Both of my parents are massive Elvis fans. His was the first music I heard that had an effect on me, with the end result that I'm something of a fan too. It's quite interesting how what your parents listen to can influence your own tastes as an adult. I have several memories of watching Aloha! From Hawaii (on repeat), the '68 Comeback, the various films, singing "American Trilogy" endlessly, my mum grumbling about how Priscilla changed the curtains (no, I have no idea what that means!) and my Dad just totally enjoying the music. Now my own daughter is following in my footsteps as a three-year-old bopping about to "Polk Salad Annie." So, with a look back over what I grew up listening to, here is what my own Elvis sonic landscape kind of looks like, very much shaped by my folks.
This is my absolute favourite live performance. The energy is amazing (and the band exhausted!). Elvis literally seems to become the music in this performance, the way he brings it up, brings it down, adds in some gags, and literally brings the house down. It was written as a "mature" rock 'n roll song for the time.
Here he is, aged 21, horrifying parents and thrilling the kids in one fell swoop. This song is also perhaps the most important in terms of the history of popular music too, and one millions of upon millions of Beatles fans should be eternally grateful for. It was the one that stopped John, Paul, George and Ringo in their tracks as schoolboys in Liverpool and want to be musicians. As John Lennon put it "Before Elvis, there was nothing." And it still has the energy and timeless quality. It's hard to believe this footage was filmed over 60 years ago.
I have a very vivid memory of watching this as a young kid. I also used to sing it to my brother's dog, who did spend a lot of time howling and yapping, though admittedly she did catch a rabbit once. Originally a hit for Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton in 1952, when it was directed at a low down, stinking rat of a man, rather than an irritating dog, Elvis took this Leiber/Stroller classic to the stratosphere in terms of success. The composers were a little confused at Elvis' take on it, but can't have complained at the airplay.
Strangely enough, there seems to be a lack of footage of any live performance, though I wait to be corrected on that by either parent! I love the evocativeness of this song and it's haunting. It's the travel for love lost and I wonder if the protagonist ever did find her, or if he's still walking the smaller roads around the American backwoods searching. Elvis certainly could tell a story.
In The Ghetto
Elvis wasn't a particular fan of doing social commentary songs, perhaps because of their difficult and no doubt potentially controversial nature, and the story told of this is that he went into the studio to record it, came out and said "I don't think I can do it." But, thankfully, he did. And it's a stark song that still rings true today.
Lawdy Miss Clawdy
One from Elvis' debut album, but his performance in the '68 Comeback is sublime. Much of 1950s Britain rocked to this with the explosion of skiffle and rock 'n roll wannabes the length and breadth of the country, thwacking away on their tea chest bass. The leather suit clad Elvis might also require a government health warning due to how gorgeous he is. And that is one luck piece of lint...
That's Alright (Mama)
Elvis' first single, but again performed brilliantly in the '68 Comeback. The one particular reason I chose this was because I heard a legend, and an apocryphal one at that, when I was young that Elvis actually couldn't play guitar and just mimed with a unstrung instrument. I taught myself a bit of guitar. Nothing brilliant, but enough to know that watching this one day, I saw that the legend was utter nonsense.
If I Can Dream
One of my all time favourite songs. It also struck a chord with Elvis. At the time he recorded it, America was in turmoil with the civil rights unrest, Vietnam, Nixon, and other issues. Still relevant in the madness of now.
An American Trilogy
In today's parlance, this is a "mash up" by Mickey Newbury of three classic American songs: "Dixie," "an unnofficial" Confederacy song; "All My Trials, a Spiritual," with Afro-Carribean origins; and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," the Union Army marching song of the American Civil War. This arrangement was heard by Priscilla Presley, who brought it to Elvis and the rest was history. The mixing up of the three songs is still pretty powerful stuff to consider and performed to devastating effect by Elvis. Probably my earliest favourite song, though as a young kid, the significance went over my head.
Personally signficant because this was the first time I ever heard a song written by someone who is a personal hero, George Harrison. There is an ongoing, jokey debate, between my mum and I over who sang it better, Elvis or George. I maintain it was George, but credit due to where I first heard it a Harrison song goes to Elvis. I do wonder what George's reaction was on finding out Elvis covered it...
Polk Salad Annie
Originally by Tony Joe White, Elvis certainly adds his own flavour to this, and it's one I remember well as a kid. Elvis looks as though he's having fun in this performance, and it's infectious.
Another early Elvis track from 1955 and perhaps not as played as his other 1950s canon, but one that has always stuck with me for some reason. It's a perpetual ear worm that I never get tired of.
The Wonder Of You
One that sticks with me because my Gran sang it a lot, and she had one heck of a singing voice. I suspect Elvis would have pinched her for his Vegas backing band!
And that's all. Thank you, thank you very much!