The Memphis Sound
Tue October 11, 2011
Hard Headed Woman Rings Up Number One
In early 1958, the introduction of army induction suddenly threw everything into fast forward for Elvis Presley and those in his immediate circle. During his time in the service, there would be a two-year hiatus in Presley‘s ability to create new product, but contracts still committed Elvis to four singles and an album per year owed to RCA. The clock was ticking on his 90-day deferment, and much of the calendar was already tied up with the filming of King Creole. So every moment in the recording studio was precious, as the completed tracks would be banked to mete out slowly in order to keep the brand alive while the man himself served his country.
There was pressure from both sides on this issue. There existed a handful of unreleased songs, some going all the way back to the Sun Records catalog, but RCA didn’t feel they had enough strong material to fill the open slots. On the other hand, always angling to avoid overexposure, Col. Tom Parker wanted the fans practically starved for new Elvis songs by the time he came back home.
Presley’s last civilian recording session was February 1, 1958, at Radio Recorders in Hollywood. One of those tunes would hit the charts a month after his induction March 24. “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck” hit number two April 28, 1958. It stalled there, denied the number one spot by the novelty song “Witch Doctor,” by David Seville. Not technically a Chipmunk song, “Witch Doctor” did feature the chipmunk technique of slowing the master tape down to half speed, recording the vocal, then speeding it back up to normal for playback. Alvin, Theodore and Simon wouldn’t make their debut until that Christmas on “The Chipmunk Song”.
Elvis became an army private quite publicly, with newsreel cameras following every phase of his processing. From Kennedy Veterans Hospital, via bus to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, film captured everything, including the most famous haircut since Samson and Delilah.
Following completion of his basic training at Fort Hood, Texas, Elvis came home on furlough. This break afforded one last opportunity to salt some songs away, at a June 10 session at RCA’s Studio B in Nashville. In the ensuing days, Elvis would weather the loss of his mother, do an Army tour in Germany, and meet the love of his life before he again stood in front of this RCA microphone nearly two years later.
While Elvis was otherwise occupied, the King Creole movie premiered July 2, 1958. Later that month, another song from the movie’s soundtrack made the break for the number one spot, with the Claude Demetrius composition “Hard Headed Woman” on top for two weeks. Claude had previously written “I Was The One,” which was the B-side of Presley’s first number one single, “Heartbreak Hotel”. Claude’s tales of bad luck with females fueled a string of good luck for his songwriting career. Besides “Hard Headed Woman,” Demetrius penned a previous Elvis recording, “Mean Woman Blues” from the movie Loving You. It was revisited by Roy Orbison and hit the top five in 1963.
Hearing “Mean Woman Blues” again reminds me of something. Having once-upon-a-time worked at an all-Elvis radio station, I learned that if someone called and requested “I Got A Woman”, be sure and ask if the woman was “mean as she can be“ or “way cross town and good to me”. Those songs had similar beginnings, but were two different songs about, presumably, two different women.