The King – Elvis Presley – died on August 16, 1977, and this time every year the city of Memphis celebrates Elvis Week. We thought we’d get into the swing of it this year with a bunch of our favourite Elvis covers.
Of course, Elvis wasn’t a songwriter, so when we say “Elvis covers”, we are not talking about songs that Elvis wrote. But he knew a great song and knew how to make a great song his own. Early and late in his career he showed his deep love of music by making brilliant choice after brilliant choice in his song selection – from the likes of “Good Rockin’ Tonight“ by Roy Brown early on, to Timi Yuro’s monumental “Hurt” in the year before his death - whilst in his peak period he had the best writers, including the likes of Leiber & Stoller and Doc Pumos, tailoring songs specifically for him.
The songs here are readily identifiable with Elvis, and we can safely assume that the covering artists were familiar with his version of the song they covered. It’s a wide-ranging list and full of great tracks. Enjoy.
1. Robert Plant with Rockpile – Little Sister
Robert Plant was always a massive fan of early rock’n’roll, so it was no surprise to hear him rip it up with Dave Edmund and Nick Lowe’s great band Rockpile during his appearance at the Concert for Kampuchea in 1979. I’m not sure how Ry Cooder would’ve felt about the choice of song though as he’d only just had a significant hit with the same song himself. Ry’s version is more sweetly soulful so we’ll hear them both!
2. Ry Cooder – Little Sister
3. Ry Cooder – All Shook Up
Ry had a crack at another Elvis tune a decade or so later, but failed to hit this time. With a deep groove and some sensational slide guitar, we reckon it might have connected if it had gotten some airplay.
4. ZZ Top - Viva Las Vegas
If they’d released this on the back of “Legs” in the early 80s rather than waiting a decade or so and including it as a new track on their Greatest Hits album, this would’ve undoubtedly been a smash hit. Of course the Dead Kennedys had already released a much-loved punk version in 1981. ZZ Top’s version ended up appearing in The Big Lebowski.
5. John Lennon & Plastic Ono Band – Blue Suede Shoes
This live version from ‘69, from a line-up including Lennon, Eric Clapton and Klaus Vorman, sounds like it’s actually based on Carl Perkin’s original hit version – Lennon pauses before “two for the show”, as Perkins did – but we’ll include it anyway. It isn’t half bad given the line-up had never even rehearsed together.
6. Paul McCartney – I Got Stung
Paul returned to his early roots in 1999 with the sensational covers album, Run Devil Run, which included musicians like Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour and Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice in a celebration of early rock’n’roll. A harder-hitting effort than Lennon’s early 70s Phil Spector produced effort Rock’n’Roll, the album is full of highlights, not the least of which is this thumping version of one of Presley’s hardest rockers from 1958.
7. The Jim Jones Revue – Big Hunk of Love
Taking a similar four-to-the-floor approach that which Macca took a decade or so earlier, British rockers the Jim Jones Revue turned up the volume a notch but maintained the feel of the original superbly. Elvis’ original recording of this tune from 1957 is arguably one of the first hard rock records, and the JJR – whose producer was latter-day Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds drummer Jim Sclavunos … did a great job reminding us of that.
8. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
It would be hard to imagine Nick Cave doing one of Elvis’ flat-out rockers, but there aren’t many artists in the world as capable of recognizing the depth of raw emotion in so many Presley recordings, from all eras. Late ‘60s Elvis was often dismissed by critics and fans alike in the ‘80s, but Nick Cave knew better, and positively nailed it with this fantastic cover of Elvis’ 1969 classic in 1985.
9. Cheap Trick – Don’t Be Cruel
It’s not as rocking as their Live at Budokan version of Fats Domino’s “Aint That A Shame”, but Cheap Trick got a real rockabilly thing going with this cover from 1988. Watch til the end for drummer Bun E Carlos in an Elvis jumpsuit.
10. Billy Swan - Don’t Be Cruel
A very different earlier cover of this early Elvis hit, and one of the most brilliant and original Elvis covers ever. Billy Swan was a low key Nashville singer-songwriter who’d gotten to know Elvis in the 60s through an association with Elvis’ first bass player Bill Black. He chanced a hit with the wonderfully catchy “I Can Help” in ’74; his gorgeous “Don’t Be Cruel”, from the same album, deserved to be a hit too but wasn’t. He probably didn’t mind though, because it wasn’t long before Elvis cut his own version of “I Can Help”. Check out this wonderfully odd film clip and see if you can pick all the guesting musicians.
11. Green Day - That’s All Right Mama
From a Billy to a Billie… Very much conscious of their rock history, Billy Joe Armstrong and Green Day cut this suitably sparse version of Elvis’ first single and released it initially as a bonus track on certain editions of their 2009 concept album 21st Century Breakdown, alongside a cover of the similarly iconic Dylan song “Like A Rolling Stone”.
12. The Cockroaches – Blue Moon of Kentucky
Sticking with sparse… Sydney’s much-loved 80s R’n’B combo the Cockroaches – the band that would eventually turn into the Wiggles in 1991 after having a handful of hits - released this fab version of the B-side of “That’s All Right” as the B-side of their own first single in 1980. Released on indie rockabilly label Refugee Records, the ‘roaches version of the tune was a charming low budget attempt to capture the spirit of the original and is highlighted by a stellar vocal by Paul Field.