"Are You Lonesome Tonight"
(Music: "Are You Lonesome Tonight" by Elvis Presley)
November 28, 1960 - January 8, 1961
"Are You Lonesome Tonight," a song written in 1926 that was first recorded by Al Jolson, and made popular again in 1959 by Jaye P. Morgan, became Elvis Presley's 14th number one single in America. It was recorded April 4, 1960, at the same two-day marathon session that produced "It's Now or Never." Like that more adult-oriented song, "Are You Lonesome Tonight" received airplay on easy listening stations that were unaccustomed to playing Elvis Presley songs.
"Are You Lonesome Tonight" entered the chart at number 35, higher than any other Elvis Hot 100 record to date. Two weeks later, it was number one. It topped the British chart on January 26, 1961 for four weeks, his sixth number one in the United Kingdom.
No doubt the song's popularity was boosted by a long, spoken narration by Elvis in the middle of the song, which paraphrased Shakespeare's sentiments on all the world being a stage. The song inspired a flood of answer records, including four female versions of "Yes I'm Lonesome Tonight" by Dodie Stevens, Linda Lee, Ricky Page, and Thelma Carpenter. Jeanne Black released another answer, "Oh How I Miss You Tonight."
Just a little over three weeks before "Are You Lonesome Tonight" made the American chart, G.I. Blues was released. At the same time, Elvis was already filming his sixth motion picture, Flaming Star, which was released December 20 --- in time for Christmas vacation. It was Elvis' first western, and his first dramatic, non-singing role. There was no soundtrack album, just an EP with the title song and three other non-movie songs, including "Are You Lonesome Tonight" and "It's Now or Never."
Elvis starred as half-breed Pacer Burton, a role that had been turned down by Marlon Brando. Don Siegal, who directed the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers and would one day direct Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry series, was the film's director. The cast included Barbara Eden, Dolores Del Rio, Richard Jaeckel, John McIntyre and Steve Forrest.
Col. Tom Parker did not consider the film a success. The box office was lower than most Elvis films, and the idea of an Elvis film without songs appealed to the Colonel as much as it appealed to most Elvis fans --- not at all. Flaming Star would be the last non-singing role until the 1969 attempt at a spaghetti western, Charro.
His next film, Wild in the Country, was already in production, however. Like Flaming Star, it was meant to show off Elvis the actor, not Elvis the singer. Hope Lange, Tuesday Weld, Gary Lockwood, Rafer Johnson, Millie Perkins, and John Ireland were also in the cast. It was Elvis' final film for 20th Century Fox, and he recorded five songs for the soundtrack on the studio lot in October, 1960.
Reprinted from The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits, copyright © 2003 by Fred Bronson.