RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #96: Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley.

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.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #96: Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley.

“Heartbreak Hotel” is a song that was spawned by a suicide note. In the early 1950s, a man in Florida discovered that his wife was cheating on him with another man. In despair, he took his own life. When the Police examined his body, they discovered a suicide note. That note simply stated, “I walk a lonely street”.

The story of that man’s death was reported in a local newspaper in Florida. The story was read by a music teacher named Mae Boren Axton. She was moved by the lyrical nature of the dead man’s final words and brought the idea to a songwriting friend of hers named Tommy Durden. They both thought that there might by a song hidden beneath the tragedy of this man’s story. As they worked on the lyrics, Mae Axton suggested that if they were going to place the setting of the song in the fictional locale of “Lonely Street” then, they needed to add detail to the location. So, with that in mind, she suggested they place a hotel at the end of the street. Durden suggested stated that the obvious name for this hotel should be “The Heartbreak Hotel”. And so, one of the most famous and important songs in the history of Rock n’ Roll came to be.

Once they had the song written, they took it to a friend who was a local singer. The idea was to make a demo tape and shop it around in the hope of selling the song. When their friend tried singing the song, he found it difficult to do so. “Heartbreak Hotel” is a song that was structured, musically, in a much different manner than most songs of the early 1050s. Those days were the days of the crooners. Frank Sinatra was King. Most songs had an orchestral or big band component to them. Songs were lush and full and often spoke of Love. “Heartbreak Hotel” is the opposite of all of that. It is a song that is stripped down and punctuated with many moments of silence. Axton and Durden’s friend found it difficult to get the proper cadence for their song but, after several frustrating takes, the demo tape was completed. It was now time to shop their tape in hopes of making a sale.

Axton used her connections in the music industry to pitch her song to many people; all of whom turned her down. In fact, many people thought that the song was actually pretty poor, as songs went in those days. After many rejections, Axton heard that there was to be a Country Music festival coming to her town. The headliner was Hank Snow but, on the bill was a newcomer named Elvis Presley. So, Mae Axton contacted Elvis’ manager, Col. Tom Parker and asked if she could play their tape for his client when he was in town. Parker agreed. When Elvis heard the song, he immediately “got it”! He asked to listen to the song over and over again until he had the lyrics memorized and then, he sang it back to Axton. He agreed to buy the song from her if he could play with the lyrics and musical structure a bit. She agreed and thus, Elvis came to have a songwriting credit for “Heartbreak Hotel”.

The funny thing is how wildly different the reactions of others were to this new song. The BBC didn’t even consider “Heartbreak Hotel” worthy of being played because, in their words, it was of such “poor vocal quality”. Elvis’ new recording company, RCA Victor, thought it was a bad song, too. The only way Elvis got it to be recorded professionally was to convince his sound engineer to double-mic him so that he would be free to move around as he sang but the microphone would still be able to clearly pick up his voice. But, as much as Elvis was given resistance by the music industry, the reaction from the public was something else altogether. When he debuted “Heartbreak Hotel” in public, the sound of his voice, coupled with the wild gyrations of his hips, drove the crowd into a frenzy. As word spread of what Elvis was doing on stage, girls began fighting to touch him; often grabbing at his clothes to the point of ripping them to shreds. Young men such as John Lennon and Keith Richards reacted in a similar manner, except, that instead of wanting to rip off his clothes, they realized that new way of making music was happening right before their eyes. To a man, they claim that hearing “Heartbreak Hotel” for the first time, by a white man like them, made them feel as though the Blues were possible for guys like them, too. Prior to seeing/hearing Elvis, Lennon and Richards and Bob Dylan all thought the Blues were the sole purvey of Black singers like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Little Richard, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and so on. But now, when Elvis breaking down the barriers that he was doing, the whole world of, what was to become Rock n’ Roll as we know it, became possible.

So, out of one man’s heartbreak came one of the most important songs of all-time. To my knowledge, his family never received any compensation due to the fact that his story was, quite literally, “public news”. But, thanks to the imaginations of Mae Axton and Tommy Durden, just about everyone in the English-speaking world knows the answer to the question: “Where is The Heartbreak Hotel”? It is, of course, down at the end of Lonely Street.

Without further delay, here is Elvis Presley with one of the earliest known videos of him singing this song live, in public. Man Alive! That boy’s hips were made on a swivel! What moves! What a voice! This is the real deal. Enjoy!

The link to the video for the song, “Heartbreak Hotel” by Elvis Presley, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Elvis Presley, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #126: All Shook Up by Elvis Presley.

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.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #126: All Shook Up by Elvis Presley.

Of all of the songs in this countdown, “All Shook Up” by Elvis Presley is one of the most straight-forward as far as the story behind the song goes. But, there is some amazing Elvis-related trivia associated with this song so, here goes for both!

“All Shook Up” was written by a man named Otis Blackwell. Mr. Blackwell also wrote the lyrics to “Don’t Be Cruel”. Apparently, “All Shook Up” was written by Blackwell on a bet or a dare from his boss. The bet was that he couldn’t make a song out of his boss’ act of shaking up a can of Pepsi Cola. One day later, Blackwell had penned the words to a song about that emotional feeling of complete happiness that one feels upon falling in love. As was the case, back in the mid-1950s, if you wanted your song to be sung by someone of Elvis’ pedigree, you had to pay for that privilege so, Blackwell had to agree to sign away fifty percent of his songwriting royalties to Elvis, even though Elvis had absolutely nothing to do with the creation of the song. So, the songwriting credits on the single for “All Shook Up” read “Presley/Blackwell” and now you know why.

The lyrics to the song are fairly easy to understand. No hidden nor double meanings there.

“Well, bless my soul!

What’s wrong with me?

I’m itchin’ like a man in a fuzzy tree!

My friends say I’m actin’ wild as a bug!

I’m in love.

I’m all shook up.”

One of the real things that Elvis had going for him was his natural sense of humility, coupled with his natural good looks and charisma. It isn’t just anyone who could sing such lyrics and cause women to swoon. He seemed like someone a girl could fall in love with and be treated like gold for the rest of her life.

In any case, “All Shook Up” was a big hit for Elvis, going all the way to #1, where it stayed for eight consecutive weeks. It ended up being named the Song of the Year in 1957. That honour capped off an amazing two consecutive years for Elvis. In 1956, the “Presley/Blackwell” song, “Don’t Be Cruel” was named the Song of the Year, as well. This made Elvis the only performer to have two different songs proclaimed as the Song of the Year in consecutive years. Not only that, in both 1956 and 1957, Elvis had streaks of 25-consecutive weeks each, with having a song in the #1 position. In 1956 his consecutive weeks streak included songs such as, “Heartbreak Hotel” (8 weeks), “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” (1 week), “Don’t Be Cruel”/”Hound Dog” *(Double A-sided singles that held #1 for 11 consecutive weeks) and “Love Me Tender” (5 weeks). In 1957, his streak of 25-consecutive weeks included hits such as, “Too Much” (3 weeks), “Teddy Bear” (7 weeks), “Al Shook Up” (8 weeks) and “Jailhouse Rock” (7 more weeks).

As I have said before, he is called “The King of Rock n’ Roll” for a reason. So, without further delay, here is the Song of the Year from 1957, “All Shook Up” by The King, himself, Mr. Elvis Presley. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “All Shook Up” by Elvis Presley, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Elvis Presley, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: Honourable Mention Song #20…I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You by Elvis Presley (as Nominated by JoAnn Kroft-Hedley).

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.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Honourable Mention Song #20: I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You by Elvis Presley (as Nominated by JoAnn Kroft-Hedley).

“I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” is a song that is based upon a French song called, “Plaisir d’ amour” that was written all the way back in 1784!!! That song was, also, written for a female lead to be sung about falling in love with a man. In the late 1950s, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” was created by three songwriters named Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore and George Davis Weiss. As it turned out, these three gentlemen ended up writing some of the biggest hits of the day; including, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” for The Tokens and “Honeycomb” and “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” for Jimmie Rodgers and “Lullaby of Birdland” for Ella Fitzgerald. All three were inducted into The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in the Songwriting Category and finally, as if that wasn’t enough, David George Weiss served as President of the Songwriter’s Guild of America for over two decades. But, the biggest hit produced by this trio of accomplished songwriters was “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” which became a worldwide hit when it was sung by The King, himself, Elvis Presley.

Elvis Presley sang this song as part of the soundtrack to the movie, “Blue Hawaii”. That song became a #1 all around the world and remained in the top spot for seven weeks. In fact, the “Blue Hawaii” soundtrack album was the #1 album for twenty consecutive weeks, which held the record for almost two decades until it was replaced by Fleetwood Mac’s, “Rumours” LP in the late 1970s.

One of the things I have always admired about Elvis, as a performer, was his stage presence. He sure knew how to move and how to work an audience. He even knew what strings to pull in his movies. For example, in “Blue Hawaii”, Elvis did not do the cliched thing and sing this song to his love interest. Instead, when courting her, he did so by singing this song to her grandmother! That Elvis was a clever boy, for sure! In real life, Elvis often saved “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” for the finale of his shows. Sometimes when he sang this song, he would pick out the prettiest girl in the room and sing it to her but, just as often, he would focus in on a Grandma in the audience and serenade her. When finished, Elvis would smile and, on occasion, would kiss Grandma on the cheek or hand. The audience would swoon. Elvis was “The King” for a reason.

As an aside, in several previous posts, I have pumped the tires of a TV show called, “Full House/Fuller House” that starred, among others, John Stamos as “Uncle Jesse”, an aspiring singer who loved Elvis. Anyway, that show was a treasure trove of smart musical references, hidden amid the family comedy storylines. In one episode, the entire family went to Hawaii for a vacation. Uncle Jesse was so excited to visit all of the locations where “Blue Hawaii” was filmed. At one point, the family was invited to participate in a ceremonial luau near their hotel. Uncle Jesse, being a singer, asked to sing, “Rock a-Hula, Baby”, which he did. “Rock a-Hula, Baby” was the B-side to “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” when it was released as a single. When we watched that episode as a family, my daughters completely enjoyed the song but missed the clever Elvis reference. I, on the other hand, enjoyed the moment because I had to respect the attention to detail that the creators of this show employed each week. As a lover of the history of music, I can’t speak highly enough of “Full House/Fuller House” and the lengths they went to honour the History of Rock n’ Roll.

This song was nominated by my friend, JoAnn Kroft-Hedley. If there is a bigger Elvis fan then, I haven’t met her. She has been promoting him to me all throughout this musical countdown journey of ours so, I was definitely not surprised at all when her nominated song turned out to be an Elvis pick. JoAnn was lucky enough to have seen Elvis perform in person. According to her, as was his tradition, he saved “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” until the very end and then, when he started to sing, she says it felt like he was singing directly to her. She swooned and is still swooning to this very day. As mentioned, Elvis either picked the prettiest girl in the room or the most matronly Grandma. In JoAnn’s case, I am sure it was the former and not the latter. 🙂

JoAnn has been a staunch ally and good friend for a few years now. I met JoAnn through her daughter, Cuyler. Cuyler was a student teacher who spent time in my classroom a year or two before I retired. Because we both live in the same town, I used to run into Cuyler and her family on occasion when we were out and about. On one of those occasions, Cuyler introduced me to her Mom and we have been fast friends ever since. I am fortunate to know them, both. In fact, Cuyler has gone on to be one of the teachers that my youngest daughter, Sophie, has this year. Small world, eh?

So, thanks, JoAnn for nominating such a great song. As well, I thank you for your comments, questions and shared stories all the way through the countdown process as it has unfolded. Your input has made this experience more enjoyable for me. I am endlessly appreciative.

Without further delay, here is Elvis Presley with “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” from the movie, “Blue Hawaii”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” by Elvis Presley, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Elvis Presley, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Rock a-Hula, Baby”, as shown on the TV show, “Full House”, can be found here.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #13: Hound Dog by Big Mama Thornton.

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.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #13: Hound Dog by Big Mama Thornton.

So, a funny thing happened on the way to writing this post. I was minding my own business, conducting my research into the song, “Hound Dog”, which I assumed was an Elvis Presley song and then, what I really discovered was that I didn’t actually know anything about this song at all! The story behind “Hound Dog” is so filled with twists and turns and plot developments that I think my biggest challenge today is going to be finding room to get it all down without having written a book! Suffice to say, “Hound Dog” is not an Elvis song! It is not about a dog! It was a song subject to countless legal battles over copyright infringement! And finally, it was originally sung by a lady who rivalled Aretha Franklin, herself, for singing prowess yet, she died a virtual unknown in the annals of music history. That lady’s name was “Big Mama” Thornton. So, let’s get this twisted, tangled sorrowful tale under way. Here is the story of a song called, “Hound Dog”.

The song, “Hound Dog” was written by two famous songwriters named Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller when they were just teenagers. Leiber and Stoller wrote some of the most famous songs of all-time including, “Jailhouse Rock” and “Loving You” by Elvis, “Yakety Yak” by The Coasters, “On Broadway” and “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King and over 70 other songs that charted in the US. They were inducted into The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in the Songwriters Category in 1987. “Hound Dog” was one of their very first songs to be written and recorded. Because of their young age at the time, the lessons learned through the publication and recording process helped to set the stage for legal ownership of musical content and the subsequent royalty rates that helped songwriters make their living. But, at the time, none of those copyright procedures and protections existed which went a long way into making the story of “Hound Dog” so complex.

The original version of the lyrics for “Hound Dog” were written for a black woman to sing. The song was written to be a bawdy song about a gigolo ( a “hound dog”) who was trying to convince his black female mark to take care of him…..to set him up in a life of leisure, if you will. She, in turn, replies that she is aware of what he is trying to trick her into doing and she is having none of it and wants him to leave. The black woman that Leiber and Stoller presented “Hound Dog” to was a lady known as “Big Mama” Thornton. There are so many legal aspects to the story of “Hound Dog” that it is easy to overlook the part that Big Mama Thornton played but, in reality, her story is arguably the most important one of all.

“Big Mama” Thornton was a Blues singer who was cut from the very same cloth as was Sister Rosetta Tharpe. *(you can read all about Sister Rosetta Tharpe here). “Big Mama” Thornton was a strong, powerful woman who toured with a band that included a guitarist named Buddy Guy, who would go on to become one of the most legendary Blues guitarists of all-time. But, his first gig was touring with “Big Mama” Thornton. Because of her powerful presence, Leiber and Stoller…..two white, skinny, Jewish teenagers……thought she would be the perfect singer for their song. At first, she sang “Hound Dog” as a smouldering Blues song but, to their credit, Leiber and Stoller were not intimidated by her and they stood their ground and insisted that she sing the song like she was howling. “Big Mama” reluctantly agreed to try it their way and, as they say, the rest is history. Her howling rendition of a song about sex and about a woman standing her ground, set the music world on fire. When it was released under her name, “Hound Dog” by “Big Mama” Thornton went to #1 on the R&B charts and stayed there for eight weeks! The song was one of several hits she had under her own name……the next famous being “Ball and Chain”, made famous when covered by Janis Joplin. If the story of the song was that she had a hit with it and then Elvis covered it later then, that would be a relatively simple story but, that is not the end of the story at all. Hang on……we are only just beginning.

Leiber and Stoller wrote the original lyrics to “Hound Dog” at a time when copyright protection really didn’t exist. It was a time of the wild west when it came to songs and musical structures. As soon as someone released a hit, there would be imitators and copy cats springing up out of the woodwork in no time flat. The legal troubles for Leiber and Stoller regarding “Hound Dog” started as soon as they gave the song to “Big Mama” Thornton. When she read the lyrics handed to her, she agreed to sing most of the song the way it was but, requested a few changes along the way that, based on her own experiences as a black woman, that rang truer if she doctored the lyrics a tad. So, she did. In her mind and that of her manager, the slight changes she made meant that now, “Hound Dog”, as sung by “Big Mama” Thornton was now, also, written by her as well. Because she and her management team gave themselves a songwriting credit, it meant that sales of her version of the song would generate royalty revenue for them and, by doing so, cut down on the share that went to Leiber and Stoller. So, this is where legal issue #1 started.

So, as mentioned, there were plenty of copycat artists out there. When “Hound Dog” by “Big Mama” Thornton was reigning supreme atop the R&B charts, a new version of “Hound Dog” came out by a group named Freddie Bell and the Bellboys. They were not black women so, they changed the lyrics to reflect the fact that men were now singing this song called, “Hound Dog”. In order to do so, they changed the whole concept of the song from one that was sexually-charged to one that was simply about a dog chasing rabbits. It was this version of “Hound Dog” that Elvis covered. However, before we get to that, because Freddy Bell and the Bellboys created their own lyrics, they released their version as being written by them thus giving themselves a songwriting credit and the royalty revenue that came with it. Leiber and Stoller were not given any songwriting credit on this version of “Hound Dog” which, as you can imagine, created legal issue #2 for the song, “Hound Dog”. This brings us to Elvis.

As you should all be aware by now, Elvis always demanded a full 50% songwriting share of any song that he intended to cover. Since Elvis was covering a version of the song that was, in reality, an unauthorized copy of the original song he was, in fact, not entitled to the songwriting credit he coerced out of Freddie Bell and the Bellboys. But, as we know, that didn’t stop him from recording his own version of “Hound Dog”. This became legal issue #3 but, it wasn’t the end of other legal issues and issues of another sort for Elvis.

“Hound Dog” was one of Elvis’ first big hits. It was, also, one of the first songs that the American public saw him perform on TV. It was after those initial performances that Elvis was given the nickname, “Elvis the Pelvis” for the amount of gyrations he used his hips to create while singing this song. At this stage of his career, he was just starting out and was viewed by established singers such as Frank Sinatra and Perry Como, as being wet behind the ears. They both spoke out against the style of music Elvis was promoting. They called it vulgar and nothing but noise. As Elvis began appearing on television to promote himself and his music, the hosts of the shows he appeared on all tried various means to restrict how Elvis was shown on screen. On one show, the Tonight Show as hosted then, by Steve Allen, who held Rock n’ Roll music in contempt, he humiliated Elvis by presenting him with an autographed roll of toilet paper (I kid you not) at the end of his performance. Elvis, who wore a tuxedo for this special appearance, was furious. The very next day, he re-recorded “Hound Dog” in his own style, as opposed to merely copying Freddie Bell and the Bellboys. His new rendition was angry and powerful and energetic and more in keeping with the version we know from Elvis today. As we know, the Elvis Presley version of “Hound Dog” went straight to #1 and stayed there for multiple weeks. This was merely the beginning of a career that helped make Elvis the biggest selling singer of all-time in music history.

But, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller hated the Elvis version. In their minds, a song about a dog chasing rabbits made no sense; especially, coming from the powerful, female perspective as sung by “Big Mama” Thornton. As the litigation involving this song unfolded, it became clear that Elvis most certainly knew that the song belonged to “Big Mama” Thornton but, he opted to sing the version about dogs and rabbits, anyway. That was his choice, of course but, critics say that it was the beginning of a pattern with Elvis that saw him appropriate songs by black artists in ways that denied them credit in the public eye, as well as, the financial benefits that should have come with Elvis lending his weight to their work. That criticism has stayed with Elvis since that time. *(For proof, read the post about the song, “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy, where they address Elvis by name, along with this topic. You can listen to the song here).

Eventually, the copyright issues were ironed out in court. Leiber and Stoller were given their rightful credit on all versions of the song by everyone. The funny thing about that was that as the time of the first verdict in this case that spawned multiple trials, Leiber and Stoller, were legally minors and had to have their mothers sign all documents on their behalf. “Big Mama” Thornton was allowed to keep her songwriting credit but had to take a reduced share because Leiber and Stoller were given the main credit and royalty rate. “Big Mama” Thornton received nothing at all from any of the cover versions that followed her success. Leiber and Stoller were given a small share of the Elvis Presley recording which, as you can imagine, set them up for life and, as well, because of how agreeable they were with Elvis during his portion of the trial, they were given access to his company and ended up writing other songs with him, as noted at the top of this post.

For me, I always viewed “Hound Dog” as an Elvis song. Most peopled, I suppose. But, it is not an Elvis song. It is a “Big Mama” Thornton song. I feel that it is important to state that. Far too many black artists have had their work taken from them by white artists who, in turn, benefited from a society that was set up to favour whites over blacks. All of it was unfair and unjust. If this post sheds even a sliver of light on this situation and changes a few minds then, it will have served its purpose. The real thing about it is that “Big Mama” Thornton was an exceptional singer. Wow! What a presence! I had never heard her sing until I did the research for this post. But, when I did listen to her, as you will all do in a few moments, I was completely in awe. If you think “Lady Soul”, Aretha Franklin can sing, wait until you get a load of “Big Mama” Thornton. I am willing to place a fairly hefty wager that “Big Mama” Thornton was, in fact, one of Aretha Franklin’s role models starting out. Their singing styles are quite similar. In any case, I am going to play for you the video of “Big Mama” Thornton singing “Hound Dog” the way it was originally intended for it to be sung. Note the stylings of Buddy Guy, in the background, on guitar. There are many who say that, along with Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the combination of “Big Mama” Thornton’s voice, with Buddy Guy’s smooth guitar work, was the real beginning of Rock n’ Roll as we know it to be today.

So, without further delay, here is “Hound Dog”, as written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and performed by “Big Mama” Thornton and Buddy Guy. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Hound Dog” by “Big Mama” Thornton, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Ball and Chain” by “Big Mama” Thornton, can be found here.

The link to the official website for “Big Mama” Thornton, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Buddy Guy, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Hound Dog”, as covered by Elvis Presley, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Elvis Presley, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #54: Jailhouse Rock by Elvis Presley.

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.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #54: Jailhouse Rock by Elvis Presley.

The story of the song, “Jailhouse Rock” is an interesting one which only has slightly to do with “The King”, himself. It is the story of Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame songwriters, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller being held “captive” in their hotel room until they produced the song. It is, also, the tragic story of what happened to one of Elvis’ main co-stars in the movie, “Jailhouse Rock” and how it caused Elvis to be unable to watch the movie after it was made. It is, also, the story of “Jailhouse Rock” became one of the first openly homoerotic songs ever recorded. Finally, it is the story of one of the most famous movie dance sequences ever filmed; a scene so engrained into the fabric of the song that it is almost impossible to think of the song without seeing the “inmates” dancing up a storm. So, let’s get right down to business, shall we? Here is the multi-layered story of one of Rock’s greatest songs…..”Jailhouse Rock”.

Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber were enormously successful songwriters and musicians during their heyday. They were responsible to such enormous hits as “Yakkety Yak” by The Coasters, “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King, “On Broadway” by The Drifters, as well as, “Hound Dog” and Jailhouse Rock” for Elvis. When Elvis decided to begin to diversify his career by starring in movies, “Jailhouse Rock” was one of his first ventures. The movie was originally called, “The Hard Way” because its’ plot involved Elvis being a prison convict who discovers his talent for singing while in jail and who, upon release, rehabilitates himself and becomes a star. Stoller and Leiber were contracted to create the soundtrack for the film. They were brought to New York City to write the score. However, they had never been there before (they were from L.A.) and, upon arrival, they did all of the tourist things such as seeing Broadway shows, going to night clubs, etc., and ended up accomplishing very little. The legendary story is that the assistant producer was sent to check on their progress and, upon finding them gallivanting around town, locked them in their hotel room, barred the door with a sofa and refused to allow them to leave their room until progress became tangible. Stoller and Leiber were professionals and knew they had overstepped their bounds. They got down to work and ended up creating four songs in one day. One of those songs was “Jailhouse Rock”. The songs were shown to Elvis. He loved “Jailhouse Rock” quite a bit right away. Once the jail house dance scene was filmed, everyone involved knew it was iconic and, as a result, the decision was made to change the name of the movie to “Jailhouse Rock” as well. There are many fans and critics, alike, who consider the dance scene from “Jailhouse Rock” to be Elvis’ greatest moment on screen.

When the song was released as a single, it raced to the top of the charts, where it stayed for more than a month. It was part of a stretch of time when Elvis absolutely ruled the charts with #1 hits such as “Hound Dog”, “Love Me Tender”, “Heartbreak Hotel”, #All Shook Up”, “Don’t Be Cruel” and “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You”.

The movie, “Jailhouse Rock” was not as successful for Elvis, as was the single. The movie made it to #3 on the box office list but ended up only being the 14th highest grossing movie of the year, when all was said and done. In the movie, Elvis’ character is eventually released from prison and begins to carve out a career for himself in music. He does so under the professional guidance of a young, female manager who, in real life, was known as Judy Tyler. Tyler was in her mid-twenties when she starred opposite Elvis. Prior to this movie role, she was best known for her on-going role on the famous “Howdy Doody” show. It was hoped that “Jailhouse Rock” was going to be Tyler’s big break and that future stardom awaited. Unfortunately, three months after shooting wrapped……and one month prior to the movie being released….Judy Tyler and her husband were killed in a car accident. Her death shook Elvis to his core because he thought that she was super nice and talented and was rooting for her success as much as anyone else. When she died, Elvis found that the Joy was completely sucked out of the movie for him and, as a result, he was unable to watch the movie ever again without breaking down.

Whether it was intentional or not, the song, “Jailhouse Rock” was one of the very first songs to ever openly mention the possibility of a homosexual relationship.

“Number forty-seven said to number three,

“You’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see.”

“I sure would be delighted with your company.”

“Come on and do the jailhouse rock with me.”

I once knew a woman who was an ex-prison guard. She spoke openly about the number of rough, tough men she witnessed become, in her words, “institutionally Gay” because their sexual impulses were so strong. Men who, in the outside world, would start a barroom brawl at the merest of hints that they were Gay or showed interest in another man. But, there it was in “Jailhouse Rock”, as plain as day. Even in the film’s dance sequence, two male back-up dancers pair off in a suggestive manner. So, it should come as no surprise that “Jailhouse Rock” sent a shockwave of electricity through the Gay Community which, at the time, was still mostly conducted in secret in our civilized society of the day. At a time when representation mattered a great deal, hearing those lyrics and seeing those male dancers pair off was a pivotal moment for a great many young men.

Just before we end this post, here are a few tidbits of trivia for you to toss out and about at parties and around the dinner table……did you know that there really was a “Purple Gang” in real life? In the song, Elvis sings about “The whole rhythm section was The Purple Gang”. Well, in the real world, The Purple Gang referred to a group of Prohibition Era Jewish mobsters who were contemporaries of Al Capone and who were said to have been the ones doing the shooting during the infamous “St. Valentines Day Massacre”. Elvis, also, mentioned a person named “Shifty Henry” who, as it turned out, was a real person and a terrific musician at the time of the song being written. In a different but, related note, the famous children’s television show, “School house Rock” was inspired by the song/movie title, “Jailhouse Rock”.

So, without further delay, here is the iconic jail house dance sequence from the movie, “Jailhouse Rock” starring Elvis Presley. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley, can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the movie, “Jailhouse Rock”, can be found here. ***Well worth checking out!

The link to the official website for Elvis Presley, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #251: Love Me Tender by Elvis Presley.

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 #251: Love Me Tender by Elvis Presley.

As I said in the previous post about The Rolling Stones, my intention, going forward with this list, is to liberally sprinkle in the biggest hits of those who comprise the Titans of Rock n’ Roll, regardless of what position on the list we may be at. This applies to The Beatles, to The Rolling Stones, to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan and the others of their ilk. Needless to say, that new rule applies to Elvis, as well. “Love Me Tender” is one of Elvis’ most well-known and popular songs and could easily be higher up on the list. But, from now on, let the rankings be almost irrelevant. Simply enjoy each song as I pop them into the countdown.

“Love Me Tender” is an interesting song for a number of reasons. First of all, did you know that this song was actually adapted from a song that is over one hundred years old!? The original song that forms the foundation of “Love Me Tender” is called, “Aura Lea” which was a song written about the US Civil War by two men named George R. Poulton and Stephen Foster. The song was originally sung in travelling minstrel-type shows. It was eventually adopted by the US Military Academy, who used the tune to create a song called, “Army Blue”, which served as the class graduation song each year. “Aura Lea” (which is pronounced “orally”) was featured in films starring Frances Farmer and another starring Bing Crosby.

In the early 1950s, a man named Ken Darby took the tune and created a new song that became, “Love Me Tender”. Elvis heard the song and sought to record it. Although he did not have any part in the writing of the song, his name appears on the songwriting credits. Elvis always pressured unknown songwriters, like Darby, to hand over 50% of the songwriting credits in exchange for Elvis recording the song and using his star-power to bring the song to a greater audience than would have been the case before. In a way, Elvis played the same role as modern-day “Influencers” do on social media. He raised up unknown folks into the spotlight, with the price being half of their earnings. Rock n’ Roll may be many things but, one of the main things it is, without any question, is a business.

When Elvis released, “Love Me Tender”, the song was very well-received by listeners and became a #1 hit. Just as that was happening, Elvis and his management team, made another business-related decision…..Elvis was going to capitalize on his fame and his good looks by starting to appear exclusively in movies. “Love Me Tender” was the name of the very first movie Elvis ever starred in. Originally, the movie was to be called, “The Reno Brothers” and was set in the time of the US Civil War. But, the popularity of Elvis and of his new song, “Love Me Tender” caused producers to change the name of the movie to mirror that of his hit song.

The movie, “Love Me Tender” is unique among the many movies Elvis ended up appearing in. For starters, it is the only movie he appeared in that he did not receive top billing for. *(He was billed third). It is the only movie in which his character dies and, as well, it was the only movie in which he played a character based on historical fact.

The song, “Love Me Tender”, became a staple of his live shows but, even then, it held a unique place, compared to other hit songs. “Love Me Tender” was usually the only song in his live sets that he did not sing all the way through. What usually happened was that he would start the song and then wander into the audience, flirting with the pretty ladies, as he went along. Often times, Elvis would stop singing and start having conversations with these audience members, mid-song and would only finish the song once his tour of available ladies was over. Never-the-less, you can find “Love Me Tender” on almost all of his live albums and, in those cases, there is none of the stage banter present; it is just Elvis, his voice and the words of a song that was written over a century ago.

So, for your listening and viewing pleasure, here is “The King” with one of his earliest and most popular hits, “Love Me Tender”. Enjoy.

The link for the video to the song, “Love Me Tender” by Elvis Presley, can be found here.

The link to the official website for 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.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #88: Blue Suede Shoes by Carl Perkins.

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.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #302: Suspicious Minds by Elvis Presley.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, 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. 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 #302: Suspicious Minds by Elvis Presley.

For many people, the topic of who the most important or influential musicians in Rock n’ Roll history are often revolves around one, Elvis Aron Presley. He is not referred to as, “The King of Rock n’ Roll” without merit. Elvis Presley did not discover nor invent Rock n’ Roll but, he, more than anyone else, was responsible for bringing it to the masses (and, by “the masses”, I mean, white America). Elvis Presley, with his handsome features, deep, rich singing voice and provocative dance moves (which some maintained unleashed a sexual power that is the actual essence of Rock music), is unrivalled in his star power. For proof that Elvis is, indeed, “The King”, look no further that the single fact that he is the highest selling musical artist, in any genre, in any era, of all-time! Mic drop!

Elvis Aron Presley began his career in the mid 1950s and quickly became the face of a cultural revolution. Signed to Sun Records and managed by Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley enjoyed an impressive start to his career with numerous #1 hits such as “Jailhouse Rock”, “Heartbreak Hotel” and many more. But, a funny thing happened while he sat atop the Music World in the early 1960s, Elvis joined the Army. At the time, it was not only patriotism that caused Elvis to leave music behind and enlist as a G.I. but, it was felt that it was a good career move, too. The idea of the handsome music star sacrificing his career for love of Country was a dream for a marketer like, Col. Parker. So, off Elvis went.

When Elvis was honourably discharged several years later, his management team decided to capitalize on the latest trend for big musical acts (like The Beatles) and have Elvis begin a career in the movies. So, for the next four or five years, Elvis starred in a string of B-movies. During that period of time, his entire musical output consisted of contributing songs for the soundtrack albums to these movies. So, while Elvis was starring in “Blue Hawaii” and “G.I. Blues”, the world of music moved on without him and before he knew it, it had been almost a full decade since he had released any original material under his own name. As hard as it may seem to believe, Elvis had almost become irrelevant. So, in 1969, Elvis demanded of Col. Parker, that he be allowed to begin touring again. In order to re-launch his music career, he signed with TV Channel, “NBC”, to air a concert of his where he would play some hits but, also, introduce new material, too. One of the new songs he released at that moment was “Suspicious Minds”.

Like many of the songs that Elvis sang, “Suspicious Minds” was written by somebody else. Motown was not the only musical entity that had teams of songwriters busily writing songs to be sung by other singers. Around Nashville, there were many aspiring musicians who began their careers as songwriters for hire. One such performer was a man named Mark James. He wrote “Suspicious Minds” for himself and based it upon a situation in his own life whereby he was married but still was in love with his high school sweetheart. The Mark James-version of “Suspicious Minds” did not chart. But, when Elvis started thinking about re-vitalizing his career, he put out word that he was seeking good songs to sing. Eventually, Mark James was made aware of this and presented his demo of “Suspicious Minds” to Elvis. Needless to say, Elvis saw something of merit in it and agreed to buy it from James. “Suspicious Minds” became the very last #1 hit that Elvis ever had in his career.

As Elvis re-launched the second phase of his career, he did so by taking up residence in Las Vegas, donning his famous/infamous white suit and playing his hits, over and over, again. Even though he remained a popular performer, Elvis, never again, attained the lofty career heights that he did at the beginning of his reign as “The King of Rock”. Overweight and addicted to prescription drugs, Elvis died alone, in his bathroom, at Graceland in 1976.

When you examine Elvis’ discography, you will discover that of all of the albums released that bear his image, his voice and his name, less than one-quarter were actual Elvis Presley albums filled with original music. A great many were movie soundtrack albums. But, by far, the greatest number of Elvis albums circulating in the world today were released posthumously. There are, literally, dozens and dozens of these post-death Elvis albums. You see, Elvis was always entangled in contracts with people like Col. Parker, who always made sure to take their share of any revenue he generated. Even in death, Elvis was the gift that kept on giving. He was a good son and a good singer, too but, he was an industry, in his own right, as well. So, I suppose it is, somewhat, fitting that a career that shook America to its core, when it started, should end in a polyester jumpsuit, in a manufactured town in the desert.

So it was with “Suspicious Minds”…the final hit from the man who changed Rock n’ Roll forever. Ladies and Gentlemen, here is “The King”, Mr. Elvis Presley. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Elvis Presley, can be found here.

Thanks to KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of this post. The link to their fabulous website can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #378: Always On My Mind by Brenda Lee, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson and The Pet Shop Boys.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, 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. 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 #378: Always On My Mind by Brenda Lee, Elvis, Willie Nelson and The Pet Shop Boys.

All throughout the history of modern music, there have been songs initially released by one artist and then, subsequently, recorded and released by a new artist. We call these second releases, “Cover Songs”. Cover songs tend to follow one, of two, formats……they are either a faithful reproduction of the original song or else, they are a complete re-interpretation of the original song that results in something completely new and vital. While there have been many successful cover songs over the years, no song has been covered so successfully by so many different artists as has the song, “Always On My Mind”. For some, the Elvis version immediately springs to mind. For others, they immediately hear Willie Nelson’s voice. In the 1980s, The Pet Shop Boys covered this song and ended up having one of the biggest hits of their entire career. And, let’s not forget who had success with it first…..Brenda Lee. Her version is lovely (as you shall soon hear).

“Always On My Mind” was written by three men named Wayne Carson, Johnny Christopher and Mark James. Singer B.J. Thomas was the first to record it but, his version failed to launch, as they say. After another couple of failed attempts by other singers, “Always On My Mind” ended up in the care of Brenda Lee, which is where the story of this song begins today.

Brenda Lee’s Cover Version:

Brenda Lee had been singing since she was a small child. Always on the pixie-ish side, Brenda Lee was fussed and fawned over as a child because of her cuteness and her excellent singing voice. By the time she was in her early teens, Brenda Lee’s father passed away and she ended up becoming the breadwinner of the family. Prior to Madonna coming along in the 1980s, Brenda Lee held the record for the most Top Ten hits. Ironically, her biggest hit had nothing to do with Country and Western songs (for which she is most known) but, instead, it is for a Christmas song called, “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree”. It is hard to find a Christmas compilation cd that does not have her song near the top of the list of songs available for playing. I know that everyone in my household knows her song. Anyway, Lee recorded “Always On My Mind” back in 1972. It received some radio play and reached the low 40s on the Top #100 countdown. But, the most significant aspect of Brenda Lee’s version of “Always On My Mind” is that it brought the song into the public spotlight and, because of that, the song was heard by a couple of other singers who would put their spin on it and take it to the next level.

Elvis Presley’s Cover Version:

He is called, “The King” for a reason. WHAT. A. VOICE! It is easy to forget how truly amazing Elvis’ singing voice actually was. It tends to get lost, at times, in the tabloid nature of his later years (the weight gain, the white jumpsuits, the weirdly-themed rooms at Graceland, the drug use). But, the man could sing. I would give anything to be able to open my mouth and have the sound of his voice pour forth! Elvis was the face of Rock n’ Roll for the 1960s and continues to be regarded as the best of all-time by many. He is certainly the biggest selling singer of all-time, with album sales in the hundreds of millions. During his heyday, he was the biggest star in the world and his every move was reported on. So, when he married Priscilla, their ceremony took on the air of a Royal Wedding. Subsequently, when they divorced a few years later in 1972, it seemed like their loss was America’s loss. A month after the divorce, Elvis recorded “Always On My Mind”, which opens with the line, “Maybe I didn’t love you, quite as often as I should have…”. It seemed as though he was singing directly to Priscilla through the lyrics of this song. America swooned. “Always On My Mind” went on to become one of Elvis’ biggest selling singles and one of his signature songs. To many, “Always On My Mind” is an Elvis song and that is a hill that they are willing to die on.

Willie Nelson’s Cover Version:

In the KEXP Countdown list, it is Willie Nelson who is given credit for this song in slot #378. Nelson recorded and released this song in the early 1980s. One of the reasons many consider his version to be the definitive version of “Always On My Mind” is because it is this version that has ended up winning many awards. For example, this song won three Grammy Awards and served as the first time the songwriting trio of Carson, Christopher and James were formally recognized for their contribution as the original writers of the song. As was the case for Elvis, Willie Nelson’s version of this song went to #1 on the charts, staying there for several weeks. For many, the sound of Nelson’s voice is the one most closely associated this song. It is his most popular song and the one that often closes his live concerts.

The Pet Shop Boys Cover Version:

The Pet Shop Boys were a UK synth-pop duo consisting of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. They had several big pop hits during the 1980s, including “West End Girls”, “It’s a Sin”, “Opportunity (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” and “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”. In 1986, The Pet Shop Boys were invited to contribute to a celebration commemorating the tenth anniversary of Elvis’ death. Each performer who appeared on the TV special offered up a cover version of an Elvis classic. The Pet Shop Boys chose “Always On My Mind”. Unlike all of the other cover versions throughout the decades, The Pet Shop Boys chose to speed up the song and filled it with dash and pizzazz! This peppy rendition caught everyone by surprise and turned out to be one of the biggest hits for the band and one of the songs that has come to define the musical sound of the 1980s. In fact, the video for this song is consistently listed as one of the best from the 80s. It stars Tennant and Lowe as cab drivers and veteran actor, Joss Ackland, as an eccentric passenger who, when asked who he was, replies that he is a “bilingual illiterate……I can’t read in two languages.” The highly original video only gets better from there.

All in all, one of the ways that you can judge the quality of a song is by the ability of many to create Art from its lyrics and musical structure. “Always On My Mind” is that rare jewel of a song that has gifted generations of performers with material of pure gold with which to work from. It has gifted us, as an audience, with countless outstanding versions to listen to and enjoy. It is not necessary to argue over which version is the best…..because they are all stellar in their own way…..but, is there a version that particularly appeals to you? If so, let me know in the comments below. I will post versions of all four covers, starting below, with Brenda Lee’s song. The others will appear in the comment section. Enjoy all four songs and have a wonderful day!

The link to the video for “Always On My Mind” by Brenda Lee, can be found here.

The link to the website for Brenda Lee, can be found here.

The link to the video for “Always On My Mind” by Elvis Presley, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Elvis Presley, can be found here.

The link to the music video for “Always On My Mind” by Willie Nelson, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Wille Nelson, can be found here.

The link to the music video for”Always On My Mind” by The Pet Shop Boys, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Pet Shop Boys, can be found here.

The link to radio station, KEXP, who helped to inspire the writing of this post, can be found here.