I have a family friend, a lady who was a teenager during Elvis Presley’s ascendancy in the late ’50’s-early ’60’s. She knew I was an Elvis guy and would often talk about how much she loved him. She was one of those people of a certain age who claim Elvis as their own and say things like “I have all his records”. I always have a feeling with people like this that they love Elvis the Superstar, Elvis the Icon. They collect the cheesiest Elvis artifacts and souvenirs. In a way, it’s similar to the way Britons loved American blues and rhythm and blues in the 1960’s perhaps even more than Americans did. The thinking being that – in the UK – they were observing things from a distance and therefore could see the glory in the music that much better. People born in the same era as Elvis – people that grew up with him – definitely see him in a different way and love him for different reasons. Those of us born, say, in the early 1970’s perhaps look at him from a more historical standpoint. Our generation is maybe more apt to dig beneath the surface and to study a performer like Elvis Presley the same way we might research the Vietnam war – digging in and wanting to know the origins and the significance. Those of us who begin to grasp the importance of the King do the research, look into all his recordings from all the eras and collect it all because we want to know it all. Back to my family friend and her generation. When the 45s came out in the ’50’s, they bought them – they bought them all until they themselves got married and had kids and life took over. Therefore, they say “I have all his records” when really they’ve never even heard 80% of what he recorded. And they don’t look at Elvis or GRASP him in the same way. A perfect example is the time when this lady family friend brought me her Elvis cassette. She said I would appreciate it and I could have it. I looked at it and actually it was interesting. It was his Gold Records Vol. 4 album. Cool, I’m thinking, that’s different. I open it and take the cassette out. Oddly, the songs listed on the tape are “Kentucky Rain” and “Don’t Cry Daddy” and others from that era. This was not the same album the cover showed! I looked at the tape more closely: “As Sung By Ronnie McDowell”, it said. I was dumbfounded. I carried on with my thank you’s but I was floored. It got me thinking: this woman was there when it was happening. She should be a bigger fan than me. Yet one of her prized possessions was an album of songs sung NOT by Elvis but by the world’s premier Elvis sound-alike. But here’s the thing: she was happy. She loved Elvis. He made her feel good. He was a part of her fondest memories of life. I thought she was crazy but she got just as much out of Elvis as I – the ‘Elvis scholar’ – did. And that’s The Thing About the King. People LOVE him. The people that think Ronnie McDowell is Elvis and have never heard “Just Pretend” and wear the airbrushed jackets and t-shirts from the flea market with Elvis riding on the clouds or something, they love him. And the people that research his time spent at Crown Electric or dig into his relationship with his step-brothers or try to figure out if Toby Kwimper is really the predecessor of Forrest Gump, they love him, too. Us scholars may scoff at these older fans but, look at them, they’re happy. They love Elvis, too. The only thing I would say, though, is those people could be so much happier if they really dug in to Elvis World. They love the tip of the iceberg. I think the other 80% would be exciting for them to learn about, too.
And that goes for music fans in general. I don’t know if any iconic superstar suffers more from being not fully understood than Elvis Presley. The image, as the man himself once said, is one thing. The man is another. People that reject the suggestion that Elvis may be more significant than Bruce Springsteen don’t really know the whole story. It’s a shame to think that the coming generation sees Elvis only as the black and white rebel with the curled lip, or the Hollywood victim being neutered by endless ‘playful romp’ films or the bombastic jump-suited ’70’s prince from another planet. They may love “Don’t Be Cruel” and that’s great. But if you want a real treat, look into Elvis Presley. Dig a bit deeper. I guarantee you you’ll be glad you did. His is essentially a sad story but it’s riveting.
Wow. Sorry. I don’t think I intended to get so deep. After all, we’re here to celebrate the 83rd anniversary of the birth of Elvis Presley by trying to figure out what his best songs are. We’ve been through the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s and also looked at the movie music. And don’t forget; he also recorded some stellar Christmas music and some truly stirring gospel, the music he maybe connected with most. I need to thank you all for reading these posts. It’s fun for me to write them but it’s always better when someone reads them. I hope I’ve made some sense – I don’t always! In the end, these posts were read by over 600 people in 23 countries; “Elvis World”, indeed! Once again, thank you. Thank you very much.
Finally, I’ve submitted for your approval The Ten Greatest Recordings of Elvis Presley. Let the debating – and the listening – begin!
10. “What a Wonderful Life” (1961) — Movie song from Follow That Dream. The lyrics reflect the freedom depicted in the movies.
9. “Separate Ways” (1972) — The saddest song I ever heard. An absolutely heartbreaking commentary on the break-up of Elvis and Priscilla written by Red West.
8. “I Got Lucky” (1961) — A sublime pop vocal. Like a personal family heirloom to me. A cherished gem.
7. “Rubberneckin'” (1969) — The King struts through this balls-out rocker recorded back home in Memphis.
6. “Santa Claus is Back in Town” (1957) — A stunning, savage vocal on the greatest Christmas rock ‘n’ roll song ever recorded.
5. “Burning Love” (1972) — Polished sound. Ringing guitar. Full-throttle, crowd-pleasing iconic rocker.
4. “Jailhouse Rock” (1957) — One of his two or three best vocal performances ever. Fan favourite and the title track from one of his two or three best movies ever.
3. “Promised Land” (1973) — Maybe the single most energetic song I’ve ever heard. And probably the coolest. An absolute freight train.
2. “A Little Less Conversation” (1968) — Probably my favourite Elvis song. A thrilling late-’60’s rock ‘n’ roll song from maybe his greatest soundtrack. Just a delight to listen to – and sing along to.
1. “Suspicious Minds” (1969) — And here we are. The King’s “masterpiece”. A shining moment from some unbelievable sessions and the second-most significant set of recording dates of his career. Of history, maybe. The most confident, assured and vibrant rock vocals you could ever ask to hear.
I can’t thank you enough for reading. I’ve had a blast sharing my thoughts with you. Happy Birthday, EP! And thanks.
**the image used in this post I actually own!**
This is wonderful. I love Elvis always have. HE IS THE most wonderful singer there EVER was
[…] Top Ten Elvis Presley Songs […]
Great post. I totally agree about looking deeper than the image, particularly the cartoon character perpetuated by the owners of his trademark.
I think that the years after Aloha, which are either ignored or often written off as inferior artistically, are the most fascinating. All the major artists touring in the 70s had some erratic nights; the Beach Boys, The Band, Grateful Dead, Creedence before they broke up; yet Elvis seems to suffer more than his fair share of criticism over performance quality during this period. He had his own off- nights, no doubt about it, and there were often technical issues with sound quality, and the lack of rehearsal often showed, particularly when trying out new material . But at the same time, some of the best shows he ever did were during those years, particularly in ’75 when he seemed to move back to a more rock and roll inspired set. His rapport with the audience was warmer, and his voice was richer, and had developed a greater range than ever before. I think Peter Guralnick’s book,’Careless Love-The Unmaking of Elvis Presley’, although very well researched and generally sympathetic, unfairly represented Elvis’ final couple of years on the road.
There was a song, I think from the American Studios sessions produced by Chips Moman, called Long Black Limousine, which has always been a favourite of mine. Elvis always seemed to do something a bit special if challenged by outside producers.
I also very much liked Moody Blue, and consider that to be up there with Suspicious Minds and Burning Love in terms of how it defined a specific era of Elvis’s career. I’ve often wondered how Moody Blue would have been judged in the overall scheme of things, had Elvis lived on and released further material in his own lifetime.
You make some very good points, my brother. My fair brother. I think Elvis may have suffered the most criticism because he had initially risen the highest. He was the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and people had unreasonable expectations of him. If he looks unhealthy or if he sings some adult contemporary well, we can’t have that! That’s not the Elvis of 1958!! I think ’75 was a good year but let’s face it – it’s sad to watch him near the end and hard for me to even evaluate his performance because what I’m seeing is sad and it makes me think of all that has gone wrong. Peter’s books are outstanding and staggered me when I first read them. The American Sound recordings may be my absolute favourite era of King and I’ve always liked the Moody Blue album and have had a soft spot for it – except maybe for the patchwork way it’s built. I REALLY appreciate your comment – I almost never get to parlay with a LUCID Elvis fan. Thanks very much.
Thanks, it was a pleasure also to read your blog. No doubt we’ll discuss further in the future