Jun 04

ELVIS PRESLEY – “It’s Now Or Never”

Popular8 comments • 2,014 views

#109, 5th November 1960

The calling-card of the post-army Elvis, it’s easy to hear “It’s Now Or Never” simply as a record made by a tamed man. But how big, in truth, is the gap between thrilling a crowd or charming them? Elvis could sell the promise of a kiss as easily as he could the hint of a fuck, and on the belting chorus to this song he’s on fine puppy-eyed form. The problem is the verses, where Presley seems uncomfortable, going over-the-top on the vibrato and – unthinkably – sounding like a wimp.

For students of manipulation, “It’s Now Or Never” is a gem. Its ultimatum is couched in the most simpering terms, and it works just as well for sexual blackmailers as emotional ones. The arrangement is similarly teasing – slow enough for close-dancing but pacy enough to allow a bit of distance if required. The tune, on the other hand, has suffered from its years of sterling service putting the corn into Cornetto, and the whole thing is easier to appreciate than enjoy.



  1. 1
    Slim Finn on 3 Mar 2010 #

    My theory: during the verses we hear the guy talking sweetly to a girl, and the chorus is his inner voice, his real thoughts. He’s planning to ditch the girl, if it seems he’s not scoring tonight. 7

  2. 2
    wichita lineman on 3 Mar 2010 #

    Alternatively, he finally had the opportunity to mimic one of his major heroes, Mario Lanza. I think the most underrated element of Elvis’s arsenal was his ridiculously wide-ranging taste – he loved Lanza, Dean Martin, Roy Hamilton, and Clyde McPhatter equally – and his ability to blend all of this into his repertoire.

    For this reason, I reckon the post-army 1960 Elvis Is Back album and its accompanying singles are the closest we got to the “real” Elvis. He thought his career was over, he had nothing to lose, so why the hell not throw some light opera into the mix?

    This sounded adult and important to me as a kid, different to the other 45s in my parents’ sideboard like Because They’re Young and Teen Beat, but his voice was enthralling and the loud wooden percussion made it some kind of fun.

  3. 3
    Mutley on 3 Mar 2010 #

    Very perceptive comments above.

    Elvis is usually seen as the first major (white) rock’n’roller, whereas he can also be seen as the last of the major chart-topping crooners following Dean Martin, Perry Como and Johnny Ray. I read somewhere a quote by Bono saying that no-one sings like Elvis any more, everyone sings like Bob Dylan. I’m not sure that is entirely correct, but I get his point – Elvis can be seen as the end of a line just as much as the start of something new.

    In fact Elvis had many voices. Although he is stereotyped these days as a slurred baritone uh-uh uh, he was also a practitioner of extreme enunciation – the opposite of slurred uh-uh uh. This song is an example of it – listen to the words “tomorrow will be too late”. Pure operetta in the style of Mario Lanza. This extreme enunciation can be seen as a “voice” popular in the 50s and, by the way, explains the incomprehensible (to some) success of David Whitfield, discussed elsewhere on this site – listen to the enunciation on Caria Mia – it can’t get any more extreme. I like to think that David, who was a minor success in the US, may have influenced Elvis, although that’s probably a bit too fanciful.

    Elvis used extreme enunciation in a wide range of singing styles, not just operetta or crooning. Listen to songs as different as I Want You, I Need You, I Love You (Mario Lanza is in there somewhere) or Wooden Heart (sounds like Elvis has just come from elocution lessons with Julie Andrews). There are many more such examples.

  4. 4
    wichita lineman on 3 Mar 2010 #

    Genuinely sloppy vocals tended to be on songs Elvis didn’t like – the dreadful Yoga Is As Yoga Does for instance, and I’d guess Good Luck Charm from the way he shrugs and slurs through most of it. But then again he abandoned the rather cheeky Do Not Disturb midway through a take because he thought it was irredeemable, though it winningly sounds like a sly fumble in the undergrowth.

    One thing’s for certain – El was as keen on recording It’s Now Or Never as the Colonel was on having him cut Are You Lonesome Tonight. Both were good choices, enormous hits that repositioned him in the dimly lit early 60s after the R&R-lite Stuck On You had stuck at no.3 over here.

  5. 5
    crag on 13 Apr 2011 #


    Jimmy Saville, DJ (1985).

  6. 6
    swanstep on 22 May 2014 #

    A really fun record whose beat and arrangement sound to me like they influenced Orbison’s ‘In Dreams’. Post-army Elvis returns to the well of ‘Love Me Tender’ but with an improved beat so you don’t feel its slowey-ness. So…I like it. Still the vocal’s pretty preposterous (winning over a gal by bellowing at her? really?) so Tom’s remark about the track being easier to appreciate than enjoy gets at *something* I find. I think the song’s in on its own joke – the Third Man-ish zitheriness and Touch of Evil-ish brothel/saloon piano suggest musically that there’s a scheme afoot (to get into someone’s pants) and the singer thinks it’s funny, and that we’ll find it funny, that he has to go to such lengths (maybe the very idea that anyone ever says no to Elvis was funny at the time). Anyhow, for me a:

  7. 7
    lonepilgrim on 29 Jul 2014 #

    this is a beautifully arranged record with some wonderful use of percussion. Elvis caresses the words with confident intensity, yet with a sense of vulnerability.

    It’s creepy to see that Jimmy S*vile chose this as one of his Desert Island Discs

  8. 8
    Gareth Parker on 29 Apr 2021 #

    This one hits the spot for me, so I would give Elvis an 8 here.

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