Thursday, July 12, 2012

Elvis Covers Part I: Blue Suede Shoes

Carl Perkins: Blue Suede Shoes

[purchase (CD only; individual tracks available on iTunes)]

Here's a cover of a cover: Carl Perkins redoing "Blue Suede Shoes," which was an Elvis Presley cover of an Carl Perkins.

"Blue Suede Shoes" was the opening track on Elvis's 1956 RCA debut record, which, despite its reputation as the record that launched commercial rock and roll, is actually mostly a collection of cover songs. Legend has it that Elvis never intended to release "Blue Suede Shoes" as a single. But, things don't always turn out the way they're planned.

As Carl Perkins could attest. Sun Record founder Sam Phillips was convinced Perkins was going to be as big as Elvis. Though Perkins wasn't as photogenic (he was already balding at age 23), he could sing the same type of blues-infused rockabilly as Presley, and could write and play lead guitar too.

"Blue Suede Shoes" is Perkins masterwork. Inspired by a conversation with his buddy Johnny Cash about the fancy footwear U.S. soldiers in Germany wore when they went into town, "Blue Suede Shoes" was released as a single by Sun on the first day of 1956. With Elvis sold to RCA, Sun was in need of a big hit and Perkins provided it. The song soared to the top of the country charts, and became a pop and R&B hit too, ultimately selling a million records.

In March 1956, with his career in rapid ascent, Perkins was summoned to New York to appear on the influential Ed Sullivan and Perry Como TV shows. En route, the fellow driving Perkins and his brother Jay (who was in Perkins' band) to New York fell asleep at the wheel. The brothers were seriously injured. (Jay eventually died from his injuries.) Carl spent months convalescing. Legend has it that a reluctant Elvis allowed "Blue Suede Shoes" to be released as a single to help out Perkins financially. Elvis's take did not fare as well as Perkins original, reaching only number 20 on the charts. But, due to Perkins's prolonged absence and Evlis's performance of the song on TV and in the movie GI Blues, "Blue Suede Shoes" became an Elvis song.

By the time Perkins was back on his feet, his career momentum was lost. Despite accolades from Elvis and the Beatles, Perkins never came close to matching the success of "Blue Suede Shoes." Perhaps in an attempt to reclaim his best-known song, Perkins re-recorded "Blue Suede Shoes" dozens of times. This take is produced by Dave Edmunds from the soundtrack to Porky's Revenge -- perhaps the greatest soundtrack to a rotten movie ever.

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