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Why Elvis Presley dissed The Beatles to President Nixon

Don’t believe what you hear in the recent Elvis & Nixon film regarding The Beatles. This “comedy” about the infamous meeting between The King of Rock and Roll and President Nixon at the White House unfortunately  enforces false stereotypes about how Elvis felt about The Fab Four.

elvis meets nixon

“What do we have on this guy?” Nixon asks his aide in the Elvis & Nixon trailer.

“He’s one of the most famous men on this planet,” the aide explains. “Loves guns, hates The Beatles.”

While it’s true that Elvis did say some disparaging remarks about The Beatles to Nixon, it wasn’t all cut and dried as to what motivated him to say it.
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Elvis had a spontaneous impulse while flying to Washington DC to try to meet President Nixon. It was December 1970 and Elvis was still troubled by the traumatic experience a few months earlier of receiving a specific threat to end his life by an anonymous person during one of his concerts in Las Vegas.
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Fueled by his passion for guns and police badges, he thought that a trip to DC could help him get an official Federal Agent Narcotics Badge. During the plane ride, Presley wrote an impassioned letter to the President requesting a meeting. Written on American Airlines stationery, the five-page letter also expressed Elvis’ desire to help with the war on drugs.
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Here’s an excerpt: “The drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS, Black Panthers, etc. do not consider me as their enemy or as they call it the establishment. I call it America and I love it. Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help the country out. …I can and will do more good if I were made a Federal Agent at Large and I will help out by doing it my way through my communications with people of all ages.”

As Jerry Schilling, long-time friend of Elvis who accompanied him on the trip, explained: “He had lived the American dream and wanted desperately to be able to give something back to the land that had made his wonderful life possible. He didn’t consider his years of army duty to have settled the debt. He was going straight to the highest authority in the country to try to find a way to use some of his power in a constructive way.”

The letter, which Presley personally delivered to White House security guards after arriving on a red-eye flight, set off a chain of events that hours later had the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” shaking hands with the most powerful man in the world. Security prevented Presley from presenting the President with his unique gift, a World War II-era Colt 45 pistol, but Nixon’s aides accepted it on his behalf.

At 12:30 pm on December 21, 1970, Elvis Presley was welcomed into the Oval Office of the White House. According to Egil Bud Krogh, Deputy Counsel to the President, who was present at the meeting, Presley quickly began trying to convince Nixon that he was “on his side, that he wanted to be helpful and that he wanted to restore some respect for the flag which was being lost.”

To justify his position, Presley specifically named The Beatles as a threat to America’s youth. The White House meeting notes describe this exchange:

“Presley indicated that he thought the Beatles had been a real force for anti-American spirit. He said that the Beatles came to this country, made their money, and then returned to England where they promoted an anti-American theme.

The President nodded in agreement and expressed some surprise. The President then indicated that those who use drugs are also those in the vanguard of anti-American protest. Violence, drug usage, dissent, protest all seem to merge in generally the same group of young people.”

While Beatles fans may see that as an outright attack on The Fab Four, it is not likely that Elvis had it out for The Beatles. According to Jerry Schilling, Elvis “loved The Beatles.” Schilling explained that Elvis was just trying to look more patriotic to the President and, in effect, used The Beatles as a scapegoat.

In an interview in 1969, Elvis praised The Beatles to a British reporter: “They’re so interesting and so experimental,” Elvis said. “But I liked them particularly when they used to sing ‘She was just seventeen. You know what I mean.'”

Presley gave The Beatles the most flattering compliment of all when he sang several of their songs during his live shows in later years, including “Something” during his 1973 Aloha from Hawaii concert.

Whatever Elvis’ real motive for calling out The Beatles in this historic meeting, the end result was in his favor. He received a Federal Agent Narcotics badge from President Nixon.

As The Washington Post reported: “‘See that he gets it,’ the President directed his top enforcement adviser, Egil (Bud) Krogh. Unable to suppress his excitement, Elvis hugged the startled Nixon.”

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Note: But the story doesn’t end there.

The new book, ELVIS: Behind The Legend: Startling Truths About The King of Rock and Roll’s Life, Loves, Films and Music, reveals the real reason why Elvis wanted to fly to Washington DC in the first place.

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Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder reunite to sing ‘Ebony and Ivory’ at the White House (Full song list and video)

Last night, PBS aired “Paul McCartney: In Performance At The White House” which featured live performances of several artists singing famous McCartney tunes as well as a mini-concert by Sir Paul himself. The musical tribute was in celebration of the Library of Congress Gershin Prize for Popular Song award being presented to Sir Paul by President Obama.

See photos from the Paul McCartney White House special

Among the special tributes by performers including Elvis Costello, Dave Grohl, Jack White, Faith Hill and The Jonas Brothers, was a special performance by Stevie Wonder. Stevie first performed his own version of “We Can Work It Out” and then later was joined by Paul onstage to sing their 1980s hit “Ebony and Ivory.”

The song was originally released in 1982 and spent seven weeks at number one on the Billboard charts according to Wikipedia. Almost 30 years later, the song about racial harmony had even more significance as McCartney and Wonder performed it at the White House before the first African-American President in the United States.

McCartney commented in an interview with the AP:

“One of the highs was singing ‘Ebony and Ivory’ with Stevie because we’d never done it live together, so that was great. To sing it live together for the very first time with the first black president there, it suddenly gave a great significance to the song….To sing it with Stevie in front of President Obama was very emotional.”

Watch President Obama’s speech for McCartney below

When accepting the award, McCartney said: “This is such a fantastic evening for me. I mean, getting this prize would just be good enough, but getting it from this president…” which resulted in cheers and applause from the audience.

Paul McCartney’s girlfriend, Nancy, accompanied him to the show and McCartney’s children, Stella, Mary and James were sitting in the second row behind their father.

Visit PBS’s official page for more information about the show and an exclusive interview with Paul at this link:
http://www.pbs.org/inperformanceatthewhitehouse/

Watch web exclusive clips of performances by Dave Grohl and Jack White at
http://www.pbs.org/inperformanceatthewhitehouse/video.php

Performances in order of appearance on the PBS Special:
1) Paul McCartney – Got to Get You Into My Life
2) Stevie Wonder – We Can Work It Out
3) Jonas Brothers – Drive My Car
4) Jerry Seinfeld comedy routine
5) Jack White – Mother Nature’s Son
6) Faith Hill – The Long and Winding Road
7) Corinne Bailey Rae & Herbie Hancock – Blackbird
8 ) Elvis Costello – Penny Lane
9) Emmylou Harris – For No One
10) Lang Lang – Celebration (instrumental from Standing Stone)
11) Dave Grohl – Band on the Run
12) Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder – Ebony and Ivory
13) President Obama’s dedication speech
14) Paul McCartney – Michelle
15) Paul McCartney – Eleanor Rigby
16) Paul McCartney – Let It Be
17) Paul McCartney – Hey Jude

More articles:

Paul McCartney receives award at the White House and serenades First Lady (Photos)

Paul McCartney to be honored at White House for Library of Congress Gershwin Prize (VIDEO)

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