Elvis Presley

TrackSingle/Album
All Shook Upsingle, HMV POP 359
Heartbreak Hotelsingle, HMV POP 182
His Latest Flamesingle, RCA 1258
I Just Can'’t Help BelievingThat'’s The Way It Is
In The GhettoFrom Elvis In Memphis
Little Sistersingle, RCA 1258
Return To Sendersingle, RCA 1320 / Girls, Girls, Girls
Suspicious MindsThe Memphis Record (CD)
That’'s All RightThe Sun Sessions (CD)
Viva Las VegasViva Las Vegas

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Contributor: Peter Viney

Elvis’s complete originally-released works are on three box sets: The 50s Masters, The 60s Masters, The 70s Masters. Add Command Performances for the best of the movies.

I have a “Desert Island” playlist in iTunes, an essential 150 or so tracks. Elvis gets nine of them, which is a tiny proportion of what he recorded. It brings up a Toppermost question too. Should it be MY ten favourite tracks? Or the ten I consider most significant? Or the ten I’d play someone to persuade them to investigate Elvis further? Elvis is one I approach with trepidation and a sense of great responsibility. Why did I select those nine, and am I sticking with them here?

The first single artist LP I ever bought was Rock & Roll No.2 in late 1962, a reissue of his second album from 1956, Elvis. I was well-acquainted with early Elvis songs, because a lad called Andy used to bring all his Elvis Gold Records albums to the youth club. But my era, the first Elvis 45s I bought, starts in 1961 and runs to 1963 with Rock-A-Hula Baby/Can’t Help Falling in Love, Good Luck Charm, Return To Sender, (Marie’s The Name Of) His Latest Flame/Little Sister, She’s Not You and Devil In Disguise. So my bias is post-Army, but before the films got totally crap.

I know Elvis fans who will argue that only the Sun material, from 1954 to 1956, is the pure Elvis, and that things went wrong as soon as RCA bought his contract and issued Heartbreak Hotel (early Elvis RCA singles were on HMV in Britain). The Sun era has That’s All Right and Mystery Train jostling for inclusion. Greil Marcus did a whole book tracing Mystery Train from Junior Parker through Elvis to The Band.

Then you will hear the argument that Elvis was great until he joined the army in 1958, with Heartbreak Hotel from 1956, (You’re So Square) Baby, I Don’t Care and All Shook Up being my first three RCA choices. I saw Scotty Moore do Heartbreak Hotel live with an Elvis imitator, and Scotty took the solo six or seven times in quick succession. It’s hard to eliminate Jailhouse Rock, but I’d need the video of the film extract (see above, Ed.), not just the song. Elvis is an interpreter, not a songwriter, and I’d choose his Little Richard covers Rip It Up, Long Tall Sally and Ready Teddy over the originals.

Elvis had recorded schlock right from the beginning, and lots of it, and I’m even tempted by Old Shep in the so bad it’s good category, but once he’s had the army haircut we get It’s Now Or Never and Are You Lonesome Tonight, songs so overwrought that Elvis couldn’t keep a straight face, and was fond of taking the piss out of them on stage in the 70s. It’s hard to pick the worst Elvis song, and we’re only in 1960 with all those movies to come, but for downright appalling, the bouncy Germanic Wooden Heart (from G.I. Blues) leads the Bottom Most list.

My early 60s favourites partly cover the film era. Return To Sender was from Girls, Girls, Girls. Both sides of Rock-A-Hula Baby/Can’t Help Falling In Love are from Blue Hawaii. Colonel Parker forced Elvis through those movies, and the general opinion is that they suck, but I trudged through the deep snows of January 1963 to buy the Kid Galahad EP and still hum King Of The Whole Wide World to myself. Add Follow That Dream and a definite inclusion, Viva Las Vegas. Fun in Acapulco has Bossa Nova Baby. The title track from Kissin’ Cousins is OK. Even Leiber & Stoller’s Little Egypt from Roustabout was a decent song in the original by The Coasters.

Elvis realized that the supply of songs was drying up as songwriters like Leiber & Stoller and Pomus & Shuman had established themselves to a point where giving Elvis half the publishing wasn’t worth it. Elvis’s sales were dropping fast. By the late 60s, younger writers were just saying “no” to the publishing deals. Some better material starts to appear: Guitar Man, U.S. Male. Then in 1968, we get the Elvis TV Special now known as The ’68 Comeback Special. The good looks, sense of humour and self-parody and sheer ability to rock out makes it the place to start if you’ve ignored Elvis. The versions of Baby What You Want Me To Do and One Night are a reminder that he used to be in a small band with Scotty Moore, Bill Black and D.J. Fontana, and he’s back with the small tight group of musicians, playing guitar himself, and he’s really got something to prove, both to the world and to himself.

In early 1969 From Elvis In Memphis is his best album of all. It was expanded on CD as The Memphis Album with added singles, and Suspicious Minds, In The Ghetto, Long Black Limousine and Kentucky Rain are all worthy of an Elvis top ten. Suspicious Minds indicates the hassle over deals. Writer Mark James was still declining to cut Parker/Presley in while they were recording it in the studio. Elvis insisted they went ahead with the song without the deal.

We’re then into the sequinned jump suit and karate moves on stage, the Vegas years. There are still gems. I Just Can’t Help Believing is live from Elvis: That’s The Way It Is and was a British #6 hit, though not a US single. I recall it from a BBC TV play in which a character was obsessed by it. His cover of Chuck Berry’s Promised Land is good, and I really do like An American Trilogy and Burning Love.

When Elvis died in 1977, I was teaching English as a Foreign Language, and we had a regular Monday lecture programme on popular music, stretching over three months. I used to do Bob Dylan (1-3), Simon & Garfunkel (1-2), Paul Simon. Others did The Beatles and Pink Floyd. Peggy, my boss’s secretary, insisted I incorporate Elvis the next Monday (she was a dedicated fan) and sent me home with a pile of her albums. I was diligent, and I guess that weekend of only Elvis was the genesis of this list years later. I bought Way Down then. Never liked it though.

In the end, the Toppermost Ten at the top is on the basis of the ten most significant tracks in my opinion, and includes both sides of one single. Are they the nine on my Desert Island playlist? No. Delete That’s All Right, Heartbreak Hotel, All Shook Up. Then add two: The Girl Of My Best Friend from 1960 and Devil in Disguise from 1963.

*

I’m going to add another Toppermost cover versions list, as I did with Chuck Berry, though some pre-date the Elvis version. The Honeymoon In Vegas OST album has Billy Joel, Trisha Yearwood, Travis Tritt, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Dwight Yoakam and Bono covering Elvis. Most are too faithful to the original. Elvis covered a large number of songs by others, so let’s call it Ten Versions of Songs Elvis Made Famous.

A Fool Such As I – Bob Dylan
From the hard-to-find Dylan album of Self Portrait rejects released by CBS in 1973 to annoy Dylan when he moved to Asylum. He did Can’t Help Falling In Love too. That’s dire, but this is exuberant and I love it.

Always On My Mind – The Pet Shop Boys
Synth-driven cover version in 1987 and a major hit.

Blue Suede Shoes – Carl Perkins
Carl is the 1955 original. Both were at Sun Records and Elvis picked up on it early, but wouldn’t allow RCA to issue his version while his friend Carl’s was still selling, so Carl had the bigger hit.

Guitar Man – Jerry Reed
Jerry Reed wrote it and had a minor country hit in 1967. Elvis covered it, and had to call Jerry Reed to come in and do the guitar part himself as no one else could get it right.

Love Letters – Ketty Lester
Elvis covered this 1962 hit in 1966 and got it to #6 in the UK chart. Ketty Lester’s superior version did rather better, reaching #4 in 1962.

Mystery Train – The Band
From 1973’s Moondog Matinee.

Polk Salad Annie – Tony Joe White
A lesser Elvis hit in 1973. Elvis was covering Tony Joe White’s 1969 original, and it then appears on three different live albums.

Suspicious Minds – Dee Dee Warwick
Dee Dee Warwick covered it while it was still in the charts, and her version was on a best-selling Atlantic sampler album in 1970. Even more soulful version.

Viva Las Vegas – Shawn Colvin
From Till The Night Is Gone: A Tribute To Doc Pomus. A completely new take on the song.

(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care – Joni Mitchell
Several significant other versions of this Leiber & Stoller song. Buddy Holly covered it, and it was a posthumous British hit. Add Led Zeppelin live, Queen, Bryan Ferry. Then Joni Mitchell did it on Wild Things Run Fast.

If you’re into Elvis, I’ll mention two CDs credited to “The King”: Gravelands and Return To Splendor. These have a credible imitator doing songs “as Elvis might have done them.” Gravelands features only songs by dead artists, but if you ever wondered how Elvis might have done Piece Of My Heart, No Woman No Cry, All Or Nothing or Working Class Hero, start here. I first heard Piece Of My Heart (fake live) in a record store and thought it was Elvis. When Working Class Hero followed it, the penny dropped.

Official Elvis Presley Web Site

Elvis Presley biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #81

6 Comments

  1. Peter Viney
    Jan 10, 2014

    Every year the Elvis estate discovers how good something was and rolls out a remastered version with bonus tracks. UNCUT has an article on the recent candidate, 1971’s “Elvis Country” recorded in two sessions in June and September 1970. It was supposed to be another session of dire songs, but Elvis hijacked it with the assistance of the great band, and recorded old country nd R&B stuff he liked off the cuff, but with a “Country Got Soul” angle.

    They note that the version of Whole Lotta Shaking with Jerry Carrigan on drums, Norbert Putnam on bass and Eddie Hinton on guitar, obsessed Elvis in the 70s, and he would play it over and over. It made me go back and listen again. Yes, brilliant. Not in the Top Ten (the song is too familiar) but a great track, as is I Was Born About 10,000 Years Ago, and I Washed My Hands in Muddy Water, all worth checking out if “Elvis Country” is to be the focus of 2014 Elvis-ology.

  2. Dave Stephens
    Oct 30, 2018

    Off the top of my head alternative selection in roughly chronological order– and it has to be a twenty in keeping with his status:
    That’s All Right
    Blue Moon Of Kentucky
    Milkcow Blues Boogie
    Mystery Train
    I Forgot To Remember To Forget – but could have selected all the Sun tracks
    I Got A Woman – El discovered Ray before most other white folk
    Tryin’ To Get To You
    Heartbreak Hotel
    Don’t Be Cruel – bettered by the Killer but still memorable
    Blue Moon – magnificent – once heard never forgotten
    Lawdy Miss Clawdy
    Loving You – “Just you and …”
    Jailhouse Rock
    One Night – OTT but superbly so
    There’s A Fool Such As I
    Reconsider Baby – real blues from Elvis Is Back
    Baby What You Want Me To Do – beats all other versions -’68 Comeback TV Special
    Just tell Her Jim Said Hello – there had to be a wild card – flip of She’s Not You in ‘63
    I’ll Hold You In My Heart (Till I Can Hold You In My Arms) – best ballad ever from the man?
    Faded Love – the Wham, Bang, Thank You Ma’am version from Elvis Country

  3. Andrew Shields
    Oct 31, 2018

    How about …
    I Forget To Remember To Forget
    Run On
    Peace In The Valley
    Reconsider Baby
    Crawfish
    She’s Not You
    If Tomorrow Wasn’t Such a Long Time
    Long Black Limousine
    In The Ghetto
    Burning Love

  4. Peter Viney
    Nov 6, 2018

    Ah, I was only allowed ten. So can I have my second ten? I had already added two for a Desert Island (personal) rather than a Toppermost.
    Don’t Be Cruel
    How Do You Think I Feel (my wild card, Rock n Roll no 2)
    The Girl of My Best Friend
    Can’t Help Falling in Love
    Devil in Disguise
    Long Black Limousine
    U.S. Male
    Guitar Man
    Burning Love
    American Trilogy
    I was interested in Dave’s wild card, Just Tell Her Jim Said Hello. I bought She’s Not You new and in those days B-sides got a good airing, and often you’d put eight on the autochanger, then flip the stack. I have an almost obsessive dislike of Just Tell Her Jim Said Hello, and had a long argument with a friend about the over-use of the name “Jim” in song lyrics. My point being that it always sounds wrong. Don’t know why! Elvis also used ‘Jim’ in Old Shep (I can do no more for him, Jim).

  5. Peter Viney
    Nov 6, 2018

    A different point. I put on “The Essential 60s Masters” Today, and the first thought is how easy it would be to compile a “Bottomleast’ though you might need 100 rather than ten. You can go a long way just on singles, without venturing into the 60s film LPs which have the least of the bottom. Beach Boy Blues? Wooden Heart? One Boy Two Little Girls?
    Elvis by the 70s was taking the piss out of It’s Now or Never onstage.
    It occurs that as well as terrible song choices, much of it was doubly marred by the old-fashioned approach of the backing singers. There’s always one or two decent tracks on the direst LPs, and “Fun in Acapulco” LP sounds good because of the mariachi horns and the rhythms despite the songs. A few years ago I heard an Elvis imitator do “King of The Whole Wide World” (Kid Galahad) minus the backing vocals. It sounded better.

  6. David Lewis
    Nov 8, 2018

    Ok. Here’s another 10 as there’s been so many great choices. I will no doubt repeat some. Elvis was a magnificent gospel singer – so I’m starting there then move into other performances that I think were overlooked even at the time.
    Joshua fit the batttle
    Put your hand in the hand
    Run on
    Peace in the valley
    Working on the building
    By and by
    Seeing is believing
    A thing called love
    There is no god but god
    I, John
    And a few of the later secular ones:
    Polk salad Annie
    Tutti frutti
    The promised land
    Kentucky Rain

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