Elvis Presley and Otis Blackwell's "All Shook Up": The Story Behind the Song
To pay tribute to both Elvis and ourselves on this otherwise bummer of an occasion, here's the story -- with nifty video enhancements -- of how "All Shook Up" came into the world.
The story of "All Shook Up" begins with "Don't Be Cruel." Recorded in the spring of 1956, "Don't Be Cruel" was the first song written by Otis Blackwell, a Brooklyn-born pianist and R&B-obsessive, that Elvis made into a hit. Blackwell quickly became one of Elvis's favorite writers. Associates close to the pair later noted how Elvis even began to pattern some of his newly-acquired city boy languor -- or what would become known as Elvis's cool -- on Blackwell.
As Blackwell later recalled in countless interviews, "All Shook Up" began as a challenge. Blackwell often joked to colleagues he could write a pop song on any theme or around any phrase. "Great Balls of Fire" is an example of a hit Blackwell wrote on such a dare. In the autumn of 1956, one Blackwell's bosses at his publishing offices dropped an unopened bottle of Pepsi on the ground. When he removed the cap, the soda exploded all over his white shirt. In frustration, Blackwell's boss slammed the half-emptied Pepsi bottle on Blackwell's desk. "There," he said, tersely. "Write a song about that."
Blackwell studied the bottle closely for about a couple of seconds before finally shaking it again. Legend (corroborated by Blackwell, one assumes) says he wrote the lyrics to "All Shook Up" before the bubbles had completely settled back into the beverage.
The song was an instant smash and by the summer of 1957 was inescapable. In October that year, Elvis gave an interview that suggested another possible origin to the song:
Q: Elvis, do you read music?
A: No. And I can't play the guitar, either.
Q: What do you do with it if you don't play it?
A: [Laughs] I use it as a brace.
Q: Well, your name is listed on the credits of several hit tunes as the author. How do you write music if you don't read it?
A: It's all a big hoax, honey. I never wrote a song in my life. I get one-third of the credit for recording it. It makes me look smarter than I am. I've never even had an idea for a song. Just once, maybe.
A: I went to bed one night, had quite a dream, and woke up all shook up. I phoned a pal and told him about it. By morning, he had a new song, 'All Shook Up.'
Follow us on Twitter @SFAllShookDown, follow Andrew Stout @AnStou, and like us at Facebook.com/SFAllShookDown.