My knowledge of Conway Twitty stems from two incidents as a young child. The first was a lengthy and frequent commercial for a Twitty hits compilation released soon after his 1993 death, featuring brief clips of songs like “Slow Hand” and his duet with Loretta Lynn, “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” (the fact that Loretta was from Butcher Holler, Kentucky, not my home state of Louisiana, as the song alleged, bothered my literal nine-year-old mind). The other was from music class at my elementary school, where Mr. C taught us “The Telephone Hour” from Bye Bye Birdie and informed us that while the character of Conrad Birdie was based on Elvis, the name was a joke on fellow singer Conway Twitty. I had a hard time imagining Twitty as anything but the bouffant-haired guy in an embroidered suit from the ’70s variety show clips featured in the commercial, much less a pop idol on par with Elvis. It wasn’t until I listened to ”It’s Only Make Believe” for this blog that I heard the early rock ‘n’ roll(ish) incarnation of Conway Twitty.
Allegedly “Conway Twitty” was believed at the time by some to be a pseudonym for Elvis Presley. (As to why Presley would need a pseudonym to record material that sounded pretty much sounds like the rest of his catalogue, I’ve found no explanation.) Twitty’s voice itself doesn’t sound all that much like the King’s, but he fully embraces his shuddering vocal mannerisms. Each line of the verse is a step higher than the last, so by the time Twitty hits the chorus of “It’s OOOOOOONNNNLY MAAAAAAKE BELIEEEEEEEEVE,” he’s really bellowing it out. This tension from the building vocals matches the frustration of the lyrics, in which Twitty laments being with a partner who doesn’t love him the way he loves her. He holds out hope that she’ll one day return his affections, only to crush his rising hopes again and again with the recurring realization that all his prayers will never be answered. While the song falters in comparison to any of Elvis’s big hits, it’s still a powerful statement of love in vain. 6
- Twitty’s real name was Harold Lloyd Jenkins, named by an uncle who was a fan of silent film comedian Harold Lloyd.
Hit #1 on November 10, 1958 for 1 week; re-peaked on November 24, 1958 for 1 more week; total of 2 weeks at #1
5 of 963 #1′s reviewed; 0.52% through the Hot 100