16 August 1977: The King of Rock and Roll dies
Born 8 January 1935, Elvis Aaron Presley would be 88 today were he still alive.
Unfortunately, the undeniable king of rock and roll, hailing from Tupelo, Mississippi only made it to 42. Found dead on this day in 1977 in his mansion in Graceland, Elvis left behind a legacy as one of the most defining influences on modern music.
As of today, he’s sold more than 500 million records. He’s set records for most songs in the charts in multiple countries. Popularising rock and roll, he set the stage for the pop musical revolution of the 60s.
We all know this though. It’s Elvis. Instead of doing a rundown of his best tracks as we might usually do, instead it seemed an interesting opportunity to highlight some of the best songs that have been inspired by the star.
Paul Simon - Graceland
The title single of his outstanding seventh solo album, Paul Simon was already one of the most respected musicians in the world for his Simon & Garfunkel years and solo hits.
Simon’s 'Graceland' album was the pinnacle of his solo career though. Released in 1986, he incorporated world music through a collaboration with South African music, tying into the album’s themes celebrating South African musical styles like mbaqanga combined with pop and rock.
For the album title and this track to be an ode to the mansion that Elvis lived with his family after finding fame says everything about the singer’s importance. Even when Simon was travelling the world for music, he still went to Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee.
Marc Cohn - Walking in Memphis
Another reference to Elvis’ adult home. Marc Cohn’s most famous song is apparently the autobiographical tale of the singer-songwriter’s journey to Graceland in an attempt to assuage his writer’s block.
The visit to Memphis was inspirational. Also taking in the church where Al Green was preaching, Cohn was able to break his writer’s block and create his song about a “Jewish gospel-music-lover”. Cohn’s 1991 track is iconic, but it’s the Cher cover released in 1995 that’s my personal favourite.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Tupelo
The locations of Elvis’ life have served as inspiration for many. Perhaps the weirdest take though comes from the prince of goth rock darkness, Nick Cave.
The only single from the Bad Seeds’ second album, ‘Tupelo’ tells the tale of a terrible storm that wreaks havoc on the day Elvis was born in Tupelo, Mississippi. Released in 1985, Nick Cave was still best known for his punk antics in The Birthday Party. Over his subsequent career, his dark twists on folk tales with vivid storytelling has become a staple of his discography.
Depeche Mode - Personal Jesus
Easily the best bassline on this list.
Depeche Mode released the lead single for their seventh album 'Violator' in 1989. Inspired by the book ‘Elvis and Me’ by Priscilla Presley, Depeche Mode lead singer Dave Gahan wanted to write a song about how being in love with someone puts them in a position equivalent to Jesus. Only imagine how severe that would be if the person you loved was Elvis.
The result is a hauntingly brilliant track, oozing with lust and desire. Sonically it might feel a far-cry from the work of Elvis himself, but the way it rouses any crowd into licentious hysteria shows that it carries the gauntlet the King once wore just as well.
Lisa Marie Presley - Lights Out
The final spot has to be given to the track that Elvis’ daughter, Lisa Marie, reflects on her upbringing. While it might not be as well-regarded a classic as other songs on the list, it gives fascinating insight into how living with the star felt for his only daughter.
Lyrics like “Someone turned the lights out there in Memphis / Ooh, that's where my family are buried and gone” show the pain Lisa Marie felt losing her father so young. Originally, Lisa Marie argued with the studio against releasing it as her first solo single as it was so personal. Eventually, she relented in order to “clear the air.”