Elvis Presley died 36 years ago today at his Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tenn. Thousands of fans who have descended on Memphis for Elvis Week 2013 activities held a candlelight vigil in the singer’s memory Thursday night, but the best way to remember him is through his own performances.
Here are five that Pop & Hiss suggest for those who want to go beyond the cornerstone hits that established him as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
-- “Tweedle Dee” (live 1955). Presley had yet to burst on the national scene and was still doing traveling shows through the South, such as “Louisiana Hayride.” So, to connect with listeners who might have been seeing and hearing him for the first time, he often sang other artists’ hits, this time taking on LaVern Baker’s then-current 1955 hit and completely infusing it with the Presley magic. It’s a prime example of how rock elevated emotion over articulate expression as he sings “Tweedley tweedley tweedley dee/I’m as happy as can be/Jiminy Cricket, Jiminy Jack, You make my heart go clickity clack” and makes nonsense lyrics feel as profound as a Shakespeare soliloquy.
“I Want You I Need You I Love You” (1956, alternate take 17): I first came across this outtake when RCA included it on one of its “Elvis -- A Legendary Performer” compilations. The reason I love this version is the way he takes a vocal leap up the scale on the word “all” the first time he reaches the tagline: “I want you, I need you, I love you, with ALL my hea-a-a-a-r-t.” Serious goosebumps time.
“Such a Night” (1960): I’ve often cited this as possibly my favorite vocal performance ever. He brings so many emotions, sounds and textures to his voice that it leaves no doubt why his popularity has only grown in the three dozen years he’s been gone.
“His Hand in Mine” (1961): You can’t talk about Presley’s legacy without acknowledging the fundamental place that gospel music held for him. He may have taken on throwaway material during his Hollywood years in the late ‘50s and most of the ‘60s, but he never gave anything less than 100% when he was singing gospel and inspirational songs.
“If I Can Dream” (1968). OK, so we’re including one Presley pop classic. But on a day when many are thinking about what the world lost on this day in 1977, here’s a reminder of what it gained in the 42 years that preceded it. In this performance from the 1968 NBC-TV comeback special that instantly returned him to relevance in pop music, Elvis injects a tactile sense of hope into this song of yearning for a better world. What better message to leave behind?
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