Today marks the 35th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. While a reported 75,000 fans and mourners are visiting the King’s Graceland estate today, we’ve decided to pay tribute to Elvis’ legacy as a cover artist by revisiting some of our favorite cover versions that indie and underground rockers have done of his songs. With respect to the heartfelt renditions by Fine Young Cannibals, Danzig and especially a David Lynch-directed Nicolas Cage (and, sure, UB40, for the sake of positivity), we’ve selected 10 of the best (or most interesting) Elvis cover versions we could find.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, “In the Ghetto”
The neon lights and Nick Cave’s golden vest may project more of an Elvis influence than Nick’s take on Presley’s 1969 tale of poverty (oh, and let’s not forget Cave’s hair), but in a weird way, it makes perfect sense. This ultra-depressing cover was Cave’s first solo single, released in 1984, and it surely set his career apart from what he had been doing previously with the Birthday Party.
The Pet Shop Boys, “Always on My Mind”
The Kings of Synthpop, London duo the Pet Shop Boys, scored a No. 1 hit in the U.K. with this bouncy, mostly sincere imagining of Presley’s 1972 recording. The pair debuted it at an ITV special called Love Me Tender commemorating the 10th anniversary of Elvis’ death, and there’s just something about Neil Tennant’s perfectly melodramatic vocal delivery and Chris Lowe’s stabbing keyboard pads that is so saccharine and cheesy it’s endearing.
U2, “Can’t Help Falling in Love”
Two decades ago, when U2 were traversing the world on its pop-culture-infused Zoo TV tour, Bono donned a glittery jacket à la the King for his “MacPhisto” alter ego and crooned this version of the King’s ’61 hit “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” While the presentation makes it all seem tongue-in-cheek, Bono actually recorded a solo version of the song for the soundtrack to the 1992 film Honeymoon in Vegas (which starred a post-Wild at Heart Nicolas Cage!).
Pearl Jam, “Can’t Help Falling in Love”
Easily one of the most covered songs in Presley’s repertoire, even Pearl Jam tried their hand at “Can’t Help Falling in Love” on a few dates of their 2000 tour. This shakily shot video of Eddie and the Boys in Vegas sounds better than it looks, which is a good thing since Vedder actually sounds quite good singing the song. Better than Bono, at least.
The Smiths, “His Latest Flame”
In a deleted scene from Pulp Fiction, Uma Thurman makes the assertion asks John Travolta if he’s a Beatles man or an Elvis man; then she looks at him and says, “You’re definitely an Elvis fan,” just from looking at the sideburns and pompadour. The same could be said of Morrissey who, with his sometime mates in the Smiths, recorded this 1961 Presley B-side in a live medley — excerpted below. Between Morrissey’s light crooning and guitarist Johnny Marr’s jangly line, it seems like a match made in heaven.
Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe, “(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame”
Although Costello once accepted Presley’s given name to help his career (sayonara Declan MacManus), he’s been loath to indulge much Elvis-on-Elvis action. The one song he’s tried a few times over the year is the Morrissey-approved “(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame,” which he performs well, and in harmony no less, with “Cruel to Be Kind” singer Nick Lowe. As he says in the video, “Elvis is everywhere.”
My Morning Jacket, “Santa Claus Is Back in Town”
Presley was never one to shy away from shameless Christmas recordings, and neither are Jim James and the members of My Morning Jacket, who included this lovely piece of Apocrypha on their 2000 holiday EP My Morning Jacket Does Xmas Fiasco Style. It’s the sort of ramshackle take on the King’s ’50s style you’d hope to hear from the MMJ guys.
Julee Cruise, “Summer Kisses, Winter Tears”
When movie director Wim Wenders released his epic film Until the End of the World in 1991, he accompanied it with an equally epic soundtrack of songs by Nick Cave, Can, R.E.M. and this beautiful Elvis cover by Julee Cruise, she of Twin Peaks theme music fame. Presley had recorded this down-tempo number for his 1960 hit Western Flaming Star, and in Cruise’s capable hands, it transcends being a campfire song into the sort of expansive, darkly cinematic experience so many artists are attempting today.
Dead Kennedys, “Viva Las Vegas”
Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedys always had a sort of twisted sense of humor when it came to covers — David Allen Coe’s “Take This Job,” the theme to Rawhide—and we don’t doubt their take on “Viva Las Vegas” is any different. Just watch Biafra weird out in the video below, filmed in 1979 — 15 years after Elvis starred in the movie of the same name and two years after his death; one thing they improved up on, though, is the backing music, which guitarist East Bay Ray handles capably with lots and lots of reverb. If only actual shows in Sin City were like this…
The Residents, “Love Me Tender”
Everybody’s favorite betophatted anthropomorphic art-rockin’ eyeballs took on an especially avant-garde take on “Love Me Tender” when they put out an album of 20 other equally freaky Elvis covers in 1989, dubbed (of course) The King & Eye. Coated with church-like organ, extra applause in case you don’t like it and samples of the Rolling Stones covering Buddy Holly, it might be the weirdest Elvis cover ever.