The 5 Greatest Covers of Elvis Presley Songs

Elvis Presley changed rock and roll by interpreting songs written by others.

Videos by American Songwriter

Like Johnny Cash, once Elvis recorded a song, it was hard to hear it any other way. He turned famous originals like “Hound Dog” and “Blue Suede Shoes” into defining songs of his own. Still, in the nearly 50 years since his death, artists across disparate genres have covered The King—sometimes even surpassing his renditions.

Cheap Trick’s “Don’t Be Cruel” and Dolly Parton’s “In the Ghetto” were tough to leave off this list, and narrowing it to only five songs isn’t easy.

Still, here are the five greatest Elvis covers.

(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame” by The Smiths

The Smiths recorded a live medley in London, transforming “His Latest Flame” into their classic “Rusholme Ruffians.” BBC Radio 1 broadcast the 1986 concert, which Rough Trade released as The Smiths’ only live album, Rank. The Salford lads slam through a punk rock version of Bo Diddley’s beat while Morrissey croons of a love triangle between friends. Meanwhile, Johnny Marr takes 1950s rock and roll into the future by weaving familiar chords into jangly, post-punk riffs.

A very old friend came by today
’Cause he was telling everyone in town
Of the love that he just found
And Marie’s the name of his latest flame

“Hound Dog” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

In 1967, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ripped through Elvis’s version of “Hound Dog” live on BBC’s Top Gear. Hendrix echoes Presley’s swagger with a cheeky version featuring dog barks and yowls. His burning performance recalls the fury of Big Mama Thornton’s original, merged with The King of Rock and Roll’s swinging interpretation. At one point, Hendrix shouts, “Go get Daddy’s slippers.”  

You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,
Scratchin’ all the time,
You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog baby,
Scratchin’ all the time,
You ain’t never caught no rabbits
And you ain’t no friend of mine

“Jailhouse Rock” by The Jeff Beck Group

Elvis helped shape rock and roll with “Jailhouse Rock.” Jeff Beck’s version from Beck-Ola (1969) is the unhinged consequence of all the hip-shaking that drove the pearl-clutching squares mad. Beck and his band—Rod Stewart, Nicky Hopkins, Ronnie Wood, and Tony Newman—sound like what a rocking jailhouse might turn into if the warden had thrown a party at the county jail. Stewart shouts above the raucous band before Beck turns Scotty Moore’s guitar solo into psychedelic anarchy.

The warden threw a party in the county jail
The prison band was there and they began to wail
The band was jumpin’ and the joint began to swing
You should’ve heard those knocked-out jailbirds sing

“Wooden Heart” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Elvis’s camp version appeared in the 1960 musical comedy G.I. Blues. Tom Petty turns the pop-folk song into a tender ballad with sparse acoustic guitar and piano. Writers Fred Wise, Ben Weisman, Kay Twomey, and Bert Kaempfert, based “Wooden Heart” on a German folk song called “Muss i denn.” Petty’s version was recorded during the “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” sessions in 1993.

Can’t you see I love you?
Please don’t break my heart in two
That’s not hard to do
’Cause I don’t have a wooden heart

“Always on My Mind” by Pet Shop Boys

In 1972, Elvis recorded “Always on My Mind” only weeks after separating from his wife Priscilla. Pet Shop Boys altered the chords slightly, and the small change highlights the despair of broken love. Their version debuted on the ITV show Love Me Tender to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Elvis’s death. The synth-pop duo released “Always on My Mind” as a non-album single in 1987. It became one of their biggest hits.

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

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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