Tag Archives: 1964

#186 – Viva Las Vegas

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#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.

Review?

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.

Tommy can you hear me?

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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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

 

 

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February 9, 1964

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I was taken by complete surprise. Well, almost.

Jack Parr

Jack Parr

I had heard of The Beatles before February 9th only because my mom let me stay up late the night Jack Parr aired a brief clip during The Tonight Show on January 3, 1964. It had to be a Friday night and not a school night, but I’m not sure. And it wasn’t because we knew The Beatles were going to be on. Again, I had never even heard of them. We just enjoyed watching Jack Parr. For me it was his sense of smug humor (for lack of a better term). I always thought it was a bit risqué to watch his show because I was still a preteen and he was for adults. It reinforces my opinion that my mom was a little more with it than other parents who wouldn’t let their children stay up late to watch when Parr was host of The Tonight Show.

I also thank her and my dad for taking me to a Beatles concert. Again, I’ve heard too many stories from other young fans “under parental control” who were not allowed.

Other than Parr’s brief clip I have no memory of hearing anything else about The Beatles until February 9th. There was too much other “stuff” going on. I’ve been very clear about my recollections of this time in past Classic Rocker columns and my books The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. We were still dealing with a very bleak time in our country’s history following JFK’s assassination in Dallas on November 22nd. We watched the funeral and news updates on television and heard discussions at home and in school about The Cold War and The A-Bomb. Even my neighbor had a bomb shelter and as a preteen baby boomer it was obvious things had changed very quickly.

I often describe my memories during these days as being in black and white. That probably comes from remembering and still seeing reruns of newsreels and television shows from that era being broadcast in black and white. The Beverly Hillbillies, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Patty Duke Show. You know the ones I’m talking about, so no need to mention them all. All the shows were in black and white which undoubtedly affects my memories.

I didn’t even know anyone who owned a color television in February 1964 – not even my neighbor with the bomb shelter. But having a color television wouldn’t have made a difference. The Ed Sullivan Show was broadcast in black and white.

Ed Beatles 2

Rehearsal pre-fab

My dad, mom, little sister and I had been on a four day family vacation that started on Wednesday, February 5th. It was a driving trip to Washington, DC and we arrived home in the early evening of Sunday February 9th.  I had no plans to do anything except eat dinner and avoid doing any homework until the last minute. As we did just about every Sunday at 8 pm we all sat down in front of our only television (“The black and white one,” as John Lennon described A Hard Day’s Night at their legendary Shea Stadium concert about a year and a half later) to watch The Ed Sullivan Show.

Dad, mom and sis were on the couch. I sat on the floor with my back against the couch. I remember it as vividly as where I was when my fifth grade teacher announced to the class President Kennedy had been shot. There are a few dates you’ll always remember if you were alive at that time. These are two of the earliest for me.

It would be cool to say we watched because of The Beatles, but don’t remember it that way. We always watched Ed Sullivan. Like for many of us in the U.S. he was part of our television family on Sunday nights.

As the first performers, he announced The Beatles.

Beatles Ed Sullivan

A moment in time

For myself at that moment and for millions of others watching, our world immediately went from black and white to color. It was that dramatic. To use a comparison from my book The Beatles In Cleveland it was like the film The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy was swept away from a black and white Kansas and unexpectedly dropped in colorful Oz.

And The Ed Sullivan Show was broadcast in black and white!!

Beatles music has been listened to, analyzed, discussed, broken down, recreated, and even taught and studied in universities since. There’s no need for me to do that now. The influence is still felt over half a century later.

But it wasn’t just the music. They had an image unlike anyone else before them. You can talk about how shocking Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince appeared twenty years later, or even more recently with Lady Gaga, Lil’ Wayne and Miley Cyrus. In February 1964 the Beatles’ “look” was shocking compared to what was considered “normal” at the time.

To put it into a baby boomer context based on our television viewing habits. No man in 1964 had hair like that except for Moe from The Three Stooges.

John Lennon MarriedInstead of letter sweaters and slacks, the Beatles wore business suits with tight pants, skinny ties and boots with pointy toes and high heels (Cuban heeled Beatle Boots). It was shocking! And I only learned their first names because they were flashed under their individual shots on the television screen. The music was lively and happy, the Beatles bounced in time and the girls screamed. Then it was over.

Well, not quite for me. Where we lived in northern Ohio, the dividing line between Eastern Standard Time and Central Standard Time in 1964 was drawn between Cleveland and Toledo. That meant we had two separate television markets airing shows an hour apart. At 8 pm EST I watched the Beatles live on The Ed Sullivan Show. An hour later at 8 pm CST I tuned into the Toledo CBS affiliate and watched it again. I did that for each of their three appearances that month.

Beatles Ed 2

Long haired rock’n roll

I was able to watch their U.S. debut on The Ed Sullivan Show twice that same night. It was also rerun later that year, but then I never saw it again until buying a bootleg videotape on 8th Street in Manhattan more than twenty years later. Now like many other fans, I own a legit DVD copy of The Ed Sullivan Show appearances and pretty much have every moment memorized.

The very next day it was also obvious things had changed.

On the Wednesday before, I had left school early for our drive to Washington, DC. There had been no mention of The Beatles in my classroom or anywhere that I can recall.

On Monday morning following The Ed Sullivan Show most of the girls in my fifth grade class had Beatles fan magazines hidden in their desks and their television debut was the main topic of conversation. The guys tried to act cool about it – or at least that’s my perception because we weren’t supposed to be attracted to them like the girls were. They were in love and lust. But I remember listening to their conversations and know some of the guys, me included, wanted to be like The Beatles. It seemed a lot more fun than kicking a ball around the playground.

I’m sure it was also within that first week one of the guys in my class came to school with a Beatles wig. I bought one myself and still have it. There were also a lot of Beatles trading cards, photos, magazines and other merchandize brought to school that would be considered valued collectors items today.

Beatles Bowing

From black & white to color

Of course, there was the music. By the Saturday following their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show I owned the LP Introducing The Beatles as a gift from my parents after listening to me beg for a week. The next Saturday (after more pleading) I had a copy of Meet The Beatles. Somewhere within that time frame I came up with the sixty cents (somewhere in that $$ neighborhood at that time) for the 45 rpm record I Want To Hold Your Hand b/w I Saw Her Standing There.

The floodgates were open and haven’t been closed since. It was February 9, 1964. It all changed that evening and nothing was ever the same again. Thank you to John, Paul, George and Ringo. It’s been a memorable journey to say the least.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and the author of The Beatles In Cleveland and The Beatles At Shea Stadium

Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com at THIS LINK.