In celebration of what would have been The King’s 80th birthday, Getintothis’ Vicky Pea takes a look at the most impressive of catalogues, that belonging to Elvis Presley.
Movie star, sex symbol, army sergeant, hall of famer, Grammy winner, fashion icon and cultural idol – Elvis Presley has played many roles both during his lifetime and since his death, but for us he will always be the musician, The King.
On what would have been his 80th birthday it’s less of a chore and more of a pleasure to work our way though a back catalogue that few could ever hold a light to. However it’s also a task we may have immediately regretted! With a rough estimation of around 700 recordings attributed to the King, picking just ten suddenly seems a monumental (and risky) task.
Resigning to the fact it’s too late to back out now, we invite you to slick back your hair, curl up that lip (for the love of god leave the jumpsuit alone) and enjoy the best of the best, never to be equaled.
10. Heartbreak Hotel – 1956 – RCA
Elvis’ first release under RCA and his first to reach No.1 of the American Billboard charts where it resided for 7 weeks. Heartbreak Hotel signalled his full-blown arrival and went on to be crowned the song of the year, which considering the lyrical content (the rumoured suicide of a man who jumped from a hotel window) ain’t bad!
It’s worth noting that the New Musical Express absolutely slated it at the time of release. Keith Richards, George Harrison & Robert Plant on the other hand praised the song for having a great impact on their lives and subsequent careers. Of course it’s been covered to death with Bill Clinton and The Rock key culprits.
9. Way Down – 1977 – RCA
The last single recorded at his home in Graceland before his death, it also claims to contain one of the lowest notes ever produced by the human voice with J.D Sumner hitting a low double C at the end of each chorus (“Way on down”), a feat previously achieved by Sumner on the hymn Blessed Assurance.
The track failed to make a mark on the charts on its release until his passing when it unsurprisingly shot to No.1 in the US Country Billboard and UK Singles Chart.
8. A Little Less Conversation (Elvis vs JXL) – 2001 – BMI
That’s right. We’re probably about to get a backlash of monumental proportions but fuck it. For a whole generation this was the first time they had heard Elvis outside of a family wedding scenario and it proved that the King still had it, topping the charts from beyond the grave!
This song was everywhere (Nike‘s 2002 World Cup anthem & No.1 in over 20 countries) and I’m pretty sure more than a few of us have the single gathering dust in the back of a wardrobe (just me?), and remember the video too.
7. Mystery Train – 1955 – Sun
A song considered by many as the blues standard is was originally released by Junior’s Blue Flames and this version was actually a b-side, this however could not contain the rollicking of this recording which aided in heralding in the age of rockabilly. Elvis‘ trademark “baby’s” throughout result in making this a much more emotive recording that alternative versions.
6. In the Ghetto – 1969 – RCA
Apparently some people think this song might be a bit pretentious coming from a rich white man, but these people are usually Cliff Richard fans. It’s a sentimental sing along favourite which cemented the King’s comeback in 1969 with its enduring story. Lisa Marie Presley would go on to record her own version in 2007.
5. Inherit the Wind – 1969 – RCA
Track 1 side 3 from the From Memphis To Vegas/Vegas to Memphis album, this is probably the most overlooked entry in our Top 10. Another masterclass in story-telling, Elvis sings of a drifter somewhat explaining himself, and his choices, to friends and family. Technically this could be classed as a ‘leftover’ recording, but just listen and make your own mind up.
4. That’s Alright – 1954 – Sun
The beginning of it all? Maybe. His first commercial single? Definitely. The first ever rock ‘n’ roll single? Rolling Stone think so.
Foot-tappingly up-tempo and pretty faithful to the original this track was recorded live in Memphis in 1954 after the King apparently found him self ‘fooling around’ during an uneventful session. Chalk this one up to a lucky mistake then shall we?
3. An American Trilogy – 1973 – RCA
We’ve had some debate over this one, but any musical arrangement this damn good deserves a place in the top 10. An ode to southern roots in a modern hymn format that never fails to raise that mystical neck hair.
Presley first began performing this in 1972 of which a recording was released in 1973, one of over 400 versions of this medley in existence.
2. The Girl of My Best Friend – 1960 – RCA
A cover taken from the 1960 record Elvis is Back! Listening to this you can just imagine teenage boys up and down America singing their hearts out in their bedrooms about their best mates fit missus. Get in lad!
Seriously though The Girl of My Best Friend is a great example of Elvis honing his voice and starting to craft his signature sound which never fails to be underrated.
1. Suspicious Minds – 1969 – Scepter
Number one was never in doubt. It was always this. Not just the song but this Vegas performance in particular. It sums up everything about the man. The vocals, the performance, the humour, the drama, the interaction. This is not the frontman of a rock ‘n’ roll band, this is an entertainer totally comfortable in his skin and at the height of his powers.
Sadly, realised in 1968, it was to be his 17th and last number one before his death. Sit back and enjoy a master of showmanship.
So there you go. In all honesty we could have probably picked 10 songs out of a hat and been pretty close to the mark but that wouldn’t have annoyed the neighbours nearly enough or been quite as much fun.
Let us know how we did, and long live the King!