#186 – Viva Las Vegas by Elvis Presley
– It’s almost impossible to think of one without the other. Las Vegas and Elvis – even though they weren’t quite so joined at the (swivel) hip when this title song for the movie was released in 1964. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was still five years away from his legendary July 31, 1969 debut at the International Hotel that caused an international ruckus announcing his return to live shows.
Okay, it wasn’t actually his debut in Vegas. That happened during his ground-breaking year of 1956. Teenagers were going completely bonkers over him, but when Elvis performed at the Frontier Hotel in front of a more mature audience that regularly haunted the casinos and bars and were more in-tune to the sounds of Frank Sinatra and future members of The Rat Pack, he bombed.
But thirteen years later his fans had outgrown the need for fake ID’s and were mature enough to sell out every performance.
A lot of the credit for his return to The Throne of Rock is given to his 1968 television special, Elvis (also known as The Comeback Special). It turned an entire segment of baby boomers that were swept into the music scene by The British Invasion in 1964 into Elvis fans. But the first generation from the 1950’s had never left him. Instead of competing directly with the younger long-haired fabs and flower children, he had spent eleven years churning out movies that may not have been mentioned in any Academy Award discussions, but were successful money-earners and kept him in the public eye.
Viva Las Vegas was one of those.
According to the entertainment trade magazine Variety, Viva Las Vegas was one of the top-grossing movies of 1964 coming in at number fourteen. And to just give boomers an idea of his popularity during this ground-breaking year of The British Invasion, The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night came in at number sixteen.
Yes, Elvis actually beat the Beatles.
Viva Las Vegas – the song – also beat all other artists the morning of July 27th when it joined this list of Dream Songs. But there was nothing subliminal about it since this classic Elvis movie title track resides on my digital playlist and I had just heard it the day before. Welcome to the recent memory jackpot winnings.
Cash in your chips and buy that pink Cadillac!
Las Vegas has been a long time favorite destination for The Classic Rocker. The lights, excitement, weather and no clocks are the main attractions for someone who does his best to never travel anywhere without sidewalks and taxi service. But there’s no need to worry about dialing 1-800-gambling problem, thanks to Mrs. Classic Rocker. Her only casino fun comes from penny slot machines and if we’re not on a trend to win or at least break even, we can be found avoiding a losing streak tanning next to a pool or in a showroom.
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And yeah, we’ve seen Elvis impersonators in Vegas. How can you go there and not? Since I talked in a past Classic Rocker about seeing the real deal not long after his second Vegas debut, you can bet it’s never as good. But it’s still a lot more fun than sitting at a penny slot machine if the trend is a losing one.
The first time I hit Vegas there were no Elvis impersonators since the original was still up and running. It was just after summer 1976 and my pal Gary and I were bored. We realized it was time to viva things up and we scored a package deal through a travel agency for a few nights at the once legendary and now (also) gone Dunes Hotel.
The Las Vegas Strip was glitz and glamor for the era, but nothing like it is today.
For a couple of college guys, we weren’t too smart. My first memory after landing at the Las Vegas airport has us both agreeing The Strip didn’t look that far away. So lugging suitcases in the days before some genius (and future millionaire inventor) added wheels to make lugging luggage obsolete, we decided to save money by walking to our hotel. That was the first time I truly understood the meaning of desert mirage. We probably walked about a mile in desert heat before realizing the hotels didn’t look any closer than they did when we started out.
A taxi – or a camel – would’ve been the smarter choice. We made a U-turn and lugged our luggage back to the airport for a ride.
Hitting the Dunes casino filled with one arm bandits, no clocks, and free drinks from cocktail waitresses in low-cut tops and short skirts meant boredom wouldn’t be in our immediate future. We walked around with big plastic cups filled with coins and played nickel slot machines until we noticed the sun was up. I don’t remember if we won or lost, but we had a blast.
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We also had filthy hands from scooping dirty coins out of the machines before shoving them into different ones. Today Vegas gives us a much healthier option thanks to paper vouchers the machines spit out when hitting the “cash out” button. Now if there was only a guaranteed option that could make us much richer…
As mentioned before, gambling was part of the experience, but never the focus. We were also tourists and wanted to check out the sights, other hotels and other casinos. But falling victims to the dreaded desert mirage syndrome that included stifling and airless desert heat, we decided once again to walk. Each hotel appeared closer than it actually was and immediately became an air-conditioned destination to cool down before trekking off to the next.
From memory I’ll say we hit The Frontier, The Sands, The Riviera, The Sahara and at the time, the brand new and entertaining Circus Circus. We were amazed at the live trapeze artists flying above us in the casino.
We also made a direct connection with Viva Las Vegas. While the real Elvis was filling jumpsuits and live performance venues outside of Vegas during our brief visit, his movie costar (and rumored off-screen love interest) Ann-Margret was headlining The Hilton Hotel showroom. For her show we took the money we’d saved from free drinks, cashed in a few buckets of nickels, bought advance tickets and traveled in the back of an air conditioned taxi.
Viva Las Vegas AND Ann-Margret!!
Again, for a couple college guys we weren’t too smart. Her performance was a lot more than what we had expected. Ann-Margret had played the Conrad Birdie obsessed teenager Kim McAfee in the hit movie musical Bye Bye Birdie. But since that flick was even older (by one year) than Viva Las Vegas and predated The British Invasion (also by one year), we somehow thought she was a holdover from the older generation. After all, she had played Roger Daltry’s mother in the boomer obsessive movie musical Tommy in 1975, which also happened to be one year before our Vegas excursion.
So we thought she was old enough to be Roger Daltry’s mother – right?
Wrong! That only happened thanks to movie magic.
This was my first Las Vegas show and the one I can still measure all others against. It was an evening of high energy singing, dancing and Vegas glitz from a knockout performer who reinforced my idea that showbiz could be a career. Less than a year later I was living in New York City and building one.
And I’ve been an Ann-Margret fan ever since.
As for Elvis, he was gone in (also) less than a year. It was quite a shock and no matter how hard the impersonators and computer-imaged simulators have tried to replace him, there was and will only ever be one. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and the city of Las Vegas may seem now like they’re one and joined at the (swivel) hip, but in 1964 when much of the boomer generation was looking toward Britain for a jolt of entertainment, Elvis and Ann-Margret were rockin’ it up Viva Las Vegas style.
For an original entertainment jolt, here’s The King performing the title song from Viva Las Vegas.
To purchase the deluxe edition of Viva Las Vegas starring Elvis and Ann-Margret visit Amazon.com
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