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January 10, 2014 / Erik Ritland

Lost Classics: Elvis and Bowie

Yesterday was the birthday of both Elvis Presley and David Bowie. To celebrate here are three of their lesser-known songs that are worth hearing.

David Bowie
bowie 69
Karma Man (outtake from 1969, first appeared on 1970 LP The World of David Bowie)
If I compiled a list of my favorite Bowie songs, and I’m sure I will someday, this would probably be in the top five. It has a great chord progression, an engaging melody (especially in the chorus), and a string-heavy, dreamy arrangement that fits Bowie’s esoteric, Buddhist-tinged lyrics. Simply, it’s one of the catchiest pop singles of the ’60s. That it was never released as a single is baffling.

Candidate (Demo) (outtake from 1974 LP Diamond Dogs)
Bowie meandered a bit after breaking up his classic early ’70s band, the Spiders from Mars, in July 1973. After the glam rock of 1973’s all covers album PinUps he gradually moved towards the darker apocalyptic rock of Diamond Dogs. During this time he recorded “Candidate (Demo)” and it sounds exactly like a bridge between Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs: spacey, dark ’70s rock with gloomy, twisted lyrics.  Worth a listen simply for Mike Garson’s piano playing and the atmospheric electric guitar textures.

Wild is the Wind (from the 1976 LP Station to Station)
Supposedly David Bowie offered his eventual hit “Golden Years” to Elvis. It does sound like something he would record, and it’s certainly better than a lot of stuff he was recording at the time, yet Presley declined. Although solid it is probably one of the lesser tracks on Bowie’s seminal Station to Station. His take on Johnny Mathis’ gorgeous “Wild is the Wind” is tender and features one of  Bowie’s most emotive vocal performances.

Elvis Presley
Baby, Let’s Play  House (Sun Records single, 1955)
That Elvis Presley created rock n’ roll at Sun Records in the mid-’50s might not be an understatement. His mix of hard blues, country western, and pop was something completely new. The variety of Elvis’ Sun material, not surprisingly, is as vast as his influences. There isn’t one song from this period that isn’t a classic, but the reckless rock of “Baby, Let’s Play House” often gets overlooked.

Gentle on my Mind (from the 1969 LP From Elvis in Memphis)Like his Sun Sessions Elvis_Presley_1970Elvis’ late ’60s output, largely recorded at Stax studio in Memphis, is diverse. It encompasses soul, r n’ b, pop, rock, blues, country, and more. The decidedly ’60s keyboards, choirs, and arrangements have dated it a bit but the material is high-quality and the performances find Elvis and his band at their best. All this comes together on Glen Campbell’s “Gentle on My Mind.” The band is tight, horns and keyboards give it a nice feel, and Elvis’ vocal is powerful in its subtlety.

Polk Salad Annie (from the live TV special That’s the Way it is)
In a lot of ways Elvis’ power was only fully evident in his live performances. His energy can’t really be contained on records, as he shows on this cover of Tony Joe White’s swamp classic “Polk Salad Annie.” The band is absolutely on, tight and reckless, especially in the dynamics toward the middle and end of the song.

Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. He writes frequent Daily Rambles and Ramblin’ On catalogs his writings on culture, music (including his own projects), sports, religion, and many other topics. You can reach him via email here.

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