Top 10 Elvis Presley Songs

Elvis Presley died in August 1977 but today he’s more popular than he was when he was alive. Elvis was born and lived in Tupelo, Mississippi until he was 13 years old when his family moved to Memphis, Tennessee. At the time, Memphis was the center for both black and white gospel music. Presley attended the “East Trigg Baptist Church” whose Pastor was the Reverend Herbert W. Brewster. Brewster was a gospel legend on par with the Reverend Thomas Dorsey, the father of modern gospel. Elvis auditioned for an offshoot of the “Blackwoods” called the “Songfellows” but failed because he couldn’t sing harmony.

In 1954, he signed a contract with “Sun Records” and became a rock and roll singer that collaborated with contemporaries like Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. His early work combined black blues with white country and created a hybrid. His rise to fame coincided with the explosive popularity of the new music genre labeled “rock and roll” which helped to integrate the races. At the same time, he used the Jordanaires, a gospel group as backup singers throughout his career.

These are his top 10 songs from a blues rock perspective.

10. “Love Me Tender”

“Love Me Tender” was both the title of Elvis Presley’s film debut and the last #1 record that he had in 1956. The film was a love story based on historical events that took place during and after the American Civil War. The song was based on an English song written by George R. Poulton and adopted by the Union Army during the Civil War. The song was re-written by Vera Matson, her husband Ken Darby and Presley who then recorded it.

9. “Return to Sender”

Otis Blackwell and Winfield Scott wrote “Return to Sender” which was inspired by an actual returned demo that the duo mailed. The song predated the creation of postal zip codes (Zone Improvement Plan) by one year in in1962. The original line “no such zone” should read “no such zip code.” The song itself is about a guy mailing a letter to a girl and she refuses to accept it and has the post office stamp it “Return to Sender.” The US Postal Service issued an Elvis Presley commemorative stamp in 1993 thirty years after zip codes were adopted.

8. “Hound Dog”

When Presley recorded “Hound Dog” in 1956, Big Mama Thornton had already recorded the Leiber and Stoller song in 1952. The song became a #1 radio hit as a double-A-Side with “Don’t Be Cruel” which also reached #1. It became his biggest hit that year after performing it on television shows ranging from Milton Berle’s variety show to Steve Allen’s Tonight Show.

7.Don’t Be Cruel”

Elvis helped write or had input in the creation of many of his songs but his primary songwriters were Mike Stoller and Otis Blackwell. Blackwell was the author of this song as well as “All Shook Up” and co-wrote “Return to Sender.” “Don’t Be Cruel” was released on a “double-A-sided” 45 rpm single along with “Hound Dog.” Both songs reached number one on the charts in 1956.

6. “Mystery Train”

Junior Parker originally wrote and recorded “Mystery Train” in 1953. Presley re-recorded it and it was released in August 1955 on “Sun Records.” It was a few months before Colonel Tom Parker and Sam Phillips sold Elvis’s contract to RCA for $40,000. The recording had his early band made up of Scotty Moore on guitar, Bill Black on bass and Johnny Bernero on drums. “Rolling Stone” ranked it at #77 on their list of the “Greatest Songs of All-Time” in 2003.

5. “Hard Headed Woman”

The song “Hard Headed Woman” was written by Claude Demetrius and contains biblical examples by using Eve, Delilah, and Jezebel as examples. At the same time, the song is sympathetic to the “Hard Headed Woman” using the line

“if she ever went away

I’d cry around the clock”

The song is an over the top rocker that was released in June 1958 as one of two singles from Elvis’s new film “King Creole.

4.  “All Shook Up”

Otis Blackwell wrote “All Shook Up” according to one story after seeing someone shake up a bottle of Pepsi. The song went to #1 and became the biggest selling single of 1957 when it stayed in the top position on “Billboard’s Top 100 Singles for eight weeks. Elvis shares half the credit on the songwriting even though the composer was Blackwell because Colonel Tom Parker, Presley’s manager demanded 50% of publishing rights credit for his client on all the songs he sang.

3. “Burning Love”

The last song that was a major hit for the King was “Burning Love”, a hard rocking number that was written by Dennis Linde. The recording was made during a traumatic period in Elvis’s life since he was going through a divorce at the time with his wife Priscilla. He had a hard time getting into it in the studio but finally clicked with it and the song produced the classic Elvis line “a hunka, hunka burnin’ love.”

2. “Jailhouse Rock”

“Jailhouse Rock” was written by Leiber and Stoller for the 1957 film that the song title used. The scene in the film that uses the song was fully choreographed and is considered to be “the greatest proto-music videos of all time.” It became the first #1 single in the UK to enter the pop charts at the top position. It toppled the Everly Brothers with “Wake up Little Susie” as the #1 song at the time.

1. “Heartbreak Hotel”

“Heartbreak Hotel” was Elvis Presley’s first big hit after he was signed to the RCA record label in 1956. At the time, Presley became part of the new wave of young rebels that included Marlon Brando and James Dean. The song was a #1 hit for eight weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 and along with television appearances, it began Elvis hysteria that continues to this day.

By Bob Gersztyn


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