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The 1956 song "Love Me Tender" puts new words to a new musical adaptation of the Civil War song "Aura Lee," published in 1861. "Aura Lee" had music by George R. Poulton and words by W. W. Fosdick. It later became popular with college glee clubs and barbershop quartets. It was also sung at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
The principal writer of the lyrics was Ken Darby, who also adapted Poulton's Civil War tune, which was in the public domain. The song was published by Elvis Presley Music. and credited to Presley and Darby's wife Vera Matson. Presley received co-songwriting credit due to his Hill & Range publishing deal which demanded songwriters concede 50 percent of the credit of their song if they wanted Presley to record it; Presley had songwriting input on only a very small number of the many songs he recorded
As with nearly all his early RCA recordings, Presley took control in the studio despite not being credited as producer. He would regularly change arrangements and lyrics to the point that the original song was barely recognizable. Ken Darby described Elvis Presley's role in the creation of the song:
He adjusted the music and the lyrics to his own particular presentation. Elvis has the most terrific ear of anyone I have ever met. He does not read music, but he does not need to. All I had to do was play the song for him once, and he made it his own! He has perfect judgment of what is right for him. He exercised that judgment when he chose 'Love Me Tender' as his theme song.
Elvis Presley performed "Love Me Tender" on The Ed Sullivan Show on September 9, 1956, shortly before the single's release and about a month before the movie, Love Me Tender, was released (for which the reworded song had been written). After that, RCA received more than a million advance orders, making it a gold record before it was even released. The studio, 20th Century Fox, originally wanted to call the movie The Reno Brothers, but instead re-titled it Love Me Tender to capitalize on the song's popularity.
Movie producer David Weisbart would not allow Presley's regular band (Scotty Moore, Bill Black, and D.J. Fontana) to play on the soundtrack. Instead, The Ken Darby Trio provided the musical backing with Red Robinson on drums, Charles Prescott on bass, Vita Mumolo on guitar, and Jon Dodson on background vocals, with Presley providing only lead vocals.
Elvis Presley recording
Ken Darby and Elvis Presley in the studio.
The single debuted at #2 on the "Best Sellers in Stores" pop singles chart, the first time a single made its first appearance at the #2 position.
The song hit #1 on the Billboard charts the week ending November 3, 1956, remaining in the position for 5 weeks and reached no. 11 on the charts in the UK. "Love Me Tender" also reached number three for three weeks on the R&B chart.
In 1968, Presley recorded a 52-second track entitled "Violet (Flower of N.Y.U.)" for the soundtrack of the film The Trouble with Girls. Unreleased until after Presley's death, the song was Presley's second adaptation of "Aura Lee".
Although Presley never re-recorded "Love Me Tender" in a studio setting, two live recordings of the song were released on the albums: NBC-TV Special and Elvis: As Recorded at Madison Square Garden, with additional performances from concert and television appearances being released after Presley's death. The song was also performed in the Golden Globe-winning concert film Elvis on Tour (1972). As seen in that film, and in other filmed and recorded accounts, Presley generally performed only a portion of the song's lyrics live, instead usually using the song as a device to interact with (usually) female members of the audience.
"Love Me Tender" was also included in the four song extended play (EP) album Love Me Tender of the songs from the film. The reprise of the song was not included on the EP.
Love Me Tender - 2:41 - Recorded Aug 24, 1956
Love Me Tender (End title version) - 1:08 - Recorded Oct 01, 1956
Love Me Tender (Unreleased stereo version) - 2:42 - Recorded Aug 24, 1956
Petula Clark recorded the song on her 2013 album Lost In You.
Barbra Streisand recorded the song as a duet with Presley, for her 2014 album Partners. Due to Presley's death in 1977, Streisand had to sample the original 1956 Presley recording for the album. Coincidentally, Presley's label RCA Records became a sister label to Streisand's Columbia Records, first in 2004 when BMG merged with Sony Music, and again in 2008 when Sony officially absorbed BMG. Both recordings are now in the Sony Archives.
Jessica Simpson's version appeared in the Lilo & Stitch: Island Favorites compilation album.
^Roger Lee Hall, Free As The Breeze: Confestions of a Struggling Songwriter, PineTree Press, 2007, p.98.
^According to Peter Guralnick, Presley never wrote any of his own songs (Peter Guralnick, Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, Little, Brown & Company, 1995), though he did co-write "You'll Be Gone" and "That's Someone You Never Forget".