Here are Elvis' 10 best songs
Forget the sideburns, the jumpsuits, and the fried peanut-butter-and-banana-sandwiches. Instead, celebrate the 25th anniversary of Elvis’ passing by listening to the best of his still-vital music, which, unlike its creator, will never die. To that end, we dug through the King’s massive catalog to pick his 10 greatest tracks of all time, presented in chronological order:
”That’s All Right” (1954)
Propelled by Presley banging away on an acoustic guitar (yes, he actually played that thing), Bill Black beating the heck out of a stand-up bass, and Scotty Moore squeezing out hyperactive leads from a hollowbody electric, Elvis’ very first single still sounds as powerful and mysterious as it must have on Memphis radio 48 years ago. In this one-minute-and-55-second take on Arthur Crudup’s ’40s blues hit, Presley’s voice is high-pitched, raw, and almost unrecognizable — but as riveting as it would ever be.
”Mystery Train” (1955)
One of the most haunting rock songs ever recorded, this jittery rockabilly lament may represent the peak of Elvis’ indie days at Memphis’ Sun Records, before he signed to RCA Records and went national. ”Train, train coming ’round the bend/ It took my baby/ But it never will again/ Never will again” Presley yelps in a voice near his trademark lower register, mixing sorrow and a strange species of triumph before breaking into a joyous falsetto whoop.
”Heartbreak Hotel” (1956)
Presley’s echo-drenched first RCA Records single (and his first national No. 1 hit) finds him using both the shouted tenor of his Sun days and a new, quavery baritone that became his signature. It fleshes out the Sun sound with blues piano and D.J, Fontana’s drums, but manages to retain much of the ghostly atmosphere of the early singles. A blues-based song about near-suicidal loneliness was as unlikely top 40 fare in ’56 as it would be now, but, somehow, it worked.
”Don’t Be Cruel” (1956)
Elvis’ early work was sepia-toned, rooted in blues and country heritage, but he soon found his way to the musical equivalent of Technicolor. ”Don’t Be Cruel” is pure joy: jaunty backing vocals, a swinging backbeat, and an Elvis who’s gone in two short years from shy hillbilly to pop icon: ”I really love ya baby/ Cross my heart,” he hiccups, sounding more like he’s crossing his fingers.
”Hound Dog” (1956)
The shouted fury of Elvis’ vocals on this one ? not to mention D.J. Fontana’s heart-stopping, legendary snare fills ? makes this very nearly the first punk rock song. It’s hard to understand just why Elvis so mad at his dog, or girlfriend, or whatever, for never catching a rabbit. But amidst the hand-clapping madness of this landmark, who could possibly care?