Mac Davis, Billy Strange Recall Writing Elvis’ “New” No. 1 Hit

It appears that blind luck has done more to light up the 25th anniversary of Elvis Presley ’s death this month than any of the carefully planned ceremonies. To the surprise of everyone involved, a remixed version of the King’s 1968 single, “A Little Less Conversation,” has become a worldwide hit.

Already, the record has topped the charts in England (thereby giving Presley one more No. 1’s than the Beatles), the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Canada and Australia. This week, it stands at No. 56 on the American charts, an encouraging gain over the No. 69 spot at which it initially peaked.

“Remember that song I wrote many years ago called ‘I Believe In Music’?” asks Mac Davis , who, with Billy Strange, co-wrote the newly resurrected hit. “That’s one of the reasons why.”

Davis and Strange created the song to accompany a swimming pool scene in Presley’s 1968 flick Live a Little, Love a Little. The music might have remained a period piece, known only to Presley’s most rabid fans, had not the producers of last year’s Ocean’s Eleven remake hauled it out of mothballs to use in the film’s soundtrack. Then, Dutch disc jockey Tom Holkenberg remixed the song for a Nike World Cup soccer commercial. After that, there was no stopping it.

The co-writers haven’t been in touch with each other since their song went stratospheric. So their memories of how it originated still differ. Strange was in charge of scoring the movie and recalls that the song was written specifically to fill a hole in the soundtrack. Davis says he had already written the song, albeit from a woman’s point of view. Strange, he says, did the arrangement.

“Mac was living at my house at the time,” Strange says. “He was a songwriter that Nancy Sinatra and I had signed to our music [publishing] company. Mac came up with the title and part of the lyric, and I came up with the melodic structure and the orchestration and so forth. From that point on, it just sort of fell into place. The song was given to the producer on tape, and they said, ‘Yeah, we like that.’ So then we recorded it with Elvis.”

Davis remembers it differently. “I had my own place to live,” he asserts. “Actually, how the song came about was that I had originally written it hoping that Aretha Franklin would record it. Billy handed me a script and said, ‘Do you have anything that will fit here?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ But we had to change it around. I had to change the words to make it from a girl’s song to a guy’s song. They accepted it and liked it. Billy did the arrangement on it, and it went in the movie, and there you go.”

Strange says that Presley took to the song immediately. “He was a very, very quick study, particularly with something he liked. And he really fell in love with this particular song. Unfortunately, prior to that and even after that picture, Elvis had recorded a bunch of songs strictly for the picture that were just so-so kind of songs, not the kind of things that he really could get into. But he really felt good about ‘A Little Less Conversation,’ so he sang the britches off it.”

“The original lyric on it,” Davis explains, “was ‘I work hard all day to please you/Treat you just like a king/You come home just running your mouth/But you ain’t saying a doggone thing/Give me a little less conversation/A little more action please.’ So I had to change that around. In the scene in the movie, [Elvis] was trying to get this girl to leave the swimming pool party with him. So I changed it around to where Elvis’s people would accept it, to where it was not quite so funky around the edges.”

Both men admit they were totally surprised by the song’s resurgence. “I hadn’t a clue,” says Strange. “I knew nothing. The first clue I had that something was going on with it [was when] the wife and I went to see Ocean’s Eleven — strictly because I had worked with Nancy and Frank Sinatra and I wanted to see what the remake of [Sinatra’s 1960] picture sounded like and looked like. We were sitting there, just enjoying the film, and all of a sudden this guitar and bass lick started up. I looked at her, and she looked at me, and then the vocals started, and I said, ‘That’s my song!’”

“I knew that it had been licensed to Nike,” Davis says. “That’s all I knew. And I had seen it being used in Ocean’s Eleven. I just kind of went, ‘Whoa! That’s my song.’ … I called my lawyer and said, ‘Check this thing out and see if we’re getting paid for it.’ He called back and said, ‘Yes.’ The next thing I know, a friend of mine, Bobby Tomberlin, who is a songwriter here in Nashville — he wrote ‘One More Day’ — called me and said, ‘Mac, are you aware of what’s going on? You’ve got the No. 1 record in the United Kingdom.’ That’s basically the way I found out about it. It’s very exciting. It’s wonderful. That’s what’s great about the music business.”

“It’s just been scary,” Strange concludes. “It couldn’t be much better unless someone came to my house and took a dump truck and unloaded all that cash.”

Elvis Presley Tribute : The King Remembered