Return of the Rocker Starts an Obsession

Close-up of Return of the Rocker (1986)

Close-up of Return of the Rocker (1986)

In my childhood, I mostly listened to Elvis through borrowing records from my Mom and brother.

That all changed in 1987. Back then, you could still hear music on AM radio, and Oldies stations still played more than the same 200 songs they recycle today.

A local AM radio station was playing the live version of “I’ve Lost You” by Elvis that very morning as I waited anxiously on the phone. I was 11-years-old and on a strange winning streak. It seemed just about any contest I entered at that time, I won.

This radio call-in contest was for the prize to end all prizes, though. The winner of this contest would receive an Elvis LP record album, Return of the Rocker.

I had been trying for a week or two to win this one. To win, you simply had to be the tenth caller once they announced the contest each weekday morning. They had been giving away the album for some time, as my brother had won it over a month before. I was determined to win as well.

Usually such call-in contests went like this for me:

  1. Dial the number.
  2. Hear busy signal.
  3. Hang up.
  4. Hit re-dial.
  5. Hear busy signal.
  6. Go back to 3 until it finally rings, someone answers, states there has already been a winner, and hangs up.

The phone was ringing, and sooner than normal this time. The DJ, “Large” Larry, answered by simply saying the name of the station. I paused, as this had never happened before. “Am I a winner?” I asked sheepishly.

“Yes, you are!” He said. Realizing (and, looking back, probably surprised by) my age, the DJ asked me a few questions about what grade I was in and whether or not I thought my teacher was good-looking.

I didn’t care about the DJ’s shenanigans, though. I had just won my first-ever Elvis album! A week or two later, a certificate arrived in the mail that could be redeemed at the now defunct Peaches Music for a free copy of Return of the Rocker.

I would eventually spend a lot of time browsing the Elvis Presley section in Peaches, but I believe this was my first time in the store. I didn’t browse too long that day, just grabbed Return of the Rocker, checked out without problems, and hurried my Mom on the car ride home so I could finally play this record.

The record player I had back then was a hand-me-down from my older sister. It was vintage 1970s, I think, and kind of folded up to be carried around – though it was really too heavy to do that since it had a couple of bookshelf speakers as well.

I gently placed the needle on Side A of Return of the Rocker and was instantly rewarded with a rousing saxophone intro to an Elvis song I had never heard before, “King of the Whole Wide World.”

“The poor man wants the oyster,” Elvis sang, “The rich man wants the pearl, but the man who can sing but he hasn’t got a thing, he’s the king . . . of the whole wide world. Come on and sing! Sing, brother, sing!”

I was blown away. My life was never the same after that moment. Over the next few weeks, while pondering the incredible front and back cover art by Mark Chickinelli (I would love to find a print of his full cover art painting someday), I must have played the record dozens and dozens of times.

The rest of it was just as good as the opener, and it was full of songs that were new to me.

Side A
King of the Whole Wide World (1961)
(Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame (1961)
Little Sister (1961)
A Mess Of Blues (1960)
Like A Baby (1960)
I Want You With Me (1961)

Side B
Stuck On You (1960)
Return To Sender (1962)
Make Me Know It (1960)
Witchcraft (1963)
I’m Comin’ Home (1961)
Follow That Dream (1961)

Return of the Rocker may have just been a compilation record of previously released songs, but that record was everything to me.