How Elvis Presley Got Away With Not Memorizing His Songs Later In His Career

How Elvis Presley Got Away With Not Memorizing His Songs Later In His Career | I Love Classic Rock Videos

Elvis Presley onstage via X @@HumanNatureLive

Las Vegas, the glittering oasis carved into the Nevada desert, thrives on the constant churn of novelty. Yet, even for the King of Rock and Roll, the city’s allure eventually wore thin.

After years of captivating audiences with his electrifying stage presence, Elvis Presley found himself trapped in a relentless cycle of residency shows. The early days, bursting with raw energy and groundbreaking performances, faded into a comfortable, yet monotonous, routine. 

By the early 1970s, the spark had dimmed in Elvis’s eyes. The charismatic performer fans once adored started appearing restless and disengaged onstage. This disinterest, surprisingly, wasn’t just directed at the audience – it extended even to the very core of his act, the music itself.

In a shocking revelation, a close friend of the King claimed Elvis adopted a rather unorthodox approach to cope with the Vegas grind: he simply stopped memorizing the lyrics to many of his own songs.

The King’s Fading Spark in Vegas

Presley’s return to live shows in Las Vegas was a roaring success. Signing on for a five-year residency at the International Hotel revitalized his career and reignited his passion for music. This excitement, however, proved short-lived.

After a year, the monotony of the Vegas schedule began to chip away at his contentment. Performing the same songs night after night eroded his interest. Soon, even memorizing the lyrics became a chore.

Sonny West, Elvis’s bodyguard, described a scene in the book Elvis: What Happened? by Steve Dunleavy, where a man named Kenny Hicks lay hidden beneath the stage, holding up cue cards with the lyrics for Elvis to read. This unorthodox approach highlighted the King’s fading engagement.

Red West, another bodyguard, expressed his shock at how audiences tolerated Elvis’s lack of focus. He couldn’t understand why fans accepted seeing their idol seemingly phoning it in.

The King’s Disillusionment Deepens

The King’s declining interest in his Vegas shows took a bizarre turn, according to West. West recounted instances where Elvis would announce a song as “new” and then proceed to read the lyrics off a piece of paper in front of the audience.

“I was amazed the audience stood for it,” West remarked, expressing his disbelief that such an unprofessional act didn’t generate negative press.

The bodyguard attributed this behavior to Elvis’s deepening boredom with his career. The Vegas routine had become a stifling cage, draining his motivation. “He was getting bored again,” West explained, “and when he got bored that was when he was impossible to be around.”

This boredom manifested in erratic behavior, with Elvis constantly on edge and seeking distractions. West described periods where they wouldn’t get more than three hours of sleep in three days as Elvis relentlessly chased ways to break the monotony.

Elvis’ Apathy Extends Beyond the Stage

The decline in Elvis’ enthusiasm wasn’t just evident in his Vegas routines. By the mid-1970s, it had seeped into every aspect of his career. Even the creative spark that fueled his recording sessions had dimmed. 

According to his bodyguards, Elvis actively avoided participating in the home recording sessions for the album From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee. This project, intended to be a more intimate and personal recording experience, seemingly lacked the appeal to capture his interest.

Red West offered a heartbreaking observation on the King’s waning motivation. “Toward the end, when we were doing Elvis at Home’ in 1976,” West recounted, “he couldn’t give a damn.” West described a stark change in Elvis’s work ethic. Gone was the dedication and focus that had defined his earlier career.

Instead, West explained, Elvis readily grasped at any excuse to delay or disrupt recording sessions. This often involved “goofing off” rather than putting in the necessary effort to create new music. The lack of focus and commitment painted a picture of a man struggling to recapture the passion that had once driven him.

Elvis Didn’t Write The Songs, Hence His Terrible Memory

Presley’s struggles with memorizing his own songs remain a topic of discussion. One contributing factor might be his lack of involvement in writing them.

Elvis himself acknowledged the disconnect, once remarking to Billboard, “It’s all a big hoax! I get one-third of the [writing] credit just for recording [a song]. It makes me look smarter than I am!” This quote highlights his awareness of the separation between performance and songwriting.

However, dismissing him solely as a performer would be inaccurate. While not a songwriter, Elvis was a multi-instrumentalist who actively influenced the sound of his music. 

He exercised creative control over arrangements and injected his own musical personality into every song, even if he didn’t pen the lyrics himself.