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Paul McCartney’s lifelong admiration for Elvis Presley

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Like John Lennon who had a healthy obsession for Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney had his own epiphany about The King of Rock and Roll in 1956 and started playing the guitar.

“I started to see pictures of Elvis, and that started to pull me away from the academic path,” McCartney recalled. “‘You should see these photos…’ Then you’d hear the records – ‘but wait a minute, this is very good!’ – and then the tingles started going up and down your spine, ‘Oh, this is something altogether different.’ And so the academic things were forgotten.”

John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison were all heavily influenced by Elvis Presley’s 1956 hit, “Heartbreak Hotel.” In fact, this was the key song that inspired a generation of British teenagers to become musicians.

The Beatles in Hamburg, Germany 1960

John Lennon was so greatly impacted by the song and its singer, Elvis Presley, that he decided to start his very own band, The Quarrymen. Paul McCartney joined the band soon after and bonded with John Lennon over their love for Elvis and Little Richard.

“It was Elvis who really got me hooked for beat music,” said John Lennon. “When I heard ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ I thought, ‘this is it’.”

From 1957 to 1962, The Quarrymen and later The Beatles would perform many Presley tunes live including “Heartbreak Hotel,” “All Shook Up,” “Baby, Let’s Play House,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” “I Forgot to Remember to Forget,” “That’s All Right,” “Jailhouse Rock” and many more.

“Elvis is a truly great vocalist, and you can hear why on this song [‘Heartbreak Hotel’],” Paul McCartney said in 2005. “His phrasing, his use of echo, it’s all so beautiful. It’s the way he sings it, too. As if he’s singing it from the depths of Hell. It’s a perfect example of a singer being in command of the song. Musically it’s perfect, too. The double-bass and the walk-in piano create this incredibly haunting atmosphere. It’s so full of mystery, and it’s never lost that for me. The echo is just stunning. When The Beatles were recording, we’d often ask George Martin for ‘the Elvis echo.’ I think we got it down perfectly on ‘A Day in the Life.’”  

Paul McCartney in Liverpool’s Sefton Park
(photo by Mike McCartney)

While the American teenage population got to see Elvis on several TV shows in 1956, the British had to wait to see Elvis on the big screen. The admiration of Elvis expanded greatly when Paul got to see Presley’s sense of humor and good looks in the movies.

“We all loved Elvis – he was so hot,” Paul McCartney gushed years later. “We were just so in love with him. He was just the greatest idol, always hamming it up, always doing a little funny thing. He was so great.”  

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In 1964 when The Beatles were touring America, they tried to arrange an in-person meeting with Elvis, but they had a hard time coordinating their schedules. Instead, Paul McCartney was given Presley’s phone number. He made the call and spoke to Elvis at Graceland in August 1964. 

Paul McCartney reads Elvis Presley magazine

With the help of their managers, Colonel Parker and Brian Epstein, The Beatles finally got to meet The King of Rock and Roll in Los Angeles in August 1965.

“It was one of the great meetings of my life,” said Paul McCartney. “I think he liked us. I think at that time he may have felt a little bit threatened, but he didn’t say anything. We certainly didn’t feel any antagonism.” 

The meeting at Presley’s home was a success (even including an impromptu “jam” session) and led to future communications between the two music legends, as documented in the book, ELVIS AND THE BEATLES.

Although Paul never got to see Elvis in person again, in subsequent years, Presley was often on his mind.

Here are just a few examples:

The recent release of The Beatles GET BACK sessions shows Paul imitating Elvis in the studio in January 1969. The group’s longtime roadie, Mal Evans, walks up and reminds Paul that it was Presley’s birthday the day before. Paul exclaims: “God Bless our gracious king!”

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After The Beatles broke up, McCartney did several projects on his own celebrating the music that influenced him as a teenager. He also participated in a tribute to Sun Records in 2001 when he performed with Presley’s original band members, Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana.

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McCartney showed real excitement about Elvis in 2005 when talking about the original bass that Presley’s band member, Bill Black used to play.

“I’m gonna have great pleasure in revealing this. This is the original Elvis Presley bass,” Paul said as he removed a black sheet covering the legendary instrument that he proudly owned.  

“Those Elvis fans amongst you will recognize this little dashing white trim that is on all the early album covers. It was played by Bill Black, Elvis’ bass player. I always love to imagine Bill would be here and Elvis would be standing right there — yeah,” McCartney said as he excitedly pointed to a spot in front of him.

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In 2006, Paul talked with Ronnie Wood about owning the bass:

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In 2013, during Paul’s U.S. concert tour, he stopped by Elvis Presley’s home, Graceland, for a visit and posted two photos on his Twitter account.

One picture showed him placing a guitar pick at Presley’s grave “so Elvis can play in heaven.”

The other showed him in the Elvis archives holding one of Presley’s own guitars with the caption “Guitar Man! at Graceland.”

It has been a long and winding road for McCartney, remembering his early days as a teenager trying to imitate Presley’s songs, and wearing his hair slicked back like Elvis along with his bandmates John Lennon and George Harrison.  

“I can’t honestly say that ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ is Elvis’ best record,” Paul McCartney said. “I love Elvis so much that for me to choose a favorite would be like singling out one of Picasso’s paintings.”

In his later years, it seemed that this elder statesman of rock and roll was able to express his appreciation for Presley in a way he had never done in his youth. 

“When we were kids growing up in Liverpool, all we ever wanted was to be Elvis Presley,” McCartney reminisced. 

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While Paul has expressed great admiration for Elvis, John Lennon took it a step further.

Click here to read more in the article John Lennon’s lifelong obsession with Elvis Presley

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Read more about the behind-the-scenes relationship between The Beatles and The King of Rock and Roll in the author’s book, ELVIS AND THE BEATLES: Love and Rivalry Between the Two Biggest Acts of the 20th Century

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