In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
When Elvis Presley was in the Army and stationed in Germany, he heard “There’s No Tomorrow,” a 1949 single from the pop belter Tony Martin that used the melody of “O Sole Mio,” the old Italian song. Presley liked the idea so much that he told his publisher he wanted a song like that of his own. So the songwriters Aaron Schroeder and Wally Gold reportedly spent half an hour banging out some lyrics that would fit the “O Sole Mio” melody. The resulting song, “It’s Now Or Never,” was one of the biggest sellers of Presley’s career. In the UK, “It’s Now Or Never” was so beloved that it hit #1 twice — first in 1960, and then again after a 2005 reissue.
“It’s Now Or Never” remains a prime example of what Presley could do in his cheeseball-entertainer period. It’s not the threatening, sex-addled yawp of Presley’s early years. It’s softer and sweeter. The backbeat is a more ornate take on Presley’s old R&B thump, with little flourishes of piano and Spanish guitar. It sounds like it’s striving for fanciness, which is probably exactly what was happening.
But what carries the song isn’t the arrangement. As with practically every Presley song, it’s Presley’s vocal. Presley sang “It’s Now Or Never” in a higher register than he usually used, enunciating a little more clearly, and it’s just a masterful performance. You can hear the clear joy he takes in belting out this tune, especially when he reaches the last line and the urgency suddenly jumps up about 10 notches. Elvis could sing, you know?
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the Jamaican dancehall singer Sanchez singing the entire chorus of “It’s Now Or Never” on “Going Away,” his great 1998 Beenie Man collab: