March 1992: The Elvis Beat #1

And now, one from the archives. I first started writing about Elvis back in 1992. Thirty years ago now, I began an official fan club whose sole purpose was to allow me to write an Elvis newsletter. Not wanting to compete with any existing clubs in my area, I named mine “The Elvis Beat: International Elvis Presley Fan Club.”

The “International” part reflected the lofty ambitions of 16-year-old me. Though The Elvis Beat never obtained any members from outside of the United States, I see The Mystery Train Elvis Blog as a realization of the dream to connect with fellow Elvis fans from all over the world.

I published the newsletter sporadically over the next five years. Most of the time, I printed a master copy using a PC and an ink jet printer. Early issues included literal cut and paste jobs on the paper to include photos, as I did not have a scanner. Then, I would have copies made. Unfortunately, my original master copies have disappeared, but I still have my archive of newsletter copies.

At first, I charged a nominal fee to join, but I soon made it free with the request that members send postage stamps if they could to offset some of the costs. To their credit, most members did send stamps. Still, I would have been in trouble had membership ever exploded much beyond 50 at any given time.

Eventually, I decided to end the club, mostly because I was unable to keep any kind of schedule going on the newsletter. Soon after releasing the last issue in 1997, I began to learn how to create web pages. My first web site would be devoted not to Elvis, though, but to Star Trek.


The Elvis Beat #1 (Cover)

The Elvis Beat #1 (Cover)

Elvis stamp unveiled

On February 24, at the Las Vegas Hilton in Nevada, the dream of millions of Elvis fans finally became reality. United States Postmaster General Anthony Frank, along with Milton Berle and Barbara Eden, officially unveiled two possible versions of an Elvis Presley stamp, one of which will become an official U.S. postage stamp.

The two stamp finalists were chosen from more than 50 entries, according to Frank. One is a circa-1950’s Elvis and the other is circa-1970’s. The public will be given the opportunity to select their favorite through the use of five million ballot cards which will be available at post offices in the month of April. The ballot cards must be mailed with the appropriate postage.

The winning stamp is expected to be announced in May at Graceland, and will be issued in 1993 as the first in a series of American music legends expected to be issued over several years. “He broke new ground,” said Frank, who went on to say that Elvis was the obvious choice to begin the series.

Elvis fans have been lobbying for this recognition for years. Pat Geiger of Vermont began the “Elvis Presley Postage Stamp Campaign” in 1983, and thought that having the stamp passed would be a “simple thing.” In 1987, the first year Elvis became eligible, she quickly found that it wouldn’t be that easy. But after the initial rejections, Elvis is finally to be honored six years later than she had planned.

The Elvis fans have won, and now it is up to the general public to pick their favorite Elvis.


Now (2022)

Elvis Stamp Official Ballot (1992)

Elvis Stamp Official Ballot (United States Postal Service, 1992; from Tygrrius’ collection)

It’s amusing for me to remember how seriously I took the whole Elvis stamp business. If it were taking place now, I would probably only give a brief mention here of the stamp.

Not long before the release of this first issue, I even wrote a “letter to the editor” that appeared in both of our local newspapers in which I defended the 1973 stamp design against typically vicious media portrayals of it as “fat” and “old.” No need to get into that here, because if there’s one thing Elvis fans can agree on is that he was not overweight or old in Aloha From Hawaii.

After releasing this newsletter, I can remember going to the post office the first day the stamp ballots became available. I grabbed three of them: One to vote and two to keep. You see, I considered it wrong to vote more than once. Remember, this was serious business. Turns out, I should have used all three ballots, as my choice was beaten rather handily. But that’s a topic for the next issue!


Then

Back to 1992, here’s a look at some of the other content from that first issue.

In A Flash (page 2): Covered three additional news stories (“That’s The Way It Is and Elvis On Tour outtakes to be released,” “Graceland is named a national historical landmark,” and “Five disc set to be released for fifteenth anniversary”).

Editor’s Corner: (page 3): Included a brief welcome to the first issue and a re-print of my defense of the 1973 stamp.

Walk a mile in his shoes (page 4): Speaking of things I find funny that I cared about back then, I devoted two whole pages to reviewing various portrayals of Elvis in movies or TV shows, ranging from 1979’s Elvis, starring Kurt Russell, up to the 1990 Elvis TV series, starring Michael St. Gerard (with lots of mostly bad ones in between). If you are curious, I determined Gerard as being the best of the lot. I pretty much stay away from these kinds of movies now, but I’d probably still pick Gerard as the best. We’ll see if Austin Butler can deliver the goods in the upcoming ELVIS movie.

Reader’s Comments and Memories (page 6): I wanted The Elvis Beat to be interactive and inclusive, so this page consisted of me begging for people to send content.

Elvis Super Trivia Challenge (page 7): Twenty questions, with the answers printed upside down at the bottom of the page (probably another literal cut and paste job to achieve the upside down text, but I honestly don’t remember). Questions ranged from, “What song is played at the conclusion of ELVIS (1968 TV Special)?” to “Which LP albums did Elvis record in the ‘Jungle Room’ at Graceland?”

The 1956 Albums (page 8): This was a word search containing the songs from the albums Elvis Presley and Elvis. It was a nod towards the types of content I had seen in other Elvis newsletters at the time. I soon dropped this concept.

In Dreams Of Yesterday…1971 (page 9): I could think of no better way to conclude the first issue of The Elvis Beat than to include Elvis’ entire acceptance speech for being recognized as one of the ten outstanding young men of 1970 by the national Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees). I still find his words from that moment inspiring:

“Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. I’d like to thank the Jaycees for electing me as one of the Outstanding Young Men.

When I was a child, ladies and gentlemen, I was a dreamer. I read comic books, and I was the hero of the comic book. I saw movies, and I was the hero in the movie. So every dream that I ever dreamed has come true a hundred times.

These gentlemen over here, it is these type people who care, who are dedicated. You realize that it is […] possible that they might be building the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s not too far-fetched from reality.

I’d like to say that I learned very early in life that:

‘Without a song, the day would never end,
Without a song, a man ain’t got a friend,
Without a song, the road would never bend,
Without a song.’

So I keep singing a song. Goodbye. Thank you.”

[Originally Published March 3, 2012; revised March 24, 2022]

Your Voice as Soft as the Warm Summer Breeze

Elvis Presley: January 8, 1935—August 16, 1977


“And I shall be aboard that ship tomorrow, though my heart is full of tears at this farewell.”
–From “The Last Farewell” by Roger Whittaker and Ron A. Webster; Elvis Presley song, 1976


“He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
Revelation 21:4 NLT

Thank You, Mac: The Last Verse

I want to pause a few moments to celebrate entertainer Mac Davis, who passed away on Tuesday. The songwriter/singer/actor/musician was 78.

Among Elvis fans, Davis is best known as the writer of the hits “In Ghetto” and “Don’t Cry Daddy,” both of which Elvis recorded at his 1969 American Sound Studio sessions in Memphis. Standing with “If I Can Dream” (1968) as one of the few socially conscious Elvis songs, “In The Ghetto” broke Elvis’ four-year drought of top ten hits when it made it to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1969. “Don’t Cry Daddy” made its chart debut later the same year and eventually peaked at #6.

As a teenager in the 1950s, Davis became an Elvis fan and attended concerts in Texas. When, as an adult, he attended Elvis’ August 25, 1969, Midnight Show at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, Elvis introduced Nancy Sinatra to the audience. He then had Davis stand up as well:

“There’s a guy sitting in her booth that’s one hell of a songwriter, ladies and gentlemen. He has written some beautiful stuff, and he wrote one of my biggest records. I’d like you to say hello to Mac Davis. He wrote ‘In The Ghetto,’ ladies and gentlemen.”

After introducing a number of other celebrities, Elvis went on to perform “In The Ghetto” and threw in a “Thank you, Mac” after the song concluded. These moments are captured on CD 9 of Sony’s Elvis Live 1969 boxed set, which I just finished reviewing here last week, as well as on FTD’s Hot August Night CD.

Davis co-wrote with Billy Strange several other Elvis songs, all recorded in 1968, including “A Little Less Conversation” for the film Live A Little, Love A Little. In Ken Sharp’s Writing For The King: The Stories Of The Songwriters (FTD, 2006), Davis notes that he actually had Aretha Franklin in mind when he wrote the song and then worked with Strange to change the lyrics to better suit Elvis when submitting it for use in the movie.

After appearing in the 2001 version of Ocean’s Eleven, an alternate take of “A Little Less Conversation” found a surprising new life in 2002 when a JXL remix for a Nike commercial during the World Cup became an international hit. In Writing For The King, Davis notes he was shocked to hear the song during the 2001 movie, and his kids in 2002 were even more shocked their dad wrote the “Elvis vs. JXL” hit. When a friend called him and told him the song had been remixed and had hit number one:

“I mentioned something about it to my boys and they both jumped up and down. They said, ‘Wait a minute, are you talking about the song in the commercial?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ They said, ‘God, well, all the kids in school are singing that. You wrote that Dad?’ They were totally impressed. I had never impressed them with anything before that.”

The Elvis recording would go on to serve as the opening theme to the 2003-2008 TV series Las Vegas, starring James Caan, Josh Duhamel and Nikki Cox. It has been used in countless other movies and trailers as well.

Davis and Strange composed two numbers that the singer recorded for his 1968 ELVIS special, “Memories” and “Nothingville.” That same recording of “Memories” later featured in the film Elvis On Tour (1972) as well as various posthumous documentaries, including 1981’s This Is Elvis.

They also wrote “Clean Up Your Own Backyard,” featured in the movie The Trouble With Girls, and the title song of the movie Charro.

After spending the early parts of his career writing songs for others, Davis went on in the 1970s to become a star in his own right, with multiple hits, including “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked On Me” and “I Believe In Music.” In Davis’ 1980 Greatest Hits album, he included the note: “A special thanks to Billy Strange for starting it all & all those who believed: Elvis Presley, Clive Davis & especially Sandy Gallin.”

Davis also began an acting career in the 1970s that extended all the way to 2019. In 1979, he appeared with Nick Nolte in the sports comedy North Dallas Forty. In 1993, Davis hosted two television specials about Elvis, America Comes To Graceland and Elvis: His Life And Times – a re-edit of a 1987 BBC documentary, I Don’t Sing Like Nobody/Cut Me And I Bleed. Both versions are memorable as being among the best of such productions about Elvis.

Among a long list of other television credits, Davis appeared in a 1995 episode of ABC’s Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. My niece and I never missed an episode on Sunday nights. Though he ostensibly played a villain on the show, Davis’ affable personality shined through.

As a huge fan of the comeback era, I cannot overstate Davis’ contributions to that portion of Elvis’ career. The movie songs he co-wrote with Strange brought Elvis fresh material that was of a quality unheard in his films since King Creole (1958) and Jailhouse Rock (1957) a decade earlier. We usually have to grade Elvis’ 1960s movie tunes on a curve, but the Davis-Strange compositions are among Elvis’ best songs, period, movie or otherwise. The same, of course, goes for “In The Ghetto” and “Don’t Cry Daddy.”

I want to leave the last word on Davis to Davis. From Writing For The King:

“I loved Elvis’ version of ‘Don’t Cry Daddy.’ I thought it was really poignant and really sweet. […] I do remember thinking that I should have written another verse for it. But that was me. That’ll be on my tombstone, ‘I was still working on that last verse.'”

Mac Davis as cult leader Larry Smiley in LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN – “Just Say Noah” (1995, Warner Brothers)


I’m praying for Davis, his family, and friends.

Blessings,
TY


“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.”
John 14:1

All the world will be in love with night

Elvis, 1968

Elvis Presley: January 8, 1935—August 16, 1977

“It was hard to understand how somebody who came in and took away so many people’s loneliness could have ended up so lonely . . . because he deserved a lot better.” –Bruce Springsteen on Elvis Presley

A fleeting moment

Elvis, 1958

Elvis Presley: January 8, 1935—August 16, 1977

“To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.” –Thomas Campbell

“He always spoke the truth”

On August 28, 1963, civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stands at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, and delivers his famous “I Have A Dream” speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

In Elvis Day By Day, Peter Guralnick and Ernst Jorgensen note, “Dr. King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech is one of Elvis’ favorite rhetorical pieces, something he recites often over the years” (p. 239).

At the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, King is silenced by an assassin’s bullet at the age of 39.

Longtime Elvis friend Jerry Schilling describes the singer’s reaction to King’s death when they see the news:

“I’d heard him recite [King’s] beautiful, hopeful words many times. I looked over at Elvis now and saw that he was staring hard at the TV. There were tears in his eyes. ‘He always spoke the truth,’ he said quietly” (Me And A Guy Named Elvis, p. 187).

Elvis is in Hollywood finishing up his 28th movie, Live A Little, Love A Little, and is devastated that the murder took place in his hometown. He also believes it will confirm “everyone’s worst feelings about the South” (Careless Love, Guralnick, p. 297).

Actress Celeste Yarnall, who had a small role in Live A Little, Love A Little, states that she watched King’s funeral on TV with Elvis and held him in her arms as he cried (The Elvis Encyclopedia, Victor, p. 289).

Only nine weeks later, Senator Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles while running for President. This time, Elvis is in nearby Burbank – less than ten miles away. Rehearsals have begun for his ELVIS television special.

A few days later, W. Earl Brown writes “If I Can Dream” for Elvis to close the show. The song can be interpreted as a tribute to both fallen leaders, particularly King. “If I can dream of a better land, where all my brothers walk hand-in-hand, tell me why can’t my dream come true?” pleads Elvis in the song, echoing King’s 1963 speech.

It is a huge departure for Elvis, who has thus far avoided public commentary on social issues. His manager even tries to nix the song, but in a rare moment of defiance, Elvis insists on recording it.

NBC airs the ELVIS special on December 3, 1968, and it becomes the highest-rated program of the week and one of the most-watched specials of the year. “If I Can Dream” turns out not only to be the perfect song to close the special, but also an appropriate way to reflect on a tragic chapter in American history.


Martin Luther King, Jr., would have turned 84 on January 15. Today, the United States observes this hero’s birthday with a national holiday. His words, his ideas, his dreams live on.