Written by George R Poulton, Vera Matson, Elvis Presley, 1956
Elvis Presley might not have had one of his hit records if the Poulton family hadn't left England in 1835 to seek a new life in America. They settled in Lansburgh, New York, where young George learnt violin and piano, and hoped to move into conducting. At the age of 12 he also tried composing and, over the next two decades, had more than 20 songs published.
It was the age of minstrel shows, which often featured jaunty, upbeat songs. With this in mind, Poulton composed a tune, with words by lyricist William Whiteman Fosdick, which would be a contrast - a simple sentimental ballad with the highly traditional theme of a beautiful young woman with shining hair.
They called the song Aura Lee and it was published and copyrighted in Cincinnati in 1861: As the blackbird in the spring, 'Neath the willow tree Sat and pip'd I heard him sing Sing-ing Aura Lee.
Aura Lee! Aura Lee!
Maid of golden hair; Sunshine came along with thee, And swallows in the air.
Although Aura Lee was successful as a minstrel song, it gained unexpected popularity with the trainee soldiers at West Point, where it quickly became a graduating class song and gained new words (by LW Becklaw), soon becoming known as Army Blue. The song was also known later as The Violet and The Girl With the Golden Hair.
Soon after Aura Lee was released, the American Civil War began. Music is often part of war. Certain music gains a special currency among the combatants - and so it was with this conflict. Drums, fifes, fiddles, banjos and brass were played by camp fires, at ceremonies, while marching, and even during battle.
Aura Lee became a favourite for troops on both sides of the conflict. The image of the lovely girl was even added to another war song, The Yellow Rose of Texas: Talk about your Clementine Or sing of Aura Lee.
After the war, Aura Lee was taken up by barber-shop quartets and recorded by many artists, but its military connection still hovered. In the 1936 movie Come and Get It, Frances Farmer sang it as two different characters (she played a mother and daughter) in different voices.
It reappeared in The Last Musketeer (1952) and The Long Grey Line used it as a West Point song, under the titles, in 1955. Only a year later, Poulton's melody was to be launched to a much wider international audience.
An entertainment phenomenon called Elvis Presley had caused musical hysteria with his recording of Blue Suede Shoes - a hysteria that gained momentum through Heartbreak Hotel, then Hound Dog.
With the royalties from these successes, Elvis bought a roomy house in Audubon Drive, Memphis and, having reached impressive heights in recording and television studios, started to cast his eye on a possible movie career.
With the doubtful guidance of "Colonel" Tom Parker, a Dutch immigrant made an honorary colonel, in 1956 Elvis was contracted into his first role, in a movie to be called Love Me Tender. And it was decided that in it he would sing his first-ever non-rock ballad.
So a song was needed. The music director on the movie was Ken Darby, who found the 95-year-old melody Aura Lee. The simple tune needed no restructuring, but new words were called for. It is believed that Darby himself was responsible for the revised lyrics, but he gave the credits to his wife Vera Matson - and Presley. So was born the song Love Me Tender.
Elvis recorded it in August 1956 on a large sound stage without his usual band and backing singers. The second take was declared satisfactory and Love Me Tender was unleashed on a Presley-enthusiastic world. It topped the Billboard chart, remaining number one for five weeks.
Presley and his manager had no compunction about rearranging existing songs to suit themselves. Wooden Heart was a combination of new English words added to the German tune Muss Ich Denn, the French Plaisir d'amour became Can't Help Falling in Love and It's Now or Never was a rewrite of O Sole Mio.
After Presley, other artists stepped up to the recording mic with Love Me Tender: Connie Francis, the Platters, Tony Bennett, Marty Robbins, Kenny Rogers, Engelbert Humperdinck, Paul Anka, Ray Conniff, the Lettermen, Linda Ronstadt, even Frank Sinatra. It was difficult, however, to escape the shadow cast by Presley's intimate and huskily crooned performance.
• Taken from Love Me Tender: The Stories Behind the World's Favourite Songs by Max Cryer, published by Frances Lincoln on Thurs.Love Me Tender Written by George R Poulton, Vera Matson, Elvis Presley, 1956