Born 84 years ago today in Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis Presley transfixed millions of fans (and outraged many others) with his rock & roll swagger before most of them had any idea what rock & roll was or would become in popular culture. His incendiary stage presence notwithstanding, Presley’s Southern roots and polite demeanor would also endear him to country music listeners and, until his untimely death in August 1977 at 42, Presley continued to record songs from some of the great country tunesmiths.
Hit songwriters including Mac Davis, Larry Gatlin and Jerry Reed helped Presley reach the country chart, especially in the late Sixties and throughout the Seventies. In fact, it was Reed who gave the King his final country chart-topper with “Guitar Man,” in 1981. And with the nation still reeling from news of his death, Presley reached Number One with “Way Down,” penned by Layng Martine Jr., who would later score a major hit for Reba McEntire with “The Greatest Man I Never Knew.”
One of the last country songs to chart for Presley came from the same person who afforded him his last-ever Top Ten pop smash. Dennis Linde, a notoriously reclusive but prolific Texas songwriter who moved to Nashville in 1969, penned “Burning Love,” a 1972 single which became a Number Two hit and a concert staple for the last five years of Presley’s life. In 1976, Presley would also record Linde’s “For the Heart,” which served as the b-side of his Top Ten single, “Hurt.” The rousing, piano-driven song was issued on the King’s From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee LP, recorded, as the title suggests, at Presley’s home studio, owing to his own increasingly reclusive nature by that time. Although “Hurt,” a 1986 Number One for Juice Newton, became a Top Ten country and Top 30 pop entry for Presley, its flip side would also climb the country survey as its own entry, landing just outside the Top 40.
“For the Heart” would return to the country charts late in 1983 as the debut single of the mother-daughter duo the Judds, who, like Elvis, recorded for RCA. As “Had a Dream (For the Heart),” the single reached the Top 20 for the duo, and was followed by an impressive streak of eight Number One hits. That streak was, ironically, broken by the duo’s cover of Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel,” which only made it to Number 10.
Linde, meanwhile, would land dozens more country cuts from artists including Roger Miller (“Where Have All the Average People Gone”), Gary Morris (“The Love She Found in Me”), Eddy Raven (“I’m Gonna Get You”) and Don Williams (“Walkin’ a Broken Heart”). In 1992, Mark Chesnutt had a hit with Linde’s “Bubba Shot the Jukebox” and a year later Garth Brooks recorded “Callin’ Baton Rouge,” a song previously cut by the Oak Ridge Boys, Billie Jo Spears and New Grass Revival. He also wrote the somewhat controversial “What’ll You Do About Me,” which — in spite of basically detailing the moves and motives of a stalker — was recorded by Randy Travis, Steve Earle, the Forester Sisters and Doug Supernaw, the latter of whom had a Top 20 hit with it in 1994. Even more controversial was the inclusion of Linde’s darkly comical “Goodbye Earl” on the Dixie Chicks’ 1999 Fly LP. Eventually released as a single and depicted in a humorous music video, “Goodbye Earl” proved a polarizing move for the Chicks, becoming their first hit to miss the Top Ten since 1997. Linde was 63 when he succumbed to idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in 2006.