From "Jailhouse Rock" to "Love Me Tender," Elvis Presley's songs have become an integral part of American culture. They are played at parties, weddings, and proms, and can be heard in the background at grocery stores and shopping malls. The song catalog contains an impressive range: some were composed for fun but forgettable summer movies, while others trace their roots back to Italian operas; some tell stories of heartfelt love, while others are simply made for dancing. All were interpreted and recorded by one of the most successful performers American popular music has ever seen.
In the following pages, you'll find the stories behind some of Elvis' most celebrated tunes. There are highlights from his early career, such as "Baby Let's Play House," in which Presley first found his signature "rockabilly" sound -- the fusion of country and R&B that would make him famous. These early songs were recorded on Sam Phillips' Memphis-based label, Sun Records, and are widely considered essential listening among fans of blues, R&B, and country music alike.
You'll also learn about the smash hits that turned Elvis into a household name: "Heartbreak Hotel," Elvis' first single on the major label RCA, became a number one hit, but was originally inspired by a tragic death in Miami. "Hound Dog" created opportunities for numerous tongue-in-cheek television appearances (on the Steve Allen Show, Presley good-naturedly performed the song for a basset hound). When paired with "Don't Be Cruel" on the B-Side, the "Hound Dog" record became one of the most successful singles the music industry had yet seen. "Now or Never," a rock 'n' roll reworking of a classic Italian opera tune, shows Presley interacting with age-old traditions and making them his own.
Many critics feel that Presley's early songs are among his finest; but later efforts reveal a fascinating intersection between the music and Elvis' rapidly growing fame. "If I Can Dream," recorded in 1968, showed Presley at the center of a troubled nation. The song, written by W. Earl Brown, Elvis' musical director, was crafted as a somber but hopeful response to the recent assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. By this time, Presley had his own television Christmas special (called simply Elvis), and, after an evening of holidays standards, "If I Can Dream" closed the program on a moving and personal note.
In the later pages of this article, you'll find a few "best of" lists that can help any Elvis novice navigate his intimidating song catalog. You'll learn more about some of Presley's songwriters, many of whom were accomplished artists in their own right, and you'll also find information on some of Elvis' most famous covers. The article's final section contains a complete list of Elvis Presley's recorded work, arranged in alphabetical order for easy browsing.
Go on to the next page to read about one of Elvis' most popular song topics -- falling in (and out) of love.
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