by Amy Gold
Songs about Elvis Presley are more numerous than you might think. Such is the influence of the man who became known as "the King of Rock and Roll," or simply "the King,” that musicians of all styles and races continue to claim him as an influence and pay tribute to him in songs of their own.
Born in a tiny house in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1935, Elvis Aaron Presley was a doted on only child who formed a particularly close bond with his mother, Gladys. From his humble beginnings he formed a deep appreciation for the music of his Southern roots. By the time he was a child in elementary school he was already impressing friends and teachers alike with his vocal abilities.
As he matured into a teenager, both his musical interest and ability began to develop as well. He became enamored with the earthy sounds of rhythm and blues and the sentimental, spiritual feel of gospel music. He listened to black performers on the radio and at local venues and began to incorporate their style into his own. He would, in turn, become a lasting influence for generations of artists who have produced many songs about Elvis Presley.
He began his career in 1954 when he appeared at the offices of Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. He impressed Sun owner Sam Phillips, who was looking for a way to bring the unique sound of African American music to a wider audience. In this handsome young white man, Phillips recognized the perfect avenue to bridge the gap.
Elvis began recording and started making an impact almost immediately. He was one of the originators of the rockabilly sound, a spirited combination of traditional country and rhythm and blues. This not only opened the ears of listeners to a whole new style but opened the doors for a wave of performers who would take the sound to a new level.
By 1956, when "Heartbreak Hotel" became his first number one hit, he was at the forefront of the new sound called "rock and roll.” His influence would be felt by millions as his records climbed the charts one after the other, and he sealed the deal with a historic appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. To this day, songs about Elvis Presley pay tribute to his status as a true groundbreaker.
Over the years, Elvis Presley's music has become known and loved the world over, with generations singing along to his songs. Some of those songs, translated into other languages, have become tributes to the man himself, speaking of his status as a true icon of rock and roll.
There is only one King, only one artist who is so universally acclaimed that generations born after his tragic death in 1977 can still recognize him by one simple name: Elvis. There will never be another like him and likely no other artist who could inspire so many hits.
Hundred of songs about Presley have been recorded over a period of over half a decade, starting from his rapid rise to fame in the mid 1950s to well into the new millenium. The following is a list of chart hits recorded both before and after Presley's passing that pay homage to the great pop music icon. (The years listed below are when the songs debuted on the charts.)
In these songs, Elvis Presley is the main subject, although he is not always mentioned explicitly by name.
- Dear Elvis (Pages 1 & 2) - Audrey - 1956
(This song is in the form of a love letter to Elvis.)
- The All American Boy - Bobby Bare (Bill Parsons) - 1958
(This novelty tune parodies Elvis' rise to fame which is temporarily interrupted by his being inducted into the Army. Shortly thereafter, Bare recorded a non-charting sequel, "I'm Hangin' Up My Rifle," about Presley's return.)
- The King Is Gone - Ronnie McDowell - 1977
(This song was recorded in tribute to Presley after his death.)
- Personal Jesus - Depeche Mode - 1989
(This song was inspired by Priscilla Presley's book, "Elvis and Me.")
- Black Velvet - Alannah Myles - 1990
(This song topped the charts and was a #1 Album Rock hit in 1990.)
Presley's famous abode is either the main topic or made mention of in these songs.
- From Graceland To The Promise Land - Merle Haggard - 1977
- Graceland - Paul Simon - 1986
- Sweet Southern Comfort - Buddy Jewell - 2004
Presley's hometown is featured prominently in this song.
- Walking In Memphis - Marc Cohn - 1991
(This song was also a country and pop chart hit for Lonestar in 2003.)
Song references, by first name
In these songs, Presley is referred to by his first name at least once.
- FM (No Static At All) - Steely Dan - 1978
- I Predict - Sparks - 1982
- Free Fallin' - Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers - 1989
- 57 Channels (And Nothin' On) - Bruce Springsteen - 1992
- Man On The Moon - R.E.M. - 1993
- That Don't Impress Me Much - Shania Twain - 1999
- 19 Somethin' - Mark Wills - 2002
- A Lot Of Things Different - Kenny Chesney - 2002
- Megalomaniac - Incubus - 2004
- Trying To Find Atlantis - Jamie O'Neal - 2005
Song references, by full name
In these songs, Presley's full name is mentioned at least once.
- The Millionaire - Dr. Hook - 1975
- We Didn't Start The Fire - Billy Joel - 1989
- Without Me - Eminem - 2002
Song references, as "the King"
In these songs, Presley is referred to by his famous moniker at least once.
- American Pie - Parts I & II - Don McLean - 1971
(This song topped the charts in 1971 and was also a hit for Madonna in 2000. Although it is mainly about the untimely passing of Buddy Holly, it also makes a brief mention of "the king" as well as several other luminaries.)
- Rock And Roll Fantasy - The Kinks - 1978
- Rust Never Sleeps (Hey, Hey, My, My (Into The Black)) - Neil Young - 1979
Song references, other
In this song, Presley is referred to as the "boy from Tupelo."
- Made In England - Elton John - 1995
Elvis Presley Sound-Alikes
There have been many Elvis impersonators over the years, but there were only a handful of singers whose true styles were actually very similar to that of the King - and one of them was a woman.
- Will You, Willyum - Janis Martin - 1956
(Janis Martin's singing style earned her the title of "the Female Elvis" by RCA. She had only one chart hit with "Will You, Willyum" in 1956, and she also recorded a non-charting tribute to Presley that same year, "My Boy Elvis.")
- You Don't Know What You've Got (Until You Lose It) - Ral Donner - 1961
(This Elvis Presley sound-alike singer had several hits in the early 1960s that included the above, which is his best-known song.)