Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Elvis In Demand Mystery

Back in 1976, in the days when I was a graphic designer, I went up to RCA's Curzon Street offices in London, not far from the famous Playboy Club, to pitch an idea for a five track EP of then unavailable movie songs, including the studio version of Johnny B Goode from Elvis On Tour. I did a full proposal and a full colour sleeve visual with Letraset and a letterbox still of Elvis in Charro, which I had picked up at the fan club convention in Leicester, that same year, where I had seen the Aloha From Hawaii TV special for the first time on a big screen. Seems incredible to think about now, but none of the British television companies had at that time scheduled it for broadcast. There was a whole campaign in Elvis Monthly to persuade the BBC to show it, and I seem to remember that RCA had offered to front half the asking price of £50,000, but it was still not enough to persuade the BBC to buy the special, and so it went unseen until a much edited version was eventually broadcast on BBC in 1978.

I can’t remember exactly the date that I went to RCA, but it was probably in the latter part of 76 as I remember being shown the artwork for the Elvis In Demand album, and getting given a poster for the Presley Gold singles campaign, which was a reissue collection of Elvis’s 16 Number One singles in their original U.S picture bags. The album and poster featured the same illustration of Elvis. It was during this meeting that I first heard about the then planned CBS TV Special which according to what I was told, was going to be a mix of concert footage, a tour around Graceland with Elvis and a gospel recording session.

The guy at RCA liked my proposal for the movie EP very much, and said that he wanted to make it happen, and told me he would have to get approval from the Colonel before proceeding any further, and would send it over to the Colonel. And that was the last I heard of it! The guy left RCA and cleared out his office, so I never did see my visual or proposal again. And no one at RCA could find it or trace a letter being sent to the Colonel's office!

Elvis In Demand though, was quite a unique album for its time. It came about when RCA UK invited British fans of the official fan club to select 16 songs from Elvis's extensive recorded repertoire to represent studio work, Hollywood film soundtracks and live shows. Most songs picked were an assortment of singles, B-sides, album tracks and some obscure movie songs. The idea was to have on one album, as many songs that were not available at that time. When news of the project first appeared in Elvis Monthly, to celebrate the 21st birthday of the fan club, it was suggested that this would be a good opportunity to fill in a few gaps for songs that were not currently available in the UK. The article in the Monthly gave a list of suggested tracks that could be included and if memory serves me right it was most of these tracks that ended up on the final album. Although looking back on it now, the list of selected tracks may seem strange, at the time, there was a sensible logic behind it, and it proved to be a most successful idea. It sold over 100,000 copies, peaked at No. 12 in the UK album chart and earned itself a silver disc award. It was released a month after Suspicion had become a Top Ten single and many still associate the song with the album, even though it had first appeared, 15 years before, on Pot Luck, Elvis’s No.1 album from 1962.

Even more strange is the story that Elvis personally autographed 15 copies of the sleeve in June 1977, with "Best Wishes Elvis Presley", which according to those who have claimed to have seen it, was clearly visible in black ink. If true, that would mean the album sleeves would have probably been among some of the last things Elvis would have signed for fans, but one also has to wonder what he must have thought about being asked to sign a record album with such a "ghostly" looking illustration. The 15 copies he is said to have signed, were then said to have been given away as prizes by the Daily Express, even though no cuttings from the newspaper have yet surfaced to support the story. Some say they remember it well, while others don’t, and most are sceptical about the whole thing. I don’t remember seeing any such competition in the Express, but that’s not to say it didn’t happen. It probably did when you consider that Todd Slaughter, the boss of the British Fan Club, had met Elvis to present him with some British awards, during the filming of the CBS In Concert TV Special in the same month that Elvis is said to have signed the copies of In Demand. Although the Fan Club did a lot of shouting about its contribution to the LP, and rightfully so, there are those sceptics who have suggested the whole signed copies affair was just a marketing ploy between the Fan Club and Express newspapers. It would be an interesting exercise to try and find out if Elvis did actually sign the albums, and if any fans do indeed, have a signed copy of it.