Hound Dog (1956)
A rock’n’roll’s signature, Elvis’ “Hound Dog” came out on the phenomenal dual record “Hound Dog” / “Don’t Be Cruel”. Elvis’ photographer, Alfred Wertheimer sat in on the recording session in New York City. Wertheimer recalled how, after about two hours and 30 takes of “Hound Dog”, “The musicians listened to playbacks of the takes. The engineer racked take twenty-eight. Elvis left his chair and crouched on the floor. He went into deep concentration, absorbed and motionless … At the end of the song, he slowly rose from his crouch and turned to us with a wide grin, and said, ‘This is the one.’” Elvis’ gyrating performance of “Hound Dog” on the Milton Berle Show later that year was one of his sexiest, leaving some contemporary viewers appalled.
Heartbreak Hotel (1956) “Heartbreak Hotel” catapulted Elvis onto the national stage. With the backing of his new label, RCA, the song stayed on top of the Hot 100 for seven straight weeks and reached the top five of Country and Western, pop, and Rhythm’n’Blues charts - an unprecedented feat. It remains a, if not the, defining tune for Elvis fans, and was cited as a transformative influence by The Beatles’ John Lennon and George Harrison and The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards. For Richards, “That was the first rock and roll I heard. It was a totally different way of delivering a song, a totally different sound, stripped down, no bullshit, no violins and ladies’ choruses and schmaltz, totally different. It was bare right to the roots that you had a feeling were there but hadn’t yet heard… It was the first time I’d heard something so stark.”
Can’t Help Falling In Love (1961)
“Take my hand, take my whole life too, For I can’t help falling in love with you.” Arguably Elvis’ most famous love song, this intimate little ballad, slow paced by Elvis standards, was written for his 1961 movie Blue Hawaii. Though it never made #1, it became the tender closing tune to almost every one of his post-comeback shows in the 70s, and was since covered by everybody from Bob Dylan to U2 to UB40.
Suspicious Minds (1969)
“Suspicious Minds” is marked by personal disappointment as much as a triumphant artistic comeback. Recorded during the landmark early morning Memphis session of January 23, 1969, it became Elvis’ first #1 in seven years, helping him reclaim the title of The King. But the song’s pleading lyrics “Let’s don’t let a good thing die” were timely: just two years into marriage, Elvis and Priscilla were becoming increasingly distant, strained by affairs on both sides and Elvis’ absences on tour. The pair would officially separate two years later. It was, according to Joe Masceo of The Imperials, “a blow from which Elvis never recovered.”
Are You Lonesome Tonight? (The laughing version) (1969)
Elvis’ stage presence was legendary for his charm, sex appeal, and his sense of humor. During one sold-out show in Las Vegas in 1969, he ad libbed lyrics to “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”, replacing the line “Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there?” with “Do you gaze at your bald head and wish you had hair”. As Elvis legend goes, a man in the front row responded on cue, removing his wig. Elvis cracked up, and couldn’t stop laughing through the rest of the song. The result was infectious: the audience fell about in besotted giggles with him. After Elvis’ death, “the laughing version” was released as its own track, becoming a radio hit and one of Elvis’ most loved recordings.