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.
“Always On My Mind”: Brenda Lee
Brenda Lee recorded this country hit in 1971, which won Grammys for Song of the Year and Best Country Song. Just a year later Elvis debuted his version of the song written by Mark James along with Johnny Christopher and Wayne Carson Thompson. The Pet Shop Boys also did a cover of Lee’s song, but I’m sure everyone can agree that it’s Willie Nelson’s 1983 cover that melted hearts across the nation.
“One Night”: Smile Lewis
Smile Lewis recorded “One Night of Sin” in 1958. When Elvis covered the song it was changed from “One Night of Sin,” to “One Night with You” because his manager was really into being PG.
“Burning Love” : Arthur Alexander
Arthur Alexander featured “Burning Love” on his self-titled 1972 album, a song written by Dennis Linde who has also written for contemporary country kids like Garth Brooks and the Dixie Chicks. The Elvis version of “Burning Love” was a clear hit and undoubtedly more popular than Alexanders.
“I Really Don’t Want to Know”: Les Paul and Mary Ford
The Les Paul and Mary Ford version of “I Really Don’t Want to Know” was recorded in 1953 and became one of the top 100 songs of the following year. Elvis recorded the cover in 1970, although the 1960 cover by Tommy Edwards was also successful and a great deal of fun.
“In The Ghetto”: Mac Davis
Mac Davis explained that his song, “In The Ghetto,” was inspired by his Childhood. In an interview he said, “I grew up with a little kid whose daddy worked with my daddy, and he was a black kid. We were good buddies, 5 or 6 years old. I remember him being one of my best buddies. But he lived in a part of town, and I couldn’t figure out why they had to live where they lived, and we got to live where we lived. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we didn’t have broken bottles every six inches.”
In regards to the Elvis version, he said, “I heard it on the radio, driving down the street. I remember going, ‘I wish he hadn’t said ‘Ghet-to.’ I wish he had just said ‘In the Ghetto.’’ That’s a typical, songwriter, you know. But that lasted about maybe five seconds, and then I realized that I had a huge hit.” [Source: Tennessean]