This Elvis classic borrows the chord progression as well as the melody from the Italian song "O Sole Mio
," which was first recorded by Giuseppe Anselmi in 1907. Mario Lanza popularized the song, and Tony Martin released the first English translation as "There's No Tomorrow" in 1949.
James - Hagerstown, MD
When Elvis was in the US army, he was stationed in Germany and heard "O Sole Mio." When he was discharged, he asked his record company to write an English translation for him, a task that went to songwriters Aaron Schroeder and Wally Gold, who according to Gold, did it in 30 minutes. It was a huge hit, knocking "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini
" from the top spot in America and staying for five weeks.
Here we have Elvis Presley, the undisputed king of rock and roll, singing a song with a traditional melody that sounds like something Dean Martin would record. It was quite a stretch for Elvis and also a challenge: in 1957 Frank Sinatra said, "When he goes into something serious, a bigger kind of singing, we'll find out if he is a singer."
His next single, "Are You Lonesome Tonight
," was a cover of a song from 1926 and was also a massive hit, leading some to wonder if Elvis was going to become a crooner and abandon rock. In hindsight, he was branching out, maturing as an artist by exploring different musical styles. Rock and roll didn't go anywhere and entered a new phase a few years later when the British Invasion took hold.
In this song, Elvis is making a passion play, telling his darling it must be tonight, for tomorrow will be too late. There's nothing explicit in the song, but it's obvious what he's after.
Delivered by average Joe, the romance-novel-grade lyrics would sound silly, but Elvis could pull off lines like:
Your lips excite me
Let your arms invite me
For who knows when
We'll meet again this way
This was one of 17 songs written by songwriter and producer Aaron Schroeder for Elvis. Others include "Stuck on You" and "A Big Hunk O' Love" but this was the biggest hit that he penned for The King. Another familiar tune to many that he wrote was the theme song for the TV series Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!
Schroeder also discovered, managed and directed the career of Gene Pitney and helped the young careers of acts like Jimi Hendrix and Barry White.
This was such a stylistic departure for Elvis that reviewers at Variety and Billboard assumed the flip side of the single, a stomper called "A Mess Of Blues," was the A-side.
At a press conference in 1961, Elvis said "It's Now Or Never" was his favorite of the songs he recorded. Priscilla Presley, speaking at a 2017 forum with Ron Onesti, affirmed that it was his favorite song.
"O Sole Mio" was in the public domain in America, so the only songwriters credited are Aaron Schroeder and Wally Gold, who wrote the lyrics for Elvis to sing (earning a tidy sum for 30 minutes of work). In the UK, that song was still under copyright, which delayed its release until it could be cleared, with "O Sole Mio" composer Eduardo Di Capua added to the credits. This built up anticipation for the song, and when it was finally released in Britain, it racked up huge sales. "It's Now Or Never" hit #1 on November 3, 1960 (two-and-a-half months after reaching the top in America), and stayed for eight weeks, the longest of any Elvis single.
Barry White heard this song in 1960 when he was in jail for stealing tires. The song had such an impact on White, that it convinced him to pursue a career in music.
Bertrand - Paris, France
Bill Porter was an American audio engineer who helped shape the Nashville sound and recorded such stars as The Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison from the late 1950s through the 1970s. In one week of 1960, his recordings accounted for 15 of Billboard Magazine's Hot 100, a feat none have matched.
He recalled one particular session with Elvis on April 3-4 1960, which included this song. "In those two days, we recorded 12 songs, two of which went to No 1," Porter remembered. "Elvis was having trouble with 'It's Now or Never' because he basically sang in the baritone range, and the end was in the tenor range. We recorded this song for at least seven or eight takes. At one point, I finally pushed the talkback button and said, 'EP, we can just do the ending. I can splice it on without doing the song all the way through again'. He answered me with, 'Bill, I'm gonna do it all the way through, or I'm not gonna do it at all!' So, we did it again. And, of course, he got it the way he wanted it."