It’s an American trilogy! My original plan for the Elvis entries was to do them as a high concept piece inspired by (ripping off) Borges’ “Pierre Menard, Author Of The Quixote”. Since, in their wisdom, the Official Charts Company decided these were new singles not re-entries, I would write three pieces about an artist in 2005 who had arrived, note for note, at the same recordings as Elvis Presley in the late 1950s.

This treatment didn’t survive contact with a blank page but the conceit worked best for “It’s Now Or Never” – writing a blue-balls ballad around an interpolation of an ice cream ad is the sort of thing 21st century acts wind up doing. The odd thing is, the fictional Menard-Elvis’ decision to nick “Just One Cornetto” for his third single – two bangers then a slowie, the traditional formula – is actually fairly close to what the Elvis-Elvis really did with “O Sole Mio”, the late 1890s smash which eventually reached him during his army service in Germany, in another English-language version. The tune captivated him, he decided he wanted one for himself, and commissioned a new set of lyrics.

My original “It’s Now Or Never” entry was desultory, but unlike the other two Elvis tunes I got the basics right – Elvis’ reading of his song is odd to the point of feeling creepy: belting choruses and ludicrous hammed-up delicacy on the verses, like this fancy new style he’s trying out is Dresden china.

For me, everything good about the song comes from the band, whose easy Nashville swing puts some life in the recording and means “It’s Now Or Ever” avoids the orchestral tar pit that sucked in the likes of “Cara Mia”. If in 1960 “It’s Now Or Never” looked like a bet against rock’s longevity, with hindsight it’s jumping to a sinking ship: it’s a late flowering of the Italophilia that helped define 50s pop culture and which endured in fashion and food.*

If Elvis had to have yet another No.1 (and he really didn’t) then I guess it’s fitting it’s with one of his genuine signature tunes, which kicked off the post-Army era and ignited the phase of his career which brought him most UK success. As a career move at the time it must have been fascinating, shocking even – Elvis as Mario Lanza! The results delighted him – both Elvis and Priscilla Presley described the track as his favourite, further evidence that artists’ opinions on their own careers are fascinating but not always trustworthy.

*(Including ice cream! Walls’ “Just One Cornetto” ad, with a gondolier serenading a young woman as an excuse to snatch her ice cream cone, reintroduced “O Sole Mio” to my generation of kids in 1982. Obviously the version of the song it’s riffing on is “It’s Now Or Never” – “give it to me!” cries and all. By this point the semiotics of European sophistication were remarkably tangled. The ad is treating the romance of Italy and Venice as a cliche to have a bit of over-the-top fun with, but the same year Walls launched Viennetta, whose sensual ads (equally corny now) dripped with masked-ball chic and touch of the gothic. And Cornetto was originally an Italian brand, acquired by Walls around the time Elvis raided the German pop charts for “It’s Now Or Never” – but the intriguingly Austro-Italian sounding Viennetta originated in Gloucester. Oh, and the gondolier turned out to be Renato, who sold millions that year with his own absurd take on the pop aria. “O Sole Mio” is a wild fractal of a song – the more you look, the more stories you can turn up.)

Score: 4

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