Almanac Music: Best Cover of An Elvis Hit

 

Best Cover of an Elvis Hit

 

At first glance, the title ‘Best Cover of an Elvis Hit’ may seem a little unusual, but Elvis Presley was not a songwriter in any meaningful sense of the word; instead, he was an interpreter of other people’s songs, so that’s the appropriate way to frame the topic. Even though Presley was occasionally given a co-writing credit for various songs he recorded, in the early part of his career this was because of a deal organised by his manager, ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker (born Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk in the Netherlands). Very rarely, it seems, Elvis actually made small contributions to the creation of particular songs, such as ‘That’s Someone You Never Forget’ and ‘You’ll be Gone’, both recorded and released in the 1960s. Interestingly, both of these songs were mainly written by Red West, Elvis’s long-time friend and bodyguard.

 

My nomination for the best cover of an Elvis hit is the Pet Shop Boys’ 1987 version of ‘Always On My Mind’, considered by many as one of Elvis’s greatest songs of the 1970s, and voted as his number one song by an ITV poll in 2013. Presley recorded the song – written by Wayne Carson, Mark James and Johnny Christopher – in March 1972. It was released in the USA later in the year as the B-side of ‘Separate Ways’, though this record was soon given double A-side status. Dozens of other artists recorded versions of ‘Always On My Mind’, too – many would be familiar with Willie Nelson’s Grammy Award-winning rendition of 1982.

 

Elvis’s version of the song shows certainly shows him as his emotional, interpretative best. Perhaps he did have even more personal investment in the song than usual, in that he recorded it only weeks after his separation from wife Priscilla. Some of the lyrics seem particularly applicable:

 

‘Maybe I didn’t treat you
Quite as good as I should have
Maybe I didn’t love you
Quite as often as I could have
Little things I should have said and done
I just never took the time

 

You were always on my mind
You were always on my mind’

 

Whatever the case, the song receives the full Elvis ballad treatment, from the powerful, intense vocal delivery down to the rich, gospel-tinged male background vocals in the chorus.

 

The Pet Shop Boys’ version of the song is very different, with the ballad being firmly in a synth-pop mode. That said, there is nothing at all light or uplifting about their version; oddly, it possesses a dark, resonant quality, with a feeling of loneliness firmly at its centre. These aspects are possibly accentuated because of the film clip which usually accompanies the song, the clip being an odd and arresting combination of darkness and coldness (as well being as parodic and eccentric). Also, the driving, rhythmic PSB version possesses an energy running through it like a powerful electric current. There is even a musical variation not in the Presley version. In this respect, Wikipedia notes: ‘The Pet Shop Boys version introduces a harmonic variation… . In the original, the ending phrase “always on my mind” is sung to a IV-V7-I cadence (C-D7-G). The Pet Shop Boys extend this cadence by adding two further chords: C-D7-Gm7/Bflat-C-G (i.e. a progression of IV-V7-IIIb-IV-I).’ The point about mentioning this variation is not simply that it exists, but that it is noticeable and actually adds to the musical interest and complexity of the latter version.

 

Finally, it is highly relevant to point out that in a 2014 BBC poll, the Pet Shop Boys’ version of ‘Always on My Mind’ was voted as the all-time best cover version of a song. Interestingly, I discovered this fact after I’d decided to write a piece about it being the best cover of an Elvis hit. Obviously, then, many would agree with my opinion, though I’m sure there would be numerous other worthy contenders in this category. After all, Elvis had so many hits to choose from, and therefore a vast array of songs for other artists to cover.

 

MAIN REFERENCES

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Always_on_My_Mind

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/That%27s_Someone_You_Never_Forget

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You%27ll_Be_Gone

https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/elvispresley/alwaysonmymind.html

https://www.elvis.com.au/presley/red-west-writing-for-the-king.shtml

https://www.elvis.com.au/presley/writing-for-the-king-by-ken-sharp.shtml

 

For more from Kevin, click HERE.

 

 

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About

Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, has just been published (late 2020) by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Recent other writing includes screenplays for films with a tertiary education purpose.

Comments

  1. I love The Band version of ‘Mystery Train’ with Levon at the helm.

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Interesting, DB. I’ll have to give it a listen – thanks for that!

    Elvis’s music has inspired so many artists over the years – and directly or indirectly continues to do so, I feel.

  3. I can’t go past Willie’s version but PSB do do a great job of it. Another out of the box Elvis cover is The Saints version of Kissin Cousins. And staying on the Elvis theme, check out the latest release on Spotify and elsewhere, Elvis: Back in Nashville. No one comes close to Elvis’ singing. Cheers

  4. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for your comments, Rick. I know you’re a big Elvis fan, and I’ve grown to like his music more and more as the years have rolled on.

    The Saints version of “Kissin Cousins” is a beauty, I agree – a really good cover version like this does something inventive with the original and in the process retains recognizable qualities of both the covering artist and the original song.

    I will certainly check out Elvis: Back In Nashville, too.

  5. Ok, it is low hanging fruit, but Fine Young Cannibals’ version of “Suspicious Minds” is a cracker.

    And Rod Stewart’s cover of “That’s Alright” (on the seminal ‘Every Picture Tells A Story’) is superb.

  6. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for these, Smokie – I like your choices!

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