Today is the anniversary of one of the truly momentous occasions in popular music: On March 23, 1958, Elvis Presley reported for induction into the U.S. Army, thus opening up a thousand alternate timelines for musical historians to formulate "What if he hadn't?" scenarios. For the next few years, the charts were again dominated by the sentimentally saccharine sounds of Dick Clark-approved teen-idol crooners like Bobby Vinton and Paul Anka, with rock and roll relegated to the margins until its commercial fortunes were defibrillated (and how) by four Elvis-loving lads from Liverpool.
Throughout his military service, Elvis continued to chart with songs he recorded before or just after entering the army, mostly ballads like "One Night With You" and nothing approaching his earlier rockabilly rebel-rousers like "Hound Dog." Rocks Off thought we'd head in a little different direction to mark the anniversary, though. Save the title song to his comeback movie G.I. Blues
- some of which was filmed on location in Germany before he got out of the army - Elvis never addressed his military service in song much.
He wasn't much of a songwriter, period, and no way would manager Col. Tom Parker ever let him get close to a downer of a song like "Mama Bake a Pie (Daddy Kill a Chicken)." Instead, following are a few of our favorite military-themed songs that go a little beyond "If I don't go stateside soon, I'm gonna blow my fuse." Not that we don't still love the King, mind you.
Glen Campbell, "Galveston":
One of the true jewels of Glen Campbell and Jimmy Webb's long-running musical partnership, "Galveston" soars like the sea birds in the lyrics on a bed of meticulously arranged strings. It's been interpreted as a lovesick soldier's remembrances of the girl he left behind to serve in every U.S. armed conflict from the Civil War to Vietnam, but wasn't much of a marketing tool. According to a comment on the YouTube page
where Rocks Off found this video, the Texas Tourism office fired Campbell as its spokesman after the clip only convinced a little more than 2,000 people to visit the island city in the summer of 1969.
Johnnie Wright, "Hello Vietnam":
As a crop of U.S. Marine Corps recruits have their heads shaved at the beginning of Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket
(1987), Johnnie Wright's 1965 ballad plays in the background, resigned but patriotic: "We must save freedom now at any cost." A No. 1 hit for Wright - country-music legend Kitty Wells' husband for more than 70 years now - "Vietnam" was written by Tom T. Hall, who penned a decidedly less gung-ho sequel a few years later with...
Tom T. Hall, "Mama Bake a Pie (Daddy Kill a Chicken)":
Kentucky-born Hall, who served overseas around the same time as Elvis, released this heart-wrenching tale of a veteran returning from combat minus his legs and his sweetheart but with a bottle under his blanket on 1971's 100 Children
. Suffused with Hall's trademark black humor ("My uncle will be drunk and say, 'Boy, they're doing some great things with wood'"), the song was resurrected for yet another war on last year's The Fine Print by...