When The Beatles met Elvis Presley, it was a gathering of cultural giants on a scale unlike anything before. For George Harrison, Elvis helped kickstart his love affair with music, and the encounter was even more fulfilling than he expected.
Harrison didn’t know what version of Presley he would come across, and he was nervous about how the evening would go down. Elvis was his childhood hero, and part of him was worried that his respect for ‘The King’ would evaporate if he saw him in a different light. While John Lennon was left hugely disappointed by the evening, Harrison, surprisingly, had a completely different experience.
Presley’s confidante, Colonel Tom Parker, brokered the meeting during their tour of the US in 1965. The Beatles’ dreams finally came true, they got to meet their idol. Harrison went into the meeting with low expectations, and even though he grew up adoring ‘The King’, the sceptic in him anticipated the worse.
His earliest musical awakening came at the hands of Elvis, and the feeling that ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ gave him would stick with Harrison throughout his life. “When I heard Elvis’ ‘Heartbreak Hotel,’ I was on my bike passing somebody’s house, and they must have had a gramophone playing,” he recalled.
“I couldn’t believe the sound of that record, and it’s the same, I suspect, for everybody! But you’ve got to remember that in the 1950s, America was more cool than Britain, with everybody having their little Chevys or Cadillacs. We were coming out of a world war, and it was depression. So for us, that was like the sound of hope.”
Elvis’ music helped illuminate an otherwise grey childhood for Harrison and distilled a sense of optimism into his life. However, he was wary that Presley was notoriously a difficult person, marred with personal problems, but he was pleasantly surprised by the singer’s kindness.
“I liked it a lot because I didn’t expect him to be half as nice as he was,” he said in the book, George Harrison on George Harrison. “He was more… he was a bit more than I anticipated. I expected him to be quieter and for him to not have such an amount of noise in his house.
“In fact when we walked into his house it was exactly like going into ours. It was great — it was the record player, TV, and electric guitar, all playing all at once, you know.”
Elvis and Harrison never became close friends off the back of the evening they shared, but it was still a night that the Beatle held onto dearly. Despite the guitarist’s positive memories from his time with ‘The King’, Presley had hostility towards The Beatles. Their success was a source of intense jealousy for the singer, but thankfully, his animosity didn’t take anything away from the manifestation of Harrison’s childhood fantasy.