When you think of cultural icons, Elvis Presley and The Beatles own John Lennon are two figures that immediately spring to mind. Not many artists in history have cultivated the sort of adulation or unleashed the level of impact that these two monoliths of pop culture have. All that being said, the King didn’t seem much of a kinship with his ‘loathsome’ contemporary when he first came into contact with the bespectacled Beatle.
As the story goes, John Lennon’s sharp tongue angered Elvis within a few minutes of their first meeting. According to the author Chris Hutchins, when the pair first met at Graceland in 1965 on a gigging detour, sparks didn’t fly so much as they fizzled out, leaving a sense of what could have been lingering in the air like the final farts of smoke from your Bonfire night sparkler.
In 2011, the author told the Daily Mail, “His dislike of the pacifist Beatle was born from the night I took the Fab Four to his house for their first — and last — meeting.” Lennon may have loved the music of the King once famously stating: “Before Elvis there was nothing,” but their one and only meeting is essentially the embodiment of the adage: never meet your heroes.
“John had annoyed Presley by making his anti-war feelings known the moment he stepped into the massive lounge and spotted the table lamps — model wagons engraved with the message: ‘All the way with LBJ,’” LBJ, of course, being a Lyndon B. Johnson who succeeded John F. Kennedy in the presidency and oversaw much of the Vietnam War.
LBJ was a political figure that Lennon was less than impressed to see immortalised in the form of a table lamp when he was greeted in Elvis’s Graceland home. Far from the type to hold his tongue, frictions preceded even a handshake. “Lennon hated President Lyndon B Johnson for raising the stakes in the Vietnam War,” Hutchins continued.
Elvis, on the other hand, was an ardent patriot, and in his later years, he even, somewhat inexplicably, apparently earned the honorary title of a secret agent after writing to Richard Nixon in a pleading letter, according to some biographers.
This disparate view on politics even led Presley to take a legislative stance against Lennon following their fateful assembly, as Hutchins explains: “Presley allied himself with the FBI director Edgar Hoover and encouraged him to have Lennon thrown out of the US.” The writer even recalled Elvis telling his friend Tom Jones that Lennon “should have been kicked out long ago”.
It is a fractious meeting that Tony Barrow, the former Beatles press officer, also shed some light on. Barrow recalled: “John asked what had happened to the old rock ’n’ roll Elvis, who at that point was mainly singing the soundtracks to his films. He was half-joking, but he meant it.” After all, there was perhaps no greater influence on the life and career of Lennon than Presley — he was, for better or worse, his idol. “Nothing affected me until I heard Elvis. Without Elvis, there would be no Beatles,” the singer once exclaimed.
Although a subliminal truce was agreed upon for the sake of formality, a row lingered in the air all the same, and the two cultural colossi avoided crossing each other ever again. The two musical forces were Promethean artistic beasts who rose to prominence within less than a ten-year span, but culturally, they were worlds apart. It illustrates perfectly just how quickly things changed in the sixties.
Just about the only thing that Lennon and the King had in common aside from rock ‘n’ roll was that they both claim to have seen a UFO.