How Elvis Chronicled Divorce From Priscilla in Emotional Song (That You Might Not Have Heard)
Forty years ago, on October 9, 1973, Elvis and Priscilla Beaulieu Presley's six-year marriage officially came to an end: their divorce became finalized at the Los Angeles Superior Courthouse in Santa Monica.
The marriage — Elvis's one and only, which also produced his one and only child, Lisa Marie — was marred by numerous accounts of infidelity and discord. And this tempestuous time, which left Elvis in a broken emotional state, was captured on record in a largely overlooked song released by the King.
"Separate Ways," released as a single in 1972 shortly after the couple legally separated, is by no means unknown to Elvis fans at large; it was certified gold in the United States for sales of 500,000 copies. However, it's the B-side of that single which became a better-known Elvis hit: the country ballad "Always on My Mind."
While both songs are broodingly morose, "Separate Ways," which details the effects of divorce on a couple's young child, contains particularly heart-ripping lyrics such as "some day when she's older, maybe she will understand/Why her mom and dad are not together/The tears that she will cry when I have to say goodbye/Will tear at my heart forever."
Although some critics over the years have taken issue with the song's overall arrangement (describing it as "weak" and "syrupy") the general consensus is that the pain in Elvis's vocals is extraordinarily genuine.
The deeply personal feel to "Separate Ways" comes in part from co-writer Red West, one of Presley's closest friends since high school who worked as a bodyguard and was a member of Presley's infamous "Memphis Mafia." West, who began penning the lyrics with his own marital issues in mind, decided midway through the composition that it was pertinent to Elvis and tailored the song to the Presleys' separation.
He even changed the gender of the child in the song: "I was writing about my son, Brent, but then we changed it so it would relate to Lisa Marie," he told fan site Elvis Australia in 2010.
According to co-writer Richard Mainegra, West was determined the song was a good fit for Elvis, despite Mainegra's protests that the superstar would not want to spotlight what was already a very public situation. However, the King did cut the song — much to Mainegra's surprise — along with "Always on My Mind" at roughly the same time.
West agrees that the song triggered an authentic catharsis for his friend: the pain you're hearing is real.
"He said, 'Man, you're killing me with these songs,'" West told Elvis Australia. "Those songs definitely got to him."