Elvis Presley fans tend to take a moment to remember him on January 8, for today would have been his 82nd birthday.
I was 9 years old when I first became aware of Elvis’ birthday. Either the weekend before or after January 8, 1985, local radio station AM 1140 WRVA hosted guest DJ Steve Christopher to play an entire show of Elvis songs, in celebration of what would have been the singer’s 50th birthday.
I recorded about 60 minutes of the show on cassette tape, diligently pausing it between songs to get rid of the annoying talking and commercials. I still have it around here somewhere. In retrospect I wish I had recorded the commercials and talking, too, because that would be a lot of fun to hear 32 years later.
The big set-up of Christopher’s Elvis show was that at various intervals, a designated caller could request an Elvis song live on the air in the hopes that Christopher did not have it. If he failed to play the song, then the caller would win a new car.
At the time, I could not conceive of someone having every Elvis song. Christopher probably had every song officially released to that point, though, so there was little to no chance of someone actually winning.
Essentially, the only chance of winning, probably, was if Christopher forgot to bring one of his records along to the studio and you happened to ask for a song from that exact record which was not present on any other record Christopher had brought with him.
Not to mention that the people who managed to participate in the contest always asked for famous songs, rather than obscure ones. The final contest caller, for instance, was convinced Christopher did not have “My Way” because he had never honored the request during the non-contest portions of the show.
WRVA itself probably had “My Way” in its own archives at that time, without even having to resort to Christopher’s collection even if the DJ had somehow forgotten to bring any copies of the tune along to the station that day.
It was definitely a neat idea for a contest. The only trouble I could see would be if a caller asked for a song that had, in fact, never been released by Elvis, such as “Not Fade Away.” An advantage we have in 2017 over 1985 is that it would be fairly easy to fact check something like that, though.
Like most AM stations, 1140 WRVA unfortunately no longer plays music. Instead, it long ago converted to the “talk radio” format, which I can no longer stomach to hear.
Though his website appears not to have been updated in 17 years, Steve Christopher might still be around. I tried emailing him a few years ago for a story on The Mystery Train Blog, but never heard back. If you ever get the chance to stump him, though, please don’t request “My Way.”
In any event, the reason Christopher’s Elvis show is so memorable to me is not the car contest. Instead, it marked the first time I heard the “laughing” version of “Are You Lonesome Tonight.”
I have to say, my life was just a little bit better after that. Anytime I have needed a lift since then, that song is there.
After nearly wearing the cassette tape out, it took me years to find a legitimate copy of the performance – which I finally achieved when I bought Collectors Gold in 1991 – my first of (too) many Elvis boxed sets.
My family was actually visiting friends in Pittsburgh when I found the CD set at a shopping mall there that summer. The only CD player I had was at home, 350 miles away. Though I had my Walkman with me, it only played cassettes. Needless to say, I was ready for the trip to be over at that point.
Fortunately, the family friend had a CD player and recorded parts of the set for me on cassette to tide me over. I can remember playing the song over and over that night, listening on headphones.
The song is a live version, recorded at a 1969 Midnight Show in Las Vegas. It can also be found on the Elvis Aron Presley boxed set, A Legendary Performer: Volume 4, and the All Shook Up: Recorded Live In Las Vegas, August 26, 1969 FTD CD. All four releases are unfortunately out of print, though.
I hope the laughing version of “Are You Lonesome Tonight” shows up again in some future Legacy release, because these days, we all could use the laugh.
Before I sign off and get back to the winter wonderland that arrived here in RVA this weekend, I first want to direct you to a few other blogs with Elvis posts.
Up first is The Sheila Variations, a site that covers a wide spectrum of topics.
Sheila is one of my favorite writers, and I consider myself fortunate that one of her recurring topics happens to be Elvis Presley. Today, she has reposted a few of her past entries. All of her Elvis Essays are worth a read, though.
Finally, my friend Thomas over at the Elvis Today Blog recently wrote his first post in nearly two years, covering The World of FTD – a new book set from Elvis expert Keith Flynn. It’s always great to read a new post from Thomas.
That’s it. Thanks for the laughs, Elvis!