Title: Are You Lonesome Tonight? Title: Are You Lonesome Tonight?
Artist: Elvis Presley Artist: Vaughn de Leath
Year: 1961 Year: 1927
Album: N/A - single release only Album: N/A - single release only
Yesterday, I offered an glimpse of how music was frequently repurposed in the early days of rock and roll and today I'm back with another fine example.
By 1961, Elvis Presley could have sung the phonebook and hit the top of the charts. But manager Colonel Tom Parker and Presley's record company were aiming to do more than just crank out hit after hit. They were cultivating an icon by carefully curating the songs Elvis would release to his adoring public. It tooks months of discussions before "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" was deemed worthy of Elvis's evolving style but just weeks for it to cement itself as Elvis's 15th consecutive #1 single.
I find the first 75 seconds of Elvis's melancholy rendition to be right on target. It's sad, contemplative, sensitive, maybe even moving. And then comes the spoken word and it reads almost as parody. Am I just too jaded? Did this really work fifty years ago? I guess it's worth noting that Elvis had just returned from Germany, having been honorably discharged from the army, and I suppose it makes sense that songs like these could temper the loneliness felt by military families separated by thousands of miles. Not something we think about much in the days of the internet. Anyway...
Interestingly, Vaughn de Leath uses some spoken word herself on her very successful 1927 release. This version reveals how much was excised from the original song, written by Lou Handman and Roy Turk in 1926. We have a typical Tin Pan Alley introduction preceding the refrain that becomes the basis of Presley's hit. This introduction returns (is it actually a verse?) prior to the second refrain (chorus?), where de Leath rolls out her own more matter-of-fact spoken word section. De Leath's version went to #4 on the charts, but I find the earlier Charles Hart version (also from 1927) with its out-of-tune orchestra more charming. Here it is for your (bonus) enjoyment: