Skip to content

Heart of Wood

 

By Bob Pakes
 
 

So, the boy who dared to rock and was filmed from the waist up, all of a sudden sang silly German folk songs to stuffed creatures in puppet theatres? What happened???
 
Love it or hate it, Wooden Heart has most definitely left its mark on the Elvis Presley legacy and nowadays counts as one of his biggest worldwide hits.
 

In this topic, we’ll first take a quick look at the (in)famous movie scene,
before we explore the massive impact of the Wooden Heart single around the world.

 


 

Bob Baker (1924-2014) was a legendary puppeteer whose puppets have appeared in numerous TV shows and movies, including Star Trek, Bedknobs And Broomsticks, A Star Is Born and G.I. Blues. In the photo below, Bob is standing to the right of Tulsa.
 

 

Below we see the actual puppets Bob Baker used in the Wooden Heart scene.

 

Bob Baker GI Blues puppet 3 Bob Baker GI Blues puppet 2 Bob Baker GI Blues puppet 1

 

 

 

To the left we see a two sided acetate of Wooden Heart. This rare 10″ record in the 33 1/3 RPM speed, contains two versions of the song, one of which is an instrumental.

Wooden Heart saw the light of day in October 1960, when it was released on the G.I. Blues soundtrack. This is where we’ll start our Wooden Heart story.

 


 

GERMANY

 


 

In early November 1960, RCA in Germany announced that Wooden Heart would be Elvis’ upcoming new single. However, Polydor surprised RCA with their sudden and unannounced release of Gus Backus’ version of the song. Gus Backus was an American singer/actor who, like Elvis, was stationed in Germany as a soldier in the late 50’s, and who scored a string of hits in the early 60’s.

 

Caught off guard, RCA quickly rushed their Elvis single into German stores, only days after Gus Backus’ single had been released and a week ahead of RCA’s planned release date.

At this point, a cover for the Elvis single had not yet been designed, causing the first pressing to be released in the sleeve we see to the right.

 

Wooden Heart Germany 47-9340 A Wooden Heart Germany 47-9340 B

Wooden Heart /
Tonight’s All Right For Love

Here we have the official, and more common, front and back cover of the German single.

For clever marketing reasons, the emphasis of the text on the sleeve was on the German roots of not just the A side of the single, but also the B side.

 

It’s easy to assume Elvis’ Wooden Heart must have gone to number 1 in Germany, but it actually ‘only’ reached the number 2 spot.

The listing to the right shows the combined sales of Elvis and Gus Backus’ versions of the single, and this combo indeed reached the top of the German chart in January 1961.

 

 

Germany 47-9340-D (1969) AAbove we see an interesting article from March 1961 reflecting on the incredible success of Wooden Heart in German jukeboxes. According to the article, Wooden Heart was banned by radio networks in certain parts of Germany, for the reason that Elvis had destroyed Muss I Denn with his modern reworking of this beloved German folk song. As a result of the ban, jukebox owners were “reaping a golden harvest” because fans of the song in Bavaria and West Berlin were forced to feed the jukeboxes in these areas, with a combined population of 11 million, whenever they wanted to listen to Wooden Heart. However, the ban must have also seriously affected sales of the single since it was much less promoted through radio play. The ban could even have kept Wooden Heart from reaching the number 1 spot.

The single was re-released in RCA Germany’s Golden Era Of Hits series in 1969.

 


 

HOLLAND and BELGIUM

 


 

Holland 1 (March 20, 1961)

Wooden Heart /
Tonight’s All Right For Love

Released in Holland and Belgium in January 1961, Wooden Heart went to NUMBER 1 in the low countries in February and March.
 
Especially in The Netherlands Wooden Heart was a huge hit, where it remained in the top spot for an incredible 7 weeks.

 

On the Holland chart to the left, residing at the number 8 position, is Afscheid Van Een Soldaat, the Dutch version of Wooden Heart, while Are You Lonesome Tonight? is at number 5. On the Belgian chart, Elvis holds both the number 1 and number 2 position.

 

Wooden Heart was re-released in Holland and in Belgium in 1977, reaching the number 2 and number 5 position respectively.

 


 

UNITED KINGDOM

 


 

Wooden Heart /
Tonight Is So Right For Love

Released in February 1961, Wooden Heart was also huge in the United Kingdom where it climbed to NUMBER 1 in March, a position it would hold for an amazing total of 6 weeks.

To the right we have the UK sheet music of the song.

Elvis set a record with Wooden Heart for being the first artist to have three consecutive number 1 songs in the UK. And only a few months later, Surrender would make that a staggering four consecutive number 1 hits!

 

UK (April 3, 1961) 1 UK (April 3, 1961) 2

 


 

AUSTRALIA

 


 

Wooden Heart /
Tonight Is So Right For Love

Wooden Heart also proved to be a winner Down Under. Released in February 1961, the single reached the NUMBER 1 spot in March and stayed in that position for 4 weeks.

To the right we have the Aussie sheet music of Wooden Heart.
 
Notice in the chart below, how dynamic the Australian singles chart in the early 60’s was with the complete top 5 being new entries this particular week.

 

In 1967, RCA Australia released a new series of Elvis EP’s that included the EP we see to the right, which had Wooden Heart as its headliner.

In 1968, Wooden Heart was released once again in a special series of 45’s that had all achieved the status of gold record.

 


 

SOUTH-AFRICA

 


 

South Africa Wooden Heart sheet music

Wooden Heart /
G.I. Blues

Wooden Heart, released in South-Africa in 1961 on the 78 RPM format, not just reached the NUMBER 1 position in this country, it was also that year’s biggest seller, earning itself the distinction of South-Africa’s SINGLE OF THE YEAR.

To the right we see the South-African sheet music of the song (in low quality).

 


 

Next to the immense chart success Wooden Heart enjoyed in 1961 in the countries that are mentioned above,
that same year it also went to number 1 in Austria, to number 2 in Canada, and to number 3 in Norway and New Zealand.

 

Wooden Heart was also released on 45 in France, Ireland, Italy, India, Chile, Denmark, Greece and Spain (where it was released with 5 different picture sleeves), and probably in many other countries around the globe as well, but chart info seems not be available.

Pictured below, are the Italian pressing of Wooden Heart (to the left) and two of the very hard to find Spanish variations of the single.

 

 

Two 78 RPM releases that are certainly worth mentioning, are the singles that were released in Argentina, where Wooden Heart was coupled with Blue Suede Shoes, and The Philippines, which included Frankfort Special as the B side.

 

But how did RCA handle this extremely successful Elvis recording in two of the music industry’s biggest markets, the USA and Japan?

 


 

USA

 


 

USA LPM-2256 G.I. Blues sticker Did RCA in the USA treat Wooden Heart nice and good, like it really should? No, not really.

When the G.I. Blues soundtrack was released in October 1960, it included the hype sticker to the left. So we can assume RCA must at least have had faith in the song from a commercial point of view. However, Wooden Heart was not released as a single. That is to say: Elvis’ song wasn’t released on 45, but Smash Records released Joe Dowell‘s cover of it, and Joe took the song straight to number 1 in August 1961.

 

USA Wooden Heart sheet musicGus Backus‘ version was also released in the USA (on Fono-Graf), as were versions by Dave Kennedy (on Cuca) and Li’l Wally And The Harmony Boys (on Jay Jay).

Worth mentioning in this regard, is that by September 1961, also no less then five so-called answer songs (all by female singers) were on the market in the US:
1. (You Don’t Have A) Wooden Heart by Bobbi Martin on Coral.
2. (You Don’t Have A) Wooden Heart by Linda Hall on Cuca.
3. (I Know That) Your Heart Is Not Made Of Wood by Terri Dean on Madison.
4. (I Know That) Your Heart Is Not Made Of Wood by Marie Ann on Epic.
5. I, Too Have No Wooden Heart by Rhea Renee on Sara Records.
(For those interested, four of these answer songs can be ‘enjoyed’ on YouTube)

RCA clearly missed the boat by not releasing Wooden Heart on 45 in 1961. But the company made up for this by releasing it (not once, but twice) a few years later.
 
To the right we have the US sheet music of the song, as published in late 1960.

 

USA 447-0720 A USA 447-0720 B

Blue Christmas /
Wooden Heart

In November 1964, after four years, Wooden Heart was finally released on 45, as the B side of an even older song, as stated “By Popular Request”.

Credit for the nice artwork of this single should go to RCA Victor’s art department.

 

USA 447-0650 A USA 447-0650 B

Puppet On A String / Wooden Heart

In October 1965, RCA again tried to find an audience for Wooden Heart, now coupled with Puppet On A String.

However, it was a clear case of too little, too late. On both occasions the singles failed to even enter the singles chart.

 


 

JAPAN

 


 

In December 1960, RCA Japan had released G.I. Blues and Doin’ The Best I Can as a single, which became a number 1 hit for Elvis. Also the movie’s full soundtrack album, released one month later, was another incredible seller. RCA Japan then released the singles Are You Lonesome Tonight?, Surrender and I Feel So Bad, before deciding to give Wooden Heart a try on single in September 1961. This choice was undoubtedly inspired by the huge commercial success of the song on different continents around the world.

 

Japan SS-1271 B1

Wooden Heart /
Pocketful Of Rainbows

However, by the time the above combination of songs was released on 45, Japanese fans already owned these two tunes as part of the G.I. Blues soundtrack album that had been on the market for nine months, causing this single to fail on the chart.

 

Japan SS-1639 (promo)

Puppet On A String /
Wooden Heart

In early 1966, following the US release of Puppet On A String / Wooden Heart, RCA Victor in Japan also gave this single a chance. But, as had been the case in the USA, this single did not impress Elvis’ fans one bit, and Wooden Heart once again failed to chart.

 


 

What do we know about Elvis’ thoughts on the song?

Elvis most definitely was in very fine voice during the G.I. Blues recording sessions in April and May of 1960. He nailed Wooden Heart in only 4 takes, of which takes 1 and 4 resulted in complete versions of the song, while take 3 ended in one Elvis’ famous burts of laughter after he had messed up the German words in the song.

Elvis also seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself during the scene in the movie, which can be viewed in full by clicking here.
Sure, Tulsa McLean was no Danny Fisher, but between July 1958 (when King Creole was released) and November 1960 (when G.I. Blues came to theaters), the entertainment industry had drastically changed. And Elvis had successfully changed with it.

In the 70’s, Elvis did a few oneliners and abridged versions of Wooden Heart during his concerts. Especially the abridged versions can be seen as an indication of how aware Elvis was of the song’s status and popularity. Probably the most complete and best sounding live version of the song, was performed on December 13, 1975. Even though Elvis had trouble remembering the lyrics and joked around in familiar fashion, he also clearly tried to do the song justice. This nice performance can be heard by clicking ► below.

 

 


 

THANKS + CREDITS:

The chart listings and small articles that are reproduced in this topic, originate from the historical archives of Billboard.

For information about Elvis’ short but sweet recording session of Wooden Heart in 1960, visit Keith Flynn‘s incredible website here.

For more information about Elvis’ live versions of Wooden Heart in the 70’s,
visit this page of Francesc Lopez‘s fantastic website.

 


 

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. colonel snow #

    Nice article to read with good research.

    August 28, 2015
  2. Judith #

    Never ceases to amaze me, again a very nice topic. This was indeed a big hit in the low countries. Even my parents who only listened to classical music owned a copy of Wooden Heart.

    August 28, 2015
  3. Alan White #

    Another superb in depth subject, well done Bob.

    August 28, 2015
  4. Mike Windgren #

    Fantastic as always. Was nice to see those little puppets!.

    August 29, 2015
  5. Petri Makkonen #

    It is interesting that Joe Dowell’s cover version of Elvis’ “Wooden Heart” went number 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart on August 28th, 1961 and on Billboard’s Easy Listening chart it stayed as number 1 for 3 weeks. Elvis’ version got a lot of worldwide succes but in USA RCA Records couldn’t realize the song’s hit potential!

    July 10, 2021
    • Mister Moon #

      I don’t think US RCA Victor’s single release policy for Elvis in 1960, 1961 and 1962 can be faulted. All of those records were Top Ten hits, and many of them were number one hits, starting with 1960’s three releases.

      I know I wouldn’t trade “Wooden Heart” for any of those singles.

      July 14, 2021

Leave a Reply

You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

error: Content is protected !!