Who could have guessed that "It's Now or Never," a reworked version of the 1901 Italian opera-style classic "O Sole Mio" with a cha-cha arrangement would become Elvis Presley's biggest-selling single? But then, in 1956, when Elvis was skewered by most newspapers in the country for thrusting his hips to the bluesy beat of "Hound Dog," no one would have guessed that he would become a press favorite in just four short years.
Elvis won the hearts and minds of the mainstream press and general public by quietly serving his country in the army. This helped soften his image as a dangerous rock 'n' roller. Further distancing himself from that image, Elvis began to move away from rock ‘n’ roll when he returned to recording in 1960. "It's Now or Never" was an important single release for Elvis in that regard. It received airplay on conservative radio stations that previously wouldn't have touched a Presley record, thus exposing Elvis to a wider, adult audience.
Yet Elvis did not record the song just to gain a broader audience. "O Sole Mio" was written by G. Capumo and Eduardo di Capua at the turn of the century, but it had been made popular much later by Mario Lanza.
Elvis was a fan of Lanza and undoubtedly heard the opera singer's recording, but he had also heard the English version of the song, "There's No Tomorrow" by Tony Martin. While still in the army, Elvis asked his music publisher, Freddie Bienstock of Hill and Range (a part of RCA), to find someone to write new lyrics for the song.
The only songwriters available at Hill and Range to do it were Aaron Schroeder and Wally Gold, who jumped at the chance because they knew the royalties on an Elvis Presley song would be enormous. They composed the lyrics in less than half an hour. A singer named David Hill (aka David Hess) recorded the demo with a cha-cha arrangement, and Elvis loved it. He was challenged by the operatic style, and he was attracted to the drama of it.
"It's Now or Never" charted for 20 weeks, holding the number-one slot for five weeks. Worldwide sales of the tune, according to The Guiness Book of Recorded Sound, eventually exceeded 20 million copies.
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"It's Now or Never," a reworked version of the 1901 Italian opera-style "O Sole Mio,"
introduced Elvis to a wider, more "adult" audience.