George Harrison Said Meeting Elvis Was ‘a Bit Sad’

Elvis Presley’s music inspired a generation of artists, including George Harrison and The Beatles. Once Harrison rose to fame himself, he had the opportunity to meet the other artist. While he looked forward to the meeting, he said that it was ultimately a bit of a letdown. He was hoping to meet the Elvis of his youth and met an entirely different version of the man. Harrison shared what he had hoped for in their meeting.

A black and white photo of George Harrison standing outside in front of stairs. Elvis holds a microphone and has a guitar across his chest.
George Harrison and Elvis | Evening Standard/Getty Images; Bettmann/Contributor via Getty

George Harrison was a fan of Elvis’ music

Harrison said that he was stunned when he first heard “Heartbreak Hotel” during his childhood in England.

“When I heard Elvis’ ‘Heartbreak Hotel,’ I was on my bike passing somebody’s house, and they must have had a gramophone playing,” he said in the book George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters. “I couldn’t believe the sound of that record.”

He explained that it was unlike anything he had heard before.

“You’ve got to remember that in the 1950s, America was more cool than Britain, with everybody having their little Chevys or Cadillacs,” he said. “We were coming out of a world war, and it was depression. So for us, that was like the sound of hope.”

Harrison even said that hearing it for the first time was a spiritual experience.

He said that meeting the music legend was a bit disappointing 

In the 1960s, Harrison rocketed to fame in The Beatles, and Elvis continued to stoke the flames of his success. When Harrison saw Elvis in the 1970s, he found the experience disappointing. 

“I met him in Madison Square Garden a couple of years before the end,” Harrison said, per Far Out Magazine. “It was a bit sad really because he had all those squawking singers and trumpet players and that stuff. But he had a great rhythm section — James Burton and all that gang, and I just wanted to say to him, ‘just get your jeans on and get your guitar and do [sings] ‘that’s alright with me mama’ and bugger all that other crap.”

He said Elvis wore a “big white outfit on with all the gold things and the big belt buckle” and looked very little like he had when Harrison first heard his music. 

“I just wanted to say, ‘oh why don’t you go and do ‘That’s Alright Mama’ and ‘Baby Let’s Play House’ and get rid of all those chicks singing [whines] ‘ooooh I did it my waaay,'” he said. “It was sad but he did a couple of good tunes.”

George Harrison worried that pressure would give The Beatles the same fate as Elvis

After The Beatles broke up in 1970, fans continued pushing for a reunion. The demands frustrated Harrison. He firmly believed that the lengthy catalog of records and films should have been enough for people. The endless pressure from fans could have negative consequences, as Harrison saw with Elvis.

“They’ve got lots and lots of songs they can play forever. But what do they want? Blood?” he told Rolling Stone in 1979. “They want us all to die like Elvis Presley? Elvis got stuck in a rut where the only thing he could do was to keep on doing the same old thing, and in the end his health suffered and that was it.”

[Correction: An earlier version of this article included inaccurate information about when George Harrison first met Elvis Presley]

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