Throwback Thrills – Elvis Presley & Frank Sinatra’s Legendary Collaboration

Though it lasted just a couple minutes, the Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley's duet is fondly remembered as one of pop music's favorite moments.

Colin Stutzby Colin Stutz

 

That the two biggest stars of their respective generations shared the stage at all is almost unthinkable, especially considering the attitude towards rock and roll at the time from music’s old guard.

Just three years earlier, Sinatra wrote a short article about American music for French magazine Western World, “My only deep sorrow is the unrelenting insistence of recording and motion picture companies upon purveying the most brutal, ugly, degenerate, vicious form of expression it has been my displeasure to hear—Naturally I refer to the bulk of rock ’n’ roll.

“It fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people. It smells phony and false. It is sung, played and written for the most part by cretinous goons and by means of its almost imbecilic reiterations and sly, lewd—in plain fact, dirty—lyrics, and as I said before, it manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth … this rancid-smelling aphrodisiac I deplore. But, in spite of it, the contribution of American music to the world could be said to have one of the healthiest effects of all our contributions.”

And though Sinatra never specifically targeted Elvis, the media made a fuss over this disparaging comment and brought it to Presley specifically as “the King of Rock and Roll.

Soon after, Presley was asked about the statement in a press conference. The Herald-Express quoted him saying, “He has a right to his opinion, but I can’t see him knocking it for no good reason. I admire him as a performer and an actor but I think he’s badly mistaken about this. If I remember correctly, he was also part of a trend. I don’t see how he can call the youth of today immoral and delinquent. It’s the greatest music ever and it will continue to be so. I like it, and I’m sure many other persons feel the same way.”

Fast forward two years, Presley was serving in the United States Army in West Germany and it was announced that following his release he would make his first television appearance in three years on Frank Sinatra’s Timex-sponsored variety show. Boosted by the media-perpetuated “feud,” this was nearly the musical equivalent of a boxing grudge match, despite that the two had spoken publicly of their admiration and respect for one another.

For his appearance, Presley would receive $125,000 — reportedly more than Sinatra was making for the whole series. As well, this was the first step in Presley’ targeting a new fan base among an older age group. Before his military service he had been seen as a menace to society, known for gyrating his pelvis and his raucous music. But now, thanks to his Army career and releases of ballads, he could redefine himself as respectable.

The following summer, Presley joined Sinatra for the fourth and final episode of his Timex show with the officially titled special It’s Nice to Go Traveling, more commonly known as Welcome Home Elvis. The whole show is setup as a welcome home party to The King, with Sinatra presenting a “gift” to the rock singer in the form of giving his two years of service back that’s a setup for the show’s sketches leading up to Presley’s performance.

Aside from Presley’s brief appearance the opening number, during which he walks out in his Army uniform, it’s nearly 40 minutes show before he performs, opening with both sides of his first post-army single, “Fame and Fortune” and “Stuck on You.” But when he and “The Voice” Sinatra do finally duet — a medley with Sinatra singing Presley’s “Love Me Tender” and Presley singing Sinatra’s “Witchcraft” — it’s a magic moment. What makes the moment amazing is not the strength of the performances themselves, but because there have never been, and never will be again, two musical icons so defining of their respective generations. Both of them are the epitome of cool in their own rights, defining American culture. 

Watch The Frank Sinatra Timex Show: Welcome Home Elvis right here.