Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Life Rotates In 45 Revolutions Per Minute (Elvis Presley: Hard Headed Woman/Don't Ask Me Why

One of the most electrifying A-Sides of Elvis Presley's early career was penned by talented songwriter Claude Demetrius. The song, HARD HEADED WOMAN, was one of the most perfect blendings between Presley's ferociously basic rock and roll and the more complex New Orleans jazz that the album it was taken from, KING CREOLE, aspired to. Demetrius certainly knew something about New Orleans' jazz as he had spent much of the early part of his career writing for the likes of Louis Armstrong among others.
Elvis and the gifted songwriter had already scored a major hit the year before with 1957's I WAS THE ONE (a song Elvis called his favorite on a couple of occasions) but HARD HEADED WOMAN would turn out to be even more inspired and a bigger hit.

Recorded during the ambitious KING CREOLE sessions on an early January morning in Hollywood's Paramount Soundstage studios, and featuring not just famed Elvis sidemen Scotty Moore, D.J. Fontana and Bill Black, but also a brass section made up of some of the finest session men of the day, HARD HEADED WOMAN is a hurricane of energy and features one of Presley's most frantic and unforgettable vocal takes.
With its images of Adam and Eve and Samson and Delilah, Demetrius' lyrics were a delightful retelling of history with some of the best wordplay on any rock record from the fifties. This deliciously politically incorrect track with its maze of conniving women and tortured men immediately earned a place for Demetrius in Rock and Roll heaven, and the song was an instant smash when it was released as a single in June of 58. Quickly earning Gold status and climbing to the top of the charts, the song was a perfect and frenzied introduction to one of Elvis' most adventurous and important albums.
The B-Side was the polar opposite to the chaotic HARD HEADED WOMAN, but it was somehow no less rewarding. In anyone else's hands the Wise and Weisman composition DON'T ASK ME WHY might have been pure schmaltz, but with Elvis Presley singing it in in 1958 it is absolutely sublime.

Fred Wise and Ben Weisman would work on dozens upon dozens of Presley songs over the years and DON'T AS ME WHY is one of the purest. Like some of Elvis' best fifties ballads, it is the simplicity of the track that is so remarkable. Only Elvis could sing a line like "How sad my heart would be if you should go" and make you really believe it. Perhaps too slight for an A-Side DON'T ASK ME WHY worked perfectly well as the flip side to one of Presley's hardest ever rockers, and actually did fine on its own hitting the top thirty in the late summer of 58.

Both songs have had quite an impact on a number of artists throughout the years. Wanda Jackson would cover them both to great effect (she would in fact have a sizable hit with HARD HEADED WOMAN) and Billy Joel named one of his more infectious hits after DON'T ASK ME WHY. Other artists that have covered HARD HEADED WOMAN have ranged from John Lee Hooker to every rockabilly bar band worth a damn since.
Elvis continues to have huge success with the song as it recently very nearly topped the British charts in a 2007 reissue campaign. For more information on the song and Elvis' recording career in general please check out Ernst Jorgensen's invaluable ELVIS PRESLEY: A LIFE IN MUSIC, THE COMPLETE RECORDING SESSIONS.
My look at the entire KING CREOLE album will appear later this week.


Rogue Spy 007 said...

What a great blog. I think my grandmother had the King Creole album. I do love Hard Headed Woman. It's a really cool Elvis song that mixes some different styles together. I do look forward to learning more about the album it is on. I've been getting more into Elvis over the last few months, so I'm interested in all of this.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Keith,
Glad to hear you are digging on some Elvis as of late...hope you enjoy my upcoming KING CREOLE posts...