It’s a bit funny that out of all the chart-topping singles that I could have landed on that would’ve been this challenge‘s introduction to the King himself (he has eighteen!), the very first one ended up being one of his least popular. Not “Heartbreak Hotel”, or “All Shook Up”, or “Jailhouse Rock”, or “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” – “Stuck On You”‘s the one! It’s sort of like how the first song that I covered from Michael Jackson was not “Billie Jean” but “Ben”, or how I covered “Don’t Forget About Us” before “Vision of Love”, “Emotions”, “We Belong Together”, or any of the better-known Mariah Carey number-ones. I guess these things are just bound to happen when I let a randomizer guide my way through this project!
In comparison to many of the aforementioned singles above, this particular song is usually considered a relatively less well-known record than some others from Elvis Presley. The most notable fact about this one is that it was the first single Presley released after his two-year leave to the US Army. Thus, it could be argued that much of the cause for this hitting the top of the Hot 100 is Presley’s wave of devoted fans’ anticipation over at last receiving a new song after two years of waiting. Then again, they didn’t really do much waiting after all, given that Presley’s label RCA heavily prepared for his enlisting by recording a bunch of records to be released during his time away from the studio. In fact, ten of these singles would become top 40 hits of their own, including the chart-topper “A Big Hunk o’ Love”. Nonetheless, there was still enough hype backing this single to top the Hot 100 for four weeks, ending the nine-week run of Percy Faith’s “Theme From A Summer Place“. It was Presley’s thirteenth number-one single overall, his first of the 60s, and eventually would become the ninth most popular song of the year.
However, comparing this song to his material from the few years leading up to it makes clear the ways in which this song sticks out. In particular, this song sees Presley using more of his lower bass vocal register, as opposed to his higher, raspier quality demonstrated in early rockabilly-style hits like “Hound Dog”, “Jailhouse Rock”, and “Hard Headed Woman”. Of course, Presley had famously made a name for himself with his unique singing style that balances these lower and higher registers – just take a listen to other songs like “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Love Me Tender”, and “All Shook Up”. The difference with “Stuck On You”, though, is that this bass register sounds much stronger than these earlier hits. While Presley often sounded a bit shaky when reaching these really low parts, he sounds much more comfortable here. This is helped by the much more polished production, elevated by simple instrumentals and catchy backup vocals from the Jordanaires.
Not all of it is strong, though – the lyrics in particular drag this song down in a huge way. A declaration of love to his betrothed, Presley begins the first verse: “You can shake an apple off an apple tree / Shake-a, shake-a, sugar, but you’ll never shake me”. I get the point being made here, but the “shake-a, shake-a” part definitely feels like filler that doesn’t need to be there at all. The second verse continues with, “Gonna run my fingers through your long, black hair / Squeeze you tighter than a grizzly bear”, which an even stranger comparison considering that grizzly bears aren’t particularly known for their hugs. And the inanity of this statement is really about as interesting as this song gets – the bulk of the lyrics really just consist of Presley-style wordless vocalizations (“Uh-huh-huh, yes siree, uh-huh-huh”). The hook is fine and good – “I’m gonna stick like glue, because I’m stuck on you” – but it just makes for a combination of words and phrases that really have nothing at all to do with each other. This sloppiness in songwriting ranks this among Presley’s most forgettable fare.
But then we get to the bridge and… oh, dear. This is a big reason why I can’t get into a bunch of these love songs from the era, with their antiquated tendencies to treat women like their lovers’ possessions. Here he states, “Hide in the kitchen, hide in the hall / Ain’t gonna do you no good at all / ‘Cause once I catch you and the kissin’ starts / A team of wild horses couldn’t tear us apart”. Ignoring the perplexing situation that might require one to resort to “wild horses”, it’s worth considering why this poor woman would be hiding from this guy in the first place. Additionally, I’m then forced to assume that the “kissin'” here is completely one-sided… and buddy, that’s sexual assault.
Nonetheless, I can’t really get too angry with this song. As I mentioned earlier, this is one of his least remembered hit singles, so history has been deservedly neglectful toward it save for Elvis fans themselves. It’s really not hard to see why – there is hardly anything to grab onto as far as a hook or melody is concerned and the songwriting is just dreadful. Presley sounds better than ever here, sure, but he would more successfully execute this timbre with later hits like “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, “Devil in Disguise”, and (my personal favorite Presley chart-topper) “Suspicious Minds”. Anyway, this guy’s career is one of the most gargantuan to ever exist – though the concentration on his music tended to peter out through the rest of the decade, he still topped the Hot 100 five more times. There’s a whole lot more to discuss when it comes to Elvis Presley – let’s consider this one more of an awkward introduction than anything else.