APRIL 1, 2023. One of the few remaining mysteries in Beatles history surrounds, The Beatles Sing Elvis!, the album that the Beatles intended to release in late 1965. The story of this album remained buried for years until it was uncovered during Dave Hunter’s research for his 1991 book, Seven Levels: The Beatles in 65. While reviewing the diaries of Beatles assistant Neil Aspinall, Hunter came across an entry for September 4, 1965, that read: “Gave lyrics to “Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry Over You” to Lennon for next Beatles record. Lennon immediately started singing “Gonna Sit Right Down and Cry on the Loo.”
Hunter knew that this was one of the songs that Elvis Presley had recorded on his RCA debut (the actual title is “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry (Over You),” and that the Beatles had performed it on the BBC in 1963. But why was Lennon requesting lyrics in September of 1965? There was no record that Lennon or the Beatles rehearsed, recorded, or performed the song that year. Hunter reached out to Aspinall to find out. As Hunter recalled: “At first, Aspinall had no recollection of the event. But after a few moments, I could see his eyes light up. ‘Ah,’ he exclaimed, ‘That was for the Elvis tribute album.’ I was stunned. All I could say was, “WHAT Elvis tribute album?!?”
Beginning with that interview, Hunter was able to piece together the story that has since been verified by several other Beatles historians. The genesis of ‘the Elvis album’ dates back to August 27, 1965, when the Beatles met Elvis for the first and only time. The Beatles enjoyed meeting their hero, but their roadie Mal Evans was on Cloud Nine long after the visit had ended. Well before he entered the Beatles circle, Mal had been an avid Elvis fan and even a member of the Elvis fan club. As the Beatles limo pulled away from Elvis’ Beverly Hills mansion, Mal threw out a crazy idea – the Beatles should record an album of Elvis songs performed in the ‘Beatles style’ (as Mal put it).
The Beatles had released cover songs of many of their favorite rock and roll acts, including Buddy Holly, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry. Yet they had never recorded an Elvis song despite performing some of his songs during their early days. Still, all four Beatles initially dismissed Mal’s idea.
The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein had a plan for the Beatles to release at least two albums and two singles each year. In the first half of 1965, the Beatles had released the singles ‘Ticket to Ride” and “Help!”, the album Help!, and the film Help! All that in addition to their constant radio and TV performances and world tours. By September, they were completely exhausted. Epstein had been pestering the group about their second album for 1965. With no new material and limited time, Mal’s idea no longer seemed so farfetched.
The Beatles met with George Martin on September 3 to discuss the idea. Martin suggested they try and replicate the sound of Elvis’ early Sun recordings by recording them at nearby Quadrant Studios rather than at EMI. With everyone in agreement, the studio was booked for the week of September 6.
The list of songs the Beatles considered for the Elvis album included his hits “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” and “Love Me Tender,” along with several of the tracks from his first album (“Blue Suede Shoes,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry (Over You),” and “Money Honey”) and the B-side “Got Ants In My Pants (and I Gotta Dance).” It is unclear how many of these songs were actually recorded since Quadrant didn’t keep the meticulous notes that EMI kept for their Beatles sessions.
There are conflicting reports on why the Beatles interrupted their recording sessions only two days later on September 8. There are reports that Martin was dissatisfied with the quality of the Quadrant staff after one of the tape operators stamped out his cigarette on Martin’s newspaper. Others claim that Lennon walked out of the sessions because he felt the Beatles should be recording their own material. Still, others point to McCartney’s tantrum when the other three Beatles wouldn’t let him add a string quartet to “Hound Dog.” In any case, the sessions were put on hold until early October.
Whatever the reason for the breakdown in recordings, there was another event that put the final nail in the coffin for the project. By now, word of the Beatles’ sessions had reached Elvis and his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Fearing that the Beatles’ versions would eclipse Elvis’, Parker called Epstein and threatened to tell ‘nasty secrets’ about him to the press if the Beatles went ahead with their Elvis album. It turns out that Brian, like The Colonel, was once a carnival barker, and worried such a revelation would harm “his boys.” He convinced the Beatles to halt the recording sessions, and he had George Martin destroy all the tapes.
With the album canceled, the Beatles were back to square one – no new material and, at this point, only a month to record an album in time for a November release. Any other band might have thrown in the towel. But not the Beatles. They entered EMI Studio on October 10, 1965, and they came out one month later with one of the greatest albums ever recorded, Rubber Soul.
(Please note the date this post was published.)
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