“I’ve got all his records”
How many times have us Elvis People heard this? Many “fans” like to illustrate how much they love Elvis by saying they have “all” his albums. But the cat released over 800 songs on over 200 albums so when you tell me you have them “all” I will smile. “Cool”, I will say, all the while knowing that you don’t have them all. I do, but you don’t. Anyways…
This list of hidden gems is comprised of songs that I’m sure many of these “fans” that say they own all his music have never heard. Or heard of. Or maybe even if they heard them, couldn’t identify the singer as Elvis. Most real Elvis People are probably well aware of these tunes and they could argue that they are not exactly “hidden”. So, for serious Elvis music collectors I will say that I have defined “never heard” as songs that were not featured in Elvis’ 31 narrative films and songs that were never A sides in North America.
For fans who truly love Elvis and want to dig deeper than the hits, this article should light the way to future excavations of Presley’s extensive catalogue. Don’t feel bad when you realize not only do you not own all – or even most – of Elvis Presley’s music but you’ve never even heard the bulk of his catalogue. This is not your fault. If you look at the compilations of Presley’s music that have been released in the last twenty years or so, you’ll notice the same 20-40 songs are constantly recycled. Yes, these songs are all the fan favourites but there is so much more to be experienced. Also, having more Elvis Presley songs to discover is a good thing. It’s a wonderful thing. Just think that, for some, there are Elvis songs still to be experienced for the first time! Start with these ten; but don’t stop here.
Pieces of My Life (Troy Seals) – Recorded 1975 in Hollywood, Master is take 4. Available on Today (1975) and the Walk a Mile in My Shoes (1995) box set
I’ve said in past articles that when I first bought the Walk a Mile in My Shoes box set of recordings from the 1970’s, I thought it contained every song Elvis recorded in the ’70’s. I soon learned that the plethora of Elvis songs from this decade wouldn’t fit on one box set. Subsequently, the Seventies has been a relevantly recent era of Elvis music for me to discover. Indeed, this list could be comprised of songs exclusively from this decade. “Pieces of My Life” was written by Troy Seals, a member of the Seals family that is active in the music industry; there’s Jim Seals of Seals and Crofts and Dan Seals of England Dan and John Ford Coley.
I know that you can read too much into a singer’s interpretation of a song; making assumptions about the artist’s personal connection with the lyric. But it’s hard to listen to Elvis Presley sing this gut wrenching ballad and not think that maybe this is the closest he ever came to making a public declaration of regret. “Lord, the things I’ve seen and done, most of which I’d be ashamed to tell” And with his big, mid-’70’s voice sounding world weary, he admits that he may have been careless along the way;
I’m lookin’ back on my life
To see if I can find the pieces
I know that some were stolen
And some just blew away
Well, I found the bad parts
Found all the sad parts
But I guess I threw the best part away
It would be easy also to assume he’s singing about Priscilla but this is sadder than that, the pain is bigger, deeper. This is the depths of despair. “I’m holding on to nothing trying to forget the rest” This song needs to be a part of your listening experience. In a way, it encapsulates a large part of the legend of Elvis Presley.
I Gotta Know (Evans/Williams) – Recorded 1960 in Nashville, Master is take 2. Available on the From Nashville to Memphis (1993) box set
Strutting. That’s a term I like to use for certain vocal performances from Presley. It certainly applies to this little ditty that was composed by Paul Evans who had a Top Ten hit with “Seven Little Girls Sitting in the Backseat” and would go on to write hits for the Kalin Twins (“When”), Bobby Vinton (“Roses Are Red”) and another song for Elvis in 1970, the gem “The Next Step is Love”. I’ve included this tune not only because it is excellent but also because it’s a good example of some of the great music Elvis made upon his return from the service. It’s a polarizing mini-era; many lament the sanitized sound Presley plied at this time but the early Sixties wasn’t all “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”, the ballad that “I Gotta Know” was on the B side of. B side or no, “I Gotta Know” – first recorded the previous year by Cliff Richard – reached #14 on the pop charts. Some great piano by the legend Floyd Cramer and fantastic back-ups by the Jordanaires.
If I’m a Fool (for Loving You) (Stan Kesler) – Recorded 1969 in Memphis, Master is take 9. Available on Let’s Be Friends (1970) and the From Nashville to Memphis (1993) box set
Stan Kesler turned 91 in the summer of 2019 and is alive as of this writing. In the ’50’s, he worked for Sam Phillips at Sun as a session musician and a songwriter, penning two of Elvis Presley’s early songs. In the 1980’s, he formed a touring group called the Sun Rhythm Section that toured internationally. In 1969, he was working for Chips Moman at American Sound in Memphis when Elvis would record this beauty. “If I’m a Fool” is an emotional song with gorgeous piano throughout by Bobby Wood. It has always been under the radar especially when compared with the legendary recordings Elvis made with Chips in ’69 but I think this song stands out. Elvis was certainly masculine and many of his best recordings have a certain strength behind them but here is a good example of the Tender Presley, the Presley that has lost in love and is broken by it. The lyrics of this song resonate with me and in a way are akin to “For the Good Times” in theme: I may look ridiculous, I may be a clown, and I know it’s over but I can’t let go of you. “If I am blind it’s because I just don’t want to see. If I’m a fool for loving you, that’s just what I want to be”. That’s a pitiful way to be but that’s what lost love can do. I have been this pathetic in the past; most of us have. I go way back with this tune, having owned Let’s Be Friends – one of the better budget releases – as a teenager.
Never Ending (Kaye/Springer) – Recorded 1963 in Nashville, Master is take 3. Available on Double Trouble (1967) and the From Nashville to Memphis (1993) box set
I spoke above about the early ’60’s not being all like “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and “It’s Now or Never”. There were some rockers recorded at this time but “Never Ending” is about as sweet as Elvis Presley ever sounded. My wife often marvels at the sound of his voice when he sings gently and she’s right. Elvis the Rocker could also lay down serene vocals like this. The chorus is a joy to hear. “I bring you…” An involuntary grin will come upon you followed by the lowering of your eyelids. The best singers are versatile and King displays that here.
By ’63, it was full-on “Hollywood” for the Elvis Machine and regular recording sessions like the one that produced “Never Ending” were going by the boards. Just about every session after this one was for a movie soundtrack until he cut the How Great Thou Art album in ’66. So, this gentle tune stands out at a time in his career when Elvis was almost exclusively singing for the movies. In a typically ridiculous move by RCA, “Never Ending” was used to fill out the soundtrack album for Double Trouble – four years later.
My Little Friend (Shirl Milete) – Recorded 1969 in Memphis, Master take is unknown. Available on Almost in Love (1970) and the From Nashville to Memphis (1993) box set
I might concede that I include this song here just because I love it so. Almost in Love was the first title released on RCA’s budget label, Camden, in a series that offered various songs from King’s past that had not yet been released on LP. Like Let’s Be Friends mentioned above, I owned this on cassette as a youth. While the song selections for these two albums seem haphazard, they are generally good songs but songs that may not have the burden of being great. Perhaps better than being great, they are delightful and they make for a very escapist listening experience. The inclusion of a random movie song will transport you to that film and the memory of watching it is sometimes better than actually watching it.
In the case of Almost in Love, the songs are almost all from 1968-69 so they have a similar tenor. “My Little Friend” was recorded somewhat anonymously among other legendary tracks King recorded at American Sound Studios in 1969 and it combines a country and western rhythm section with an adult contemporary string section and backing vocal accompaniment. It is a jaunty number highlighted by dramatic piano fills and bold brass. What makes this number wistful is the lyric. Again King sounds less-than-macho as the lyrics reminisce about a boy’s first experience with physical love. There’s half-a-screenplay here. While the girl seems older than the boy, she is still a “tender age” although she knows much of life. She certainly is more worldly and teaches the boy a great deal about life and love. “The thrill and disappointment, fear and shame that first love brings. But, oh, how I thought I loved my little friend” This fleeting and magical experience – the type most of us can relate to – is recalled every time the boy encounters another female. He thinks of his first love often and honours the memory of her by treasuring each subsequent encounter of his life. This was heavy to hear when I first heard “My Little Friend” in my teens.
Without Him (Mylon LeFevre) – Recorded 1966 in Nashville, Master is take 12. Available on How Great Thou Art (1966) and Amazing Grace (1994)
Not only was gospel music at the core of Elvis Presley’s life, it is one of the most fascinating aspects of his legend. The brooding rock ‘n’ roller, feared by parents in the Fifties, romancing women on screen and in real life, racing through the night along the streets of Memphis on his motorcycle…and in the midst of all this was a sincere and deep reverence for the music of the church. It seemed a paradox. Probably the only gospel most rock music fans ever heard was through Elvis and like the child-like innocence of Brian Wilson, gospel music always seemed to ground Presley, make him innocuous.
Mylon LeFevre (often incorrectly identified as “Myron”) grew up in a family gospel group. When LeFevre was 17, he wrote “Without Him”, his first composition. One night in South Carolina, he was onstage with his family singing this song unaware that Elvis Presley was in attendance. After the show, Elvis asked to meet the young Mylon and shortly afterwards, King recorded this song for the How Great Thou Art album. You cannot fully appreciate Elvis Presley without fully fathoming his gospel recordings. The passion that can exist in sacred music goes so much deeper than in romantic singing. The depth of feeling in a song when the Almighty is involved – no matter your beliefs – is significant. Elvis sings “Without Him” with such fervour and devotion that the Spirit is tangible. It can be overwhelming. I was fortunate enough to meet Mylon LeFevre in the early ’90’s at a Christian rock concert. Unfortunately I was too young to grasp the situation or to ask him the right questions.
My Baby Left Me (Arthur Crudup) – Recorded 1956 in New York City, Master is take 9. Available on For LP Fans Only (1959) and the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll (1992) box set
I feel like everyone thinks they’ve heard every Elvis song from the Fifties but there are some you may have missed. While “My Baby Left Me” may not be as hidden as some of these other songs, I’ve always thought it interesting that King recorded another of Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s tunes. Everyone knows that Presley took Crudup’s “That’s All Right” and basically changed the world but EP also laid down Big Boy’s jaunty “So Glad You’re Mine” and this fiery number at his second recording session for RCA in January of ’56. It starts off with a cracking snare from DJ Fontana and a rare example of bassist Bill Black stepping out with a little riff. The patented Scotty Moore guitar sparks to life and then we’re treated to Presley’s youthful wail. “My Baby Left Me” was the B side of “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” and is a rollicking good time.
Doncha’ Think It’s Time (Otis/Dixon) – Recorded 1958 in Hollywood, Master take is spliced from takes 40, 47 & 48. Available on the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll (1992) box set
Blues legend Willie Dixon wrote or co-wrote over 500 songs. I don’t know what else there is to say. His songs have been recorded by literally everyone. Elvis was scheduled to be inducted into the Army in January of ’58 but due to his commitments filming King Creole he had to ask for a deferment. His induction was pushed back to the end of March and King used the time to cut a few more sides to tide the masses over until his return. In February, he went into the studio in Hollywood and recorded “Doncha’ Think It’s Time” along with “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck”. “Doncha’ Think It’s Time” is a nice, slow groove featuring some great guitar from Scotty Moore. King employs a sly, hiccuping vocal and drops down nicely to sing the title with the Jordanaires adding good sounds to the proceedings. Check out Keith Flynn’s ridiculously thorough session notes here. Presley would only have four more recording sessions until he returned from Germany.
It’s Midnight (Wheeler/Chestnut) – Recorded 1973 in Memphis, Master is take 19. Available on Promised Land (1975) and the Walk a Mile in My Shoes (1995) box set
Jerry Chestnut was a prolific songwriter from Kentucky. Named by Billboard as 1972’s “Songwriter of the Year”, Chestnut penned scores of country songs including three for King; “T-R-O-U-B-L-E”, “Woman Without Love” and this heart-rending gem. Chestnut co-wrote “It’s Midnight” with Billy Edd Wheeler (alive as of this writing, aged 87) who was also prolific, writing “Jackson” (Johnny Cash/June Carter) and “Coward of the County” (Kenny Rogers) among many others. A country/pop hybrid in Presley’s hands, “It’s Midnight” is another song on this list that is marked by it’s lyrics, another song of hurt and torment. The lyrics tell of a man lost, fearing the night time; “it’s getting late and I know that’s when I am weak…I ought to go to bed and try to straighten out my head and just forget you. But it’s midnight and I miss you” Here the singer has plummeted to the darkest depths. There is much longing and need here. Elvis is displaying his majestic ’70’s voice and this recording is packed with emotion, a grand tune like many of his from this time. Listen for some great keyboard work from the magnificent David Briggs, maybe my favourite session man. “It’s Midnight” was the B side of “Promised Land”, making this maybe the finest 45 of EP’s in the ’70’s.
How the Web Was Woven (Westlake/Most) – Recorded 1970 in Nashville, Master is take 3. Available on That’s the Way It Is (1970) and the Walk a Mile in My Shoes (1995) box set
There’s much to say about this song, perhaps the absolute finest of all the Elvis songs you’ve never heard. The song has an interesting origin, unique in Elvis World. It was written by Welshman Clive Westlake and Mickie Most’s brother, David, and recorded by English singer Jackie Lomax, who released the song as a single in early 1970 on Apple Records. In fact, Lomax’s version was produced by George Harrison and the single’s B side, “Thumbin’ a Ride”, was produced by Paul McCartney. The song was submitted to Elvis for consideration with many others and King subsequently recorded it in June of ’70. It is indicative of the type of song Elvis recorded that year, “perfectly pleasant middle-of-the-road material pitched halfway between Hollywood and Music City” “How the Web Was Woven” is part of the stunning music Presley recorded and released on what I feel is his finest record, That’s the Way It Is and it was also the B side of “I Just Can’t Help Believin'”. This song had an intense impact on me personally when I was a teenager and it is near and dear to me, one of my favourite Presley songs. The lyrics make it a personal song, a story of the wonderful but perhaps troubling helplessness that occurs when one has no choice but to be captivated by another. It features some fine strumming and piano and an excellent bass line. This song – performed with great emotion – is a highlight of a sublime era for Presley. The clip below is delightful.
I hope you’re encouraged then to go out and find yourself some Elvis you’ve never heard. Don’t be too proud to admit there might be some tracks you’ve missed. When you consider the idea that there may still be some music by Elvis Presley you can hear for the first time, you’ll realize just how exciting the prospect is.