For a couple of years there, Sam The Sham was the real deal. Almost in tribute to his name, Sam had the first record to be named Billboard’s number one song of the year which hadn’t actually held the number one position during the year. And it probably won’t come as a surprise that Sam wasn’t even really his name.
In May, 1963, Elvis Presley spent a couple of days in RCA’s Studio B in Nashville working on an album project. Fourteen songs were recorded, of which “Devil In Disguise” and “Please Don’t Drag That String Around” were immediately siphoned off as a single. The balance of the tunes never did coalesce as a unit, but were parceled off as single B-sides or album filler.
There’s an old adage that runs through the thread of rock-and-roll lore. Whatever feat of fame or infamy some latter day rock star performs, someone will trot out the maxim “Elvis did it first, did it best, and looked better doing it!” But for all the firsts and ‘greatests‘, it actually took Elvis a while to finally do something many artists who followed took for granted. It took Presley almost seven years to get around to recording a song he actually wrote. There were two of them.
From early on Memphis musicians have had no problem making a statement without the encumbrance of words. As a young man, W.C. Handy found music in the wordless sounds of the tapping of shovels, as his co-workers wove complicated rhythms to pass the time on the shovel brigade at a Florence, Alabama iron furnace. His musical genius allowed him to distil the sounds he discovered while touring the rural south. The essence he extracted enabled Handy to refine the music he described as “not really annoying or unpleasant…” but “perhaps haunting,” into a palatable form which found appeal to new audiences. If not the actual birth of the blues, it was at least the assignment of a birth certificate.
In the summer of 1993, the vocal group SWV was cruising along at number one with their song “Weak,” when a reggae band from England bumped them out of the top spot with a remake of a 60‘s classic. UB40 hit the top with a noted tune from a movie featuring a big name singer set in Hawaii from 31 years earlier. In turn, that movie drew its title and theme song from another movie featuring a big name singer which was also set in Hawaii, filmed 25 years before that.