The Beatles arrive at JFK airport in 1964
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It was the mythical meeting of the biggest forces in popular music in the world. Elvis had been the undisputed King throughout the later 1950s but by the early 1960s the British Invasion of the US (and the entire globe) had begun, spearheaded by the Fab Four. It was the Beatles who pushed for the meeting, with Elvis’ manager Colonel Parker repeatedly turning them down. Even Elvis privately retorted, “They are just trying to get these boys some publicity off my back.” When it finally happened, during the band’s 1965 US tour it didn’t exactly go how anyone had expected or hoped it would.
The previous year, when The Beatles made their US debut and landed at JFK Airport, they were asked if they were just Elvis Presley rip-offs. A quick-thinking Ringo Starr immediately shrugged up his shoulders and shook his hands and hips like The King and said, “It’s not true, it’s not true” in a deep voice as everyone laughed.
But the band actually took The King very seriously and were desperate to meet him. It was arranged the following year through mutual friend Chris Hutchins, and they were invited to Elvis’ LA home in August 1965.
Harrison recalled how they were all overexcited and being “silly” as the car pulled up and they fell out laughing. What they didn’t know was that Elvis was also nervous, and so he posed himself inside to create an impression.
Harrison said: “We walked in and there was Elvis sitting on a couch playing a Fender bass (guitar) plugged into an amplifier, watching TV.”
By then, Elvis was no longer a major recording artist, trapped in a never-ending succession of lightweight films and accompanying soundtracks. But he was still one of the most famous (and richest) stars in the world.
McCartney said: “It was just like a dream, really, meeting Elvis. We’d fantasized about him since we were kind of young teenagers and here he was in the flesh. So it was great. It was lovely.”
Elvis showed them his collection of guitars and invited them to play, but hilariously it was something unexpected which most impressed McCartney.
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The Beatles discuss meeting Elvis
McCartney added: “I think the most amazing thing besides actually just meeting him was he had the first remote television channel changer that we’d ever seen, ’cause you know, it was that year when they came out.
“He was just aiming it at the TV, and the channels were changing and we go ‘Whoa! He is indeed the mighty God. He can turn the channels without approaching the television set!’ So we were very impressed by that.”
Lennon was far less impressed by everything he saw and Hutchins later recalled: “As we left and were walking down the drive, Parker called out after me: ‘Tell the fans it was a wonderful night’. John turned to me and said: ‘Tell them it was crap.’
“Elvis had prepared a little party for when we got there, but it was rather stilted and felt too obviously set up by me and Elvis’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker. John was disappointed in Elvis, and was surprised at the level of control Parker had over him.
“It was an awkward atmosphere, with John trying to lighten the mood by putting on an Inspector Clouseau voice, which just baffled Elvis.”
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