In 2021, we published posts similar to today’s entry, albeit covering songs by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. For our first solo artist, we could think of no better choice than the actual King of Rock ‘n Roll himself – Elvis Presley. My father-in-law always tells me that for him, the day the music died was when The Beatles first came to America, as the British invasion moved music in a completely new direction, leaving many quintessential musical legends in its wake.
Elvis’ unexpected death at age 42 in 1977 left his fans in utter shock and disbelief. His final single before his death, “Way Down”, topped both the country and the singles charts in the UK, peaking at #18 in the United States.
As of 2020, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) credits Elvis with 146.5 certified album sales, placing him third all-time behind The Beatles and Garth Brooks.
Later this month, Warner Bros. Pictures will release Bas Luhrman’s “Elvis”, starring Austin Butler. The film chronicles the life and meteoric rise of the boy from Tupelo, Mississippi who became the world’s greatest solo artist of all time.
As we’ve done in the past, join us to revive, relive, and relate to the best of Elvis Presley. Here we present ten classic Elvis tracks we appreciate the most (in no particular order). If you have a favorite that didn’t make our cut, feel free to share those suggestions within the comments. We’ll definitely take a listen!
NOTE: CLICK ON THE IMAGES FOR A VIDEO PERFORMANCE OF EACH SONG
HOUND DOG (1956)
Who would guess this slice of rock ‘n roll heaven would be at the center of multiple controversies and a plethora of lawsuits, many surrounding “answer” songs (think of them as copycats), with the most famous example being “Bear Cat” by Rufus Thomas which reached #3 on the pop charts. Initially released by Elvis as the B-side to the single “Don’t Be Cruel”, it soon was switched to be a double A-Side release, with both songs topping Billboard’s Top Songs in Stores and Most Played on Jukeboxes charts. In 1988, the Elvis Presley original was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. 10/10
Peak Position in the US: #1 / UK: #2
RETURN TO SENDER (1962)
Lifted from the soundtrack of the Presley film, “Girls! Girls! Girls!”, the single “Return to Sender” has an interesting backstory, in that the songwriters would under normal circumstances be assigned a spot in the script that needed a song with a particular message to fit the film’s plot. The songwriters for this movie decided to simply write great songs without worrying about the film’s plot. Inspiration came to them when a returned piece of mail from a demo came back with “return to sender…address unknown…no such person…no such zone!” stamped prominently on it. As they say, the rest was history. 9/10
Peak Position in the: US – #2 (Behind “Walk Like a Man” by The Four Seasons) UK – #1
BURNING LOVE (1972)
“Burning Love” became Elvis Presley’s final top 10 single in late October 1972, peaking at #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 just behind Chuck Berry’s novelty hit “My Ding-A-Ling”. The single kicked off his album “Burning Love and Hits from His Movies, Volume 2”, which oddly enough didn’t include any hits from his movies (non-singles only). “Burning Love” is one of Elvis’ most popular songs used in pop culture references, including everything from “The Simpsons”, “The Golden Girls”, “Lilo & Stitch”, “The Newsroom”, “New Girl”, “Fuller House”, and even the wake-up song for a space shuttle mission (STS-123). 8/10
Peak Position in the: US – #2 – UK #7
YOU DON’T KNOW ME (1967)
By the time the mid-sixties arrived, Elvis’ allure and popularity musically had waned, his interest in recording forgettable songs for formulaic films had nosedived, and he found himself lost in Hollywood. So much so, that the soundtrack to “Clambake” and the sessions supporting it were a total disaster. It was then that Elvis moved in a new direction, choosing songs that mattered to him, songs written by accomplished songwriters. Much of the “Clambake” soundtrack is just plain bad (take a listen to “Who Needs Money” or “Confidence” and you’ll see what we mean), however Elvis chose a Cindy Walker gem in “You Don’t Know Me”. Taken to #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 by Ray Charles in 1962, to our ears, this Presley track is every bit a classic as “Are You Lonesome Tonight” or “Love Me Tender”. 8/10
Peak Position in the: US – #44
JAILHOUSE ROCK (1957)
Lifted from the soundtrack to Elvis’ third film, “Jailhouse Rock” literally rocketed to the top of the charts (along with its B-side “Treat Me Nice”) in both the US and the UK, hitting the top 10 in a number of other countries. The characters mentioned in the song (Shifty Henry, The Purple Gang) were real people, with “Sad Sack” being a US Army nickname for a World War II-era loser. The King took an otherwise silly and somewhat goofy lyric and performed it as straight rock ‘n roll , in 2016 being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. 10/10
Peak Position in the US: #1 / UK: # 1
ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT? (1960)
Originally composed in 1927 for a vaudeville act, Elvis was looking for new material to return to recording after being discharged from the US Army in 1960. Colonel Tom Parker suggested this song (the only time Parker injected himself into song choice with Presley) for inclusion in the forthcoming “Elvis is Back!” album sessions. Laying down the track at 4am on an April day in a darkened studio, “Lonesome” was the elusive one/two-take recording that today would be unheard of. 9/10
Peak Position in the: US – #1 UK – #1
A LITTLE LESS CONVERSATION (JXL RADIO REMIX) (1968/2002)
Following its inclusion in 2001’s “Ocean’s Eleven”, Dutch musician Tom Holkenborg (professionally known as JXL) remixed Presley’s original 1968 track (B-side of “Almost in Love”), which was then featured in a 2002 Nike commercial and also included later as the 31st track on “ELV1S: 30 No. 1 Hits”. The refreshed single went to #1 in 20 countries. 8/10
Peak Position in the: US: #50 UK: #1
SUSPICIOUS MINDS (1969)
Initially failing to hit the charts for the song’s writer Mark James, “Suspicious Minds” was a song inspired by James’ wife’s suspicion regarding her husband’s feelings for his childhood sweetheart. Meanwhile, hot on the heels of his “’68 Comeback Special”, Elvis began recording a wider variety of material, including gospel, rock, R&B, country & western and soul. Although not a fan of the initial Presley version of “Suspicious Minds”, James was blown away by the final product. Elvis would later record another of Mark James tunes, this one “Always on my Mind”, taking that track into the Top 20 in 1972. “Suspicious Minds” became Elvis Presley’s final No. 1 single on Billboard’s Hot 100 in November of 1969. 10/10
Peak Position in the: US – #1 – UK #2
CAN’T HELP FALLING IN LOVE (1961)
Featured in the 1961 film “Blue Hawaii”, this composition is based upon a French love song written in 1784 (“Plaisir d’amour”) and was first sung from a woman’s perspective. With a few gender-related changes within the lyrics of several verses, it became an Elvis Presley staple, recorded later by many other artists (UB40 took a reggae version to the top of the charts in many countries in 1993). According to a 2020 survey, the song is the most popular choice for couples as their first dance at their wedding. 9/10
Peak Position in the: US – #2 (stalled behind Joey Dee & the Starliters “Peppermint Twist”) – UK #1
AN AMERICAN TRILOGY (1972)
Although oftentimes referred to as “The King” of Rock ‘N Roll, Elvis was not fond of the title. “There’s only one King, and that’s Jesus Christ” he was quoted as saying on more than one occasion. His love of gospel music is easily apparent from his recording of a number of gospel-filled albums (“He Touched Me” – 1972, “How Great Thou Art” – 1967, and “His Hand in Mine” – 1960), and so it came as no surprise when he began performing this Mickey Newbury medley in January 1972. The song combined “Dixie” with “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “All My Trials” (a Bahamian lullaby) to stunning results widely seen via satellite during Elvis’ 1973 “Aloha from Hawaii” concert. 9/10
Peak Position in the: US – #66 – UK #8
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my father-in-law’s favorite recording here as well, so this one’s just for you Roger!
So there you have it. What are your thoughts on our favorite 10 Elvis Presley songs? What others do you recommend? Leave your thoughts via a comment on the page!
Before you leave, please check out our previous entries in the “Our Ten” series here on Moteventure!