The World's Lisa Mullins marks what would be Elvis Presley's 74th birthday with a look at how the King of Rock and Roll found inspiration...and an expanded vocal style...from listening to some well-known Italian ballads.
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LISA MULLINS: Elvis Presley was born 74 years ago today. Now, we're noting the birthday of this quintessentially American icon for a reason. Turns out that at a key moment in his career Elvis looked to Europe for his material. The year was 1960; Elvis had just completed a two-year stint for Uncle Sam. He had befriended another singer in the Army who taught Elvis how to expand his range. Elvis was pretty eager to show off his new vocal chops and tackle a style of music he'd never had the confidence to record before. He remembered a record his mother used to play. [MUSIC PLAYING] Elvis had listened to Italian tenor Enrico Caruso as a child. He loved the power of Caruso's voice, and so Elvis adapted "O Sole Mio" and made it his own.
ELVIS PRESLEY: [SINGING] It's now or never; my love won't wait.
MULLINS: Elvis then took a turn at another Italian ballad, "Torna A Surriento," sung here by Beniamino Gigli. [MUSIC PLAYING] Elvis's version was called "Surrender" and it featured another big finish.
PRESLEY: [SINGING] Be mine forever, be mine tonight.
MULLINS: So Elvis had learned to use his upper register for power, but now he could also use it for tenderness, and again Mediterranean melodies provided the vehicle. [MUSIC PLAYING] This is a Spanish tango called "La Paloma." Elvis sang it as, "No More."
PRESLEY: [SINGING] Come to me, let's be sweethearts again and then let us part no more.
MULLINS: Two days after that session Elvis turned to yet another European melody for inspiration. [MUSIC PLAYING] Sound a little bit familiar? The 18th Century French ballad "Plasir d'Amour" provided the basis for "Can't Help Falling In Love." We close our birthday salute
to the King with a song that he closed his concerts with in the 1970s. Thank you, thank you very much.
PRESLEY: Take my hand; take my whole life too, for I can't help falling in love with you. For I can't help falling in love with you.
MULLINS: The King on PRI, Public Radio International.