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Beatles Bomb In Memphis

Elvis Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, went into the mid 1960’s with a strategy.  He repositioned Elvis from a singer who made movies to a movie star who made records.  This simple distinction successfully locked in millions of dollars in upfront movie money, and successfully detached Presley from depending on the fickle whims of the demographics which drove disc sales.

Moviegoers in 1966 buttered their popcorn to Elvis in three movies, beginning with Frankie And Johnny.  Elvis, for the record, was Johnny.  Frankie was Donna Douglas.  Her career was at its peak at that time, starring  as Elly May Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies.  This would be her major foray into filmdom.  One single was released from the soundtrack, with the title side peaking at number 25.

Paradise, Hawaiian Style produced a soundtrack album which was too proprietary to the movie to offer any potential singles.  The single Elvis did release in mid-1966 featured a 1945 hit for Dick Haymes, reprised in 1962 by Kitty Lester, “Love Letters.”  He actually made it into the top 20, his biggest hit of the year.

President Lyndon Johnson reportedly visited the set of Presley’s third movie of the year, Spinout.  The title track was released as a single, peaking at number 40.  On the soundtrack album, bonus tracks included a raucous cover of the Clover’s “Down In The Alley” and Don Ho’s “I’ll Remember You.”  Elvis also included a nod to the changing times with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.”

As Elvis retreated from the live arena in the 60‘s, the British invasion forces finally landed in Memphis.  The Rolling Stones played the Mid-South Coliseum in December of 1965.  Right next to a Memphis Press-Scimitar ad for Presley’s Harum Scarum playing at the Warner theater, an ad for the concert shows ticket prices were 3 and 4 dollars, tax included.  Additionally, the ad notes the Stones were presented by the “WMPS Good Guys.”  WMPS held a contest to win a chance to meet the Stones.  Mary Ann May’s entry was a dollar-store striped kid’s shirt on which she had stitched the message “WMPS Good Guys Welcome The Rolling Stones.”  As a contest winner, she was able to present the shirt to Mick Jagger backstage at the Coliseum.

The Beatles Coliseum date in August of ‘66 came in the middle of a cultural backlash concerning comments John Lennon gave in an interview.  A line from a column, “We’re more popular than Jesus right now,” was taken out of context and published in a teen fan magazine months after the original article elicited not much more than a yawn.  The reaction was strong in the southern United States, replete with record burnings and death threats.  When you see documentary footage concerning the Memphis Beatles concert, it almost always includes an interview with a Ku Klux Klan representative promising a riot.  Instead, the afternoon and evening concerts would have gone off without incident, save for someone tossing a cherry bomb in the third song of the second concert.  Now, the Beatles were already planning to stop touring and concentrate exclusively on studio work, but the explosion exposed their vulnerability and hardened their decision to end public performances.  Just over a week later, the band’s appearance in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park would mark the end of their touring days.

The Beatles’ first studio-intensive effort would be 1967’s

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.  The pop-art cover posed the band amidst wax figures and cardboard cutouts of the famous and infamous.  A glance at right side of the photo shows a Shirley Temple figure wearing, yes, a kid’s striped shirt bearing the words “WMPS Good Guys Welcome The Rolling Stones.”  Memphian Mary Ann May’s contest entry wound up being her contribution to a lasting cultural icon.

My heroes have always been disc jockeys. I especially admired the ones who could take the canvas of the fourteen-second intro of a teeny-bopper song and paint a masterpiece. From my youth, I strove to emulate them. I had the good fortune to walk in some of their footsteps, albeit a respectful pace behind.