Tag Archives: Elvis songs original versions

Elvis songs before Elvis – the origins of six iconic Presley classics

From Hound Dog to Always On My Mind the original versions of six classic Elvis songs

Hound Dog

Written by songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller when they were both still in their teens, ‘Hound Dog’ was created specifically for blues singer Big Mama Thornton. It was recorded in 1952 and released in 1953. Rather than being seen as just a rough early prototype of a tune Elvis would later make famous, Thornton’s version of Hound Dog is rightly regarded as iconic in its own right, helping lay the foundations of black R&B in rock music. The song has cemented Thornton’s place in rock ‘n’ roll history, even if she never made more than a few hundred dollars from it. Presley’s version was released three years later in 1956.

Are You Lonesome Tonight?

We go right back with this one. ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ was written by Vaudeville songwriters Roy Turk and Lou Handman in 1926. Numerous versions were recorded in the late 1920s but the first was by Charles Hart, in 1927. In 1950, the Blue Barron Orchestra recorded a version and the song became a staple of crooners of the era. In his final months of national service with the US Army, Elvis began considering new material for his return to a recording career. Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, suggested ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ – the song being a favourite of Parker’s wife. Presley’s version was released in November 1960.

Suspicious Minds

‘Suspicious Minds’ was first written and recorded in 1968 by Mark James. Here we hear it taking shape as a soulful pop ballad. While the arrangements on the James version are virtually identical to those on the Elvis version recorded a year later. the magic is somewhat lacking. After spending much of the 60s churning out B movies, ‘Suspicious Minds’ was one of the songs recorded by Elvis in the Memphis recording sessions following the success of his televised 68 Comeback Special. Recorded in January 1969 it was released in August 1969 and became Elvis’s first number one in several years.

The Wonder of You

Written by Thomas Baker Knight Jr. ‘The Wonder of You’ was first recorded by film actor/singer Vince Edwards in 1958 but never released. A year later a version was released by Ray Peterson who had a Top 30 hit with it in both the US and the UK. It would be 1970, however, before Presley took Peterson’s sugary, sentimental teen ballad and transformed it into the bold, dramatic and unforgettable version that we know today. Presley recorded a live version of the song in Las Vegas in February 1970 and it is this  live version of the song that was released as a single in April 1970.

An American Trilogy

‘An American Trilogy’ is actually thee songs. The “Oh I wish I was in the land of cotton” bit is from ‘Dixie’ which became an anthem of the confederacy in the Civil War. The “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” bit is from a song called ‘Battle Hymn for the Republic’ which was the marching anthem of the opposing federal anti-slavery Union Army. And the “Oh, hush little baby don’t you cry” bit is from ‘All My Trials’ said to have emerged out of African American spirituals. Country musician and composer Mickey Newbury had the idea of bringing the three together, representing three strands in America’s troubled history, for his 1971 album and a subsequent single. Presley introduced ‘An American Trilogy’ to his concert set-list in January 1972. A live recording was made the following month which was released as a single but although it became a staple of Presley’s live shows, paradoxically, the single didn’t do as well in the US charts as Newbury’s original.

Always On My Mind

A love song expressing deep regret to a departing lover ‘Always On My Mind’ was written by Wayne Carson, Johnny Christopher and Mark James. Mark James, of course, we already know as the writer and original singer of ‘Suspicious Minds’. ‘Always On My Mind’ was first recorded by BJ Thomas in 1970 but the first version to be released was by Gwen McCrae in 1972. Presley recorded his version shortly after separating from his wife, Priscilla, and it was released in November 1972. Here we can hear both the BJ Thomas and the Gwen McCrae versions.

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