I am going to tell you an important secret about Elvis Presley. As far as I know, none of the books about him will tell you this. And the secret is...

Elvis Presley was a great singer.

I know he had a good voice. I am not talking about voice. I know he invented a type of music now called rockabilly, then in the studio invented another type of music which is a part of pop. I am not talking about that. I am talking about when I take a good song of his and try to analyze why it is good, I usually end up saying "Wow, Presley was a great singer."

The folowing webpages discuss some of his songs. They are then followed by general comments about Elvis.

  • Help In "Take My Hand." His shift to operatic voice in the middle of a note. Includes other uses of operatic voice and some Sinatra.
  • Ending upglide to express grief. In the song "If I Can Dream". Includes a theory of glides.
  • From full to shallow throat In "Take My Hand."
  • Rhythmic Effects Closing the notes, and other effects, occurring on the second or third parts of the beat.
  • More Presley. Comments, style, and athleticism. Includes what I call falsetto flashes.

Presley had an amazingly athletic voice. Unfortunately, it lost that athleticism (with age and probably life-style). To appreciate this athletic ability, I force myself to listen to some of Elvis' last songs, such as Viva Las Vegas. Then I play "Hound Dog" or "Blue Suede Shoes" and just marvel.

Presley was amazingly consistent (or repetitive) in his song interpretations. Essentially, if there were three verses of a song, those versus were all song the same. This of course could be laziness or lack of creativity. In one of Presley's later songs, I think this is true. I don't like the operatic voice on the phrase "No wait the day before" in the song "Kentucky Rain." The operatic voice works well for the preceding versions, but given the change in mood of the words, I think it doesn't work here and Elvis was just being thoughtless.

But I think Presley was very good at choosing how to sing a song. My interpretation of his repetition is that he found the best way to sing a song and then just used it for all of the verses.

Some singers add embellishment just so that their version of a song will be distinctive. When I listen to Frank Sinatra trying to jazz up a familiar song and I think, "Just sing the song, Frank." My impression is that Presley never added any embellishment just for the sake of embellishment or distinctiveness. Instead, he simply sang the song the way he thought it should be song. I have not found any gratuitous embellishments. Instead, all of his embellishments add to the song.

Similarly, I think he would never vary versus just for the sake of varying them.

This repetition/consistency is useful for the purposes of analyzing and writing about his songs. For example, there is a key phrase in one of Vanessa Carleton's songs. The question is how she sings this note in the verses preceding the last verse. The problem is, she never sings the note exactly the same. There is no particular reason for the variation, I think it is just the natural variation produced by the fact that humans are not perfect. But it makes it hard to describe exactly what she was doing, and that slightly undermines the point I am trying to make about the last verse. Anyway, Presley would not have had any variation.


I worked from Jim Croce: Photographs and Memories, His Greatest Hits.