Friday last week would have been our revered idol The King’s 86th birthday. And despite having left the building for good 44 years ago, Elvis Aaron Presley (also known as EP) remains king to millions of fans worldwide, especially the average 3,000 daily visitors to his stately mansion Graceland that has been turned into a museum and the second most visited premises in the USA after The Whitehouse.
Many opine that EP’s songs are simple, three-keyed tunes and just about love. It is not really the case; his songs are about life, about relationships. For example, his song ‘Life’ in 1971 (Words & Music by Shirl Melete), is a piece of philosophy. I learned from the radio in 1973 and finally memorised the lyrics but never performed it publicly hitherto.
It says, “Somewhere up in empty space, long before the human race, something stirred. A vast and timeless source began, intelligence was born and then, there was the world. Powers filled the universe, matter formed and broke the curse, of nothingness. Love became an ageless soul, nature reached her highest goal, and breathed the breath of life, everlasting life …”
As opposed to his big hits including some that topped the charts in the US and UK for up to 110 weeks, Elvis also came up with few flops that should be best left to the back seat. These include ‘Clean Your Own Back Yard’, ‘How Do You Think I feel’, ‘I Beg of You’, ‘We’re Gonna Move’, ‘Lonesome Cowboy’ and many more. Asked around, many of his fans and his tribute artistes (ETAs) may have never heard of these songs.
In the movie ‘Kid Galahad’ (1962), also starring Charles Bronson as his boxing trainer, Elvis performed the song ‘King of The Whole Wide World’ — I performed this song in no less than ten of EP shows between 2013 and 2019 — to confirm Elvis’ unofficially declared acceptance of ‘The King’ inference. Its intro line goes, “A poor man wants the oyster; a rich man wants the pearl, but the man who can sing when he hasn’t got a thing, he’s the king of the whole wide world.”
One song stands out from the rest. Though ‘Unchained Melody’ belongs originally to the Righteous Brothers, Elvis recorded it as his own and one of the songs he performed at his last concert at Indianapolis on June 22, 1977 just weeks before his demise on August 16, 1977. This is probably the only song ever written and sung with the title not carried or stated in the lyrics.
More than anything else, his songs, though composed by others, have become great inspirations for his own generation and many more generations after his and ours. Apart from those aforesaid, his other well-known composers and songwriters included Otis Blackwell who wrote lyrics for many of his top hits such as ‘Don’t Be Cruel’, ‘All Shook Up’, ‘Return to Sender’ which Elvis all recorded. He and Blackwell never met.
Another composer/songwriter associated with Elvis was Max Davis who provided the theme song to his movie ‘Charro’, namely the tune ‘Nothingville’. Davis also wrote two of Elvis’ biggest hits of the 1970s, the socially conscious ‘In the Ghetto’ and the sentimental ballad ‘Don’t Cry Daddy’. He also composed ‘A Little Less Conversation’, Elvis last recorded song.
Others who wrote songs for Elvis included the teams of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller; Jerry Reed, Ben Weisman and a few more.
Based on worldwide survey according to YouTube, the top ten EP’s songs are in this order (number 10 to one) ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’; ‘Blue Suede Shoes’; ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’; ‘Suspicious Mind’; ‘Love Me Tender’; ‘Don’t Be Cruel’; ‘All Shook Up’; ‘Jailhouse Rock’; ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and the number one spot belongs to ‘Hound Dog’.
Among other famous songs (apart from the aforementioned) of the King include (in alphabetical order) ‘Angel, Anything That’s Part of You’; ‘Blue Christmas’; ‘Crying In The Chapel’; ‘Devil In Disguise’; ‘From a Jack to a King’; ‘G.I. Blues’; ‘It’s Now Or Never’; ‘Just Tell Her Jim Say Hello’, ; ‘Kiss Me Quick’; ‘Moody Blue’; ‘One Night’; ‘Sentimental Me’; ‘Shake Rattle N Roll’; ‘She’s Not You’; ‘Such A Night’; ‘Surrender’; ‘The Wonder of You’; ‘Way Down; ‘Wooden Heart’; ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ and ‘Your Cheating Heart’.
In spite of his most famous statement, “I am not king, just a singer”, people around the world still insist on saying, “Elvis is The King.”
He is gone but he remains with us through his songs, some of which are our inspirations — now and forever.