An interesting sidelight to the music of Elvis Presley is the wide variety of artists whose songs he later covered. There are two collections, both from the German Membran Music label, that fully show how he made it his own.
The better of the two packages is the nine-CD set "Made Famous By Elvis Presley" that we've previously written about. The set contains 75 Elvis songs from 1954 to 1960 and 177 earlier versions of those same songs and puts them back-to-back, where they make for wonderful direct comparisons.
For example, to kick off CD 1, you can hear Elvis' version of "That's All Right" followed by Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's version, then Elvis' take on "Blue Moon of Kentucky," followed by Bill Monroe's. Naturally, hearing the two versions brings comparisons of what Elvis brought with his versions. That's especially interesting on songs where Elvis' version varies a lot from the earlier one, such as on Patti Page's version of "I Don't Care If the Sun Don't Shine."
A small list of some of the artists included on the box set, besides Elvis, include Bing Crosby, Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton, Leon Payne, Ernest Tubb, Mahalia Jackson, Red Foley and the Shelton Brothers.
For a more intensive look at Elvis' influences, there's "Golden Inspirations For the King," a 4-CD set of original recordings covered by the King. There are no Elvis songs here, just the earlier or original versions by such artists as Bob Wills, Faye Adams, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Drifters, Sleepy John Estes, Tony Bennett, Lowell Fulson, Nat "King" Cole and Hank Williams. And while the 9-CD set has no documentation except to list the songs on each of the CD sleeves, the four-CD set has a 24-page booklet with notes on all the tracks.
For anyone who thinks of Elvis as only a rocker, the revelation that he took his music from sources like Gene Autry, the Ink Spots and Russ Morgan show a deeper history to his music. Which makes his legacy that much richer.
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