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- “Surrender”
HIT #1: March 20, 1961
STAYED AT #1: 2 weeks
If there’s one thing pop music is great at it’s repeating itself. Whenever an artist hits upon a successful song and sound, usually every effort is made to make what worked once work again. Normally, this effort is done when an artist is just getting big and desperately need to make more hits to remain in the spotlight but this can also apply to already established superstars like Elvis. In the late summer of 1960, he had scored one of his biggest hits with “It’s Now or Never,” a song set to the melody of a traditional Neapolitan ballad so it made sense that his team wanted to repeat that success.
“Surrender” just by its very nature is a clear repeat of what worked well with “It’s Now or Never.” It’s another song set to a melody of an old Neapolitan ballad this time being “Torn a Surriento” with lots of exotic-sounding instrumentation and percussion. Naturally, while not being as big, “Surrender” became a #1 hit proving that sometimes formulas work.
As with a lot of songs of the era, “Surrender” is a short song not even clocking in at two minutes but one that doesn’t lose your focus. Part of the song is anchored by a bouncy proto-James Bond-type melody while the whole song is anchored by the kind of Latin-inspired percussion you hear a lot in early-‘60s pop along with very early-‘60s sounding backing vocals from the Jordanaires. Meanwhile, Elvis sings the song with a very theatrical flair a kind of prelude to his Vegas performances in how he hams up his voice and as tension builds a bit at the end almost goes full opera with the way he holds the note. It’s far from one of my personal favorite Elvis tunes but not a terrible one to listen to for an almost two-minute song.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the softer and longer version of “Surrender” that Michael Bublé released in 2002:
(Michael Bublé’s highest-charting single, his 2012 version of “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas,” peaked at #23.)