As rock-and-roll fanatics from the very birth of the form, it’s always been well known that the Beatles worshipped Elvis Presley.
While the feeling may not have always been mutual, on the February 10, 1964 Ed Sullivan Show broadcast wherein the Beatles conquered the world, the host did excitedly read a telegram that stated:
Congratulations on your appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show and your visit to America. We hope your engagement will be a successful one and your visit pleasant. Give our best to Mr. Sullivan.
Elvis & the Colonel.
Until then, that note was as close as the Fab Four had ever come to meeting the King. On Friday, August 27, 1965, all that changed. That’s the night the Beatles met Elvis.
While the Beatles were staying in Los Angeles, their press officer, Tony Barrow, reached out to Elvis’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, and set up the event to take place at Presley’s Bel Air mansion.
As Barrow put it: “The first fundamental ground rules to be were: no press to be invited, no pictures to be taken, no recordings to be made and no leaking of our plans in advance.”
Upon arrival inside, Presley was playing electric bass guitar and watching a massive TV with the sound turned off. The air was tense and the meeting, by all accounts, never got less than awkward, even after Elvis joked to his shy, starstruck guests: “If you damn guys are gonna sit here and stare at me all night I’m gonna go to bed.”
The most comfortable anyone got, of course, was when Presley broke out a set of instruments and the boys jammed together. Tony Barrow recalls the big moment:
I can’t remember all the things that they played but I do remember one of the songs was ’I Feel Fine.’ And I remember Ringo, who of course didn’t have an instrument, tapping out the backbeat with his fingers on the nearest bits of wooden furniture.
Everybody was singing. Elvis strummed a few bass guitar chords for Paul and said: ’See, I’m practicing.’ And Paul came back with some quip about: ’Don’t worry, between us, me and Brian Epstein will make a star of you soon.’
It would be wonderful to have either photographs or recordings. That recording would be invaluable, surely. It would be a multi-million dollar piece of tape. But it wasn’t to be. It was an amazing session to listen to.
Alas, what Elvis and the Beatles did leave us throughout their careers were rousing recordings of one another’s songs. So to celebrate the half-century that’s passed since that one-and-only legendary non-clash of the titans occurred, here are five Elvis songs performed by the Beatles and five Beatles songs performed by Elvis.
THE BEATLES MEET ELVIS
“That’s All Right”
Elvis Presley ignited his own career and launched a major early broadside in the rock-and-roll revolution with his 1953 Sun Studios recording of blues belter Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “That’s All Right” (aka “That’s All Right, Mama”). The Beatles’ version that appears on the album Live at the BBC is nowhere near as incendiary, but it captures the Fab Four’s unparalleled youthful exuberance, just as they’re poised to soar to heights beyond even those of which Elvis dreamed.
“I Got a Woman”
Elvis scored an early hit with his cover of Ray Charles’ original 1954 “I Got a Woman.” John Lennon loads the Beatles’ take with Liverpool soul, while George Harrison’s twangy guitar really brings home how happy the singer is with his female companion. You’ll really believe it when Lennon sings, “She’s good to me!”
“I Forgot to Remember to Forget”
Elvis Presley’s “I Forgot to Remember to Forget” was actually A-side of a single on which “Mystery Train” was the B. The melancholy country counterbalances to the A-side’s electrifying locomotive onslaught, and the Beatles clearly have fun with their interpretation.
“Hound Dog” – John Lennon
Live from Madison Square Garden on August 30, 1972, John Lennon hurls himself full-force into what’s arguably Elvis’s most famous anthem. Yoko Ono does, too. One can only imagine what The King would have thought of Mrs. Lennon’s primal scream backing vocals.
“Let’s Have a Party” – Paul McCartney
Fronting a killer combo that includes Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour on guitar, Paul McCartney unleashes a raucous run-through of “Let’s Have a Party,” a barnburner from the 1957 movie Loving You, on the UK music TV series Later With Jools Holland.
ELVIS MEETS THE BEATLES
“Hey Jude” remains the Beatles’ single biggest hit and Elvis makes you feel every bit of the song’s inherent magnificence, as well as the magnitude of what it has come to mean to the world.
For decades, “Yesterday” ruled as popular music’s single most covered song, with thousands upon thousands of singers taking on Paul McCartney’s masterwork that started life as an instrumental he called “Scrambled Eggs.” Here, Elvis delivers an impassioned take on “Yesterday,” and then scrambles in some “Hey Jude” for good measure.
According to legend, Frank Sinatra often said that “Something” was his “favorite Lennon and McCartney song.” The Chairman of the Board’s heart was in the right place, even though the classic love ballad was penned and sung by George Harrison. Elvis does the Quiet Beatle proud with this rendition.
From the documentary, Elvis: That’s the Way It Is (1970), Presley turns a “Little Sister” session into an impromptu cover of “Get Back.” It’s a genuinely regal mash-up.
Many who listen to “Lady Madonna” can detect Paul McCartney paying vocal homage to Elvis. Here, Presley returns the compliment with a snazzy, off-hand run-through of Macca’s thrilling, toe-tapping ode to maternity.