I Want You, I Need You, I Love You

50 Years Ago


   "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" is a popular song written by George Maurice Mysels and Ira Kosloff, and most famously performed by Elvis Presley.

   In April 1956, producer Steve Sholes was looking for a strong single to follow up Elvis Presley's colossal first RCA Victor hit "Heartbreak Hotel." Due to Elvis's busy touring schedule, Sholes needed to get him into the studio as soon as possible. Immediately after the current Texas/Oklahoma tour, he was already booked to make his debut engagement in Las Vegas starting the last week of April. So Elvis and his band chartered a small prop plane to Nashville for one day of recording between shows.

   En route from a late Friday the 13th (!) show in Amarillo TX, the plane developed engine trouble and fell from the sky several times. It almost didn't make it. The pilot got lost in the dark after takeoff, landed, had trouble with the fuel tank, landed again, and after one or two additional mishaps left Elvis and the band in Nashville, safe and sound, but in a state of near panic.

   Upon arrival early Saturday morning April 14, they were quite shaken up, ill-prepared and not in much of a mood for recording. Sholes was on hand to present Elvis with a gold record for "Heartbreak Hotel," and a Life Magazine photographer was waiting to do a story on the phenomenal rise of the young singer. After Elvis posed for photos with the gold record the session finally got underway; Elvis stripped off his jacket and shoes to record in his stocking feet, his hands stuck deep into the back pockets of his black pants. He'd arrived at RCA Studios with no ideas for the 9am-12pm recording session and therefore had no choice but to take Sholes' suggestions, one of which was "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You," a song that under normal circumstances Elvis might have rejected. It came directly from the New York music mill; Lou Kosloff, who wrote the incidental music for The Life Of Riley radio show, teamed with newspaper columnist and cartoonist George Mysels for the only hit either of them ever had. It was a ballad with a beat, but for whatever reason, Elvis' attempt came out sounding stiff, no matter what they did.

   The terrifying plane ride couldn't have helped, nor could the band's crazy schedule or the fact that they weren't used to working that early in the day. Take after take was ruined for one reason or another. Elvis, usually a very quick study with a song, couldn't get the lyrics right. Marvin Hughes had replaced Floyd Cramer on piano for this session, but otherwise the group was the same as it had been for the Heartbreak Hotel session back in January, with Ben and Brock Speer and Gordon Stoker providing the backup voices. This time, though, the vocals didn't sound quite right; Gordon felt "it wasn't a real quartet," and when he told Elvis as much, the two agreed that from now on Stoker's group, the Jordanaires, would act as Elvis' backup singers. After just three hours, seventeen takes, and more than a hundred photographs, Elvis and the band flew through turbulent weather back to Memphis and a brief Saturday night visit with their families before rejoining the tour in San Antonio on the following day.


   Sholes himself wasn't entirely disappointed with the recording he got, but he was certainly unhappy with the bigger picture. He wrote Colonel Parker right away to complain about what a "hassle" the whole session had been, and to express his frustration that producing a second album seemed to be such a low priority to everyone but him. Elaborate arrangements had been made to fly the musicians into Nashville, and the result was just a single song, when the three-hour session should have produced four masters. In the eyes of a very professional man, this was unprofessional behavior.

   Steve had also noticed that Elvis and Chet Atkins didn't seem to hit it off and wondered whether that was why the record didn't sound as good as the recent Jan/Feb sessions Steve himself had overseen in New York. Gordon Stoker remembers that Chet had referred to the young singer as just "another flash in the pan"–– but then Gordon also felt it was Chet who had pushed aside his group in the first place in favor of the Speers, who were under contract to RCA.

   After the session, Sholes listened to the takes again. He wasn't certain of the results of what he considered to be a wasted session. He knew with Elvis's busy touring schedule, it could be months before RCA Victor got him back into the studio. Sholes was determined to get something out of the session.

   Performing what was a very rare (and generally unsuccessful) procedure for the 1950s, Sholes took parts of two takes he liked (takes 14 and 17) and cut and spliced them together to come up with a take worthy of release. His cuts were so seamless, nobody at RCA Victor could tell it wasn't from a single take.


   "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" was backed with "My Baby Left Me" (RCA 47-6540) and shipped in late May 1956. Preorders of over 300,000 were the biggest ever in the history of the label. At the time of its release, Elvis had 5 songs in the top 20: "Heartbreak Hotel", "I Was the One", "Blue Suede Shoes", "My Baby Left Me", and "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You".

   Elvis performed the song June 5, 1956 on the Milton Berle show and it quickly climbed the charts. On July 28, 1956 it knocked Gogi Grant's "The Wayward Wind" out of the top spot. "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" would stay at number one for only a single week. A small footnote in Elvis history considering his previous single "Heartbreak Hotel" reigned the charts for eight weeks and his next two singles, the mega-selling double-sided hit "Don't Be Cruel"/"Hound Dog" and "Love Me Tender", would rule the charts for a combined 16 weeks.

   This data was compiled by RSM from various sources (IWYINYILY wikipedia entry, the book "Elvis Presley: A Life In Music - The Complete Recording Sessions" by Ernst Jorgensen [St. Martin's Press 1998], RCA CD boxset "Today, Tomorrow and Forever, and scottymoore.net).

Click here for scans of Life's photos of that historic session.

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Also see Tennessean article, 1-19-06