Had he not died at age 42 from cardiac arrhythmia on August 16, 1977, Elvis Presley would have turned 80 years old today.
Known to many as the King of Rock & Roll, Presley was just as schooled in the twangy sounds of Nashville as he was in the rhythm & blues of his native Tupelo, Mississippi, and Memphis. Many of his early rockabilly hits were bona fide country or bluegrass songs, like Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” but it was in the often underappreciated Seventies sequins period where Presley dove headfirst into country music. Songs like Kris Kristofferson‘s “Help Me Make It Through the Night” and Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” became staples of his concerts, and in 1971 he released the album Elvis Country.
A collection of songs written by the likes of Willie Nelson (“Funny How Time Slips Away”), Bob Wills (“Faded Love,” made famous by Patsy Cline) and Monroe and Lester Flatt (“Little Cabin on the Hill”), Elvis Country also included Presley’s take on Hank Cochran’s “Make the World Go Away.”
Originally cut by Ray Price, the soaring ballad became a signature song for Eddy Arnold in 1965. Presley’s definitive version, meanwhile, was recorded live during his run of shows at the International Hotel in Las Vegas in 1970. It appears on the recent deluxe edition of Elvis: That’s the Way It Is, the eight-CD/two-DVD reissue of the 1970 concert film. (Watch Presley perform “Make the World Go Away” above.)
Introducing the song as being written “before Roy Acuff was born, which is about 1800” — many of Presley’s onstage jokes during that era were seemingly fueled by nerves and awkwardly delivered — the entertainer launches into an impassioned performance, matching guitarist James Burton’s every fill and solo with punctuated stage moves. It’s one of Presley’s finest performances, and certainly a nod to his love of country and even gospel. Glistening with sweat inside his karate-like jumpsuit, its blood-red sash swaying, Presley sings with a distinct sense of urgency — as if his own world was about to end.