Listen to this track, a rollicking number from the King, Elvis Presley, who on this coming Saturday January 8th would have been 76 had he survived his battles with bad food, prescription drugs, and the Colonel. It’s one of my favourites of his pre-Army RCA days, “I Got Stung”, a double A-side to his 1958 single “One Night”, and a feature on the compilation record 50 000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong: Elvis Golden Records, Vol 2.
Only 1:51 long, it packs in the sex and violence just as effectively as any punk rock song, kids. It would be his last recorded song in the ’50s (June 11, 1958 to be exact), the end of an era for him, and perhaps too for everyone. He would be shipped to Germany as a part of the U.S Army after this, and his early career would be over.
Elvis’ RCA period is often lost in the shuffle, when considering his cooler Sun Records period, and his decidedly un-cooler ’60s movie period. Where I think the split here is not quite as sharply defined in those terms, some of Elvis’ best singles come out of this middle period, with this one being one of my favorites. What we’ve got here is all the production sparkle of a bigger operation like RCA, along with Elvis’ still supple, youthful swagger that we hear on the Sun sides locked right in there. He sounds like a badass on this. And what about that band?
“I Got Stung” was recorded in Nashville, just before Elvis shipped out. A vital ingredient on this record is the presence of gospel group The Jordanaires, who would back Elvis on a number of his singles, and start a trend through out his career of having gospel singers back him even into the 1970s. Also on this is Floyd Cramer on piano, playing that playfully insistent piano riff, along with guitarist Hank Garland, and bassist Bob Moore.
Elvis stalwart players Scotty Moore on guitar,and Bill Black on stand-up bass are tragically absent from this track. By the time Elvis’ sessions in June commenced, the pair had quit due to a pay dispute. When I mean tragically, I do mean tragically. Along with drummer DJ Fontana, this trio of musicians understood Elvis’ feel, helping him craft his early sound in the studio. And in this song, and in all of the early to mid Elvis singles in the 1950s, feel is everything. It is the reason he became as big as he did. Yet, Elvis still manages a staggering performance with the new players with whom he would continue to work by the early ’60s. It is clear that his professionalism as a recording artist was really beginning to gel by the time this song was recorded, showing, among other things, that Elvis was no flash in the pan.
With this song, we get that country-meets-R&B rhythm, and with Elvis’ persona as a swaggering sexual adventurer in this song humbled by a ‘sweet honey bee’. For me, the idea of getting stung as a metaphor for falling in love (or is it just lust?) is very interesting, kind of a mix of sex and violence all in one go. I love Elvis’ phrasing on this, the rapid fire lines, and the grunted “yeah”s. You can see why Elvis was considered to be something of a bad influence on the teenagers of America at the time. As if mixing the music of white America with black America in the days before civil rights wasn’t bad enough, this tune is just chock full of carnality; it’s a downright physical song.
Of course later the Army, and the hold Colonel Tom Parker would have on his career, would make him into a smooth, less rock ‘n’ roll figure in many ways. His movie career would start off well, and get progressively formulaic. But, his voice, and his ability to interpret characters in songs, and bring out the core of the material whatever it happened to be, would be his enduring strength that no bad diet, drug habits, unhealthy work schedules, or the costs of worldwide fame would throw at him.
It would in fact make him immortal.
For more information about this period in Elvis’ career, be sure and check out Elvisinfonet.com
Happy birthday, Elvis!