Wednesday, 16 August 2017

My Top Ten Elvis Songs

One of my earliest memories is of my mum crying as she closed the living room door, leaving me in the kitchen wondering why. That was 40 years ago today. I was five years old and I'm not sure I knew who Elvis was, but it wasn't long before I found out.

This memory is significant to me for many reasons, but mainly because (as I've mentioned before) my parents come from the generation pre-rock 'n' roll. Born in the late 1920s, the music of their teens was Frank Sinatra and Glenn Miller. My mum would be 28 by the time Elvis had his first UK hit, and 28 was at least 38 back then. Rock 'n' roll didn't pass my parents by, they just never tried to catch it. Why would they? It was music aimed at teenagers, made by people a lot younger than them. But Elvis dying still made my mum cry, because he was bigger than any star we could imagine today. He was beyond a legend. And though there will no doubt be a lot written today about how he stole rock 'n' roll and turned it white, about how Colonel Tom stopped his reaching his true potential, about how he grew old and bloated and lonely and tragic... even though he was only 42 when he died... I prefer to remember the good, because it far outweighs the bad.

When I started raiding my sister's record collection, one of the albums I listened to a lot was this...

When I started buying albums myself, it didn't take me long to pick up this...

A few years later, I splashed out on these three box sets...

...and each time, I played them to death. Far more than I'd listen to any new purchase these days.

All that said, the idea of picking only ten Elvis songs seems beyond daunting. Let's give it ago anyway...

10. Party

The only Elvis song I've ever performed in public.

Back in high school, I liked to tread the boards a little. Our most memorable production was a comedy pantomime of Robin Hood. Of course, I wanted to play Robin... but I ended up as Little John. I was never fated to be a dashing, romantic lead. My mate Simon got Robin, some 8 years after he beat me to the title role in our junior school production of Tom Sawyer (I played Huckleberry Finn: arguably the better role, but not the one with his name on the programme).

Anyway, the best bit about getting to play Little John was that I got to close the first act with a musical number, singing Party by Elvis. (I know: why wasn't this on the soundtrack of the Kevin Costner film? So much better than Bryan Adams.) It wasn't an Elvis number I knew at the time, and it's from his least-celebrated phase - those duff movies Colonel Tom kept getting him to make in the 60s - but it always brings back happy memories. I didn't actually sing it live - our teacher / director just played the song out over the speakers and I did my best Top of the Pops-style mime over the top. I did sing... you just couldn't hear me over Elvis. Which was probably for the best. Particularly as this was pre-internet and lyrics sheets were hard to come by on Elvis albums. But when I wasn't sure of the words, I just lapsed into my well-honed Elvis mumble. Actually, having checked out the original Wanda Jackson lyrics online, I'm not sure Elvis knew them that well either. He still made them work.

Of course, none of this made up for missing out on the chance to snog Maid Marian... or go out with her, after the show was done, for the next 6 months, as Simon did.  But... at least I had Elvis.

9. An American Trilogy

The Vegas years are much-mocked.

Because people are idiots.

Elvis sweat bullets and blood up on that stage, and turned these old Civil War tunes into operas.

8. Always On My Mind

Yeah, the Pet Shop Boys cover is pretty amazing. But just listen to this again. I mean, really listen to it. My god, it's perfect.

7. Jailhouse Rock

 Look in the dictionary under rock 'n' roll: there should be a link to this song.

6. Suspicious Minds

Following his career-saving '68 Comeback TV special, Elvis returned to the studio to record some of his most affecting songs. Three of the songs on this list were recorded in that session, another (Don't Cry, Daddy) narrowly missed out. There was magic in Memphis that day.

5. In The Ghetto

Of course, there's an irony about one of the richest and most successful men in the world recording a song about ghetto poverty... but this is hardly Another Day In Paradise. It's all down to the performance. To sing a song like this, you need sincerity. Elvis had sincerity by the bucketload and it wasn't an act.

4. Heartbreak Hotel

One of the first Elvis songs I loved, from his earliest days in the studio. We all like to think of rock 'n' roll as being about cadillacs and bobby socks, milkshakes, bubble gum and jukeboxes. Here's one about depression and suicide, and a rock song where the primary instrument is not the guitar, but Elvis's voice. Sends shivers down my spine, every time I hear it.

3. Kentucky Rain

Written and originally recorded by 70s country star Eddie Rabbit, this one just breaks me up every time I hear it. Elvis at his most devastating.

2. Guitar Man

I probably came to this via the Jesus & Mary Chain version. Which is truly excellent... but can't quite match the original.

The alternative take above (which was on the 60s box set) which switches into the song What'd I Say at the end, was apparently Elvis's preferred version as he was never happy with the single as released.

1. (Marie's The Name) His Latest Flame

Why this one song, above all others? Primarily, it's the sound. An upbeat (Bo Diddley-inspired) backing track and intense vocals, masking a tale of heartbreak... much as the hero of the song hides his own feelings from the friend who's unknowingly copped off his with ex. A classic Doc Pomus lyrical conceit. (I have Ben Folds & Nick Hornby to thank for my mild Doc Pomus obsession: he led a sad, if interesting life.)

And then came Johnny Marr and Morrissey, making this song even more essential...

Elvis Aaron Presley. 40 years gone: never forgotten
Which is your crowning moment from The King?

Oh, and I just remembered this... My Top Ten Songs About Elvis. Worth another plug.


  1. Excellent top ten Rol although mine's would be a bit different, I suspect if you asked 100 people,you would get different lists with some crossover naturally.

    I was wondering if there was all the social media around back in 1977 how much hysteria would have erupted on the news of Elvis' death.

    1. So much to choose from, I can't imagine anyone having the same favourites.

      Yes, if social media had been around, this would have broken the internet completely.

  2. As Drew said - it is an excellent top ten Rol and most of the songs would be in mine as well. Without longer thinking I would say that Suspicious Minds. Thinking about this song Fine Young Canibal's version comes to my mind.

    1. Yes... it's far preferable to the Gareth Gates version.

  3. Love the tale of your performance, who knew you were once an Elvis impersonator?
    I can't claim to be an Elvis fan at all, but so much material is just "in there" so I concur with your choices and would also include 'Mystery Train'.
    And this! - for the priceless laughter and lyric change!

    1. Mystery Train came close to getting in.

      Yes, that must be one of the best live performances of any song ever. What a showman.

  4. This is an excellent Top Ten and I would concur with many of your choices - Covered An American Trilogy over at my place because although from the Vegas style show era (much mocked as you say), Elvis could still turn in a performance like no other - The costumes and jewellery were over the top but the man himself, and his love for these songs, was still inside there. The Suspicious Minds live performance is blistering. Love C's link as well!

    1. He was sincere in his performances right to the end.

  5. I have really enjoyed the Elvis tributes today. Excellent list. I'm a fan of the early Sun stuff, but hands down, the most played in our house is Suspicious Minds. That might be my wife's all-time favorite song. Like others in our group, didn't appreciate the music until I was an adult. Another in a long line I listen to now that would make my father smile.

  6. Can't argue with your number 1 choice - endorsement by Moz and Marr is good enough for me. Suspicious Minds at 2 for me, Always In My Mind at 3. All of which goes to prove how influenced by cover versions I am...

    1. Another vote for Gareth Gates then...

    2. ...On My Mind. Cursed predictive text.

    3. Ha! No, FYC and PSB respectively.

  7. No arguments from this quarter though the country fan within me would have to find room for Blue Moon of Kentucky

  8. Tonight, I learned that collection by The Fall paid tribute to Elvis Presley. I had no idea that title and artwork of their 50,000 Fans album was a pastiche. I do know about London Calling and Elvis, but not MES.



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