Elvis Presley during a live performance at Honolulu International Center in Honolulu, Hawaii on January 14, 1973 for his NBC special (Photo by Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)
Five Elvis songs to remember, five Elvis songs to forget
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By Gillian G. Gaar
January 8, 2023, would’ve been Elvis Presley’s 88th birthday. Over the course of his astonishing career, Elvis recorded over 700 songs between 1954 and 1976. He recorded a wide range of material — rock and roll, pop, country, R&B, blues, folk — and, it must be said, songs of varying quality as well. Here’s a look at five songs that are underappreciated classics, and five others that the King himself would likely have preferred to leave on the shelf.
1. “My Baby Left Me”
B-side of “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” 1956
Elvis’ cover of Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right” rightly deserves all the praise it gets; it was Presley’s first single, after. But he recorded other Crudup tunes as well, and this one’s a sizzler, kicking off with the bright snap of DJ Fontana’s drums, followed by Bill Black’s descending bass line, and Scotty Moore’s rockabilly guitar before Elvis even starts singing. It’s a real humdinger.
King Creole, 1958
This film was Elvis’ favorite of his movies, and this was one of the most atmospheric sequences in any of his films. After a prologue of New Orleans street vendors singing about their wares before the title sequence, along comes Kitty White, raising her voice in praise of crawfish, and finding a ready duet partner in Elvis himself. It’s a haunting jewel on the film’s soundtrack.
3. “Tomorrow is a Long Time”
Hidden among the mediocrity that was the Spinout soundtrack are two standouts. This stunning interpretation of a Bob Dylan song was one that earned its composer’s approval, Dylan calling this cover “the one recording I treasure the most.” Elvis became acquainted with the song from listening to Odetta Sings Dylan, and was captivated with it. This is the kind of singer he could’ve been in the 1960s, had he not been drowning in film soundtrack work.
4. “I’ll Remember You”
Singer-songwriter Kui Lee wrote this song in 1964; his friend Don Ho became the first to record it. The live version Elvis did for his Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite is better known (the show was also a benefit for the Kui Lee Cancer Fund; Lee died in 1966). But listen to the studio version he recorded seven years earlier; it has a delicate grace and beauty, and note the trailing backing vocals at the end.
5. “Wearin’ That Loved On Look”
From Elvis in Memphis, 1969
The opening organ chords might make you think the song is going to be one of Elvis’ gospel numbers. Nope, it’s a song about infidelity. But even though it’s Elvis who’s being cheated on (“Baby, if you ever loved me/Then Bonnie and Clyde loved the law”), he sounds surprisingly upbeat about it, even throwing in a few jocular “shoop shoops” during the chorus. He had a cold during the session, giving his vocal a nice rough edge.
1. “Yoga Is As Yoga Does”
Easy Come, Easy Go, 1967
Elvis meets the counter-culture in this film — and it ain’t pretty. He’s taken to a yoga class taught by none other than Elsa Lanchester (the original Bride of Frankenstein), and ends up singing goofy rhymes like “You tell me just how I can take this yoga serious/When all it ever gives to me is a pain in my posterious.” Note that the film version has Elvis and Elsa singing together; he was undoubtedly less than thrilled at having to also cut a studio version where he sang the entire song himself.
Songs that Elvis sang to/with children generally turned out to be embarrassing, and this one was no exception. His own lack of interest is plainly — or is that painfully? — apparent in his vocals.
Stay Away, Joe, 1968
Elvis so hated this song he begged his producer (Felton Jarvis) to never, ever, release it on record. Its theme is especially ludicrous; it’s a song urging a stud bull to mate with a herd of expectant cows. Heightening the embarrassment, Elvis sings the song as he playfully chases two young women; you half expect “callin’” to be rhymed with — never mind. Jarvis kept his word while Elvis lived; the track later appeared on Double Features: Kissin’ Cousins/Clambake/Stay Away, Joe in 1994.
4. “He’s Your Uncle, Not Your Dad”
A song about the necessity of paying one’s taxes is ripe for satire; one could imagine Frank Loesser composing such a number for his musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Alas, Elvis had to rely on the songwriting talents of Sid Wayne and Benjamin Weisman for this flabby song, in a film whose best song was Nancy Sinatra’s "Your Groovy Self" (by Lee Hazlewood).
5. “Three Corn Patches”
Raised On Rock, 1973
It’s easy to pick on the film songs, so here’s a non-film tune. Songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote a number of songs that Elvis turned into classics, including “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Santa Claus is Back in Town” and “Trouble.” This isn’t one of them. A poor song is hampered by Elvis’ less-than-stellar vocal delivery, as he struggles to reach the high notes. It was the last Leiber and Stoller song Elvis ever recorded, a sorry end to what should have been a proud legacy.