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Black Velvet – Alannah Myles

‘A new religion that’ll bring you to your knees’

Black Velvet – Alannah Myles

Atlantic 7-88742 (USA) / East West A 8742 (UK)

Recorded at various studios in Toronto, Canada, 1988

Released December 1989

Writers Christopher Ward & David Tyson

Producer David Tyson

USA #1   24/3/90   2 weeks    UK #2   4/90   Norway#1   16/5/90 8 weeks

There have been hundreds of songs written about Elvis Presley, and if one adds the songs that just mention ‘The King’ in passing, the list would doubtless extend to thousands. One of the more noteworthy efforts was the worldwide hit ‘Black Velvet’, as performed by Alannah Myles, a song that takes a rather unusual look at Presley’s success, and through the verses traces his career from birth to death. Myles was born Alannah Byles in Toronto, Canada on Christmas Day 1958 and began performing when she was nineteen, though she’d be almost 30-years-old by the time she got a deal with Atlantic records in 1988 – she was apparently signed unseen on the strength of her demo-recordings, made with the assistance of her boyfriend Christopher Ward.

A Canadian journalist and songwriter, Ward wrote ‘Black Velvet’ in 1987 while he was on assignment for Canada’s video music channel MuchMusic. Putting together a story around the 10th anniversary of Presley’s death and travelling on a tour bus in Memphis with 40 Elvis fanatics he says he “came to understand what the incredible passion was that these people had for this man, and what he really represented to them.” The song equates the popularity of Elvis with that of southern fundamentalist preachers – Ward says he realized “there was a real parallel between that power of religion and the power that he (Elvis) possessed in bringing rock and roll to people” – hence the line, ‘A new religion that will bring you to your knees’. Recorded in Toronto in a 99 degree heatwave, Myles sang her vocals in a basement studio with no air conditioning, though the sweltering heat helped conjure up a hot day in Memphis and inspired her to a powerful performance.

‘Black Velvet’ was a massive international hit reaching Number 1 in America and Canada, 8 weeks at Number 1 in Norway and the Top 5 in a dozen countries including England, Australia, Germany and Sweden shifting several million copies while Myles’ self-titled album, also a major success in many markets, became the best-selling debut album ever by an artist in Canada. ‘Black Velvet’ won Myles a Grammy for Best Female Rock Performance and in 2005, writers Christopher Ward and David Tyson received an ASCAP award for over 4 million plays on American radio. Unfortunately, Ms Myles has suffered from what was basically a one-hit career – numerous follow-up’s failing to make any notable impression outside of Canada. Following a ten-year hiatus resulting from various legal and contractual problems, she re-recorded ‘Black Velvet’ for her home market in 2008 and remains a popular artist there.

(Some other hit songs that are a tribute to or about Elvis include Dire Straits’ ‘Calling Elvis’, which cleverly strings together numerous Elvis titles, ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ by Queen which Freddie Mercury wrote in ten minutes in the bath (!), Marc Cohn’s ‘Walking In Memphis’ and Depeche Mode’s ‘Personal Jesus’, also covered by one of Elvis’s Sun Records buddies Johnny Cash)

Copyright © 2017 SongStories/Tony Burton

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