It’s no exaggeration to say that without Elvis Presley none of us would be here. While there’s every chance that pop music in its widest sense would’ve happened, there’s no denying that it wouldn’t have taken the form and path that it had if Elvis Presley – then a 19-year-old truck driver - hadn’t have walked into into Sun Studios on July 5, 1954, teamed up with guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black and cut a radical new version of Arthur Crudup’s blues classic ‘That’s All Right’.
There’d have been no Beatles. No Rolling Stones. Hell, there’d have been no Cliff Richard. But when ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ broke over the airwaves in the UK in 1956, it was as if the post-war grime and austerity had been wiped away at a stroke and for a whole new generation, the world moved into glorious colour. Little wonder, then, that no less an authority than John Lennon opined, “Before Elvis, there was nothing.”
Elvis Presley offered the world something new: that unique voice, the inhibited dancing that suggested that there was life below the hips, and a raw and untamed sexuality that was the perfect icing to this devastating confection. And while it’s undeniable that his career took a nosedive after he was discharged from serving in the US army, his comeback at the end of the 60s would make as much of an impact as that initial Big Bag in the preceding decade. This was man who’d rediscovered his mojo.
Elvis Presley wasn’t a songwriter; he was a great interpreter of other people’s material and he consistently put his own indelible stamp on the songs that he was singing. With today being the 40th anniversary since Elvis Presley died of a heart attack in his Memphis home aged just 42-years-old, it’s in this spirit of song interpretation that Gigwise celebrates the career of the King Of Rock’n’Roll with 10 of the best covers of songs made famous by Elvis Presley.
We hope you approve of our choices and that, crucially, they’ll send you off in the direction of Elvis Presley’s definitive versions.
The Cramps – ‘Heartbreak Hotel’
Like Elvis, psychobilly pioneers The Cramps were fantastic interpreters of other people’s material. Almost half of their debut album, Songs The Lord Taught Us, was made up of obscure cover versions from the 50s and 60s and then force fed through a lysergic prism. In doing so, they made the songs wholly their own while presenting these buried treasures to a whole new legion of fans. Touring in 1986 in support of their third studio album, A Date With Elvis, The Cramps opened their set each night with this thoroughly unhinged and demented reading of the song that broke Elvis through to a wider audience.
Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – ‘In The Ghetto’
Nick Cave has long been obsessed with Elvis Presley and the mythology that surrounds the late singer. Indeed, the opening sequence of his debut novel, And The Ass Saw The Angel, is based on the birth of Elvis Presley and the stillbirth of his twin brother, Jesse Garon, who was delivered 35 minutes before his surviving brother. And, like Elvis Presley, Nick Cave has always possessed the ability to climb into the heart of song, twist it to his own purposes and re-emerge with something wholly new. Cave’s reading of ‘In The Ghetto’ is defined by its nightmarish quality and impending sense of doom that serves the denouement of the song particularly well.
Pet Shop Boys - Always On My Mind
Originally recorded by Pet Shop Boys for the TV special, Love Me Tender, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Elvis’ death, this version proved to be so popular that the arch synth duo elected to release it as a single. And just how popular was it? Well, it was popular enough to hurtle the single to the top of the UK charts to become the Christmas Number One in 1987 where it remained for four weeks.
Motorhead - Blue Suede Shoes
The late Motorhead frontman was always quick to point out that his group weren’t purveyors of heavy metal but a rock’n’roll band. And so they proved time and again with covers such as The Kingsmen’s garage classic ‘Louie Louie’ among others. Also covered by the band was this incendiary version of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ that takes the energy of Elvis’ version, pumps it full of bathtub speed and lets it off the leash. Crank this one right up and be prepared to be blasted through your walls and into your neighbour’s living room.
Bruce Springsteen - Burning Love
Bruce Springsteen is as famous for dropping cover versions synonymous with the town that he’s playing in as he his for his epic sets. He opened his 2009 Glastonbury set with Joe Strummer’s ode to the festival, ‘Coma Girl’, as well playing a well delivered version of AC/DC’s ‘Highway To Hell’ in Perth, Australia. So here he is taking on Elvis’ 1972 hit, ‘Burning Love’, in the King’s adopted home state of Tennessee. Rambunctious and full-blooded, this is maximum Springsteen with added Tom Morello on guitar.
The Smiths - (Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame
Elvis Presley’s image graced the cover of The Smiths’ 1987 single, ‘Shoplifters Of The World Unite’, with a picture taken in 1955 by his hairdresser. With this in mind, and Morrissey’s penchant for sporting a quiff, it should come as no surprise that The Smiths would dip into the King’s back catalogue. Driven by Johnny Marr’s idiosyncratic chiming guitar, this cover is a perfect blending of two generations of musicians who made a profound effect on their respective fan bases.
Queen - Jailhouse Rock
From King to Queen and bypassing Prince in one easy step. Or something. Never ones to do anything by halves, Queen grab Elvis’ original version and ramp it up for all that it’s worth. Queen had been covering the song since early in their career but this live version from Montreal in 1981 is probably the best version that they nailed. Freddie Mercury is in full-on and flamboyant clone mode while his cohorts kick up one hell of a storm.
Dead Kennedys - Viva Las Vegas
San Franciscan punks Dead Kennedys were always about the sickness at the heart of the American Dream. Their very name was a specific dig at what was then largely viewed as America’s version of the royal family, the political dynasty of the Kennedys and a reference to the murdered US president, John F. Kennedy, and his brother, Robert, who was assassinated five years later in 1968. Setting out to provoke and irritate, their version of ‘Viva Las Vegas’ does precisely that whilst making an undeniably exciting statement.
The Jim Jones Revue - Big Hunk O’ Love
Fusing the ramalama of primetime Little Richard with the righteous sonic fury of The MC5, the Jim Jones Revue always delivered a heavy-duty rock’n’roll payload from a great height and left behind a trail of devastated venues and breathless fans in their wake. Never ones to shy away from their influences, here the Jim Jones Revue take Elvis’ number, stick it on a bonfire and then lob in some gas canisters and dynamite for a laugh. And boy, does it go off…
Fine Young Cannibals - 'Suspicious Minds'
Like the Pet Shop Boys, Fine Young Cannibals took the template of the original and re-moulded it in their own vision. The song was Elvis Presley’s final chart-topping single before his untimely death. Though Fine Young Cannibals – formed from the ashes of ska revivalists The Beat – failed to emulate that feat, they still managed to score big in 1986 when their version peaked at Number 8 in the UK singles charts.