) coming from Iraq, let alone Blair's pathetic concessions to Murdoch intimidation over the EU constitution, had we taken a different route out of the impasse of the dying imperial British culture - Dennis Potter's "glittering coffin" - 44 years ago. The image of 1960 for me will always be suburbanisation and the assertion of a stronger American influence on British society than ever envisaged before - it was a classic denial of how things were changing that Lonnie Donegan's "My Old Man's A Dustman" kept Cliff Richard's "Fall In Love With You" off the top that spring even as Macmillan was cancelling the Blue Streak missile, because Cliff embodied the spirit of the year, the sound of Cheshunt, Stevenage, Harlow, the aspirational Hertfordshire new towns where the mythological white working-class Cockneys of Donegan's music-hall throwback were increasingly moving out (the July 1959 Pathe pictorial which proclaims of Stevenage that "here, then, is the town of the future - a town planned to the last detail for 80,000 of the citizens of tomorrow!" is key here, and remember that Macmillan visited both Stevenage and Harlow in the run-up to his landslide election). True, private schoolchildren could still be portrayed in an incredibly anachronistic pre-war way - check Carol Ann Pearce's extraordinary "We're In The Sixth" (http://elidor.blogspot.com/2003_09_01_elidor_archive.html) and remember that the Billy Bunter TV series was still going - and it was still possible on Sunday 9th October this year for the BBC TV Epilogue to be entitled "The Glories of our Blood and State", but very nearly everyone knew by now which way the wind was blowing.

It was amid this climate - the mass culture rapidly taking in the changes he'd unleashed in his own cult four years earlier - that Elvis Presley returned from his Army service in early March 1960, in the process stopping off in Scotland while his plane refuelled, his only ever visit to the UK (itself memorably evoked in 1986 by the ITV "Dramarama" production "Waiting For Elvis"). His comeback single came with what was, at the time, a pretty much unprecedented rapidity (at least that's the impression I get - it may be wrong ...) from recording to release; taped in Nashville on 20th-21st March, the song was released in the UK as soon as 1st April.

At the time the almost instantaneous release must have had an incredible feeling of speed and modernity about it; inevitably that hasn't survived the years but the song is certainly far superior to the insulting knockoff "Party" (see this blog passim). It's nothing special, though; a fairly predictable, generic, Jordanaires-backed (I'm guessing) halfway point between his own trademark vocal tics and thrusts and the bland teenbeat dominant at the time - a sound so firmly fixed in the mainstream that whatever outsider's impact it may ever have had was now dissolved not so much through Presley's army service as through the simple passage of time; now, it was Perry Como's "Delaware" which *didn't* sound like "the norm". As a composition "Stuck On You" is determinedly unspectacular and though Elvis' voice would get worse, it never transcends the now-received cliches - the "wild horses couldn't tear us apart" line is clearly the best moment but even that is nothing you'd even dream of putting on repeat. To his old fans at the time it must have sounded vaguely disappointing and sophomoric, but it wasn't about the Army, it was about the withering of rock's "rebelliousness" amid the consumer boom of the time, an inevitable process. I don't think I'll ever change my view that Presley's extraordinary turnover of (official!) UK chart-toppers in 1960-62 was more "by default" than anything else, but he did do better in this era - unfortunately he also did a million times worse.

As for "Stuck On You" itself, I think it merits a (5)

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