With the release of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, I’m reviewing all of Elvis Presley’s 18 #1 hits on Billboard including 11 that topped pre-Hot 100 charts and 7 that topped the Hot 100 after its 1958 inception.
Elvis Presley- “It’s Now or Never”
HIT #1: August 15, 1960
STAYED AT #1: 5 weeks
In the massive legacy surrounding Elvis Presley, one of the big knocks made against him was that he didn’t write his songs. There are many songs where Elvis has songwriting credit though that’s mainly from a deal his manager Col. Tom Parker made to award Elvis half of the songwriting royalties. While Elvis wasn’t someone who wrote his songs down with a pen, he was someone who always knew what he wanted in his songs. While in the Army, Elvis got really into the Italian song “O Sole Mio” which was popularized in the US by a version from Mario Lanza and further with an English version by Tony Martin titled “There’s No Tomorrow.”
Once he was back in America, Elvis asked his label RCA Victor to come up with a song that used the melody of “O Sole Mio” which songwriters Aaron Schroeder and Wally Gold quickly came up with. The resulting song “It’s Now or Never,” isn’t one of Elvis’ almighty classics today but in the late summer of 1960 became one of his biggest-selling singles ever and naturally became another #1 hit for the King.
In Elvis’ hands, “It’s Now or Never” uses the “O Sole Mio” melody to sing about wanting a girl to pledge lifelong fidelity to him right at this moment as tomorrow will be too late. Elvis spends the rest of “It’s Now or Never” singing about how much this girl means to him in a very sensitive crooner style that gives off a vulnerability that sells the song for me. Musically, there are a lot of nice touches from the Italian guitar plucking that opens the song to the comforting backing vocals, and the twinkling piano flourishes. It’s a very middle-of-the-road production, the kind people often deride Elvis for in the early ‘60s but to me, all the elements help to serve the song well.
When “It’s Now or Never” came out, it was as instant of a hit as you could get for 1960. It’s estimated to have sold around 20 million copies making it one of the top-selling singles of all time. It became Elvis’ biggest hit in the UK where it went to #1 in 1960 as well as in 2005 after a re-release. The fact of “It’s Now or Never” feels a bit weird to me considering it’s not played much now but this was the period when Elvis returned from the Army and was following another #1 hit in “Stuck On You” so perhaps people in 1960 were just excited to have him back making music.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the Jamaican dancehall artist Sanchez singing the “It’s Now or Never” hook on the 1998 Beenie Man collab “Going Away”:
(Beenie Man’s highest-charting single, the 2004 Ms. Thing collab “Dude” peaked at #26.)
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the bit from the 2016 Hulu miniseries 11.22.63 where James Franco gets confronted as “It’s Now or Never” plays: