Where Elvis really shined was as an interpreter of songs. When we think about Elvis songs, we’re almost always thinking about somebody else’s cut that he made his own. Some people are very offended by that. They’re adamant that Presley was a thief, or at the very least that so and so didn’t get his or her due.
That’s Monday morning quarterbacking, though. The practice of pairing artists with repertoire dates to the beginning of the recording industry. It wasn’t really until the Beatles came along that musicians were expected to write their own songs.
Regardless, the original artists behind Elvis’s biggest songs deserve a little love, so let’s listen to the original versions of some Presley classics:
“That’s All Right,” Arthur Crudup. Originally recorded in 1946 and re-released in 1949 as “That’s All Right, Mama,” Crudup’s version is a blues classic. Elvis’s version was released in 1954.
“Blue Moon of Kentucky,” Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. This was the B-side to Elvis’s version of “That’s All Right,” and like Crudup’s song it dates to 1946. Bill Monroe is the father of bluegrass music, and was known as a demanding and fiercely competitive bandleader who wasn’t averse to a little violence if it meant getting the most out of his players.
“Hound Dog,” Big Mama Thornton. Big Mama didn’t write this cut — that was Lieber and Stoller — but she made it a hit in 1953. Elvis’s version didn’t drop until 1956. Although Presley’s version is a rock and roll classic, Big Mama’s is raunchier.
“Blue Suede Shoes,” Carl Perkins. Both songwriter Perkins and Presley had hits with this cut in 1956.
“Suspicious Minds,” Mark James. Released in 1968, singer-songwriter Mark James’s version didn’t chart. Elvis recorded it one year later and turned it into the last number one single of his career. Other classics written by Mark James: “Moody Blue,” “Hooked on a Feeling,” and the Willie Nelson classic “Always on My Mind.”
“Burning Love,” Arthur Alexander. Predating the Elvis version by a few months, Alexander’s country-soul version is missing Presley’s energy but it’s still pretty hot.
“Kentucky Rain,” Eddie Rabbitt. Eddie wrote this cut with Dick Heard, but Elvis made it a hit in 1970. Technically Rabbitt’s version is the cover: His “Kentucky Rain” wasn’t released until 1978.
“Guitar Man,” Jerry Reed. Both songwriter Reed and Presley released versions of this one in 1967, but only one of the two would go on to co-star in Smokey and the Bandit. So there’s that.
“Polk Salad Annie,” Tony Joe White. Presley never had a hit with this Tony Joe White cut, but it was an Elvis concert staple throughout the seventies. White did pretty well with it, though, hitting the top 10 when his version was released.
That’s probably enough from me. Let’s hear from you: Time to unchain your melodies, do it your way, and turn me on to your personal best of not Elvis. I’m listening.
Categories: Deep Cuts