This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #88: Blue Suede Shoes by Carl Perkins.
Poor Carl Perkins.
Carl Perkins, along with Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley, was part of the original quartet of singers musicians who frequented Sun Records in the early 1950s. They all performed together in travelling entertainment shows. They all helped each other come up with song ideas. Sometimes, they even played together as co-headliners or else, one friend would back up the other. Those were the very earliest days of, what came to be known as, Rock n’ Roll. And, in those early days, the first man to make it big was Carl Perkins with a song called, “Blue Suede Shoes”.
The origin of the song remains contested, even to this day. But, the two most prominently held theories are that (a) Johnny Cash was helping Perkins come up with song ideas and mentioned to him that he used to know a fellow in the Army who was overly concerned with the shine on his shoes and was always telling people to “stay off of my shoes!” (b) The second version of how “Blue Suede Shoes” came to be is that Carl Perkins, himself, was playing at a local dance and kept getting distracted by a couple who were dancing together, right at the front of the auditorium. Perkins thought that the girl was beautiful but, that her date was only concerned about the girl not stepping on his cool blue shoes. To Perkins, when you are holding a girl as pretty as the stars above, who cares about shoes?!
Regardless of how the song came to be, “Blue Suede Shoes” was the very first big hit for Sun Records. The song is played in a rock-a-billy style, which combines Rock n’ Roll, Blues and Country music together. “Blue Suede Shoes” became the first rock-a-billy song to sell a million copies, as well as, being Sun Records first million seller. Of the famous four, Perkins was first out of the gate and became in demand for live concert appearances. At first, Perkins played gigs in the southern and central regions of the US and regularly sold out 1000-seat concert bowls. In due time, he began to receive invitations to appear on national tv shows; the first of which was The Perry Como Show. In the 1950s, Perry Como was one of the most famous crooners in the world so, to be asked to appear on his show was a big honour. Perkins accepted. Everyone was super excited for him because it was an opportunity for the world or, at least, the bulk of mainstream America, to hear and see the new Rock sound being played live on TV. Unfortunately, on the way home, after that show, Perkins and his crew were involved in a terrible car accident. Perkins survived but was badly injured. His brother and another crewman were killed. The wave of career momentum that Perkins was riding ended that day. He was hospitalized for several months; effectively causing him to pass out of the public eye. Shaken, as he was, he vowed never to tour again and, instead, spent the rest of his career mainly as a songwriter.
When most people think of the song, “Blue Suede Shoes”, they think it is an Elvis Presley song. Here is the story of how that came to be. As noted earlier, Elvis and Carl Perkins were friends from the very earliest of days. But, it was quite a common practise for singers to cover the successful songs of others singers. So, when Elvis left Sun Records and signed with RCA Victor, they suggested to him that his first single with them should be a cover of “Blue Suede Shoes”. By this time, Elvis had begun to have some success of his own. His star was clearly on the rise. But, being the true friend that he was, Elvis refused to record the song unless Carl Perkins was healthy and signed off on the endeavour. It was only when Perkins told Elvis that his touring days were over, that Elvis agreed to record “Blue Suede Shoes”. The funny thing about the Elvis version of the song is that, even though it is better known, it never sold as well as the one by Carl Perkins. In fact, when you look at the complete discography of Elvis Presley, “Blue Suede Shoes” isn’t even in his own Top Ten in terms of sales or recognition. Yet, most people, when asked who sang “Blue Suede Shoes” would immediately say, “Elvis!”
It is hard to say what kind of a career Carl Perkins could have had if not for that tragic accident that happened just after getting his big break. Regardless of what might have been, Perkins has been long respected for what was. He was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame soon after it opened in the mid-1980s. His version of “Blue Suede Shoes” (and, not Elvis’) was selected by the Library of Congress as being one of the most culturally important songs of the Twentieth Century in the US. He is respected and revered for helping to launch the music genre known as Rock n’ Roll. He even was known for his down-to-earth personality and his sense of humour….when asked to compare himself, in the early days, to Elvis…Perkins replied, “He’s got his looks and moves and I’ve got what the Lord gave to me. I think we know how this is gonna turn out.” and then he laughed.
The lesson I take from all of this is that neither man knew each other as a competitor. They knew and loved each other as friends. Wouldn’t our world be a better place if we all treated each other with such kindness and respect?! Without further delay, here is Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley with their versions of the classic hit song, “Blue Suede Shoes”. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Blue Suede Shoes” by Carl Perkins, can be found here.
The link to the video for the song, “Blue Suede Shoes” as covered by Elvis Presley, can be found here.
The link to the official website for all things, Carl Perkins, can be found here.
The link to the official website for “The King”, Elvis Presley, can be found here.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for helping to inspire the writing of this post. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.