I am addicted to the Elvis song “Suspicious Minds.” It’s a song that I’ve listened to obsessively throughout my life. These periods of obsession come in waves and “Suspicious Minds” swung its way back into my music rotation a few months ago, becoming one of those songs I feel compelled to listen to five times in a row every morning, afternoon, and evening. The experience of hearing it is that satisfying.
It’s interesting to note that the original version of the song was performed by Mark James. Beyond “Suspicious Minds,” many iconic Elvis songs were not originally performed by The King and the originals are beautiful treasures that seldom receive the proper recognition they deserve. Many will be celebrating the 80th birthday of Elvis today — and why not? He’s The King. But so to should we celebrate the blues, country, and doo-wop legends that preceded and inspired him.
“Suspicious Minds”: Mark James
“Suspicious Minds” was a triumphant single — oft considered a comeback — for Elvis, that went to No. 1 in November 1969. The original, by Mark James, was recorded a year prior. In an interview with journalist Marc Myers, James said of writing the song, “I was married to my first wife then but still had feelings for my childhood sweetheart, who was married back in Houston. My wife suspected I had those feelings, so it was a confusing time for me. I felt as though all three of us were all caught in this trap that we couldn’t walk out of.”
The song was covered by Elvis with not only the blessing of James, but his encouragement, “I knew Elvis needed a mature rock ‘n’ roll song to bring him back… I thought of ‘Suspicious Minds’ and I began urging everyone to get Elvis to hear it.”
“Blue Suede Shoes”: Carl Perkins
It was originally Johnny Cash who suggested to Carl Perkins to write a song based on something he overheard a soldier say to another soldier: “Don’t step on my blue suede shoes.” Perkins again overheard a man saying it to his dance partner. He wrote the lyrics on the back of a paper bag, recorded the song, and by its release in 1956 it was a hit. Perkins was considered both a better songwriter and musician in Rockabilly, but Elvis’s version sold more copies and “knocked Perkins out of the limelight.” [Source: All Things Considered]
“Hound Dog”: Willie “Big Mama” Thornton
Hound Dog was the longest running No. 1 hit for Elvis and a legendary song in his repertoire. But four years prior it was performed and recorded by blues singer Willie “Big Mama” Thornton and written by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller (magical duo who also wrote “Yakety Yak,” “Stand By Me,” and “Love Potion No. 9?) and spent 14 weeks on Billboard’s R&B charts. [Source: Rock Hall]
“Are You Lonesome Tonight”: Charles Hart
Both the Elvis version and Al Jolson cover of “Are You Lonesome Tonight” have prevailed. But the first recording of the song was in 1927, by the performer Charles Hart, followed shortly by Vaughn DeLeath, who was a vocalist for The Colonial Club Orchestra. [Source: David Neale]
“Crying in the Chapel”: Darrell Glenn
Darrell Glenn recorded Crying in the Chapel in 1953. In 1960 Elvis sang his interpretation for his Gospel album His Hand in Mine. Prior to that the song had also been covered by Ella Fitzgerald and The Orioles, to name a couple.
Read more »