You may be familiar with the expression “Viva Las Vegas” but what does it really mean?
“Viva Las Vegas” is a Spanish phrase where the word “Viva” means “Long Live” and the words “Las Vegas” translate to “The Meadows.” The entire phrase means “Long Live Las Vegas” or more exactly, “Long Live The Meadows.” It is a statement in support of the essence of Las Vegas.
Read on to find out how and why the term originated. I’ll give you a hint, it has something to do with Elvis Presley.
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“Las Vegas” Means “The Meadows”?
Before I can tell you exactly how the term Viva Las Vegas originated, I need to explain how in the world Las Vegas means “The Meadows”. If you’ve ever experienced the dry deserts where Las Vegas, Nevada is located, about the last thing you’d think of would be meadows of lush green plants.
Rafael Rivera, a Mexican scout, was the first non-Native American to enter the valley. The year was 1829 and he was leading a party of men toward Los Angeles. As they passed through the otherwise dry valley they encountered a natural spring in what is now the middle of the City of Las Vegas.
The spring was surrounded by large fields of wild desert grasses and so he named the area Las Vegas or in English, “The Meadows.” However, unlikely that may sound, it was actually a musician who turned the whole thing into a famous saying.
Viva Las Vegas Started With a Movie
It was an Elvis Presley movie entitled Viva Las Vegas that started it all. The 1964 film takes place in Las Vegas where Lucky (Elvis Presley) a race car driver has come to town for the cities annual Grand Prix Race.
Lucky, however, runs into some problems with needed repairs on his car prior to the race. He raises the necessary money while in town but then loses it all when the hotel’s attractive swim instructor Rusty (Ann-Margret) pushes him into the swimming pool.
Lucky ends up working at the hotel as a waiter to pay his hotel bill and enters a local talent competition with a big cash prize to try and win the money to fix his car.
Viva Las Vegas the Song
Needless to say, Lucky crushes the talent competition, enters the race and wins the affection of Rusty. The movie’s good but the title itself, Viva Las Vegas, probably would have gone on to obscurity except for one thing. The song.
The song Lucky performs in the talent competition is, of course, Viva Las Vegas!
The song was written for the movie by Mort Shuman and Doc Pomus and recorded by Elvis in 1963. While the song itself only hit number 29 on the Billboard Top 100, it went on to become one of Elvis’s most recognizable songs.
Another interesting fact is that Elvis never performed the song live. So a song written by someone else, quickly recorded and never performed live is one of Elvis’s most all-time popular songs!
Viva Las Vegas in Las Vegas
Both the song and the saying “Viva Las Vegas” has, of course, become an anthem for the city of Las Vegas. On a visit to Las Vegas, you’ll find the saying plastered on everything from t-shirts to billboards.
You’ll probably hear the song playing from time to time as you make your way around town, as well. Probably the most well-known use of the song is at the Bellagio Fountains.
Viva Las Vegas is one of 21 songs that are played along with the fountain show. The show plays hourly or more throughout the day/night with one song played each show. You can see our article here for showtime and song list information.
Another famous use of the song was by the American rock band ZZ Top. The band created a cover of the song for the album ZZ Tops – Greatest Hits. You can check out the music video for ZZ Tops rendition of Viva Las Vegas below.
Far less famous, but without a doubt my favorite cover of Viva Las Vegas was recorded by the punk band the Dead Kennedy’s in 1980. You can check out their version below.
The final scene from the movie was filmed at the Little Church of the West, the oldest wedding chapel in Las Vegas. Not only is it the oldest wedding chapel in town but it’s also the oldest building (built-in 1942) on the Las Vegas Strip.
It’s pretty cool that thousands of couples still get married every year where Viva Las Vegas was filmed!
It’s no wonder that the saying “Viva Las Vegas” has become a rallying cry for the city in both good times and bad. The song captures and expresses the heart of Las Vegas perfectly.
Know that you know the meaning and the history behind the words Viva Las Vegas, you can say it loud and say it proud.
Long Live Las Vegas!