“Without Elvis, there would be no Beatles.” – John Lennon
If it weren’t for Elvis Presley, rock ‘n’ roll would not be what it is today. One thing is for sure, The Beatles would never have existed, and without the Fab Four, many more bands would never have formed. “Without Elvis, there would be no Beatles,” Lennon famously said.
This meeting of the two greatest rock acts in history was highly anticipated. Colonel Tom Parker and Presley had a major condition attached to it, however. There was no press allowed, and it could not be publicised. Having said that, it was near impossible to allow this piece of history to go down unnoticed.
“The first fundamental ground rules to be set were: no press to be invited, no pictures to be taken, no recordings to be made and no leaking of our plans in advance,” Beatles PR man, Tony Barrow said. “It was shortly before 10pm when we drove over. We were in a convoy of three big black limousines, led by Colonel Parker and his people,” he added.
Since the meeting, the Fab Four were asked on a number of different occasions about it. Despite this, a reporter from the NME was somehow able to attend – allegedly, he had been in contact with the Colonel and the king a year prior.
Before this historical moment, the Liverpool lads came close a year before in 1964, but their schedules did not coincide in a timely fashion. Instead, Presley’s manager, the Colonel, visited the band and gifted them a bunch of souvenirs.
“We met Elvis Presley at the end of our stay in LA,” Paul McCartney remembered. “We’d tried for years to, but we could never get to him. We used to think we were a bit of a threat to him and Colonel Tom Parker, which ultimately we were. So although we tried many times, Colonel Tom would just show up with a few souvenirs and that would have to do us for a while. We didn’t feel brushed off; we felt we deserved to be brushed off. After all, he was Elvis, and who were we to dare to want to meet him? But we finally received an invitation to go round and see him when he was making a film in Hollywood.”
So when did the Beatles finally meet The King, and what exactly happened? One might imagine that a great orgy ensued and willing virgin sacrifices were brought in who would offer their blood as a sacrament to a once in a lifetime occurrence. The planets would then proceed to come into perfect alignment, ecstatic music would be played, and all of time would henceforth come to a sudden stop. Then, after tears of joy were cried, the King himself would look upon his audience and utter the words: “If you damn guys are gonna sit here and stare at me all night I’m gonna go to bed.”
In reality, the event was so anti-climactic, that the tension in the room was palpable. So what happened exactly?
When did The Beatles meet Elvis Presley?
While it wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be, the meeting between The Beatles and Elvis Presley was still highly anticipated.
The Beatles had a few days off during their North American tour in 1965, and on August 27th, towards the end of their stay in LA, the Beatles finally got their meeting with The King. It took place at Presley’s mansion on 565 Perugia Way, Bel Air, LA. The Fab Four arrived at 11pm.
“Meeting Elvis was one of the highlights of the tour. It was funny, because by the time we got near his house we’d forgotten where we were going. We were in a Cadillac limousine, going round and round along Mulholland, and we’d had a couple of ‘cups of tea’ in the back of the car,” George Harrison recalled and, judging by the states of the lads, one might imagine that cannabis was involved. Considering the timeframe, their use of the drug was likely.
Harrison added: “It didn’t really matter where we were going: it’s like the comedian Lord Buckley says, ‘We go into a native village and take a couple of peyote buds; we might not find out where we is, but we’ll sure find out who we is. ‘Anyway, we were just having fun, we were all in hysterics. (We laughed a lot. That’s one thing we forgot about for a few years – laughing. When we went through all the lawsuits, it looked as if everything was bleak; but when I think back to before that, I remember we used to laugh all the time.) We pulled up at some big gates and someone said, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to see Elvis,’ and we all fell out of the car laughing, trying to pretend we weren’t silly: just like a Beatles cartoon.”
Tony Barrow, who was among the Fab Four’s entourage, recalled: “The property consisted of two storeys nestled into a hillside. It was a vast, round building with a lot of windows and a spacious front garden. There was a Rolls Royce and a couple of Cadillacs lining the drive. Members of the famous ‘Memphis Mafia’ guarded the tall gates but they waved our line of limousines straight through.”
When the band were led into Presley’s circular living room, The King was watching a colour television without the sound on while playing a bass guitar. It was underwhelming, to say the least.
Out of all the members of the group, Lennon was the most enamoured as he was the biggest fan. “It was very exciting, we were all nervous as hell, and we met him in his big house in LA – probably as big as the one we were staying in, but it still felt like, ‘Big house, big Elvis.’ He had lots of guys around him, all these guys that used to live near him (like we did from Liverpool; we always had thousands of Liverpool people around us, so I guess he was the same),” Lennon recalled. “And he had pool tables! Maybe a lot of American houses are like that, but it seemed amazing to us; it was like a nightclub.”
The meeting was not exactly electrifying; the silence became somewhat awkward. Barrow recalled according to the Beatles Bible: “As the two teams faced one another, there was a weird silence and it was John who spoke first, rather awkwardly blurting out a stream of questions at Elvis, saying: ‘Why do you do all these soft-centred ballads for the cinema these days? What happened to good old rock ‘n’ roll?’”
The King remained silent for the most part, as the Fab Four camp attempted to a degree of futility to break the ice.
Did Elvis Presley and The Beatles play together?
As time passed, the two sides started swapping stories of being on the road. Eventually, with the ice somewhat broken, Presley called for some guitars and a brief jam session took place.
“I can’t remember all the things that they played but I do remember one of the songs was ‘I Feel Fine’. And I remember Ringo, who of course didn’t have an instrument, tapping out the backbeat with his fingers on the nearest bits of wooden furniture,” Barrow said.
Presley, who still had the bass guitar in his hand, said to Macca, “See, I’m practising.” To which McCartney jokingly replied, “Don’t worry, between us, me and Brian Epstein will make a star of you soon.’”
The bass guitar became an effective talking point between Macca and The King, and the two proceeded to hit it off. “Well, let me show you a thing or two,” he recalled. Also adding: “Suddenly he was a mate. It was a great conversation piece for me: I could actually talk about the bass, and we sat around and just enjoyed ourselves. He was great – talkative and friendly, and a little bit shy. But that was his image: we expected that; we hoped for that.”
In many ways, the meeting had turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment. When the Fab Four left, Lennon quipped, “Where’s Elvis?” He implied that The King had been under some strange spell and wasn’t quite himself.
McCartney concluded: “I only met him that once, and then I think the success of our career started to push him out a little; which we were very sad about because we wanted to co-exist with him. He was our greatest idol, but the styles were changing in favour of us. He was a pretty powerful image to British people.”