Elvis Presley — “the King” — became a cult hero as well as a famed performer, yet despite his short, interesting life, neither Joanna nor I ever understood what turned so many people into Elvis fanatics. As we have with many performers, we appreciated the talent far more than everything else that came along with it.
Still, there’s no doubt that the talent was there; the man could sing, and turned out a multitude of hits. My favorite is probably “Love Me Tender,” boasting the same title as the first of 31 films in Elvis’ 14-year film career. The black-and-white 1956 Western was originally to be titled, “The Reno Brothers,” but sales of the song “Love Me Tender” had taken off — so despite the fact that Elvis didn’t receive top billing (Richard Egan and Debra Paget were credited ahead of him), his song did.
The song itself — written for the film — is a revision of an old Civil War tune, “Aura Lee” (cool video of that song, performed by Tom Roush, here). Each verse is simple and straightforward, lacking the kind of literary embellishment that we might normally think of as creative writing. Until the final parenthetical verse, each starts with the same three words and has an interesting five-line cadence. Most of the words have only one syllable. Until the final verse, no word has more than two syllables — but the simple sentences are nearly perfect expressions of what I feel.
From the first verse: “You have made my life complete, and I love you so.”
From the second: “For my darlin’ I love you, and I always will.”
From the third: “I’ll be yours through all the years, till the end of time.”
“Love Me Tender” has been recorded by dozens of artists from a variety of genres, including Julie Andrews & Johnny Cash, Tony Bennett, Pat Boone, James Brown, Connie Francis, Engelbert Humperdinck, Norah Jones, B.B. King, Barry Manilow, Johnny Mathis, Jim Morrison, Ricky Nelson, Willie Nelson, the Platters, Linda Ronstadt, and Katie Waissel.
Lyrics here, with video of what I think is the debut of the song below. (Elvis first sang it on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1956. Or you can find a version of the song with better audio here.)