40 years ago, on August 16, 1977, Elvis Presley passed away while his single “Way Down” was sliding down the Top 100. It returned to the Top 40 even stronger. We remember him with its flip side “Pledging My Love.”
By Warren Kurtz
Flip side: Pledging My Love
A side: Way Down
U.S. Top 100 debut: June 25, 1977
Peak position: 18
From 1956 through 1977, Elvis Presley had multiple songs each year in the Top 40, more than 100 in total. In the winter of 1977, “Moody Blue” was in the Top 40 and its flip side “She Thinks I Still Care” also received airplay. In late June of that year, ahead of the July release of his anticipated “Moody Blue” album, the song which would become the album’s second single, “Way Down,” was released. It was written by Layng Martine, who received some radio airplay with his songs “Find Out if She Likes Me” and “Rub It In,” but ultimately achieved his main success as a songwriter. “Way Down,” recorded in October 1976, was lively, with a bit of a gospel vocal touch in the bridges. It included a bass vocal part from J.D. Sumner singing a very low “way on down” at the end of each chorus, and even deeper at the finale, tying the Guinness Book of World Records lowest vocal note recorded, three octaves below middle C. The single debuted in the Top 40 at number 40 in mid-July, peaking at number 31 in early August, lasting five weeks in the Top 40, before sliding “way down” for two weeks to numbers 47 and 53. The shocking surprise passing of Elvis Presley in mid-August, while “Way Down” was still in the Top 100, brought a resurgence of the single by Labor Day Weekend as “Way Down” returned to the Top 40 for an additional seven weeks, peaking at number 18 in late September. It reached number 1 on the country charts.
“Pledging My Love,” which would also be included in the “Moody Blue” album, served as the flip side of “Way Down.” This song had originally been recorded in 1954 by Johnny Ace, the same year that a young Elvis Presley recorded “That’s All Right” on the Sun label. The Johnny Ace original version featured Johnny Otis on vibraphone. Johnny Ace suffered an accidental death on Christmas Eve. The single was released posthumously in early 1955 and peaked at number 17, the same peak chart position for Teresa Brewer’s version of the song that year. Elvis Presley’s version of the ¾ time ‘50s hit featured tenderness and depth in his voice with a backdrop of piano, bass, guitar breaks, and a background vocal quartet. A 1983 remake of “Pleding My Love” by Emmylou Harris, from her album “White Shoes,” named after a Jack Tempchin composition, reached the Top 10 on the country charts.
Sales of Elvis Presley’s “Way Down” / “Pledging My Love” single was so strong in 1977 that it went platinum, making it his biggest selling single since 1972’s “Burning Love,” and his final platinum hit.
The new September 2017 issue of Goldmine includes four thorough articles from Gillian G. Garr – "The Boy from Tupelo," “The Elvis Legacy,” “Graceland’s Makeover” and “Elvis Release Roundup" plus an article on Elvis Presley record collecting from Frank Daniels.
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, around 9:05-9:25 a.m. Eastern time, on WVCR.com as part of “Moments to Remember.”