Book Review:

100 Things Elvis Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die

by Gillian G. Gaar

100 Things Elvis Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, Gillian G. Gaar, Triumph Books, USA, 2014, 256 pages, Illustrated, ISBN-13: 978-1600789083. Available in softcover and Kindle formats.

Reviewed by Nigel Patterson, April 2014

About the author: Gillian G. Gaar needs no introduction. As the EPE commissioned author of Elvis Remembered: 1935-1977 (EIN review to be published shortly) and the excellent Return of the King: Elvis Presley's Great Comeback, Gillian's works have impressed many due to her strong research ethic and superior writing skills.

Gillian's next Elvis book, Elvis The King: The Authorised Book from the Graceland Archives will be published in May 2014.

Gillian's other books include volumes on the Beatles, Nirvana, Green Day and her first book, the great She's A Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll.




Are you sometimes stumped with what to do on a cold, rainy day or after a long day at work? 100 Things Elvis Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die may just be the answer you have been looking for! There are five reasons why Gillian Gaar's latest Elvis book satisfies:

  1. as we have come to expect from one of the standout authors on things Elvis - it is solidly researched;
  2. it traverses such an interesting array of facts, trivia, lists and places to see that there is always something new and interesting on each page;
  3. Ms Gaar presents her subject matter not simply as a series of trivia, facts or lists, but in normal prose/narrative style;
  4. very importantly, Ms Gaar's ability to blend both trivia and insightful information in her narrative places 100 Things Elvis Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die in a class above the routine Elvis compendiums we are more accustomed to; and
  5. very cleverly (given and somewhat belieing its title), it provides, albeit chronologically offbeat, a neo-Elvis biography (the only possible minimalist element being Elvis' 'on stage' career).

In the introduction to 100 Things Elvis Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die the author (a committed Beatles fan) reveals how she became an Elvis fan and outlines the intent of her new book in "essentially distilling everything about Elvis into 100 key items across 100 chapters".

Ms Gaar also notes that any book of its "type" is necessarily subjective. Having said that, Ms Gaar has done a wonderful job producing a mouth watering smorgasboard of 'things Elvis', a delectable pot pourri of the core elements of the Elvis story and the sometimes indigestible intrigue of the underdone nooks and crannies of its shadowy recesses!

Sidebar: The marketing rhetoric for many books often exaggerates their content. Not so 100 Things Elvis Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, where its marketing pr neatly summarises exactly what you get on each of its 256 pages!:

With 2014 marking the 60th anniversary of the release of Elvis Presley’s first record, “That’s All Right,” this book makes the perfect companion for celebrating the life and music of one of the world’s most popular entertainers. Packed with history, trivia, lists, little-known facts, and must-do adventures, legions of Elvis fans around the globe who still adore him more than three decades after his death will delight in this ode to “The King.” Ranked from one to 100, the songs, albums, movies, places, personalities, and events that are the most important to know in Elvis lore unfold on the pages, offering hours of entertainment for both casual and serious fans.

The structure and nature of 100 Things Elvis Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die means that it is not meant to be a detailed micro-analysis of Elvis' life or career. Despite this, Gillian Gaar deftlly brings incisive intellect to her work, keenly observing and providing insight about macro-thematic issues. As a thoughtful, higher level appreciation of the Elvis story her book is very effective. That the author is able to do this without compromising the book's easy-to-read format or its power to entertain, is instructive of her writing ability!

Undoubtedly, Ms Gaar's sublime writing skills drive her book - her ability to bring the written word to life with insight, color and feeling shines:

Sam Phillips was the visionary producer who recognised Elvis' potential as a singer and had the capability to draw it out of him. His belief in the redemptive power of music, and his desire to seek out undiscovered talent and share it with the world, led to his working with a range of legendary musicians in addition to Elvis.

Trying to provide an overview of the eclectic range of information in 100 Things Elvis Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die cannot be done with any justice. A small number of randomly selected (and very diverse) items included are:

  • Elvis' first manager (before the Colonel)
  • how Elvis became known as "The King"
  • songwriter Irving Berlin's less than complimentary comments on Elvis' recording of the iconic White Christmas
  • Who's that girl? - the back story to Alfred Wertheimer's iconic photo "The Kiss"
  • the Elvis film that was 'dark', even 'menacing'
  • how Elvis' dependence on prescription medication started with a pharmacist who effectively said "Help yourself"
  • only available in America
  • the singles that charted a new course
  • Elvis' red period
  • the last major sessions in Elvis' career
  • Rocky & Bullwinkle's Elvis connection
  • Dr. Nick's fateful decision
  • Hawaiian hijinks
  • how to assemble a complete Elvis collection
Sidebar: Readers learn the three words Sam Phillips uttered on the fade out to Elvis' masterful recording of Little Junior Parker's, Mystery Train.

The author's approach to Elvis' music catalog is to draw attention to the more important recordings and influences, thereby maintaining the right tone and balance for the narrative.

On Elvis' critically acclaimed album following his release from the Army, Elvis Is Back, Ms Gaar records:

The album could’ve been subtitled Elvis Is Back And He’s All Grown Up. When Elvis recorded the album, he’d just turned 25 years old. And he now had greater command over his voice than he did when he first entered the recording studio. This is most apparent in “Fever,” where the only instrumental accompaniment is provided by bass guitar, congas, and finger snaps, which really brings Elvis’ voice to the forefront of this smoky, sultry number. His performance of “Reconsider Baby” (the album’s closing track) is superlative, with the song’s bluesy quotient underscored by Homer “Boots” Randolph’s accents on saxophone.

Elvis' film career is nicely covered. Ms Gaar devotes greater depth to Elvis' more important films while those many of us we want to forget receive only a brief descriptive mention (but still with something for the reader to learn and think about).

On Charro!, Ms Gaar observes:

With his love of action movies, a "Spaghetti Western" would seem an obvious choice for Elvis. But Charro! (1969) has a decided lack of suspense, despite some intense moments (Elvis is branded in one scene). A lost opportunity.

Sidebar: The Lisa Marie wasn’t the only plane Elvis bought in 1975. He also bought a Grumman Gulfstream G-1 for his manager (who turned it down on the grounds that he couldn’t afford to keep it) and an Aero Jet Commander, both of which were later sold.

He also bought a Lockheed JetStar and ran into trouble when the people hired to refurbish the aircraft turned out to be con artists; an FBI investigation resulted and wasn’t settled until after Elvis’ death.

The range of minutiae recorded by Ms Gaar is impressive, vast and diverse. It contains enough detail to inform a thousand Elvis trivia nights without a question or answer being repeated! The 100 chapters cover all of the 'usual suspects' (life, music, films, live performances etc) and many that are unexpected. The chapter titles include:

  • Elvis and Race
  • The Breakout Style
  • The Best Dance Number in an Elvis Movie
  • The Collectors Label
  • Elvis and The Fab Four
  • The Chart Toppers That Didn't Happen
  • The Bodyguard Book
  • Elvis in Print
  • The Lost Album
  • The "Team Elvis" Logo
  • All That Glitters
  • Live, Not Necessarily in Person
  • Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting (what a great title for a song)
  • Visit Hawaii
  • Hitting the Charts, Charting the Hits

...........and resonating recent other Elvis related book 'titles':

  • The Seeker
  • Dr. Feelgood

Sidebar: Elvis' Madison Square Garden album was the first time a live album had been drawn from a single show

Given the mammoth effort involved in researching and producing a book like 100 Things Elvis Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, it is reasonable to expect the odd error. In this respect I didn't notice anything that caused me any significant dissonance.

The numerous photos in 100 Things Elvis Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die are standard black and white images whose purpose is to provide a pause in-between the essence and soul of the book - its written content. The book also includes a bibliography of print and Internet sources. Note: Throughout the book the author ends many chapters by referencing sources for additional reading on the particular subject.

Verdict: 100 Things Elvis Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die is the perfect complement to a lazy afternoon, an evening by the fire or while enjoying the refreshing taste of boat drinks in the presence of a pleasantly warm, balmy breeze. A wonderful blend of prose, trivia and delicious food for surprises, illuminates and entertains. It is also a book you can read from cover to cover or just leaf through and enjoy specific subjects of importance to you at the time. It is a book you will regularly revisit. What more could anyone ask for!

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INTERVIEW: Gillian G. Gaar talks to EIN!

Read Gillian G. Gaar's Writer Profile on RocksBackPages

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