Long Live the King! While he may have passed in 1977, he still lives within my heart and the hearts of many fans. That famous album 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong sums up my feelings about the King. Elvis fans are devoted to their King even many years since his passing.
I would love to tell you I saw him in concert, that I saw him on one of his many TV appearances. But I sadly did not. In fact, I was only eight when he passed back in 1977. I truly didn't really become a fan until after he'd died. Why?
It was the voice! That magical voice that could convey hurt, happiness and remorse, sometimes within the same song. To me, it was always the voice. Elvis may not have been a songwriter, but no one could interpret lyrics like him. If you really dive into his records, you will find that Elvis would often do take after take of a song. Often his band would think they'd nailed it and Elvis would ask for another take.
I have heard many unreleased songs of alternate takes of his and I will be damned if I could tell you why that take wasn't suitable for the King. However, oftentimes it's a phrasing, or it's the guitar riff that occurs on the take. Famously, Elvis would release songs that had mistakes in them. Give "I Just Can't Help Believing" a listen. You will hear him mess up the lyrics towards the end. But since this was the version Elvis wanted on the record, this is what we all hear. Listen to the song "Too Much" performed live and you will hear Scotty Moore do a completely different guitar solo. Why? 'Cause Scotty was improvising on the recorded take. He could never duplicate that solo after what was recorded.
In this era of over-produced music, Elvis' is raw. It was recorded live and in the moment. Scotty was never asked to come in later to overdub his solo. Elvis believed in having the band in the room with him while he recorded. This would give sound engineers nightmares, as inevitably the mics would leak onto each other. Sometimes Elvis got so carried away with a take he would move away from the mic.
Elvis was the uncredited producer on his sessions. Sure, the early sessions credit is given to Chet Atkins, but it was Elvis directing the band. It was Elvis deciding what song the band was going to attempt. Elvis was deeply involved in the production of his music.
To my ear, that's what comes out. That earnest attempt to show emotion with a song lyric. The voice is always true and front and centre. Which isn't to say that Elvis would hog the spotlight on his songs. Between the Jordanaires supplying killer back up vocals, or Scotty doing the guitar solos, Elvis was all for quality. Even on the silly soundtrack songs of the 1960s, you can still hear the voice rising above the lyrics. Songs like "No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car" received the same care and attention as "Return to Sender."
Post The Beatles, it became harder for Elvis to get good songs. The Beatles made the singer/songwriter a thing. As such, many of the brightest songwriters were recording their own material. This left Elvis with some substandard fare to record. But when he got great material, like "Burning Love," he could still nail it!
The other factor was the business of recording records. Elvis, and his manager Colonel Tom Parker, came up when music publishing was where the money was made. As such, many of the songs Elvis recorded in the 50s were published by Elvis-owned music companies. As the singer/songwriter came into being, those revenue streams were not as important. However the Colonel still held on to those outdated concepts. Most famously, Dolly Parton turned down being bullied by the Colonel into surrendering her publishing rights on "I will Always Love You." I have trouble thinking how Elvis would have tackled this song, but I am sure he could have done it justice.
Give the King a listen. Discover (or re-discover) Elvis' voice. I think you will hear that same smooth voice that I hear. You will hear the emotion of the lyric coming through the speaker. Sometimes the voice is rough, sometimes melancholy, but always on point. Elvis had a gift to interpret songs like no other. For me, that is the reason I am a fan of the King! Long Live the King!