There are few names more famous in the history of rock and roll than Elvis Presley. Widely credited as the musician who shaped the genre of rock and roll, he ruled the music charts throughout the 1950s. Though his career took a brief hiatus from 1958 to 1960 while he served in the US military, he returned triumphantly to the music industry and continued to shape rock throughout the 1960s. These tracks are some of the most iconic of his career, which spanned more than 20 years.
1. All Shook Up
All Shook Up was released in 1957 and was an immediate hit, hitting number one on both the Billboard and country charts. The origin of the track had conflicting stories. One follows that Otis Blackwell, the composer, was challenged to write a song based on the phrase, “inspired by shaking a can of soda.” Elvis himself said it was written after he had a nightmare and called Blackwell, feeling “all shook up.” The origin of the track has never been substantiated, and both versions have become urban legends.
2. Burning Love
Elvis released Burning Love in 1972, five years before his sudden death at the age of 42. It was his last song to hit the Top 10 on the US charts. The track was a cover of the original recorded by Arthur Alexander the same year; however, Alexander’s version failed to make an impression on mainstream radio. Elvis’ version also marked one of his last rock songs, as he focused on ballads in the last years of his career. This was one of his final major hits, as his career slowed down in the mid-1970s.
3. Blue Christmas
Blue Christmas was already well known when Elvis covered it, having first been recorded in 1948. His version, released in 1957, changed the song from a pure country tune to a smooth rock and roll ballad. His cover established the track as a holiday standard, and it has been widely played ever since; it has also been covered by many other artists and was featured in the 1974 animated Christmas special, The Year Without A Santa Claus. His sultry, heartbroken vocal performance speaks to everyone who knows what it’s like to be lonely during the holidays.
4. Crying In The Chapel
Crying In The Chapel was a country-gospel song first released in 1953. It was covered many times by a variety of singers before Elvis recorded his own version in 1960—but it wasn’t released for another five years, as it didn’t meet the singer’s own standards. His cover was his biggest hit since the early 1960s and climbed to number three on the Billboard Hot 100. The track, which was inspired by a man who made a deal with God to heal his chronic health problems, was a favorite of his exploration into gospel music.
5. Mystery Train
Mystery Train was first released in the early 1950s as a Memphis blues song. Two years later, Elvis covered the track with a rockabilly treatment, combining elements of country and rock and roll. The single was a huge success and helped establish him as a crossover king, appealing to fans of both country and rock and roll music. This is now considered a staple of mid-century country music as well as one of the best songs of his early career; it has also been called one of the best tracks of all time.
6. Suspicious Minds
First recorded by Mark James in 1968, Suspicious Minds was initially a massive flop. A year later, Elvis released his own version, which was an instant hit. The song, which hit number one on the charts, marked his comeback after a career slowdown in the mid-1960s; it became one of the most famous singles of his later years. It was the singer’s final single to hit number one on the charts in the 1960s—he had had six previous ones throughout the decade.
7. (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear
During the late 1950s, Elvis was not only the hottest musician in the US but also a popular film actor. Many of his songs were featured in his movies, including the 1957 hit (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear, which was performed in Loving You. The single was a massive success, topping not just the Billboard charts but also the R&B and country charts. It has been extensively covered by other musicians, including versions in other languages such as French and German.
8. It’s Now Or Never
Throughout the late 1950s, Elvis was serving in the US army and was stationed in Germany. During this time, he heard two Italian recordings that would go on to inspire It’s Now Or Never. The song was released in 1960 when he returned to music. It became one of the most successful singles not just during his career but of all time. It spent eight weeks at number one on the US charts and premiered at number one in the UK, a huge achievement at the time.
9. Always On My Mind
Elvis had a talent for finding the sweet spot between rock and country, leading to many crossover hits. One of these was Always On My Mind, which he released in 1972. The song placed on both the US singles and country charts and became one of the singer’s later hits, appealing to both sides of his fanbase. Originally recorded by country artist Brenda Lee, the track took on a personal note with his cover, as he had recently separated from his wife Priscilla Presley.
10. That’s All Right
The start of Elvis’ career can be traced back to July 5, 1954, when he recorded That’s All Right as part of the group The Blue Moon Boys. The track was a cover of Arthur Crudup’s blues song, first released in 1946, but some of the verses dated all the way back to Blind Lemon Jefferson. The cover sped the track up and changed the lyrics, making it more appealing to a mainstream audience. Some music historians consider it the first official rock and roll single.
11. Hound Dog
Many of Elvis’ biggest hits were covers of lesser-known songs, which he then transformed. One of these was Hound Dog, first released by blues singer Big Mama Thornton in 1952. Her track was instrumental in introducing historically black musical genres to the emerging genre of rock and roll. The song was massively successful even before Elvis covered it. But his version remains the best-known in history, marked by his famous gyrating dance moves, which sometimes caused hysteria among his teenage fans.
12. Are You Lonesome Tonight?
Are You Lonesome Tonight? was one of Elvis’ first releases after returning from his military service. It was suggested as a cover by his manager, but his producers didn’t think the song was a good fit for his public image. Nevertheless, it was released and was an immediate success, topping both the pop singles and the R&B charts. Critics praised his emotional vocal performance, though the singer himself had worried that he couldn’t adequately perform the track.
13. Blue Suede Shoes
Blue Suede Shoes was initially a country song, inspired—legend has it—by composer Carl Perkins overhearing a boy at a dance tell his partner not to step on his “suedes.” The initial track wasn’t a significant hit, but Elvis’ tribute cover, released in 1956, gave the song new life. Both his cover and Perkins’ original track became popular. This has been called one of the defining tracks of early rock and roll and is one of Elvis’ most iconic singles.
14. Don’t Be Cruel
By the mid-1950s, Elvis’ career was at its height. One of his earliest hits was 1956’s Don’t Be Cruel, which has since been inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame. He painstakingly rearranged the song to suit his standards and recorded it nearly 30 times before he was satisfied; this extensive arrangement work earned him a songwriting credit, though he had never composed his own music. It was released at the same time as Hound Dog and soon eclipsed it on the pop, R&B, and country charts. This is often called one of the best tracks of all time.
15. Kentucky Rain
Elvis’ career was in a slump in the late 1960s, but it was revitalized by a variety of successful hits at the turn of the decade. One of these was Kentucky Rain, released in 1970. Though it may not have had the lasting reputation of some of his other major hits, the song was an international hit, charting around the world. It is about a man traveling through Kentucky, hitchhiking in the rain as he searches for his lover.
16. A Big Hunk O’ Love
Elvis released his single A Big Hunk O’ Love in 1959, but it became a staple of live shows during his later career throughout the 1970s. The song was the only one he released while serving in the US Army. Though it was a moderate success on the charts, it became better known when he resurrected it a decade later, performing it for the last time in 1974. This was one of the few tracks that were made of several takes spliced together, a daring endeavor for the time.
Elvis broke records with the release of his 1961 song Surrender for the number of consecutive number-one singles. The record would be broken by The Beatles in 1966, but not by another solo artist until Whitney Houston eclipsed it in 1988. The track, which was inspired by a Neapolitan love song, was hugely popular on both sides of the Atlantic, becoming one of his best-selling records. It was an international hit and has been extensively covered in the decades since its release.
18. Hard Headed Woman
Hard Headed Woman was released in 1958, at the height of Elvis’ fame. The upbeat rock and roll song was a chart-topper on both the Billboard and R&B charts. He released the song as part of the soundtrack of the film King Creole, in which he played a lead role. The track was originally written as a blues song before being adapted, in Elvis’ typical style, to classic rock and roll. Notably, this was the first rock and roll record to earn a gold certification for its number of sales.
19. Only The Strong Survive
Only The Strong Survive was highly successful in its original release by soul singer Jerry Butler. The song has been widely covered by musicians from Elvis to Bruce Springsteen. Elvis’ 1969 version was one of the most successful, remaining on the charts for seven consecutive weeks. It marked the return of the singer to recording in Nashville for the first time since the mid-1950s, and he earned praise for his energetic vocal performance. He would continue recording in Nashville through the following year, which resulted in his famous “Nashville marathon.”
20. Return To Sender
Elvis released Return To Sender in 1962 as part of the soundtrack to his film Girls! Girls! Girls! It was a massive hit around the world, particularly in the UK; in the US, it was only kept from reaching the number one spot on the charts by Big Girls Don’t Cry by The 4 Seasons. The song was a comeback for Elvis, who had struggled to find a footing between croon-worthy ballads and energetic, upbeat rock and roll. This appealed to both sides of his fandom.
21. Jailhouse Rock
Elvis’ second film appearance was in 1957’s Jailhouse Rock. The accompanying song of the same title was released as part of the soundtrack, earning critical acclaim. It was a huge hit around the world, with contemporary critics citing its playful lyrics and danceable rhythm. Modern historians, however, have noted the homoerotic undertones of the lyrics, which made it a covert queer anthem from its release; these are based on the frequent mentions of meeting with a lover in a prison, which would have been segregated by sex.
22. In The Ghetto
Elvis’ 1969 song In The Ghetto was a departure from his usual music, which often focused on topics of love and romance. The track had a much darker focus, telling the story of a boy growing up in the slums of Chicago. It was a commentary on the cyclical nature of violence and poverty, implying that, for every person who dies in the ghetto, another takes his place. This was an unusually somber and introspective song for him, yet one of the great tracks of his later career.
23. Love Me Tender
Elvis’ 1956 single Love Me Tender was one of his most famous love ballads. The melody was taken from a 19th-century American folk song, Aura Lee. As with many of his other songs, the singer reworked a cover to fit a new genre and feeling, making it uniquely his own. Amazingly, he performed this process without being able to read music. It didn’t seem to matter; this was a massive success and has been called one of the greatest tracks of all time.
24. Heartbreak Hotel
The story behind Elvis’ 1956 hit Heartbreak Hotel has become a legend; supposedly it was inspired by the story of an unknown man who checked into a hotel and jumped to his death from the balcony. Though the story has never been substantiated, the song remains one of his most iconic.
The track, which was inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1995, has been cited as an inspiration for members of The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. Historians have also noted it as the start of Elvis’ superstar era, during which time he would sometimes be attacked by hysterical fans during performances.
25. If I Can Dream
Elvis was a devotee of Martin Luther King, Jr., and he was devastated when the minister was murdered in April 1968. Two months later he released If I Can Dream, a song that was based on MLK’s famous “I have a dream” speech. His manager was against him recording the song, saying that it didn’t fit his musical style. He pushed back and recorded it, bringing the backup singers to tears. He went on to say that the track had inspired him to sing only songs that he believed in for the rest of his career.
26. I Want You, I Need You, I Love You
After the massive success of Heartbreak Hotel, Elvis’ record producers wanted him to continue strong with another successful single. Unfortunately, a poor recording session left executives unsatisfied; as a last resort, they cut two takes together, taking the best parts from each one. The result was the final version of I Want You, I Need You, I Love You, which was extremely successful on both the Billboard and country charts. With its release, he had three songs in the Top 20 at one time.
27. Stuck On You
Stuck On You was one of Elvis’ first releases after his time in the military. Released in 1960, it marked his return to mainstream popularity after two years away from music. It reached number one on the charts, becoming his first hit song of the 1960s—he would have seven number-one hits throughout the decade, including the first four singles he released after returning to civilian life. The track followed the lyrical and musical pattern of many of his 1950s hits, a romantic but provocative tune about a persistent lover.
28. (You’re The) Devil In Disguise
Elvis released (You’re The) Devil In Disguise in 1963, one of his biggest hits of the 1960s. It was famously dismissed by John Lennon, who said on television that the song was a flop and proved that the American singer was past his prime. After Lennon’s remarks, this track hit number one on the UK song charts. It was also successful in the US, where it reached number three on the mainstream charts and number nine on the R&B charts. The song was also famous for the ending vocals by singer Ray Walker in the persona of the devil.
29. Too Much
Many of Elvis’ hits flew to the top of the charts after he performed them on television. This was the case for the song Too Much, which the singer released in 1956 and performed on The Ed Sullivan Show in January 1957. It subsequently became a Top 10 hit on multiple charts, including the country and R&B charts. At the time, jukebox plays were also tracked, and this reached number one on the jukebox charts, indicating its widespread popularity with audiences around the country.
30. Good Rockin’ Tonight
Good Rockin’ Tonight was originally composed in the late 1940s as a jump-blues song, a genre that would strongly influence the development of rock and roll. It was also significant in its use of the word “rock,” which helped establish the word as a reference to the musical genre still in its infancy at the time.
He covered the track in 1954 with minor lyrics changes, and it was marked for its energetic rockabilly style—though it didn’t become as successful as Wynonie Harris’ original. Nevertheless, the song marked his entry into early rock music and is known for helping establish his status as one of the most prominent rockabilly musicians of the time.
31. Can’t Help Falling In Love
Of all of Elvis’ famous songs, one of the most famous, undoubtedly, is Can’t Help Falling In Love. The track, released in 1961, became an iconic love song, made rich and moving with his tender vocal performance. Its melody was based on an 18th-century French love track, and its popularity in this capacity has continued; it remains the top choice for couples as the first dance song at weddings. He routinely chose it as the ending set during his live performances.
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