It was August 27, 1965. The greatest summit meeting in show business history was about to take place.
The Beatles had arrived in America in February of 1964. They had already met many singers, celebrities, and movie stars. Basically, all they had to do was request it, snap their fingers, and almost literally, anyone could be brought in for them to meet. But according to John Lennon, the leader of the band, there was only one person they had to meet. It was the King himself, Elvis Presley.
The meeting has been documented by several witnesses present, but as we all know, human memory can be fallible. But the following is, in general, what occurred that incredible evening. The first question, after the meeting was agreed to, was who would come to whom? It was quickly agreed upon that the Beatles -the "new kids on the block"- would go to Elvis' house in Bel Air and pay homage to the King.
After smoking a joint in their limo to calm their nerves, the Beatles pulled up to Perugia Way and were greeted at the door. It was Elvis Presley, their supreme idol, in the flesh! Elvis, dressed and acting super-casual, escorted the boys in. He was watching TV without the sound on (something the Beatles liked doing themselves). The Beatles were amazed -a color TV! And even more incredible, according to Paul, he had one of those weird contraptions, a remote control! They had never seen one before (remember, it was 1965).
The Fab Four sat staring, literally gaping, at their hero. After a few minutes, Elvis broke the quiet ice and said, "Hell, if you're just going to sit around staring at me, I'm going up to bed." Everyone laughed and the remark calmed the tense atmosphere.
According to witnesses, all the Beatles were in awe of Elvis, but John and Paul were really transfixed. Elvis soon brought out several guitars, and the greatest jam session in music history took place. Elvis apologized to Ringo for not having any drums available for him to play on. John, Paul, and Elvis started playing various songs, their favorites. Accounts vary, but it seems definite that they jammed on the Beatles song "I Feel Fine."
Elvis picked up a bass guitar and played it, as Paul made a typical McCartney quip like, "You're getting pretty good on that bass, El."
After a few minutes, George joined in, as Ringo had to content himself tapping his hands on a chair to keep time. George soon wandered out back and smoked another joint with a few of Elvis' boys. Ringo went in and shot pool with some others.
The Colonel, Elvis' manager, had a roulette wheel, and roulette was played that evening, too. The Colonel and the Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein, chatted and compared notes.
John and Paul chatted with Elvis. Elvis records and Beatles records played on Elvis' jukebox in the background. John, ever the blunt one, asked Elvis: "Why don't you make some records like you used to? I'd buy them." (Everyone well knew that Elvis' records were lame and watered down at this time, compared to his classic songs of the fifties.)
Elvis sadly answered how he was stuck making those B-movies and he had to record soundtracks for all of them. Elvis was also unhappily aware that The Beatles' two movies, A Hard Day's Night and Help! were fresh and creative, while he was stuck in the horrible "formula films," singing to girls in bikinis, which he hated with a passion.
Details of the actual conversation between John, Paul, and Elvis are sketchy at best. A big disappointment: The Colonel allowed no photos to be taken of this historic event, and the legendary jam session was not recorded for posterity, either. (One can only wonder at how many millions a tape or a film of this meeting would fetch today on the market.)
As they chatted, John and Elvis realized they shared a common love for comedian Peter Sellers. Lennon broke Elvis up with his Sellers imitation. Priscilla, Elvis' wife, was brought down and Elvis introduced her. To the Beatles, she seemed like a trophy wife, and she exited fairly fast after saying hi.
Finally, it was time to go, and the Beatles said their goodbyes. They invited Elvis to visit them at their place the next day. Elvis gave the answer we've all given to salesmen we wish to get rid of: "I'll think about it." (meaning "no way.")
Many girls (of course) were surrounding the front of the house to catch a glimpse. Two off-balance pictures (taken by girl fans) of the Beatles exiting the house do survive. But sadly, none of the famous five together.
The next day, John Lennon told one of Elvis' boys to deliver a message to Elvis. "Tell him," said Lennon, "that if it weren't for Elvis, there'd be no Beatles." When he relayed the message, he remembered, Elvis smiled and seemed pleased.
A new museum exhibit opens today in Liverpool that recalls this event. Elvis and Us will begin its run today at The Beatles Story Museum in Liverpool in cooperation with Graceland. Artifacts on display will include the Fender bass guitar from the historic meeting and the pool table that Ringo used to amuse himself at Elvis' home. The exhibit will run for two years.