Happy Birthday to the King!
The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, that is. Since tomorrow is Elvis Presley’s birthday, I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite tunes by the King as well as some of the things that make him one of my favorite artists. For a man who would go on to become one of the most famous people in the world during his lifetime, and still to this day, Elvis Presley maintained the humility of the young boy who was raised in indigent circumstance. He never forgot his roots. As he did with his music, Elvis wound the different facets of the things that he loved together to create something thoroughly unique and wonderful. In his music, we see the pop and country influences that would come naturally growing up in the South. But we also see the passion Elvis had for gospel music- whether it was the gospel spirituals he grew up singing in church or the most rhythm and blues influence gospel he participated in during the all-night gospel sings he attended in Memphis. Elvis incorporated all those influences into the modern music of the day. When he hit the scene, he was an instant classic, an overnight sensation because no one had ever done what he was doing. But, what he was doing came as naturally as breathing to the country boy.
That’s one of the reasons I like Jailhouse Rock- his third film, and one of his most famous. While not entirely biographical, Elvis portrays a country boy- Vince- who gets in trouble that lands him two years in jail. There he learns to play the guitar and sing and catches a vision for what he could do when he’s released. Once freed, Vince tries to make a go of his musical career. At first, he encounters nothing but rejections, but because one woman- a talent manager, Peggy- believes in him, he is given the opportunity to make a couple of recordings. His style at the start is very traditional country, but after a few takes, he loosens up and begins to explore his musical preferences. Of course, as in real life, his music takes off and he’s a huge success. There’s ups and downs, but at the end, all ends well.
There are a couple of songs from that movie that I really like. While the title track is excellent, it is not my favorite from the movie. Rather, I love the session Elvis does when he records Don’t Leave Me Now. I can’t help shaking the fact that this is a slice of what it was like watching Elvis work. From the various accounts of those who worked with him, Elvis was a consummate professional and always a gentleman. And I love when Peggy says to make the song his own. That’s what Elvis always did; he made his songs his own, whether he was the first to record it or it was someone else’s hit first.
The other song that I love from Jailhouse Rock is performed pool side during a party at Vince’s house once he’s rich and famous. I can’t tell you why I like You’re So Square (Baby, I Don’t Care). I just do. Maybe because I’m a bit of a square myself…
Love Me Tender
When we’re talking about Elvis movies, it’s important to bring up the first film he ever made. Elvis was particularly nervous during filming. So nervous, in fact, that he memorized the entire script. He knew everyone’s parts, which the others actors loved as they only needed to turn to him for cues. He plays the part of a simple country boy with little guile in him. And the title track from the film holds all the innocence of that character. It’s also a pretty fabulous love song.
As we’re on the subject of films, I figure I’ll just keep trucking along with songs from Elvis movies that I love. After his first three Cadillac performances, Elvis Presley began to star in movies that were formulaic and vapid plotwise. However, within the ranks of the top ten are a few pretty solid, if basic plots, with exceptional music.
Though I have only seen this one once, and can’t recall much of the plot, the film Loving You contains two of my very favorite Elvis Presley tunes.
The first is the title track, Loving You. The lyrics to this love song are very simple, but when sung from a sincere heart, they are absolutely fatal. The simplest of sentiments often contain the most profound, poignant, and potent abilities.
(Let Me Be) Your Teddy Bear is just fun. Period. The lyrics are fun. The music is boppy. Even the costumes have panache. This one never fails to leave a smile on my face.
This fifth film has some of my most beloved songs by the King. I could pick any number, but I’ll keep it to the theme- lullabies. Elvis Presley should have recorded an album dedicated to nothing by lullabies as he sings so soothingly, especially on the next two tracks.
The first one is Wooden Heart. I include this song as I really love that Elvis sings it partly in German. I have memories of my grandmother singing this song, in German, throughout her house when I was little and visiting. Since she’s now gone, hearing it so beautiful sung by Elvis warms my heart.
Big Boots is an actual lullaby in the movie. Elvis finds himself babysitting with the woman he’s trying to woo. However, instead of lamenting his bad luck, he embracing the little tyke and sings that wonderful song.
Blue Hawaii was Elvis’ eighth movie. The story is pretty flimsy but the soundtrack is fantastic. And, let’s be honest, how terrible can the movie truly be when Elvis is singing in it and it boasts two time Oscar winner Angela Lansbury in its cast?
The first song is one of Elvis’ most famous hits. It’s been recorded by a bevy of household names and still is considered one of the greatest love songs of al time. While you would expect Elvis to sing Can’t Help Falling in Love to his love interest in the film, it’s actually sung to his love interest’s grandmother instead. Regardless, it’s positively beautiful.
The next song I really love from this movie was not a huge hit. I simply adore his performance of Beach Boy Blues. And I rather enjoy the lyrics. Just like a pig before he gave his all at the luau, I’m in the pen…
There are a couple other mentions I need to make. Ku-u-i-po is a great number as is Ito Eats. Where Ito Eats is silly and goofy, Ku-u-i-po is sweet and simple. There’s Moonlight Swim and Almost Always, both of which is delightful. If you’re interested in hearing them and more from the movie, they are all on my Elvis Presley Favorites YouTube playlist here.
Have no fear, dear readers, while I could probably stick to films to showcase Elvis songs, I’m going to branch out and include some of his greatest hits outside of the movies.
I Got Stung
I think this tune showcases that unique style that Elvis brought to his craft. Truly, unless someone is trying to emulate him, this style is definitely his.
What’s important to note is that Elvis was not the first person to record this hit. It was originally done by Willie Mae ‘Big Mama’ Thornton in 1953 with a fantastic reception, staying at the number one spot on the Billboard R&B charts (included on YouTube playlist). Elvis did do the most famous recording to his number, though. You can definitely see that he tipped his hat to her genius, too, which comes as no surprise considering how much Elvis revered and appreciated classic Rhythm and Blues.
How Great Thou Art
It would be wrong not to include one of Elvis’ spirituals. For all the gold, platinum, and multi-platinum albums that he sold in his lifetime, the only albums he won grammys for were his gospels albums. I honestly don’t think you can top his recording of this one, either. Knowing that he believed deeply in the God he was singing about adds a depth to this recording that eradicates any imperfections in singing or style.
It’s Now or Never
This song has quite a long and evolving history, starting in the south of Italy. The song O Solo Mio, composed by Eduardo di Capua and Alfredo Mazzucchi, is a canzone napoletana, a traditional song sung in the Neapolitan style. This song is still wildly popular and recorded by such varied musicians and Luciano Pavaratti, Bryan Adams, and Il Volo to name a few (all found on the playlist for your listening pleasure). O Solo Mio made its way across Europe and the Atlantic and was recorded with an English lyric by Tony Martin. The song was called There’s No Tomorrow. Arguably, I think this one set the stage for Elvis’ rendition. With lyrics written by Aaron Schroeder and Wally Gold, It’s Now Or Never retains the majesty of the original, of course, given a different flare because that’s just what Elvis does. It’s Now or Never is the best selling single of Elvis’ career. I’m sure you can hear why.
I really could list on for a while, as I am a big Elvis fan, but I’ll leave you with his greatest hit. It seems the appropriate place to stop. I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to some of these fabulous tunes. Please check out the YouTube playlist for more where that came from- including some remakes by other like Norah Jones or Travis Tritt. And then there’s once in a lifetime bit with Dolph Lundgren doing a pretty awesome rendition of A Little Less Conversation complete with a drum solo, chopping through blocks of ice and pieces of wood, and dancing; the man is a jock of all trades.
What’s your favorite Elvis song?
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