Elvis Presley inspired many other rock ‘n’ roll musicians to make music similar to his, however, he also inspired a famous band to make a classic song that sounds nothing like his work. Rather than drawing influence from Presley’s discography, this band was inspired by Elvis’ relationship with Priscilla Presley. Here’s why the band decided to write a song about the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll — and what happened when a famous associate of Elvis tried to cover the song.
How Priscilla Presley’s words about Elvis Presley inspired a song’s lyrics
Firstly, a little background. There was a huge wave of 1950s and 1960s nostalgia in the 1980s. One of the most enduring literary artifacts from this wave is Priscilla’s book Elvis and Me. The book is an honest look at their relationship and remains the most famous biography of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
According to Rolling Stone, Elvis and Me inspired Martin Gore of 1980s synthpop band Depeche Mode to write a song called “Personal Jesus.” “It’s about how Elvis was [Priscilla’s] man and her mentor and how often that happens in love relationships,” Gore said. “How everybody’s heart is like a god in some way, and that’s not a very balanced view of someone, is it?”
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Depeche Mode’s David Gahan said Gore was specifically inspired by a line in the book where Priscilla called Elvis her “personal Jesus.” It’s a great line!” he opined. “It’s got a humor in it too as well, and there’s always this weird dark humor within a lot of Depeche Mode songs that people miss, tongue-in-cheek and also very British, but it was in that song for sure.”
How the world reacted to Depeche Mode’s ‘Personal Jesus’
Released in 1989, “Personal Jesus” became one of Depeche Mode’s most well-known songs. It reached No. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1990, proving the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was still impacting pop culture in the 1990s.
How members of Depeche Mode reacted when Johnny Cash tried to cover ‘Personal Jesus’
“Personal Jesus” went on the have an interesting shelf life. Notably, Johnny Cash covered the song for his album American IV: The Man Comes Around. His version is much more stripped-back than the original and lacks the iconic synthesizers of the original. Interestingly, Cash performed alongside Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins in a jam session called the “Million Dollar Quartet.”
So how did Gahan react to Cash covering the song? “Martin rang me because he’d heard news that Johnny Cash wanted to cover it, and he was kind of umming and ahhing about it, whether to give permission, and I was like “What are you, crazy? That’s like Elvis asking, of course you let him do it!” Gahan told Entertainment Weekly. Cash’s “Personal Jesus” never reached the Billboard Hot 100. However, “Personal Jesus” remains a famous song which is connected to several legendary artists.