"It's Now or Never"
(Music: "It's Now or Never" by Elvis Presley)
August 15, 1960 - September 18, 1960
"It's Now or Never" is Elvis Presley's biggest-selling single, with total international sales topping 20 million, according to The Guinness Book of Recorded Sound. It was number one for eight weeks in Britain, a longer run than any of his U.K. chart toppers, and it replaced "Don't Be Cruel" as Elvis' personal favorite of all his songs.
It also marked a distinct change in style for Elvis. He had sung ballads before, but "It's Now or Never" had a more adult, operatic sound than anything he had ever recorded. That may be because the song was based on "0 Sole Mio", an Italian song written in 1901 by G. Capurro (words) and Eduardo di Capua (music) and made popular by Mario Lanza. Tony Martin sang an English adaptation in 1949, "There's No Tomorrow," and Aaron Schroeder and Wally Gold wrote new English lyrics for Elvis.
Elvis recorded "It's Now or Never" at a productive, marathon two-day session at RCA's Nashville studios that began April 3, 1960. Many of the songs recorded during this session were for the first postG.I. album, Elvis Is Back, released later in April. "It's Now or Never" and the flip side, "A Mess of Blues," were held for release until July. The record, Elvis' second post-Army single, debuted on the Hot 100 on July, 1960 at number 44, and took four more weeks to climb to number one.
"It's Now or Never" was released much later in Britain, due to copyright disputes over the original "0 Sole Mio". RCA needed to release a follow-up to "Stuck on You" in England so they put "A Mess of Blues" on the "A" side and backed it with "The Girl of My Best Friend," a 1961 American hit for Ral Donner. It went to number two in Britain, and kept British fans happy until "It's Now or Never" could be released in November. By the time it finally came out, the anticipation was so high that it became Elvis' second single to enter the British chart at number one, and, according to Billboard, the fastest-selling single in the country's history. Reports from London said that dealers were having trouble coping with the demand for the single, and one shop closed for two hours on a Saturday to all customers except those wanting to buy the Presley record.
"It's Now or Never" opened new doors for Elvis in America, where many easy listening stations found they could play a Presley single for the first time. This helped create a wider adult audience for the King, as did two other factors. His Army stint gave him more respectability --- he was no longer just a rock and roll singer who swiveled his hips; he was an American who had served his country instead of choosing an easy way out just because he was famous. And many of the teenagers who were screaming for Elvis in 1956 were now becoming adults themselves.
Reprinted from The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits, copyright © 2003 by Fred Bronson.