10 Great Classic Rock Elvis Presley Covers
As these great classic rock Elvis Presley covers attest, “the King” wrote very few of his most familiar hits — but that hasn’t stopped them from becoming forever associated with him — crazy sideburns, jumpsuits, and all. The next generation of stars faithfully flocked to them because of Presley, and only Presley, despite the fact that the copyright went to folks like Arthur ‘That’s Alright’ Crudup or Carl ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ Perkins. Here’s a look at back at some of the best of those cover versions, from some of the biggest names in rock.
John Lennon once said: “Before Elvis there was nothing,” and to prove his allegiance, the ex-Beatle played ‘Hound Dog’ just before his own ‘Give Peace a Chance’ to close out both of his 1972 One to One concerts at Madison Square Garden. His raw, but engaging take went unreleased until 1986, when selections from both shows arrived as ‘Live in New York City.’ The song had been a No. 2 pop hit for Presley 30 years earlier, and topped both the country and the R&B charts.
A rare Presley hit in which he is credited as co-writer, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ topped the charts for seven weeks, and went to No. 1 on the country list as well. Cale, in keeping with his reputation for outsider rock with the Velvet Underground, reassembles this track into a darkly forboding dirge as part of 1975’s ‘Slow Dazzle,’ which featured Brian Eno and Phil Manzanera from Roxy Music.
‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’
After Deep Purple and Rainbow, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore turned to a decidedly baroque style of renaissance faire-rock with Blackmore’s Night — but thankfully he hasn’t completely lost his sense of humor. The 2008 album ‘Secret Voyage,’ which topped the new age charts, included as one of its two covers this Presley classic, sung by his wife Candice. ‘Can’t Help Falling’ was originally featured in Presley’s 1961 film ‘Blue Hawaii.’
‘Blue Suede Shoes’
Elvis performed this song on national television three times in 1956, including a stop on the Milton Berle Show, to help cement his place atop the burgeoning new rock ‘n’ roll scene. He likely couldn’t have imagined it ever sounding quite like this. Unfortunately, neither could Jimi Hendrix. The tough vocal and incendiary guitar of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ were patched into a heavily overdubbed posthumous release that arrived some five years after his death.
‘That’s All Right’
It wasn’t much of hit, only selling some 20,000 copies, but Presley’s take on ‘That’s All Right’ has been called perhaps the first rock ‘n’ roll record. What better place for Paul McCartney to put his career back together after a series of disappointments in the ’80s? ‘That’s All Right’ would become a nervy highlight on a covers album released initially only in Russia as ‘Choba B CCCP’ – or ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’
Best known for its appearance in the 1960 film ‘G.I. Blues,’ this track was a UK chart-topper for Presley before Tom Petty revived it as a tender-hearted acoustic number for the ‘Playback’ box set. “I am the true Elvis fan,” Petty admits in the liner notes — and it shows.
Presley’s version followed Junior Parker’s initial 1953 hit by two years, becoming a Top 10 country hit. Two decades after that, Levon Helm and company keep some of the down-home influences while adding a contemporary funk feel courtesy of Garth Hudson greasy turn on the clavinet. Paul Butterfield would later join the Band for another take during their ‘Last Waltz’ farewell concert.
‘Don’t Be Cruel’
Inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002, this Otis Blackwell song also sports a co-writing credit from Presley. He recorded it during the same sessions that produced the No. 2 hit ‘Hound Dog,’ only to see it zoom to the top of all three charts – pop, country and R&B. Presley would perform ‘Hound Dog’ during all three of his Ed Sullivan Show appearances in 1956-57, no doubt impacting the youngsters in Cheap Trick — who had a No. 4 hit of their own with it some three decades later.
‘Viva Las Vegas’
ZZ Top’s suitably over-the-top blues-rock redo of ‘Viva Las Vegas’ was originally one of two new songs on a 1992 hits package. They add all kinds of Texas attitude to a track written by Doc Pomus for the 1963 Presley film of the same name. That original single sold more than 500,000 copies in America alone, going gold the same year ZZ Top redid it.
Presley swivelled and hooted his way to the top of the U.S. pop charts for seven weeks with ‘Jailhouse Rock’ in 1957 — then must have marveled as an all-star amalgam led by Jeff Beck tore it a new one in the next decade on the guitarist’s seminal ‘Beck Ola’ album. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t last long enough to do more damage at a scheduled appearance later that year at Woodstock. Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood left for the Faces, while Nicky Hopkins ultimately ended up with the Rolling Stones.