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Jul 08

ELVIS PRESLEY – “Way Down”

FT + Popular93 comments • 5,092 views

#412, 3rd September 1977

Elvis’ first posthumous Number One is like a miniature of his career: a brilliant beginning, a saggy middle, and it ends way too soon. Elvis comes out fighting, swaying and swaggering over a roiling disco boogie – when the brass stabs in on “all of my resistance” it’s a genuine thrill. His voice is still iconic: its slurs and mumbles an economical, broadstroke sketch of Presley past, but born of expertise as much as laziness. “Way Down” is let down by its chorus, whose jauntiness sweeps all tension away and whose ending dispels any momentum: the song’s components just never really fit together.

And then he’s left the building. With the rock’n’roll revival such a force in mainstream seventies pop it’s fitting Elvis got his own last word in – and “Way Down” is considerably better than the Showaddywaddy or Stardust efforts we’ve been through, even if it’s a minor entry in the King’s own record book. At the time of his death, by all accounts Elvis was a marginal figure – with the right medical care, maybe he’d have had a comeback or two in him. Maybe not.

A strange thing about Elvis Presley is that his figure in decline has become an archetype as strong as his younger self. It can be hard to feel his direct impression on pop, harder the further away we get from the event zero of his emergence, but if he no longer defines pop he still encompasses it. Few began so blazingly, sold out so totally, returned so fiercely, collapsed so gracelessly: Presley anticipates every pop story.

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Comments

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  1. 61
    Billy Smart on 11 Jul 2008 #

    I’m looking forward to that! A great and glorious single…

  2. 62
    Billy Smart on 11 Jul 2008 #

    What on earth was ‘Evergreen’, by the way? It’s too early to be the Bunnymen or Will Young (or even Hazel Dean)

  3. 63
    wichita lineman on 11 Jul 2008 #

    “Love, ssssoft as an easy chair”. Y’know, Barbra Streisand, from the remake of A Star Is Born. Written by Paul Williams who came up with lots of lines as good as that and better on Rainy Days & Mondays, Let Me Be The One, We’ve Only Just Begun and a bunch of other Carpenters hits.

  4. 64
    wichita lineman on 11 Jul 2008 #

    Oh yeah, DJP, do you have a book of the Luxembourg charts? Wondrous Stories! I know Tom’s gutted that there SL2/Everybody In The Place/Raving I’m Raving just fell short of being breakbeat no.1s, but a prog no.1 would have been deeply strange.

  5. 65
    Billy Smart on 11 Jul 2008 #

    Ah right, that’s a better title than “Love Theme From A Star Is Born”, which is what it’s called in the reference books. I’ve never knowingly heard that one.

  6. 66
    DJ Punctum on 11 Jul 2008 #

    Two prog number ones if you count ELP!

    I have several books of Luxembourg charts, namely the variously coloured Collins diaries in which I used to write them every Tuesday. If only I could find a publisher…

  7. 67
    wichita lineman on 11 Jul 2008 #

    If you’re serious, Backbeat or Helter Skelter might well do it. You ever seen First Hits? It lists the music sheet charts (am I among friends here? I know this might sound scary) from 1946 to 1959, which were broadcast on Luxembourg. Boxtree published that in 1989 and I’m guessing your note books would have wider appeal! Well, I’d buy it, naturally.

    Luxembourg’s sig tune for their chart rundown was the Sauter Finnegan Orchestra’s Doodletown Fifers, making this the earliest in a chain of highly evocative instros from At The Sign Of The Swinging Cymbal to Whole Lotta Love to Yellow Pearl.

  8. 68
    DJ Punctum on 11 Jul 2008 #

    Doodletown Fifers also used as the theme tune for Jimmy Savile’s Double Top Ten Show until he changed the title and format to Jimmy Savile’s Old Record Club following which Ramsay Lewis’ version of “The In Crowd” was used.

  9. 69
    Erithian on 11 Jul 2008 #

    Lineman – yes, you’re among friends. Here’s a link to a site listing the US number ones from 1890 – yes, that’s 1890 – onwards, based on sheet music sales listings from Variety and other magazines:
    http://freespace.virgin.net/sharon.persky/US%20number%20one%20singles.html#1890s

  10. 70
    wichita lineman on 11 Jul 2008 #

    Ooh, good spot. Was the Double Top Ten Show half the length? I only remember The In Crowd and that hollow feeling it gave me when I realised it was another seven days before I’d be able to get five-points-for-the-title. But at least I’d got to hear Grapefruit’s Dear Delilah/Badfinger’s No Matter What/Helen Shapiro’s Tell Me What He Said for the first time, and had the opportunity to try and find them in Beanos the following Saturday. Can’t buy that thrill.

  11. 71
    DJ Punctum on 11 Jul 2008 #

    Yes, I think the Double Top Ten Show was only an hour long, mainly because it was followed by another hour of Savile’s Travels. In those days it was easy to fit 20 records into one hour since the show drew from fifties and sixties charts and still leave room for ten points Uncle Ted/going down one place at a time as befitting a good re-CORD/Clifford Richard Mr Forever Guy etc.

  12. 72
    Erithian on 11 Jul 2008 #

    Jimmy Savile on Sunday afternoons was an education in itself. Moments such as hearing oddities like Johnny Dankworth’s “Experiments in Mice” from the 20 Years Ago chart, then being all excited hearing “Metal Guru” and thinking “wow, I haven’t heard this in ages!” – when it was on the Three Years Ago chart!

  13. 73
    DJ Punctum on 11 Jul 2008 #

    And again he played the WHOLE top ten – so much better as a programme and as a snapshot of a specific time than “picks.”

  14. 74
    Billy Smart on 11 Jul 2008 #

    Have you noticed that Dale now isn’t doing new releases or the number one LP anymore, either? No more does he have to play ‘The Sound Of Music’ through gritted teeth every third week.

    Also we don’t get the useful corrective balance of Phil Swern putting in some of his own non-charting enthusiasms (such as Anne Peebles or The Impressions) which added a sense of balance and representativeness to the programme, I though.

  15. 75
    DJ Punctum on 11 Jul 2008 #

    To my mind Capital Gold’s From The Bottom To The Top show now knocks POTP into a cocked hat.

    Case in point: last week’s Gold show played a Top 20 chart from February 1983 in full, with Eddy Grant (who was at number two in selfsame chart) as studio guest. Dale featured the same chart some months ago but concentrated on playing on all the boring/slow entries – it was all “Up Where We Belong” and Phil Collins and as my wife says it was like a Young Conservatives playlist from hell. Whereas hearing the full chart was an instructive (re-)education, a retrospectively bizarre world where Orville the Duck and Wylie the Wah! seemed to fit in equally with inscrutable but palpable logic.

  16. 76
    Waldo on 12 Jul 2008 #

    DJP – Who was “Dignified”, the guy who used to ride shotgun on Saville’s chart show at some point?

  17. 77
    DJ Punctum on 12 Jul 2008 #

    Dearie Lord, Dearie Lord, God rest my SO-WEL young Waldo groovy geezer guy geezer, now then, now then, that there “Dignified” was none other than Dignified Don, a.k.a. Savile’s producer Don George (who may or may not still be around); he came after Uncle Ted and before Graham Archive and specialised in indecipherable tannoy/intercom-style remarks/banter with the Jewellery Rattler.

  18. 78
    Waldo on 12 Jul 2008 #

    Aha! Thank-you for that, Charty. “Indecipherable” is right. Dignified’s newscaster accent was sort of West Country, wasn’t it? I could never understand what he was doing there but now I know. I felt he was probably present just to calm the child-friendly Saville down. He failed. Jimmy used to dock points when you didn’t “open brackets” on song titles (Zager and Evans, par example) and I’ll also never forget the 1970 Christmas TOTP when he and Timmy Bannockburn were scoffing chocolates whilst actually introducing performances. I was 9 and talking with your mouthful was about as bad as it got. Fucking disgusting.

    Perhaps I should have guessed that Don was Jimmy’s producer. Wossy has his own producer on Saturday mornings. It’s a moronic bloke who sounds exactly like Dudley Moore and he hangs on JR’s every word, constantly dissolving into helpless fits of giggles. It used to be too much to bear (and I can’t stand Ross at any price in any case) but in recent times, the acolyte has tended to give some back but it’s still pretty grim.

    I personally think both Ross and that other clump, Evans represent everything that is wrong about broadcasting. It’s all very well saying “there’s always the off switch” but the fact is, we’re all paying for these clowns. And BOY are we paying!!

  19. 79
    Billy Smart on 12 Jul 2008 #

    TOTP Watch: 25th December 1970. Hosted by Saville & Blackburn. In the studio were; Marmalade, Mr Bloe & Pikettywich (all the biggest stars!), plus a lot of repeated footage.

    26th December 1970. More high spirits from Saville & Blackburn. In the studio; Christie, Dana, Hotlegs, Jimmy Ruffin, Mungo Jerry & The Kinks, plus Pan’s People – interpreting ‘Spirit In The Sky’

    Neither show survives.

  20. 80
    vinylscot on 13 Jul 2008 #

    Been away for a few days so sorry for my late appearance on this thread. Most of what I wanted to say has already been said.

    I was in a youth hostel in Charlbury near Oxford when I heard, on the Wednesday breakfast show. I went up to London that day, and went to Rock On in Kentish Town Road for the first time. They were already re-pricing their stock…

    “Way Down” wasn’t a bad song, and would probably been a sort of middling hit, but not as successful as “Moody Blue”. Around this time there was a gloriously OTT live version of his “Unchained Melody” floating about (Canadian 7″ on white vinyl), which might have been a better follow-up to this than his rather mediocre (and even then overly cheesy) “My Way”. Even at the tender age of 16 I wondered why the record company didn’t cash in better.

    From some of Marcello’s comments, I am surmising he has read Robert Graham and Keith Baty’s terrific “Elvis – The Novel, (The Life He Should Have Led)”, which has him playing with John Lennon, and The Clash, , inventing the cheeseburger, shooting Colonel Tom, being a super-hero in Memphis, appearing in movies such as 1961’s “Little Girls Grow Up Fast and Grope Me” and recording classic, otherwise unknown tracks as “A Life Without Helicopters”, “On My Inflatable Dolphin” and “That Darned Shark.”

  21. 81
    Mark G on 14 Jul 2008 #

    Yeah, it’s a ‘spoof’ very much in the style of a similar one, “Paperback Writer” by Mark Shipper.

  22. 82
    richard thompson on 18 Aug 2008 #

    It was my 15th birthday and 42 seemed old then, no one at school seemed upset about his death just schoolboy jokes like Elvis died his hair then he died himself, i remember all these teds crying in church in the paper, before there was a church of Elvis in the states, or was there one back then? I found the double top ten show to be educational as well, prefer from the bottom to the top to pick of the pops.

  23. 83
    Lena on 31 Aug 2008 #

    I just heard “Magic Fly” for the first time today and cannot stop listening to it. Astonishing! I only wish more French pop was in the charts now…

  24. 84
    Chris Brown on 7 Sep 2008 #

    I remembered last night that I have a copy of that white Canadian 7″, which I found in a flat we used to rent – the landlord hustled us out too fast for me to remember to leave it behind.

    I actually played both sides for the first time last night – it’s billed on the sleeve as “A personal appearance recording” and indeed some of the crowd noises do sound a bit like they’re looped. Elvis just sounds confused. On the flip is a version of ‘Softly, As I Leave You’ which is almost entirely spoken while one Sherrill Nielsen does the actual singing. Odd.

  25. 85
    Billy Smart on 23 Dec 2008 #

    NMEWatch. July 30th 1977. A young Tony Parsons reviews;

    “If it wasn’t for the distinctive cheeseburger inflection in the vocal then this synthetic, gutless record would not even warrant a few lines. As it’s The King you take in the contrived emotion of the Devil-gonna-getcha lyrics, the bland-out “raucous” rock muzak and overall feel that if you’re going to Las Vegas, be sure to wear some blue rinse in your hair. Not in the same league as “Less Than Zero”.”

    Single of the week was ‘Do Anything You Wanna Do’ by Eddie & The Hot Rods. Also reviewed;

    The Ramones – Swallow My Pride
    Hammersmith Gorillas – You Really Got Me
    Squeeze – Packet Of Three
    Television – Prove It
    The Sweet – Stairway To The Stars

  26. 86
    Dawood on 31 Oct 2009 #

    The quote of John Lennon: “Before Elvis, there was nothing.” says it all about that great artist of all times.

    Here I’ve tried to collect all notable tributes paid to Elvis Presley by peers: http://www.tributespaid.com/quotes-on/elvis-presley

  27. 87
    glen on 23 Jan 2010 #

    elvis is the king so fuck u if there were no elvis u wuld still be listen 2 fukin bing fukin crosby

  28. 88
    Jimmy the Swede on 27 Jan 2010 #

    Brilliantly argued, there, glen.

  29. 89
    Elvis Impersonator on 4 Apr 2011 #

    I love this song! and perform it every gig.

  30. 90
    lonepilgrim on 16 Aug 2012 #

    35 years.

  31. 91
    punctum on 17 Aug 2012 #

    Indeed. It would have been nice to get the next TPL post up in time for yesterday, but sadly I would probably have ended up like the King did if I’d tried. Should be up for Sunday though (30 degrees and sunny, though…hmmmmm…).

  32. 92
    punctum on 19 Aug 2012 #

    It rained, so here it is.

  33. 93
    Harryo19 on 18 Sep 2015 #

    Don’t remember this when it came out. Checked it out on YouTube. There’s an alternate take that’s way better than what was released.

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