Before Elvis Presley’s 83rd birthday passes into history, I’d like to spin a few hits from the “Sounds Like Elvis” catalog. Rock ‘n Roll radio had plenty of actual Elvis recordings to go around, but every so often they’d toss in a ringer. Deejays like me would get requests for one of these songs “by Elvis.” Then we would have to explain that the singer was not The King, but a pretender to the throne. One that still fools people to this day is “Suspicion” by Terry Stafford.
This was a rare case of a singer out-Elvising Elvis. The King recorded “Suspicion” in 1962, but it was stuck on an album while he was scoring with hit singles like “Return To Sender” and “Devil in Disguise.” Terry Stafford was looking for his first hit in 1964 in the midst of Beatlemania, and found this one hidden away. Ironically, while Elvis himself struggled to compete with the Beatles on the charts, this sound-alike record was the only non-Beatles song in the top 5. It turned out to be Stafford’s only hit, but it still gets played on oldies stations today. And it still makes you think of Elvis, doesn’t it?
A few years later, in 1971, the Grass Roots were offered a song called, “Don’t Pull Your Love” as a potential single, but they had “Sooner or Later” ready to go, and turned down the song. Their record label had another group called Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds willing to record it, and it became a huge hit. Lead singer Dan Hamilton must have been an Elvis fan, because you can hear the King’s influence in his inflection and phrasing. Many radio listeners thought it was Elvis.
In 1975, two years before Elvis’s death, fellow RCA Records artist David Bowie wanted Elvis to record a song he had written called “Golden Years.” Elvis passed, and Bowie recorded it himself, to great success. Bowie took it to the top 10, but I always wished Elvis had given it a shot.
Finally, there’s Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” which lead singer Freddie Mercury wrote in the bathtub. (I’ve had million-dollar ideas in the shower too, but they seem to swirl down the drain). His band mates say it took him all of ten minutes. He had to dry off quickly, grab his guitar and get the notes down before he forgot them.
It became a huge hit in England in late 1979, and a few months later some US stations got a hold of it, forcing Queen’s record company to release it here in the states. By that time, the band had become famous here for intricate harmonies, multi-layered vocals and bizarre lyrics (“Bohemian Rhapsody“) so its management was concerned that Queen fans in America would be turned off by the song’s retro sound.
But within weeks, the song zoomed to number one (the band’s first ever chart-topper), and it was one of the most requested songs on KZ-106. Then, and now, some people think it’s an Elvis song. In 1980, some people swore to me that Queen had re-recorded one of Elvis’ old songs. Remember this was pre-Internet, you couldn’t look this stuff up. I’d tell them, I know a lot of Elvis songs, and I’ve never heard this one. “Oh it wasn’t a hit,” they’d say, “but Freddie Mercury must have found it on an old Elvis album.”
Truth is, Queen recorded it in the style of Elvis’ early rockabilly days, and even filmed a video that most of us never saw; MTV wouldn’t come along until a year or two later. Elvis and his fellow 1950s Sun Records artists (Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash) influenced many young British musicians of the 60s and 70s, and this was Freddie Mercury’s way of paying tribute to his heroes. In the last years of Elvis’ life, most of his recordings were ballads and country-flavored songs, and the closest he came to his old rockin’ sound was the excellent “Burning Love” in 1972, five years before his death. We’ll never know how the King would have sounded performing “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” but I’ve always believed he would have nailed it. So sit back and enjoy this video. I think it’s one of the best-produced, best-performed records of the rock-and-roll era, and despite Queen’s fears, it actually expanded their fan base worldwide. Ready Freddie?
So happy birthday Elvis, hopefully I’ll see you soon at the Waffle House. Or at least somebody who sounds a lot like you.