“I don’t want Elvis competing with his own movies.” -- Tom Parker
From an interview with Elvis upon his return to Graceland from the army:
The snow was swirling about the plane as it made its dissent to McGuire Field near Fort Dix, New Jersey on March 2nd, 1960. Elvis’s anxiety mounted as he neared the end of his 14 hour flight from Germany. At this time in his life, “The King” hated flying. But his stress level was not just the product of his fear of flying. He was flying back into a world he had left two years before and he was staring at an uncertain future. While Elvis Presley hadn’t disappeared from the music charts in 1958 and 1959, he hadn’t recorded any new music or made any public appearances. Elvis was as aware as anyone that the pop music business was a fickle one. He had experienced a meteoric rise to fame in 1956 and ushered in the phenomenon of rock and roll music; a genre that many had viewed as a fad which would soon go the way of all fads. But in 1960, rock and roll continued its dominance of the popular music world. The question was whether or not Elvis Presley still had a place in that world.

Elvis’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, had done his best to make sure that Elvis would maintain a presence during his army days. In January of 1958, a couple of months prior to his March induction, Elvis recorded the songs for his 1958 movie, “King Creole” and his next number one song, “Hard Headed Woman” (from the movie). He would have one more recording session in June during his two week furlough before being shipped to Germany. The songs recorded during these two sessions would be parceled out over the next two years and keep Elvis on the charts. But by early 1960, the can was empty.

And by 1960, rock and roll had changed. The music had become much more polished than the initial rock-a-billy sound that Elvis had pioneered. The major labels had gone out and recruited new talent that they could package to appeal to the teenage demand that Elvis had created. While the teen and preteen girls swooned to the likes of Paul Anka and Ricky Nelson, it was unclear how they would now respond to “The King” who hadn’t performed on stage for two years.

On March 5th Sergeant Presley was officially discharged. He was afforded all the trappings for the “Return of the King” as a private train car (remember he didn’t like to fly) was provided for the two-day trip to Memphis. All along the route, akin to political rallies often conducted from rail cars, fans congregated and Elvis would step out on the platform and give his greeting. This had to be reassuring, but he still hadn’t performed, or recorded any new material.

This was quickly remedied as he was engaged in Nashville on March 20th for an RCA recording session. Elvis was joined in the studio by his old band mates, Scotty Moore (guitar) and D. J. Fontana (drums). Bill Black (bass) was missing as he had formed his own group, “The Bill Black Combo” that was busy producing instrumental hits of their own in 1960. A new studio band that included Floyd Cramer (piano) was also employed. It was a much anticipated event as his label was desperate for some new hits, Elvis being their major entry in the rock and roll genre and at this point they were getting buried by the other labels. RCA scheduled an initial run of a million copies of the first single from this session. That wasn’t over confident as initial orders came in for 1,275,000. And all of this was before they even knew what song it would be. It ended up being “Stuck on You.” The session also generated much of the sound track for Elvis’s first movie following his army stint, “G.I. Blues.”

The fans were there, they were still buying the records. The only hurdle left was the public performance. Elvis’ career had been boosted by his appearance on Ed Sullivan’s show in 1956. Sullivan had originally despaired of booking rock and roll acts. Elvis’s return appearance would also come from an initially unwelcoming source. Frank Sinatra had been one of the original critics of rock and roll, declaring the music “phony and false.” But by 1960 he was changing his tune and booked Elvis for a “Welcome Back Elvis” special. The show was taped on March 26th. Elvis sang two of his new songs, “Stuck on You” and the flip side, “Fame and Fortune.” He also crooned “Witchcraft” while Frank countered with his version of “Love Me Tender.” The special aired on May 12th -- by that time, “Stuck On You” was number one.

Elvis had received a million dollar order for his first record before even recording it. He had received $125,000 for singing two songs on a television show. While “Stuck On You” may sound to some like a calculated rip off of the earlier “All Shook Up,” it was clearly rock and roll. To all appearances, the rock and roll that some had said died in 1959 would seem to be getting a new blast off from the same force that had inspired it in 1956. But just as the music world had changed, so had Elvis.

In April, another recording session was held in Nashville. And the product of this one would be much different. Elvis had always been a fan of gospel music and had recorded gospel songs for RCA. He was also an admirer of Mario Lanza. During his two years in the army his voice had matured and in the April recording session a more robust Elvis emerged. It produced two number one recordings for 1960, “It’s Now Or Never” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight.” These were clearly more middle of the road pop songs, far from the rock a billy of the early 1950’s. “It’s Now Or Never” was the operatic “O Solo Mio” with new words. “Are You Lonesome Tonight” was originally recorded by Al Jolson in 1926. While Elvis had successfully done ballads in the past (“Love Me Tender”) these represented a new trend toward songs more friendly to the adult public. It certainly wasn’t new energy for rock and roll.

Following his successful appearance on the Frank Sinatra special, Colonel Parker quickly announced that his boy wouldn’t be doing television appearances for less that $150,000 per show. What he meant was that Elvis wouldn’t be doing any, period. Instead he was whisked off to Hollywood to reestablish his movie career. His first post-army movie was a cookie-cut exploitation of his army “career,” “G. I. Blues.” Like the new music, this movie was a portent of things to come.

Elvis would continue his great box office success, both from the recording and movie studios. But he wouldn’t perform in public again for nine years. His movies all made money, but were mostly artistic jokes. Much of his music in the coming years would come from the movies and would reflect that quality. While Elvis was back, the energy was not. While the musical fire of 1960 wouldn’t “climb high into the sky,” contrary to what some have decreed, it didn’t “die.” It was smoldering. Artists such as The Ventures, Roy Orbison and The Drifters would make some great recordings. And Elvis would continue a prominent position on the music charts. It was still “The Elvis Era.” It was still rock and roll.

Elvis's return from the army produced some #1 records and a television appearance with Frank Sinatra.
Colonel Tom Parker took over as Elvis's manager in 1955 and negotiated a contract with RCA records. He remained Elvis's manager until his death. It was his strategy to have Elvis's recordings parcelled out while in the army, but he made sure the "can was empty" when Elvis was discharged so that he could negotiate new contracts.
After flying back from Germany, Colonel Parker (behind Elvis) arranged for a private train car to transport him to Memphis.
Elvis's appearance on Frank Sinatra's "Welcome Home Elvis" special would be his last time on television until his comeback concert in 1969.
Elvis's first single for RCA after his return was "Stuck On You." It was similar to many of his previous hits such as "All Shook Up." It was a #1 Billboard song.
Elvis capitalized on his military experience with his first movie after his return, "G. I. Blues."
Elvis finished 1960 with another #1 song, "Are You Lonesome Tonight." It pointed the direction of his new career that would be more of an appeal to "easy listening" stations and less of a rock and roller.