Had Elvis Presley lived, he would have turned 80 years old this month. It's hard to imagine Elvis doing concerts in 2015, but Leonard Cohen is a few months older and manages to do three-and-a-half hours without breaking a sweat. Hell, Chuck Berry is 88 and still at it. If Elvis had managed to lose the weight and get healthy, there's no reason why he couldn't still be shaking his hips onstage. Sadly, that's not the way his life worked out. But he's still the king of rock & roll, and to celebrate his birthday we asked our readers to vote for their favorite Presley song. Here are the results.
Just months before Sam Phillips and Colonel Tom Parker sold Presley's contract to RCA for $40,000, Elvis went back into Sun Studios and cut this cover of a 1953 Junior Parker song. Backed by guitarist Scotty Moore, bassist Bill Black and drummer Johnny Bernero, Presley quickened Park's original bluesy version. The new take peaked at Number 11 on the Billboard Country Chart, but a few months later RCA would release "Heartbreak Hotel" and completely eclipse everything that Presley released before. Still, "Mystery Train" endures as one of Elvis' most beloved songs.
Elvis began the 1970s on very strong footing when he released Eddie Rabbit and Dick Heard's mournful "Kentucky Rain" as a single in January of 1970. The song hit Number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold more than a million copies, though it only stayed in his live show for a few weeks.
The Civil War was over 100 years in the past when Elvis began singing "An American Trilogy" in 1972, but the scars still ran deep throughout America. The song was the work of Nashville pro Mickey Newbury, who tried to unite the two sides of the country together by combining "Dixie," "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "All My Trials" into a grand patriotic medley. Somehow he pulled it off in a mere four-and-a-half minutes, and the resulting tune became a highlight of Presley's concerts during the last five years of his life.
Many Americans first learned of Elvis Presley when "Heartbreak Hotel" came across their radios in early 1956. Presley's previous success was mostly regional, but with the help of his new label RCA, he recorded a song that would stay on top of the Hot 100 for seven straight weeks. It even got him invited onto TV, kicking off a nationwide Elvis hysteria that, in many ways, has yet to die down.
Few entertainers have ever had a year like Elvis Presley's 1956. Single after single flew up the charts, massive crowds of screaming girls followed him wherever he went and parents became convinced he was corrupting the young. His final Number One of the year was "Love Me Tender," a ballad written by Ken Darby. He played the song on The Ed Sullivan Show shortly before a movie of the same name hit theaters.
Fans at the final Elvis concerts knew the opening notes of "Can't Help Falling in Love" meant it was time to get ready to go. The dreamy song, which was written for his 1961 movie Blue Hawaii, ended every single one of his post-comeback shows. The sweet ode to true love was the perfect way to wrap up the evening. It has since been covered by everybody from Bob Dylan to U2 to UB40, who turned it into a huge hit in 1993.
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote "Jailhouse Rock" specifically for Elvis Presley's 1957 movie of the same name. It's unclear if Elvis realized exactly what they meant by lines like "You're the cutest jailbird I ever did see/I sure would be delighted with your company," but the suggestion of inter-inmate romance also flew by most listeners and the song ended up knocking "Wake Up Little Susie" off the top of the charts.
Elvis spent much of the 1960s churning out cheesy B-movies and lifeless soundtracks while new acts like the Beatles and Bob Dylan made him seem like a relic. His brilliant 1968 comeback special shot him back to the forefront, and he took his newfound energy into the studio to cut "In the Ghetto." It's a song about the vicious cycle of poverty and despair in America's inner-cities, and it eventually hit Number Three, cementing the fact that Elvis was back.
Just two months after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Elvis Presley stepped into the Western Recorders studio and laid down this moving tribute to the civil rights hero. It was the stirring climax to his 1968 comeback special, and he belted it out with incredible passion. The song rose to Number 12 on the Hot 100, and today many see it as one of the greatest vocal performances of his career.
Elvis was just two years into his marriage with Priscilla when he recorded "Suspicious Minds," but things were already falling apart. It's clear he poured some of that disappointment, particularly over his own failings as a husband, into the song. Written by Mark James, it became his first Number One hit in seven years and was a regular highlight of his live show.