Readers recommend playlist: songs about Elvis

The King provided foil for your suggestions this week and a reader has picked a playlist including songs from Queen, Neil Young and Dead Kennedys

Below is this week’s playlist – the theme and tunes picked by a reader from the comments on last week’s callout. Thanks for your suggestions. Read more about the format of the weekly Readers recommend series at the end of the piece.

Elvis is rich material for singers and songwriters. Some try to connect with his humble beginnings and simple humanity; others take issue with the glorification and the commodification of the man. He had an impact on many musical genres rock’n’roll, country, pop, gospel – and, like a chameleon, he changed himself to fit the rapidly changing music scenes of the 50s, 60s and 70s. Some concerts drove audiences crazy with infatuation and reverence. But then there were those final concerts that mostly made us pity him.

I chose songs for this week’s playlist trying to capture that wide range of responses Elvis awakens.

The YouTube playlist. Click here if you use Spotify.

The very first song nominated was a blue suede shoe-in, because Marc Cohn’s Walking in Memphis is about the many musical epiphanies that city can host, all presided over by the “ghost of Elvis”. The next was by a group new to me, Over the Rhine, but their song The King Knows How was utterly compelling. Brilliant slide guitar, driving rhythm, nifty percussion, and through it all the smooth legato voice of Karin Bergquist – like a river of bourbon. Neil Young’s voice is more like backwoods moonshine, but who could resist this joyful celebration of all the many sides of Elvis the performer, and the chanted insistence that, no matter what, He Was the King.

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, in their song Elvis Presley Blues, show how a sad death like his can cast a fatalistic shadow over our memories of a life. For contrast, the next song, a ghoulish march by Inner City Unit, offers a chilling scenario where future armies dig up and rally around the Bones of Elvis. An unpleasant extension of celebrity worship perhaps? More dystopian visions prompted by Elvis kitsch appear in Dead Kennedys’ rant A Growing Boy Needs His Lunch:

In lonely gas stations with mini-marts
You’ll find rows of them for sale
Liquor-filled statues of Elvis Presley
Screw his head off and drink like a vampire

The next two songs use the iconography of those uber-classy 50s automobiles. John Hiatt’s Riding With the King was based on a dream his friend Scott Matthews had about flying in an old airplane with Elvis but not being able to see his face because of the light flashing off his rhinestone jewellery. Drive-By Truckers use Carl Perkins’ Cadillac to underscore the glitz in the music industry that Elvis fell for.

I chose the next two songs – Phil Lynott’s King’s Call, which grieves Elvis’s death, and Mark Knopfler’s Back to Tupelo, a tender take on how dreams turn to disillusionment – because both feature a superbly poetic guitar line (both played by Knopfler), as if acknowledging that we keep Elvis alive not with kitschy statues or velvet paintings, nor, fortunately, by digging up bones, but simply by playing the music.

I love Wanda Jackson’s cover of Hard Headed Woman. She makes me want to get up and shake and dance, and reminds me that one of the best things Elvis added to music was all that bodily energy. And finally Queen. A tour de force live performance of their rockabilly song Crazy Little Thing Called Love, with Brian May on three different guitars, a screamingly appreciative audience and Freddy Mercury doing a brilliant vocal impersonation of The King in the first two verses, then letting it rip in his own voice for the last verse. That’s how you pay your respects. And that’s how you pay it forward.

The list in full

1. Marc Cohn: Walking in Memphis
2. Over the Rhine: The King Knows How
3. Neil Young: He Was the King
4. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings: Elvis Presley Blues
5. Inner City Unit: Bones of Elvis
6. Dead Kennedys: A Growing Boy Needs His Lunch
7. John Hiatt: Riding with the King
8. Drive-by Truckers: Carl Perkins’ Cadillac
9. Phil Lynott: King’s Call
10. Mark Knopfler: Back to Tupelo
11. Wanda Jackson: Hard Headed Woman
12. Queen: Crazy Little Thing Called Love

New theme

The theme for next week’s playlist will be announced at 8pm (UK time) on Thursday 14 July. You have until 11pm on Monday 18 July to make nominations.

Here’s a reminder of some of the guidelines for RR:

  • If you have a good theme idea, or if you’d like to volunteer to compile a playlist from readers’ suggestions and write a blog about it, please email
  • There’s a wealth of data on RR, including the songs that are “zedded”, at the Marconium. It also tells you the meaning of “zedded”, “donds” and other strange words used by RR regulars.
  • Many RR regulars also congregate at the ’Spill blog.


Sheila Deane

The GuardianTramp

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