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Elvis Presley 30th Anniversary Special | Elvis' UK Songwriters
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ELVIS PRESLEY'S INCREDIBLE LIFE ended tragically in the bathroom of his Graceland mansion home in Memphis on 16 August 1977, aged just 42. The man known as The King of Rock & Roll who changed the face of popular music has been gone for an unbelievable 30 years, yet still wields a huge influence in the world of music and contemporary culture. As has been well documented, his estate earns more now than he did when he was alive, and despite the often tacky merchandising and commercialisation of his image and legend, there is still one thing that shines above all else: that unique voice and the songs he made famous.

Gradually, his early hits are moving into the public domain here (50 years after their first release) because the current British Government steadfastly and controversially refuses to extend the term of copyright in sound recordings in par with copyright in music publishing. The latest Elvis hits to obtain this dubious open season status this year are Heartbreak Hotel, Blue Suede Shoes and Love Me Tender.

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--- ELVIS COVERS - UK HALL OF FAME ---
Chris Arnold - Alan Blaikley - Roger Cook - Phil Coulter - Lonnie Donegan
Guy Fletcher - Doug Flett - Gibb Brothers - Roger Greenaway - George Harrison
Ken Howard - Jimmy Kennedy - Lennon & McCartney - Andrew Lloyd-Webber
Tony Macauley - Barry Mason - Bill Martin - David Martin - Geoff Morrow
Dave Most - Simon Napier-Bell - Les Reed - Tim Rice - John Rostill
John Schroeder - Geoff Stephens - Clive Westlake - Roger Whittaker - Vicki Wickham

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During his career, Presley was well aware of the talent of British artists and songwriters and recorded many examples of their work, most famously Lennon & McCartney's Hey Jude, Get Back, Lady Madonna and Yesterday, George Harrison's Something and the Bee Gees' Words. To mark the 30th anniversary of his passing, SongLink delves into the Elvis songbook to identify some of the other notable Brit writers and publishers who contributed to it and collates their recollections of how it happened for them.

Guy Fletcher

Guy Fletcher and Doug Flett had enjoyed big success with names like Cliff Richard (Power To All Our Friends, Sing A Song Of Freedom and With The Eyes Of A Child) and The Hollies (Can't Tell The Bottom From The Top) among others. Guy is a past chairman of the British Academy of Composers & Songwriters and now heads up MCS Music. He and Doug enjoyed considerable attention from Elvis when they were contracted as songwriters to Carln, as he recalls:

"The first of our songs, Wonderful World, was pitched via Freddie Bienstock," Guy states. "We had already had two versions out in the UK - by Hamilton Jones & the Happy Band, and Cliff Richard (whose version came third in 'A Song For Europe'). Elvis needed some lyric changes which we did and the song went into his last MGM movie and on to the 'Flaming Star' album. After they got to know about Doug and me, Elvis's office called and asked for more songs. We supplied seven and Elvis recorded two of them - The Fair's Movin' On ('Memphis To Vegas' album) and the biggest one of all, Just Pretend ('Elvis - That's The Way It Is album). Just Pretend is used in current Elvis 'live' shows and has Elvis!appeared on hundreds of compilation albums. We've also heard that it's Lisa Marie Presley's favourite song by her dad!"

Guy adds that he and Doug (left) were "delighted"by the Presley treatment of their songs. Presley's musical director, Joe Guercio, did the arrangements and became a firm friend of the duo. His favourite is also Just Pretend. Yet the Presley covers have not led to really great things for Fletcher and Flett. "Strangely, no other cover opportunities presented themselves despite the millions of sales of the Elvis versions," Guy notes. "As far as our income is concerned, that's another story entirely. It's a well known fact that Doug and I signed a very old fashioned deal with Freddie which allowed his company to reduce our royalties on their way to us in the UK by such an amount as to make the final writer's share risible. However, the side benefits of having Elvis recordings are incalculable."

Roger Greenaway

Roger Greenaway is one of the best known songwriting names of the 60's and 70's whose prolific career includes titles like I'd Like to Teach the World To Sing (New Seekers), Melting Pot (Blue Mink), Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart (Gene Pitney), You've Got Your Troubles (The Fortunes) and Home Lovin' Man (Andy Williams). He has since established a parallel career as senior VP in Europe of rights organisation ASCAP. Many of his successes were written with Roger Cook (his partner in the singing duo David and Jonathan) as was Love Me, Love The Life I Lead, with Tony Macaulay a third contributor to the song which attracted the attention of Elvis. Once again the results were not exactly earth shattering:

"Tony pitched the song via Freddie Bienstock," says Roger. "It was accepted immediately on condition we allowed Carlin Music to publish it. Since I refused to give up any publishing rights, I assumed it would not be recorded so I was quite surprised to hear that it had been recorded although it ended up as an album track. I quite liked the Elvis version although it didn't knock me out. I had also recorded it with The Drifters, and Tony had done likewise with The Fantastics. It was never a Presley single and his version has earned very little, at least for me!"

Les Reed

Les Reed has pursued a varied career involving composing, arranging, musical director, record label founder and songwriter. In his latter capacity he has proved one of Britain's best with hits such as It's Not Unusual, Delilah, Daughter Of Darkness (Tom Jones), The Last Waltz, Les Bicyclettes De Belsize, Winter World Of Love (Engelbert Humperdinck), Here It Comes Again (The Fortunes) and There's A Kind Of Hush (Herman's Hermits & The Carpenters). His Elvis experience came about through the Presley's admiration for Tom Jones and noticing Les's musical direction credits as well as his songwriting.

"All of Tom's early recordings were top favourites with Elvis and he contacted a local radio station in Memphis with the result they played Green Green Grass Of Home five times!" comments Les. "He asked Freddie Bienstock to see if I would arrange some material for him. I was incredibly flattered by his request but unfortunately had to decline through pressure of work at that time. Freddie didn't give up completely and asked if we had any songs for Elvis. Geoff Stephens and I wrote Sylvia and This Is Our Dance for him which were both recorded. A little later Barry Mason and I wrote (Oh) Girl Of Mine which I recorded with Engelbert and was subsequently done by Elvis. Other songs were in the pipeline but he became ill and didn't do them. Delilah was a top favourite with him and he always used it to warm up before a performance, but I don't believe he ever recorded it.

"The three songs I have mentioned have appeared on numerous albums. We have mixed feelings about his versions as they were recorded towards the end of his career and he wasn't at his best. However, it was Presley and that is reason to be very proud. I wish I had been able to do his arrangements of these songs as I had much incentive to provide something really special."

Bill Martin

Bill Martin has scored widespread songwriting success with collaborator Phil Coulter, not least with Eurovision forays such as Congratulations (Cliff Richard) and Puppet On A String (Sandie Shaw) plus a string of hits for the Bay City Rollers. Their song My Boy, a hugely popular Presley hit, started out as part of a project involving late actor Richard Harris.

"We wrote it in 1971 for Richard as we were producing an album with him all about a divorce," remembers Bill. "Phil told me later that Richard had told him that Elvis was using the song in his act because he was going through a divorce - but he hadn't recorded it. So I asked my then secretary Denise to take a letter and began 'Dear Elvis...' 'Elvis who?' she asked and when I said 'Presley' she threw down her pen and demanded, 'Have you been drinking again?' I suppose I must have sent Elvis a hundred letters or thereabouts. Eventually it worked and the RCA engineer who was always around Graceland said after Elvis had recorded it, he listened to the playback about 36 times on the trot. Finally, his father Vernon apparently said to him, "Hot dog, Elvis, I'm hungry. Let's go and eat!'

"I felt I had achieved my life's ambition when Elvis sang My Boy. It went to US country Number One, top 20 USA pop, top five in the UK and was also a hit in Canada and Australia. It was on that red-sleeved album of his Greatest Hits which sold something like five million. Strangely enough, I've just been notified about another cover by someone called Emin - but I don't think it's the rap guy! I was very happy with Elvis's performance, the arrangement and the income derived. I do believe I am the only Scotsman to put words in Elvis's mouth and get a major hit."

Tim Rice

Arguably the UK's best known songwriting team after Lennon & McCartney, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber (now Sir and Lord respectively) had a go at penning a couple of songs for Elvis the mid-70's, while taking a break from penning their future classic Evita. Tim's secretary happened to have a close connection with Carlin Music's Freddie Bienstock, who had introduced Tim to Elvis briefly at the Las Vegas Hilton a couple of years earlier. As Tim recalls in his autobiography, Oh, What A Circus:*

"We broke away from Evita and sundry other distractions for a couple of days and came up with two numbers we thought right up his boulevard. One was a country-ish ballad entitled It's Easy For You, which dealt with a marriage break up and the subsequent desertion of a mistress, and the other, a Chuck Berry pastiche entitled Please Don't Let Lorraine Come Down, about a lady of ill-repute living on the floor above. Freddie got our demos to Elvis, who finally got around to recording It's Easy For You in his studio at Graceland in October 1976, and although the arrangement and production sounded as if they had been phoned in, Elvis's vocal wasn't bad at all. The thought that Elvis must have spent at least fifteen minutes studying our words and music is a most humbling one.

"It's Easy For You was eventually issued as the final track on his last album, Moody Blue. Almost as soon as we were celebrating its release (in June 1977), we were mourning his death. His transfer to heavenly status did of course mean that the album sold in millions, rather than it deserved to artistically, although our royalties for the song have remained mysteriously modest over the years, indeed non-existent for over a decade. There was a rather gruesome coincidence for me in that a song I wrote with Marvin Hamlisch, entitled The Only Way To Go, turned out to be the last track on the the last album Bing Crosby issued before he died."

Dave Most, brother of the late Mickie, was renowned as an ace music promotion man with a pair of great ears for a hit. A far lesser known fact is that his first-ever effort at songwriting ended up, quite incredibly, as an Elvis B-side. "I went in to see Clive Westlake, who was an in-house Carlin songwriter at 17 Savile Row, with this idea for my first song called How The Web Was Woven," explains Dave. "I told him it was about a spider weaving a web around your heart. Clive just looked at me and in his wonderful Welsh accent enquired whether I'd been drinking or was on some kind of funny pills!

"Anyway, we wrote the song and had a deep voice in mind, someone like Percy Sledge. We got no response from Percy so I told Terry Doran, George Harrison's friend from their childhood days, about it. Terry was looking for songs for Apple signing Jackie Lomax to record, produced by George, who liked it. He cut it with Jackie and it was a minor UK hit, although I thought Jackie's voice was a bit lightweight.

"Next thing we know, Freddie Bienstock has played it to Elvis who said right away that he'd cut it. Then I got a call from Ken Glancy, head of RCA UK at the time, who told me How The Web Was Woven would be the B-side of I Just Can't Help Believin' and he was relying on me to promote the single for Europe. Of course the B-side of a big hit was just as profitable as the A-side in terms of mechanical income. Clive Westlake looked at me again and in his wonderful Welsh accent told me what a lucky bugger I was to have an Elvis Presley hit with my very first song!"

Don Reedman

To conclude this fascinating journey we turn to an ex-publisher who helped to find the hits for The King. Don Reedman, now MD of his own Focus Music operation, worked at Carlin Music Corporation in London as professional manager during the early Seventies, reporting to Freddie Bienstock and UK MD, the late Paul Rich. Among its subsidiaries were two companies jointly owned by Presley with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, and Carlin. They were Elvis Presley Music and Gladys Music (named after Presley's mother). Carlin's London office acted as a kind of clearing house for British songs in which Presley was interested or which Don and his colleagues thought were suitable for him.

"We would find songs and give them to Freddie to play to Elvis," Don (left) recalls. "I remember one song by Clive Westlake called It's A Matter Of Time which he wanted to keep to record himself. I thought that would be a waste of time and because it was a good song, I nicked it from his drawer when he was out of town and gave it to Freddie for Elvis. He loved it straight away and recorded it with his band at Graceland. It was released with Burning Love as a double A-side in the US and the King was back at Number One.

"Freddie always asked for and usually got the publishing on songs for Elvis. We always did demos to sound like Elvis, with singers like Peter Lee Stirling and P. J. Proby. Clive Westlake did his own demos, as did Guy Fletcher. We also found some songs for the album 'That's The Way It Is'. If Elvis decided he wanted to record something, Freddie always went to the sessions. Elvis would just hear a song and know instantly if he wanted to do it."

- Nigel Hunter

Copyright 2007 SongLink International. All rights reserved. No anauthorised duplication or reprinting allowed without permission from the publisher.

(*Excerpt from 'Oh, What A Circus' by Sir Tim Rice courtesy of Hodder & Stoughton).

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