The Memphis Sound
6:42 am
Tue January 3, 2012

Winning By Surrender

As 1961 dawned, It was back to the ballads for Elvis Presley. Since his return from the Army, Elvis had topped the charts with a song based on the late 19th century melody “O Sole Mio,” transliterated into “It’s Now Or Never.” The same session revived a 1920’s love song, “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” So when Presley went to RCA’s Nashville studio in late October, 1960, along with the gospel tunes lined up for his first religious-themed album, His Hand In Mine, he brought a new treatment of another Italian classic.

Jerome Felder was born in Brooklyn in 1925. Overcoming challenges presented by polio, Felder developed a love for blues music, and performed in clubs in the Big Apple under his stage name, Doc Pomus. His first big check as a songwriter was the $1,500 royalty payment he received for giving Leiber and Stoller the basic version of “Young Blood,” which they retooled into the Coaster’s hit. Doc formed a writing partnership with fellow Brooklynite Mort Shuman, and they took an office alongside other soon-to-be-famous song crafters in the Brill Building. A medley of their greatest hits would include “A Teenager In Love,” “Save The Last Dance For Me,” and “This Magic Moment.”

The duo’s composition “A Mess Of Blues” was the B-side of “It’s Now Or Never,” so they had an “in” with the Presley bunch. Picking up on the trend of repurposing old tunes into new Elvis material, Pomus and Shuman decided to mine some classic gold of their own. Giambattista and Ernesto De Curtis composed a Neopolitan song in the late 1800’s, which would be translated into English as “Come Back To Sorrento.” The Pomus/Shuman team refitted that tune with a new set of lyrics as “Surrender.” The song in Presley’s back pocket that he shoehorned into the gospel sessions would resurrect this turn-of-the-century melody into a 1961 number one.

Oddly enough, the song which replaced “Surrender” at number one was a new take on an old song Elvis recorded back in his Sun Records days; a 1930 Rodgers and Hart composition which went through three lyric changes before it emerged as “Blue Moon.” In this case, it was a Pittsburgh vocal quintet known as the Marcels taking a doo-wop slant on the romantic movie musical number. The song was cut as a throw-away b-side in the final eight minutes of a session. It caught the ear of a record promoter, who siphoned a dub off to WINS DJ Murray the K. Murray gave the song 26 plays in one show, and soon the other three songs recorded in that session became a footnote to history.

Colonel Tom Parker hadn’t forgotten his plan to make Elvis less available in less-than-larger-than-life-size form. Presley’s two 1961 benefit concerts, first for Memphis charities and then for the USS Arizona memorial marked the end of his live concert appearances for another seven years. Although Elvis wouldn’t be on stage at your local auditorium, you could still find him packing them in at the theater.

Wild In The Country put Elvis back on the big screen in the summer of ‘61.

It was another fairly serious role, but it had more singing than the previous film, which was a step in the right direction as far as the Colonel was concerned. While in Hawaii for the USS Arizona benefit, Elvis filmed some scenes for his next movie project. It was this next Elvis movie that provided the blueprint for the films to follow.