And now ladies and gentlemen, Mercury and Lincoln automobiles present The Ed Sullivan Show.
The year was 1956 and sixty million Americans—those are Super Bowl numbers—tuned in to each of Elvis Presley’s three appearances on Ed Sullivan. These performances have now been reissued in all their black and white magnificence.
Elvis Presley was a musical phenomenon in 1956 and, despite having vowed never to have him appear on his program, Sullivan could smell the ratings. He paid Elvis the unprecedented sum of $50,000. 82% of all televisions in the United States tuned in, making Elvis a bargain at any price.
His first appearance, on September 9, 1956, was probably his best and most interesting. First, the performance took place in Hollywood as Elvis was busy filming Love Me Tender. Second, Sullivan had been involved in a serious auto accident and missed five shows in succession. Phil Silvers, Kirk Douglas, Red Skelton, Patti Page, and, for this broadcast, Charles Laughton filled in for him.
Accompanying Elvis were guitarist Scotty Moore, bassist Bill Black, drummer D.J. Fontana, and of course The Jordanaires—and they all look so young.
The Hollywood performances are tight and Elvis seems relaxed. “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Love Me Tender,” “Hound Dog,” and especially “Ready Teddy” are all presented with enthusiasm. If you are going to perform before sixty million people, this is the way to do it.
The October 28, 1956 performance is probably the weakest of the three. He repeats “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Love Me Tender,” and “Hound Dog.” Plus, he has trouble with lyrics of “Love Me Tender” and makes fun of “Hound Dog.” Both of these issues inevitably continued for years. He is at his best on “Love Me,” which was performed with some passion.
Presley's final appearance occurred January 6, 1957. His opening medley is sloppy and another repeat of “Don’t Be Cruel” is tiresome. The final three songs, however, save the set. “Too Much” and “When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again” are both excellent. Concluding with “Peace In The Valley,” Elvis always sounds at his best when performing gospel. It is an emotional presentation and he is suitably serious and reverent throughout.
The special features are only for the Elvis historian. A silent home movie catches him performing August 7, 1955 in Houston and marks his earliest complete performance on record. Also included are home movies of Elvis and Priscilla, which are interesting but interviews with Sam Phillips and Wink Martindale are too brief.
The Ed Sullivan Show: The Classic Performances by Elvis Presley should appeal to his vast legion of fans or, simply, for the curious. These performances are now part of music history as they catch Elvis—young and raw—at the beginning of his career.