While most people think of Elvis Presley’s music as definitively rock n’ roll, the Memphis native maintained a strong affinity for country music throughout his life. The ’70s in particular found Presley diving deep into the country realm.
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From his very first B-side, Presley used the music he knew and loved growing up in the south to inform his trailblazing effort into rock. Across his career, he recorded a number of songs penned by country artists—he even released a full country album towards the end of his life. The immortal singer’s final No. 1 single would be on the country charts, with “Moody Blue” in 1977.
Though everyone knows the King reigns firmly over the rock world, below let’s take a look at 8 incredible moments from Elvis’ country-leaning catalog that are every bit as noteworthy.
1. “Blue Moon of Kentucky” (1954)
Released as the B-side to Presley’s first single for Sun Records, “It’s All Right,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky” sees the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll building what would become his iconic sound from the ground up.
In the mid-50s, rock, as we know it today, was still a burgeoning idea—the early records sounded and felt a lot like classic country music. Only a few months past 19, Presley played this Bill Monroe classic fast and loose, tapping into his Tupelo, Mississippi roots. Though “It’s All Right” skyrocketed Presley to fame, this country-fied B-side proved that Presley could strike lightening more than once.
2. “She Still Thinks I Care” (1977)
Towards the end of his life, Presley stuck close to Graceland, calling in a mobile recording studio to finish up what would be some of his final recordings. Perhaps being inspired by the notion of going home, Presley recorded a number of country tracks in 1976, including his final No. 1 single, “Moody Blue.”
Elsewhere on the record is a rendition of George Jones’ “She Thinks I Still Care.” Another B-side, the track is particularly heart-wrenching given the somber final years of his life. He sings, Just because I’m not the happy guy I used to be, giving a real-life glimpse into the psyche of the increasingly isolated superstar.
3. “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” (1973)
Though Presley never officially recorded this Hank Williams’ cornerstone, the live rendition taken from his 1973 Aloha From Hawaii TV special is poignant enough to make it a can’t miss track for this list.
“I’d like to sing a song that is probably the saddest song I’ve ever heard,” Presley introduced the song during the special. Presley slows down the tempo of Williams’ version and intimately lingers over every line singing, Hear that lonesome winter bird / He sounds too blue to fly / The midnight train is whining low / I’m so lonesome, I could cry.
4. “I Forgot To Remember To Forget” (1955)
“I Forgot to Remember to Forget” was the most traditional country song that Presley cut while still at Sun Records—it also aptly became his first single to reach No.1 on the country charts.
Looping along with a wailing pedal steel guitar, Presley colors in the track with his bluesy croon. Penned by Stan Kesler and Charlie Feathers, the song is Presley’s early country-influenced style at its best. By the time the song reached the top of the charts in early 1956, Presley had signed with RCA and was well on his way to conquering the world.
5. “Gentle On My Mind” (1969)
Coming back to music from underneath his Hollywood stupor, Presley’s 1968 Christmas Special gave the rock n’ roll relic a rebirth in pop culture. The performance marked the first time in nearly a decade that the King had appeared on stage in his raw, unfettered form.
Breaking free from the unwavering grip of his manager Colonel Tom Parker, he headed home to Memphis that winter to record his landmark LP, Elvis in Memphis. While most of the album is a mix of soul and rock, Presley made sure to include a country flavor on John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind.”
Glen Campell had taken the song to No.1 a few years prior, but Presley breathed new life into the song with funky strings and a legion of backup singers. The song is the perfect example of Presley’s “devil may care” attitude of the era.
6. “Kentucky Rain” (1970)
One of Presley’s most lush country singles, “Kentucky Rain” features contributions from two future country stars: Eddie Rabbitt co-wrote the song with Dick Heard, while Ronnie Milsap laid down the piano line.
According to Milsap, Presley had a very singular idea of how he wanted to hear the piano. “More thunder on the piano, Milsap!” he recalled Presley telling him in a 2014 interview. “I got to learn what hanging out with Elvis was all about.”
7. “Make The World Go Away” (1971)
Presley headed to Nashville to record the album Elvis Country (I’m 10,000 Years Old) in the summer of 1970, setting up shop in RCA on Music Row. There, he interpreted songs like Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away,” Bob Wills’ “Faded Love” and this Hank Cochran gem “Make The World Go Away.”
“Make The World Go Away” became a robust cry for Presley—one of many songs he’d cut in the ’70s that reflected the ongoing struggle with his ever-growing fame.
8. “Help Me Make It Through the Night” (1972)
Penned by Kris Kristofferson, “Help Me Make It Through the Night” became an instant hit with country music fans when Sammi Smith covered it in 1970. Presley recorded his rendition the following year for Elvis Now, a mix of hits from other artists and the fourth LP he’d recorded in less than a year.
Here, Presley leans into the crooner pastiche that characterized the latter days of his career. Recorded in the midst of his deteriorating marriage to Priscilla, Presley’s vocals carry a smoldering melancholy as he stretches out the song into a five-minute dirge.
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