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Obituary: Wally Gold

BEFORE THE Beatles, the singers of the day were serviced by professional songwriters from Tin Pan Alley in New York or its London equivalent, Denmark Street. Many of Elvis Presley's songs came from nine-to-five jobbing songwriters and his most successful single, "It's Now or Never", was jointly credited to the music publisher Aaron Schroeder and his employee Wally Gold. This was hard on Eduardo di Capua who had written the music in 1901. Unfortunately for di Capua's descendant, the Italian original, "O Sole Mio", was out of copyright.

Wally Gold, who was born in 1928, served in the US navy during the Second World War. As a mature student at Boston University after the war, he became part of the harmony quartet the Four Esquires. They had success with "Look Homeward Angel", written by Gold and also recorded by Johnnie Ray, and US hits with "Love Me Forever", recorded in Britain by Marion Ryan, and "Hideaway".

Whilst serving in the US army, Elvis Presley had developed a taste for Mario Lanza's recordings and took to singing "O Sole Mio" and "Torna A Sorrento" for his own amusement. Both arias were given English lyrics by New York songwriters and, as "It's Now or Never" and "Surrender" respectively, became No 1 hits. Gold wrote the lyric to "It's Now or Never" in 30 minutes, certainly the most productive half-hour of his life.

In 1960, "It's Now Or Never" topped the US, UK, German, Swedish and Japanese charts and sold 20 million copies world-wide. Diehard rock 'n' rollers, however, objected to the song, because Elvis's music was maturing and drifting away from rock 'n' roll. Schroeder and Gold wrote another Elvis chart-topper, the lolloping "Good Luck Charm" (1962) as well as an excellent album track, "In Your Arms".

Other Gold records include "Because They're Young" (Duane Eddy, 1960), and "It's My Party" (Lesley Gore, 1963). He wrote several songs for Gene Pitney, usually with Schroeder, including "Half Heaven-Half Heartbreak" and "Take Me Tonight". His superlative "Time and the River" was recorded by Nat "King" Cole, again in 1960. Other US hits included the novelty record "She Can't Find Her Keys" (Paul Petersen) and the maudlin "Fools' Hall of Fame" (Pat Boone).

Gold went on, in the Seventies, to work for Don Kirshner's music organisation and is credited with discovering the heavy metal band Kansas, who had hits with their own songs "Dust in the Wind" and "Carry On Wayward Son". In later years, Gold left the music business and worked as a travel agent.

In 1981, Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin topped the UK charts with a revival of "It's My Party". On the other hand, "It's Now or Never" is so identified with Elvis Presley that relatively few performers have attempted the song. However, Paul McCartney recorded a version for a 1990 tribute album, The Last Temptation of Elvis, and Wet Wet Wet performed the song at a 1994 tribute to Elvis in Memphis.

Spencer Leigh

Walter Gold, songwriter: born New York 15 May 1928; married (two sons, one daughter); died New York 7 June 1998.