Sunny's Top: ELVIS PRESLEY

 
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Hey Charlie, I'm Sunny! You may have seen me around the site...
Well, some exciting news; I have officially started a new music blog series called 'Sunny's Top', where I will be picking and discussing my personal favourite songs from different genres, eras, artists AND for certain moods or seasons.

As you can see from the title, our first subject is the one and only, Elvis Presley.
On The Sides Records visited Memphis, TN, the home of Elvis and Rock N Roll music in July, it is Elvis Week and the day of his death, August 16 ANNNDD Elvis is my biggest inspiration. *insert red heart emoji* - A well deserved and appropriate first, for sure!

Elvis was born on January 8 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi, where his Mama picked cotton and his Daddy hustled. Life was hard for the Presley's but they always found solace in their local church where they sang praises to God. It was at church and on the streets of Tupelo where Elvis discovered his love of music. He would become inspired by local Gospel, Blues and Country. In 1948 the Presley's moved to Memphis, Tennessee, a city abundant in jobs and a jive social scene. They didn't know it, but this move would play a big part in changing the course of history!  - I'll leave it at that..
If you don't know why Memphis is such a significant place, please look it up! As for Elvis, well, we all know he passed away, sadly, on August 16 1977. He was 42 years old and full of heartache. He was a remarkable human being with a heart of Gold. His talent remains immeasurable, his love still lingers and his legacy will live forever. Elvis Aaron Presley was and always will be a KING.

Now, let's get right into it, shall we?


 

BEFORE THE FAME

1. MY HAPPINESS - 1953

In July of 1953 an 18 year old Elvis finally walked into 706 Union Ave (Memphis Recording Service, later to become Sun Records) after driving past it each day for a year! He asked the woman, Marion Keisker, sitting at the desk if he could record a song for his Mother. Elvis paid $4 to record two songs, Side A - 'My Happiness' and Side B - 'That's When Your Heartache Begins'. As you can hear, the recording is as lovely and raw as it will ever get: A hopeful Elvis, singing like he always did while strummin' his old guitar. Marion believed in Elvis and pushed the record company owner, legend Sam Phillips to give him future opportunities.

I chose this song for two reasons:
1. Because it captures the beauty of Elvis' pure soul.
2. It is the first song he ever recorded.

 

SUN RECORDS

2. That's All Right - 1954

The song that got all local Memphis chicks and cats boppin'! 'That's All Right' was an overnight sensation that started Elvis' impressive career. Sam Phillips finally found what he'd been looking for, something he could sell! (Sam Phillips loved and recorded black music and unfortunately, racism was evident. The majority of white folks weren't interested in purchasing black records. - Amazing African-American artists were recorded at Sun, look them up!!!) We hear that Elvis is now paired with renowned guitarist, Scotty Moore and energetic upright bass player, Bill Black. Together, they toured the south as a featured act on the Louisiana Hayride - a big deal!

3. Milkcow Blues Boogie - 1954

4. Baby, Let's Play House - 1955

Elvis was only with Sun for a year before signing with RCA. That one year turned out some pretty epic recordings... it's hard to only pick a few. These next two recordings are good examples of how Elvis took a song he really enjoyed, totally changed it and made it his own. I find 'Milkcow Blues Boogie' (Kokomo Arnold  - 1934) and 'Baby, Let's Play House' (Arthur Gunter - 1954) to be very unique and bad ass! Sex appeal, great rhythm, amazing guitar work and creativity. Some Rockabilly classics.

You wouldn't imagine that the boy singing was actually very shy and insecure, would you?
That's the magic of expressing our souls; fear and worry disappear. We are just there, our authentic selves. 

be sure to check out more of Elvis' recordings from Sun.

A BOY TAKES THE WORLD BY STORM!

5. Heartbreak Hotel - 1956

Heartbreak Hotel has got to be one of Elvis' greatest songs. Written by Tommy Durden and Mae Boren Axton, the lyrics were inspired by an eerie newspaper article about the suicide of a man who jumped out of a hotel window. He left a note with the words "I walk a lonely street.". The song was presented to Elvis in 1955, who agreed to record it at RCA in Nashville. The session included his band The Blue Moon Boys (Scotty Moore, Bill Black and DJ Fontana), guitarist, Chet Atkins (who also helped with producing) and pianist, Floyd Cramer. 

During the session and for the rest of his career, Elvis took over Steve Sholes' role of producer and begun to make changes to the tempo, lyrics, phrasing and sound. Elvis even suggested that they record in a hallway to capture a heavy reverberation. Such changes scared the executives and original songwriters, who claimed that the recording should not be released.

Haha, funny right? Well, when 'Heartbreak Hotel' was finally released in January 1956, it topped Billboard's country & western, pop and rhythm and blues charts concurrently. It was a first million seller for Elvis, and would eventually be certified as double platinum!  < These types of achievements were unheard of back then.

6. Lawdy Miss Clawdy - 1956

'Lawdy Miss Clawdy' was written and originally recorded by Lloyd Price, a rhythm and blues musician from New Orleans who helped shape the world of Rock n Roll.
Elvis chose the song to record during his 1956 New York sessions with RCA.

I LOVE this song, I can't help but sing to it every time. 
The instrumentation is fantastic - for me, some of the most memorable piano work by Shorty Long. The Blue Moon Boys never disappoint (do you hear Scotty's guitar work?!). This has been one of my favorite songs since childhood - Overall, great performance!

7. Hound Dog - 1956

Originally recorded in 1953 by Big Mama Thornton, Elvis' version would be the most successful. 'Hound Dog' was Elvis' best selling song and sold 10 million copies globally. The recording is also noted as "an emblem in the rock n roll revolution". Just like 'Heartbreak Hotel', the song topped several charts for multiple weeks. 

The song features background vocals from The Jordanaires, a Gospel quartet who would sing with Presley from 1956-1972. Gordon Stoker (Jordanaires member), plays piano on this recording.

Big controversy took place when Elvis performed the song on the Milton Berle show. It was known that Elvis liked to jump around, gyrate, if you will, while he sang. Well, the jealous older men and concerned parents weren't having any of it. The performance was so scandalous that DJs, media companies and religious groups across America tried to ban Elvis. Of course, the criticism lead to more publicity, more fans and more record sales. The big boys in charge weren't ready for Elvis.

After the Milton Berle performance, Elvis was only to be filmed from the waist up and had to appear in a number of humiliating TV interviews and performances to clear his name. - They wouldn't let the guy dance and do his thing! Ed Sullivan eventually stood up for Elvis Presley on national television saying, "...this is a real decent, fine boy.", "We've never had a pleasant-er experience on our show with a big name, then we've had with you. You're thoroughly alright.".

The famous scandal. Milton Berle was cool!

 


8. Anyplace Is Paradise - 1956

Not a very popular song, but definitely one of the best! Anyplace is paradise when I'm listening to this song - know what I mean? Nothing beats Elvis' "passion activation" vocals. I know! - You really start to believe that the man is singing to you and you're the only person who has ever existed to him... or is that just me? ;)
This song has got a whollle lotta soul, honey.

Recorded in Hollywood during the filming of Elvis' first featured film 'Love Me Tender'.
Gordon Stoker once again on piano.

1956 was a big year for Elvis. Many amazing songs were recorded and I encourage you to listen to them all! 

9. Take My Hand, Precious Lord - 1957

Elvis' favourite genre was Gospel and he sang it so well. I will list several Gospel tracks in this post.

The Blue Moon Boys and The Jordanaires

10. Don't - 1957

If you're unsure why this is one of my favourite songs, just listen. Don't is an amazing representation of Elvis' vocal range, depth, tone and beauty. A lovely song that will leave tears rolling down your cheek.

The Blue Moon Boys, Jordanaires and Dudley Brooks on piano. 

The Big Screen

Elvis starred in 31 films from 1956-1969 all produced by Hal Wallis. Unfortunately, the majority of these movies were "teenie bopper" pleasing and crushed Elvis' dreams of being a well respected, serious actor. During this time Elvis felt he failed as an artist and became depressed. For this reason alone, I choose not to disrespect his dream and will not list any songs and films, except for one: King Creole. 

Elvis' first 4 movies were actually good and more importantly, he enjoyed making them. King Creole is a film that Elvis was proud of. In my opinion, this movie definitely produced the best songs out of any of his films and it is my personal favourite.
 

11. King Creole - 1958

Honorable mentions from the soundtrack: 'Trouble', 'Crawfish'.

Guitar: Elvis Presley
Guitar: Scotty Moore
Bass: Bill Black
Bass/Tuba: Ray Siegal
Bass/Guitar: Neal Mathews
Percussion: Bernie Mattinson
Drums: D.J. Fontana
Bongo's: Gordon Stoker
Cymbals: Hoyt Hawkins
Piano: Dudley Brooks
Clarinet: Mahlon Clark
Trumpet: Teddy Bruckner
Saxophone: Justin Gordon
Trombone: Warren Smith
Background Vocals: The Jordanaires

After The Army

Elvis Presley served in the US Army from March 1958 to March 1960. He decided to serve as a regular soldier, turning down an offer to be enlisted into the Special Services where he could entertain the troops and live in priority housing. This choice earned the respect of those who were previously outraged by his music and performance style.

During his time in the Army, Elvis' life changed a lot. His mother, Gladys passed away at the age of 46. Gladys and Elvis were very close. Some would say their relationship was codependent and unhealthy. He was then stationed in Germany, far away from home, where he would begin his drug addiction and meet his future wife, Priscilla Beaulieu.

When Elvis returned to Memphis in 1960 his music changed too. Many, including the RCA team were confused by this change. Elvis wanted to sing Opera inspired songs, Ballads and Gospel. He was still the most popular entertainer at the time, however, his career would never be what it was in the 1950s.

12. Soldier Boy - 1960

13. The Girl Of My Best Friend - 1960

Both of these songs are on the album titled, 'Elvis Is Back!'.
These songs are very sentimental to me. I would listen to them often when I was a little girl, in awe of such an incredible voice he had. Elvis was my one and only vocal coach. I'm still deeply inspired by his incredible talent for being able to evoke and translate such strong emotions in his listeners. - Something any artist would strive for.

Guitar: Elvis Presley
Guitar: Scotty Moore
Electric Bass: Hank Garland
Bass: Bob Moore
Drums: D.J. Fontana
Drums: Murrey 'Buddy' Harman
Piano: Floyd Cramer
Background Vocals: The Jordanaires

14. Fame And Fortune - 1960

15. It's Now Or Never - 1960

Elvis' second best selling single and one of the best selling singles of all time. 'It's Now Or Never' is based on popular Italian song 'O Sole Mio'. Elvis loved the song so much that he asked his music publishers to find someone to write new lyrics to the music. A beautiful song that will live on as a classic forever.

16. Are You Lonesome Tonight? - 1960

'Are You Lonesome Tonight?' is one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard.

Guitar: Elvis Presley
Guitar: Scotty Moore
Electric Bass: Hank Garland
Bass: Bob Moore
Drums: D.J. Fontana
Drums: Murrey 'Buddy' Harman
Piano: Floyd Cramer
Background Vocals: The Jordanaires

The 60s

During the 60s Elvis kept busy between filming, recording and his active personal life. He met The Beatles, befriended Tom Jones,  became a husband and father, performed in front of a live audience for the first time since the 50s and much more.

17. I Believe In The Man In The Sky - 1960

18. Milky White Way - 1960

19. Swing Down Sweet Chariot - 1960

20. Crying In The Chapel - 1960

All amazing Gospel tunes that you can't help but sing to. 

21. Surrender - 1960

An adaptation of the Italian song 'Come Back To Sorrento' and one of the best selling singles of all time.
 

22. She's Not You - 1962

22. (You're The) Devil In Disguise - 1963

Guitar: Elvis Presley
Guitar: Scotty Moore
Guitar: Hank Garland
Bass: Bob Moore
Drums: D.J. Fontana
Drums: Murrey 'Buddy' Harman
Piano/Organ: Floyd Cramer
Saxophone/Vibes/Shakers: Homer 'Boots' Randolph
Background Vocals: The Jordanaires, Millie Kirkham, Charlie Hodge ('I Believe In The Man In The Sky')

23. How Great Thou Art - 1966

You may have noticed a jump from 1963 - 1966. Although many albums were released, they were movie sound tracks. You can hear the yearning in Elvis' voice. A yearning for something more. 'How Great Thou Art' would be his first studio album release since 1962 that didn't feature a song from one of his films. An excited Elvis had some control in the studio again. Many of the songs featured on the Gospel record were arranged by Presley, himself.

Guitar: Scotty Moore
Guitar: Chip Young
Drums/Tympani: Murrey 'Buddy' Harman
Drums: D.J. Fontana
Piano: Floyd Cramer
Piano: Henry Slaughter
Bass: Bob Moore
Bass/Harmonica/Guitar: Charlie McCoy
Steel Guitar: Peter Drake
Saxophone: Homer 'Boots' Randolph
Saxophone: Rufus Long
Background Vocals: The Jordanaires, The Imperials, Millie Kirkham, June Page, Dolores Edgin

68 Comeback Special

The 68 special was television program aired by NBC on December 3 1968, which showcased scenes of Presley performing in front of a live audience. As I mentioned earlier, Elvis was unhappy with his movie career and his distance from the current music scene. 

The tv special showed new audiences why Elvis was and always will be a legend, and reminded old fans why they loved him in the first place. Thanks to producer Bob Finkel and director Steve Binder, Elvis' creative ideas were taken seriously, which promised a new direction in Presley's career.

24. If I Can Dream - 1968

'If I Can Dream' is my favourite song from the special. It was released as a powerful finale to a great show. The song directly quotes Dr. Martin Luther King, who was shot two months prior to the recording. Elvis was a very spiritual man who wanted to shed light and offer love during the current times of darkness. He too believed in World Peace and did not stand for social injustices. You can hear the power behind his beliefs in this song. 

Here you can find the long list of credited musicians who worked on this recording: - http://www.keithflynn.com/recording-sessions/680623.html#04

Return To The Stage

Elvis was back! By 1969 to 1977 Elvis was back on stage doing what he did best, performing! After years of feeling irrelevant, he finally found his place again, confidently planted. He had a residency in Las Vegas and toured a bit around the states. His dream was to tour the world, visiting Asia, Europe, Australia. Unfortunately, things always seem too good to be true. Remember, the movie contract? Didn't work out so well..

Tom Parker is to blame for everything that virtually went wrong in Elvis' career. Parker lied; he never told Elvis that he was an illegal immigrant who couldn't leave the country - and where Tom couldn't go, Elvis wouldn't go either. This put a set back on Elvis' dreams as an artist. He would never get to meet or entertain foreign fans in person. He would never experience the thrill of touring into the home towns of fans across the world. It wasn't until Tom Parker's death in 1997 that the horrible secret was to be revealed. 

I don't want to bad talk everything the man did. Tom Parker did find Elvis success and grew his empire the best he could. However, Tom Parker was a greedy man and I believe he never really kept Elvis' best interest in mind. - And though Elvis didn't get to tour the world, he did perform live for a TV special titled, 'Aloha From Hawaii', which was broadcasted via satellite on January 14 1973. The concert was viewed by over 1 billion people worldwide. 

 

25. Wearin' That Loved On Look - 1969

Groovy! This song reflects Elvis' musical tastes and personality so well. Proven to be a great comeback from the long lost world of low production films. 'Wearin' That Loved On Look' is the last track on the album titled, 'From Elvis In Memphis'. The same album that features 'In The Ghetto'.

I'd love to feature this song at my many future live performances. Definitely one of my fav songs ever! I love the RnB/Soul feel and the organ is a classic 60s staple.

26. I'm Movin' On - 1969

A great RnB (with a country twist) version, originally written and made famous by country singer, Hank Snow in 1950. A track also featured on 'From Elvis In Memphis'.
 

27. Suspicious Minds - 1969

'Suspicious Minds' was Elvis' 18th and last number one single.
 

28. And The Grass Won't Pay No Mind - 1969

A beautiful song originally written and recorded by Neil Diamond.

Guitar: Elvis Presley
Guitar/Sitar: Reggie Young
Drums/Tambourine: Gene Chrisman
Organ: Bobby Emmons
Bass: Tommy Cogbill
Bass: Mike Leech
Piano: Bobby Wood
Harmonica: Ed Kollis
Background Vocals: Elvis Presley, The Sweet Inspirations

 

29. I've Got Something About You Baby - 1973

Musicians: Backup Vocals:

Guitar: James Burton
Guitar: Charlie Hodge
Guitar: Reggie Young
Piano: Bobby Wood
Bass: Tommy Cogbill
Drums: Ronnie Tutt
Drums: Jerry Carrigan
Organ: Bobby Emmons
Percussion: Joe Esposito
Background Vocals: JD Sumner & The Stamps Quartet, Mary Holladay, Ginger Holladay, Kathy Westmoreland, Jeannie Greene

30. Moody Blue - 1976

You can hear his voice has faded along with his life force, this song would be Elvis' last hit. I think this song holds a special place in my heart because I know he had a short time left on Earth when it was recorded.

Guitar: James Burton
Guitar: Charlie Hodge
Guitar: John Wilkinson
Bass: Jerry Scheff
Drums: Ronnie Tutt
Piano: Glen D Hardin
Electric Piano: David Briggs
Background Vocals: JD Sumner & The Stamps: Bill Baize; Ed Enoch; Ed Hill; Larry Strickland, Myrna Smith; Kathy Westmoreland

The End

Elvis Presley passed away on this day in 1977. Words cannot express how grateful I am to be so deeply inspired by him and his music. It is my hope that the first edition of 'Sunny's Top' has interested you and shown you some cool sides of Elvis you didn't see before. 

I always find some sort of way to honour him on special dates like today or his birthday... it is the least I can do in return for everything he has done for me. 

Don't get me wrong, there are so many amazing songs Elvis recorded in his lifetime that I did not feature here, but, remember that I chose my favourite. 

Elvis will be featured again in, 'Sunny's Top: Christmas'

Thanks for reading/listening.
-Sunny Di Francesco