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“Outstanding pop-culture history.” —Newsday
The “smart and zippy account” (The Wall Street Journal) of how Las Vegas saved Elvis and Elvis saved Las Vegas in the greatest musical comeback of all time.
Elvis’s 1969 opening night in Vegas was his first time back on a live stage in more than eight years. His career had gone sour—bad movies, mediocre pop songs that no longer made the charts—and he’d been dismissed by most critics as over-the-hill. But in Vegas he played the biggest showroom in the biggest hotel in the city, drawing more people for his four-week engagement than any other show in Vegas history. His performance got rave reviews; “Suspicious Minds,” the song he introduced there, gave him his first number-one hit in seven years; and Elvis became Vegas’s biggest star. Over the next seven years, he performed more than 600 shows there, and sold out every one.
Las Vegas was changed, too. By the end of the ‘60s, Vegas’ golden age—when the Rat Pack led a glittering array of stars who made it the nation’s premier live-entertainment center—was losing its luster. Elvis created a new kind of Vegas show: an over-the-top, rock-concert extravaganza. He set a new bar for Vegas performers, with the biggest salary, the biggest musical production, and the biggest promotion campaign the city had ever seen. He opened the door to a new generation of pop/rock artists and brought a new audience to Vegas—not the traditional well-heeled older gamblers, but a mass audience from Middle America that Vegas depends on for its success to this day.
At once “a fascinating history of Vegas as gambling capital, celebrity playground, mob hangout, [and] entertainment Valhalla” (Rolling Stone) and the incredible “tale of how the King got his groove back” (Associated Press), Elvis in Vegas is a classic feel-good story for the ages.
In this fascinating entertainment history, Zoglin (Hope: Entertainer of the Century) examines the symbiotic relationship between Las Vegas and Elvis Presley. As Zoglin explains, Vegas underwent a handful of reinventions throughout the early 20th century in 1931 gambling became legal and construction began on the Hoover Dam, bringing in thousands of workers all of which laid the groundwork for the city's status as "gambling capital, celebrity playground, mob hangout, entertainment Valhalla" by the late 1950s, when Elvis first performed in Vegas. Much of Zoglin's account focuses on the evolution of the Vegas entertainment industry, from the performances of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack to Wayne Newton's embodiment of the city as a conservative, familiar destination in the 1960s for "middle-aged, Middle American audiences didn't want to be provoked." Vegas hotels hosted few pop and rock performers, but the arrival of performers like Tom Jones in 1967 paved the way for Elvis's landmark 1969 residency at the International Hotel. Elvis, rejuvenated and in top form, "established a new template for the Las Vegas show," one that Zoglin contends helped transform the city even further into an entertainment destination. Elvis fans will enjoy this richly sourced look at one of the most consequential performances of his career and his lasting legacy in the city that hosted him.