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Love Me Tender

No, it’s not a hymn, nor even a religious song. But it is about eternal love, and that is also Gospel-friendly. It’s been a long time since I’ve included a love song. My excuse for this one is that it was first performed 55 years ago this week.

Let’s get this straight: I am an Elvis fan, but I must tell the truth. Despite his name in the credits, Elvis Presley did not write this song. The tune was first published in 1861, as a Civil War ballad called Aura Lea, by George R. Poulton, with lyrics by W. W. Fosdick. Over the next hundred years, it generated several popular versions with different lyrics. In 1956, songwriter Ken Darby created yet another set of lyrics to the old tune, for the 20th Century Fox movie, The Reno Brothers, in which the young Elvis Presley played a part. Elvis first performed the song on the Ed Sullivan Show, on September 9, 1956, as a plug for his upcoming movie. He was not yet known for singing ballads, and neither the movie trailer nor the advance copies of the record had yet been released. So popular was his crooning, however, that one day later the record had sold a million reserved copies, earning a gold record in a single day's sales, before even one copy was released! 20th Century Fox changed the title of the movie to Love Me Tender, to take advantage of this astounding publicity, but still killed off Elvis’ character in the last act.

Although Elvis had no part in writing the lyrics, and the music was in the public domain, he was given equal credit as co-writer, because his contract required it. (Elvis did not actually write any of the songs he recorded.) In a fit of pique, Darby transferred his part of the credit to his wife, Vera Matson, “because she didn’t write it either.” Elvis was well-known as a tyrant in the recording studio, too. Ironically, he made so many last-minute changes to the arrangement and the lyrics of this song, that his credits as songwriter may have been partially justified after all.


The metronome setting is for quarter-notes, but I have recast the piece in 8/8 time, instead of 4/4, to make the counting easier. So remember, each tick of the metronome represents two counts.

Nearly all the chords in this song are variants of D, E, and A. If you wish, you can just play those three chords, and it’ll sound okay, but you’ll miss all the cool harmonies. If even “The King,” with his gorgeous voice, needed to add bass and harmony, the rest of us will need to also. Unlike 99 percent of the songs on this blog, this one is intended to accompany a singer. If you don’t have the voice for it, find someone who does.

Strum all the chords with your thumb, or with a soft flat-pick, for the mellowest sound you can get. If you have looked up the chords to this song on other Internet sites, you will notice I have included several additional chords. If you listen to any of Elvis’ actual recordings, you will note that HE always included the “extra” chords too. You can dumb it down if you want to, but it will show. Elvis used the barre chords, which you’ll see if you watch him play this piece on any You-Tubes of his early TV appearances. Or, listen to the chords played by his backup musicians. Like many other really beautiful songs, this one sounds a lot simpler than it really is.

The song is played in a hesitation rhythm: / one-and-two-(and)-three-and-four-(and)- /. The second and fourth notes of each measure are accented, and the intermediate notes following them are not played at all. True, it would be simpler to play this in straight 4/4 time, with an alternating bass note, and that’s how most guitarists do it, but it’s NOT how Elvis or his sidemen played it! I tried writing out the count as / 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & / but it got too confusing, so I recast it as 8/8 instead. Purists may grumble, but it’s lots easier to figure out that way.

All the chords are quite ordinary for any intermediate guitarist who is used to playing barre chords, with the possible exception of the DII in the second finale. You may find this chord difficult, though it’s just a barred C-shape. If you like, just play the normal D in Finale 1, then repeat and fade. That’s how Elvis’ sidemen did it, while he held the last note with his voice. This emphasizes the voice, at the expense of the guitar, and is great, IF, like Elvis, you have the voice for it. I don’t, so I use Finale 2 to cover.

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