Elvis Presley was a country boy from Tupelo, Miss. turned favorite son of Memphis. His geographical ties to the South and gospel music made Presley a likely crossover country star. Throw in his undeniable imprint on popular culture, and it’s easy to assume that pretty much everyone who picks up a guitar or pursues a singing career has been influenced by Elvis songs. Indeed, all popular music would sound way different without “Jailhouse Rock,” “Burning Love,” “Hound Dog” and “Heartbreak Hotel.”
These 12 Elvis songs either reflect Presley and his team’s appreciation for country music or how the original pop-rock star influenced other genres moving forward.
“An American Trilogy”
This beloved medley of 19th century standards celebrates God, country and South and is synonymous with Presley’s live show. Mickey Newbury, the great train song writer name dropped in “Luckenbach, Texas (The Basics of Love),” first arranged and recorded the song in 1971.
Presley’s best-known Christmas song has been covered more times by country artists than you can count. Johnny Cash, Ricky Van Shelton, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette and numerous others turned to this old stand-by when recording their own holiday records. The theme of heartbreak, as opposed to Santa Claus or wanting a white Christmas, makes for a song that’d fit nearly any country singer’s repertoire.
Other often-covered Elvis standards include “Hard-Headed Woman,” recorded by Charlie Daniels and Presley’s famous ex-girlfriend Wanda Jackson, as well as “Devil in Disguise,” a deep cut for Tony Rice and the Flying Burrito Brothers.
“Blue Moon of Kentucky”
Bill Monroe directly fathered bluegrass, and he indirectly influenced the birth of memorable rock and roll B-sides. A pop-friendly version of “Blue Moon of Kentucky” backed historic 1954 Sun Records single “That’s Alright Mama.” Later that same year, Presley performed the song live on the Grand Ole Opry stage.
“Funny How Time Slips Away”
Presley strategically placed this song from Willie Nelson’s songwriter for hire days near the end of his live sets. It let all in attendance in Las Vegas or Hawaii know that Elvis would soon leave the building.
Jerry Reed’s fast and funny songs got a huge popularity boost when Presley covered “Guitar Man” in 1967. Presley’s version topped the country charts and had a hand in launching Reed’s Hall of Fame career.
“How Great Thou Art”
What’s even better than Presley as a country-leaning son of Mississippi? The fruits of Presley’s formative years spent singing in Deep South churches. The title track of his best-known gospel release exemplifies Presley’s gospel roots and how those old hymns can really accentuate a great vocalists’ talents.
Sonically, this Presley standard suits country playlists. As with other songs listed here, its backstory should interest students of country music history. This 1970 hit was co-written by Eddie Rabbit and features Ronnie Milsap on piano.
Within the context of Elvis’ country output, this oldies radio staple was not a far cry from a hyped-up honky-tonk anthem. No wonder Dwight Yoakam added it to his own songbook.
Presley’s final hit topped the country charts less than a year before his death. An album of the same name featured a cover of “She Thinks I Still Care.” Both songs serve as suitable ending points of a true country boy’s musical career.
Pretty much all of Presley’s recordings with Memphis-based Sun Records featured enough rockabilly, gospel and African-American roots music influence to please country fans, as evidenced by this contemporary Junior Parker blues number.
Presley’s cover selection remained impeccable throughout his career, with future recordings including “Oh Danny Boy,” “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” and the John Hartford-penned hit “Gentle on My Mind.”
This Presley classic emotes as much unrequited love and requited lust as any Conway Twitty or Charlie Rich standard. Presley’s final hit of the ’60s bridged the gap between the star of G.I. Blues and other films and the post-Comeback Special, Vegas performing entertainer that was the stuff of an impersonator’s dreams. Plus, it’s low-key the best Elvis song of them all.
This 1968 deep cut is an even better example of Presley turning more ears onto Jerry Reed’s guitar arrangements and quirky lyrics. Reed would’ve surely found fame regardless, but it helped him and “In the Ghetto” writer Mac Davis to have a composition introduced to the world as an Elvis song.