Imagining Being Old

ELDER MUSIC: Elvis Covers

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

I have previously done columns on songs that were covered by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. I might as well go for the trifecta and do the same for Elvis Presley.

There is a bit of a difference because both of those groups pretty much wrote their own songs after their first couple of albums. Elvis never did that so a lot of his songs were cover versions already. The others were written especially for him so they don't count, or at least not in the context of today's column.

Elvis listened to a wide range of music, as we all did back then. Indeed, initially his ambition was to be a crooner like Dean Martin. Well, he did a bit of that in his career, as will be reflected in the choices today.

HANK SNOW sounds as if he wandered on to the set of one of Elvis's Hawaiian films: all that lap steel guitar work.

Hank Snow

Hank was a country music singer (which explains the lap-steel guitar) who wrote a bunch of songs that achieved considerable success. He didn't write this one though, that honor goes to Bill Trader. The song is A Fool Such As I.

♫ Hank Snow - A Fool Such As I

BIG MAMA THORNTON had the original version of one of Elvis's biggest hits.

Big Mama Thornton

That hit is Hound Dog, written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller who also produced Big Mama's recording. They were responsible for many of the king's hits and those of many other artists as well.

♫ Big Mama Thornton - Hound Dog

If I mention AL JOLSON in the context of today's topic, there's really only one song it could be.

Al Jolson

The song, Are You Lonesome Tonight?, was written in 1926 by Lou Handman and Roy Turk. There were quite a few versions recorded before Al got to it in 1950. Really rather late in his career as he died that same year.

Here's his version.

♫ Al Jolson - Are You Lonesome Tonight

Elvis wasn't the only artist inspired by the INK SPOTS.

The Ink Spots

Many DooWop and soul artists acknowledge them as influences, also a few rock & rollers. I was rather surprised by their song; I hadn't realized that they had recorded it until I went hunting for this column.

The song is That's When Your Heartaches Begin.

♫ The Ink Spots - That's When Your Heartaches Begin

I mentioned Elvis's Hawaiian films above. Well, here is the real deal. It's Blue Hawaii, one of his flicks of course. The original version of the song though is by BING CROSBY.

Bing Crosby

Der Bingle was in a few Hawaiian films himself (or at least, Hawaiian-like films). This particular song was written by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger for the film Waikiki Wedding that starred Bing and Shirley Ross (who occasionally appeared with Bob Hope in such things).

♫ Bing Crosby - Blue Hawaii

DAVID HILL sang one of the King's biggest hits (okay, there were a lot of them, so that doesn't narrow things down much).

David Hess

This was a "musical name" for David who was mostly known as David Hess.

Although he recorded and sometimes wrote songs, including some lesser known ones for Elvis, his main gig was as an actor. Listening to his insipid version almost made me cringe.

Elvis sure improved on this one. This one being All Shook Up.

♫ David Hill - All Shook Up

While in the army in Germany, Elvis heard a song called There's No Tomorrow by Tony Martin. He really liked the song, but wasn't taken with the words.

He mentioned this to his music publisher who just happened to be visiting Germany at the time and he (the publisher) got some songwriters to come up with new words and that song became It's Now or Never. And that became a huge hit.

Going backwards in time, Tony's song was based on an Italian tune called O Sole Mio written by Giovanni Capurro and Eduardo di Capu at the end of the nineteenth century. A very popular version was recorded by EMILIO DE GOGORZA.

Emilio de Gogorza

Emilio was born in Brooklyn but was brought up and trained musically in Spain. Due to his severe near-sightedness he didn't appear in opera, but he had a long concert and recital career. He also recorded prodigiously.

This is just one of those recordings, O Sole Mio.

♫ Emilio de Gogorza - O Sole Mio

ARTHUR GUNTER started in the music biz very early; as a kiddliewink he was in a gospel group with his brothers and cousins.

Arthur Gunter

Somewhere along the way he picked up a guitar and started playing. He also wrote songs, one of which was Baby Let's Play House. He recorded it in 1954 and it was a local hit in Tennessee which is where Elvis heard it and the rest is history.

Here's Arthur with the original.

♫ Arthur Gunter - Baby Let's Play House

Most people who take an interest in these things are familiar with Sonny Til and the Orioles' version of Crying in the Chapel. They possibly even think it was the first recording of the song. Not quite.

DARRELL GLENN was first into the studio earlier the same year.

Darrell Glenn

That's not too surprising as Darrell's dad, Artie Glenn, wrote the tune and suggested he have a go at it. Although still at school, Darrell did just that. It was quite a hit until Sonny and the boys released their version which was huge.

I think theirs is the superior version, but I'm going with the original.

Darrell Glenn - Crying In The Chapel

DEL SHANNON was first out of the blocks with His Latest Flame written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman.

Del Shannon

Although he recorded it first, Del's version only appeared on an album at the time and it only preceded the Elvis version by two months. That's enough for this column though. Del didn't do a bad job, but Elvis really nailed it.

♫ Del Shannon - His Latest Flame


I like Elvis' version better on almost every song--or maybe I'm just more used to it.

Al Jolson's version of Are You Lonesome Toight was awful & I disagree about Del Shannon -- I don't like his version of Latest Flame at all.

I agree with the previous comment. Some of the earlier versions of the songs in this post weren't bad, but as you said, Peter, "Elvis really nailed it."

Well, that makes 3 of us. Elvis rules!! I must say I do like the Ink Spots though.

it's my understanding that 'o sole mio' is regarded as the most recognizable tune worldwide, or was last century.

So really Elvis was covering Big Mama Thorton...

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