SONG: It’s Only Make Believe
ARTIST: Conway Twitty
Listen to it here:
It’s Only Make Believe was written by drummer Jack Nance and relative unknown Conway Twitty in their tour across Canada in 1958. The song was the B side for I’ll Try and was the only pop single of Twitty’s career. He ended up rerecording the song several times throughout his career, including as a duet with Loretta Lynn.
Conway Twitty was born Harold Lloyd Jenkins September 1st, 1933 in Friars Point, Mississippi. When he was 10, the Jenkins family moved to Helena, Arkansas where he created his first singing group, The Phillips County Ramblers. Twitty had his own radio program on Saturday mornings and was told by a neighbour that he could make it in the music business, so Twitty started writing songs. He even went down to Sun Records in Memphis and worked with Sam Philips to perfect his sound. In 1957, he decided that the name Harold Lloyd Jenkins did not read blazing hot rock ‘n roll star, so he combined Conway, Arkansas and Twitty, Texas, and his stage name was born. Armed with his new name, Twitty had his first commercial hit song with It’s Only Make Believe in 1958, selling 4 million copies. A lot of its success can be attributed to the fact that many listeners thought it was actually Elvis using a pseudonym.
Fast forward to 1965 and Twitty followed his passion for country music and started seeing a lot of success in that genre. By the 1970s he was sporting his signature pompadour hairstyle and was pretty much a mainstay on the country music charts. After 4 marriages to 3 different women, several children and an estate called Twitty City, Twitty was ultimately felled by an abdominal aortic embolism at age 59.
It’s Only Make Believe was written in the Flamingo Lounge in Hamilton, Ontario.
In 1981, Twitty fell while leaving his tour bus and hit his head on the steps, rendering him unconscious. Many said that he had a change in personality after that incident.
When I saw that today was Conway Twitty, I let out a big ol’ sigh. I struggle with a lot of early country music, and I KNOW there’s a fine line between early country and the rockabilly that I love, but I know it when I hear it, and I honestly thought that Conway was going to be rough. I was moderately pleasantly surprised? Medium-pleased? Despite sounding a little bit goofy and having a bit of trouble keeping pitch on sustained notes, Conway is giving big time Elvis vibes, which makes sense as Elvis had exploded onto the scene two years prior. He sounds like slightly off Elvis, complete with Jordanaires-esque back up singers, tinkly triplet piano and clangy hollow body electric guitar. The song actually has a kind of a good build up throughout the verse, and a satisfying melodic conclusion during the chorus. The song is still very melodramatic and sappy sounding, but it’s still…kinda good?
Ok, so I had a COMPLETELY different idea of what I was getting myself into when I saw that we had to listen to Conway Twitty. I thought it was going to be the twangiest, hokeyest piece of crap we’ve had to review so far. Now I’m not saying it’s NOT hokey, but it’s definitely better than I thought it would be! Conway Twitty sounds like he’s going for a Country Elvis vibe, and sometimes that’s good, but sometimes he comes off sounding like a bit of a poor man’s Elvis. I’m starting to really resent piano triplets at this point in our reviewing journey, but I guess they were all the rage back then? This song is not earth-shattering in any way that I can perceive, but it does have all the elements of a late 50s hit – deep voiced male vocalist, extra present background ooohs, triplets in the piano, a hint of a drum kit, super background guitar, and lyrics that are nothing much to write home about. All in all, this song was better than I expected, but pretty forgettable.
Average mark out of 10:
Other notable versions of this song:
The notably more country sounding duet version with Loretta Lynn:
British Invasion version featuring the Hollies sounding very out of tune Everly Brothers:
Listen with us!
Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist: