Elvis Presley's 25 greatest songs ever, ranked

2 February 2022, 13:50

By Mayer Nissim

Elvis Presley was the King of Rock and Roll and is still the biggest selling solo artist of all time.

"Before Elvis, there was nothing," said John Lennon.

"50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong," screamed the sleeve of one of his hits compilations.

Elvis Presley was the King of Rock and Roll, selling an estimated 500 million records around the world.

Picking the very best moments from his 25 years in music is no easy feat.

Nevertheless, ahead of Baz Luhrmann's long-awaited Elvis Presley biopic we've whittled down The King's discography to just 25 of his finest songs from across his career for the ultimate beginner's guide.

  1. Are You Lonesome Tonight?

    Originally written all the way back in 1926 (!) by Roy Turk and Lou Handman, it was performed by a number of artists before Colonel Tom Parker suggested it for Elvis after his two-year Army stint because it was his wife Marie Mott's favourite song.

    RCA Victor briefly delayed the release as it wasn't exactly Elvis's usual style, but the public didn't mind – it topped both the UK and US charts and has gone double-platinum with over a couple of million sales in the US alone.

  2. Kentucky Rain

    Written by Eddie Rabbitt and Dick Heard, Elvis was the first to record this country rocker, releasing it as a single in January 1970.

    A lament for a man hitching through the elements as he looks for his missing love, it showed that Presley still had plenty more to give as he entered the '70s.

  3. Big Hunk O’Love

    Written by Aaron Schroeder and Sidney Wyche (aka Sid Jaxon), Elvis took 'A Big Hunk O' Love' all the way to the top of the US charts in 1959. It reached number 4 in the UK.

    It was taken from Elvis's only session conducted during his army service, and was his first session without guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, though drummer D.J. Fontana and backing vocalists the Jordanaires were there.

  4. I Got A Woman

    Originally written and performed by Ray Charles, this version from Elvis's first album is a great example of his original rock 'n' roll style.

    It flopped as a single, but Elvis knew it was hot enough to continue performing it on the road throughout his career.

  5. I Just Can't Help Believing

    Written by the hotshot team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, 'I Just Can't Help Believing' was a big hit for BJ Thomas in 1970, reaching the top ten in the US.

    Elvis recorded his version the same year for his That's The Way It Is album, releasing a live take as a UK single in 1972.

  6. Viva Las Vegas

    Written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman for Elvis's hit 1964 film of the same name, 'Viva Las Vegas' reached the top 30 and eventually went gold with half a million sold.

    Given how often he played in the city, it's surprising that Elvis never performed this live – but that hasn't stopped it becoming one of his best-loved songs, being covered by artists as broad as ZZ Top, Dead Kennedys and Bruce Springsteen.

  7. If I Can Dream

    Written by Walter Earl Brown to order as a closer for Elvis's 1968 comeback show, If I Can Dream' was inspired by Martin Luther Kig Jr's 'I Have a Dream' speech.

    Colonel Tom Parker wasn't keen on the demo, but Elvis urged his boss to "let me give it a shot". He did, and his backing vocalists teared up at how beautiful his performance was.

    "I'm never going to sing another song I don't believe in," Presley apparently said on hearing the song. "I'm never going to make another movie I don't believe in."

  8. It’s Now Or Never

    Based on the Italian song 'O Sole Mio', Elvis's song is actually more directly inspired by Tony Martin's own riff on the Neapolitan classic, 'There's No Tomorrow' from 1949.

    With new lyrics by Aaron Schroeder and Wally Gold, Elvis's take on that classic melody went all the way to number one in the UK and US. It also reached number one again in the UK on its re-release in 2005.

  9. In The Ghetto

    On the heels of his successful 1968 comeback special, Elvis got into the studio and recorded this song by Mac Davies.

    A lament for the doomed children born into poverty, Elvis wrung every single bit of emotion out of every word with his half-spoken drawl.

    It gave Elvis his first US top ten single in four years, going all the way to number 3. In the UK it was his first big hit in three years, going one better at number 2.

  10. A Little Less Conversation

    Written by Mac Davies and Billy Strange, this track from the film Live a Little, Love A Little was only a minor hit on its first release in 1968.

    It was rescued from (relative) Elvis obscurity in 2001 when it was used in the hit Ocean's Eleven remake.

    After that, Dutch musician Tom Holkenborg aka JXL put a massive donk on it. His remix went all the way to number one all around the world, including the UK.

  11. Return To Sender

    Written especially for Elvis by Winfield Scott and Otis Blackwell, Presley performed 'Return to Sender' in his 1962 musical comedy Girls! Girls! Girls!.

    Given just a day to record all 13 songs for the film, it's fair to say that Elvis wasn't really feeling it... until he happened across this old-school bouncing rocker.

    It was the UK's Christmas number 1 that year, though it was kept off the top spot in the US by The Four Seasons' 'Big Girls Don't Cry'.

  12. An American Trilogy

    An ambitious medley of three 19th Century American folk songs, 'An American Trilogy' draws from disparate communities in a bid to unify them all as Americans.

    'Dixie' draws from the South, 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic' was a Union Army marching song, and 'All My Trials' a Bahamian lullaby related to African American spirituals.

    It was arranged by Mickey Newbury who performed it himself in 1971, before Elvis picked it up and gave it a minor tweak to make it his own.

    Maybe because Newbury's version was still fresh in the minds, it wasn't a big hit in the US, but it reached number 8 in the UK.

  13. Hound Dog

    While Elvis's version was massive, it was Big Mama Thornton who originally hit it big with 'Hound Dog', a 12-bar blues written by the always-impressive Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

    Big Mama Thornton's 1952 version sold over half a million copies, but Elvis really fell in love with the song when he heard it being performed by Freddie Bell and the Bellboys in Vegas.

    Elvis added it to his live set before laying it down in the studio in July 1956 and releasing it less than two weeks later.

    His version four years later spent a whopping 11 weeks at the top of the US pop charts.

  14. Blue Christmas

    Did you know Elvis has the biggest-selling Christmas album of all time? It's true, and this standout still gets popped onto festive mixes to this day.

    Written by Billy Hayes and Jay W Johnson, it was first recorded by Doye O'Dell and 1948 and was fast becoming a seasonal standard by the time Presley recorded it for his 1957 Elvis' Christmas Album.

    It was a US Christmas No. 1 that year, and reached number 11 in the UK.

  15. All Shook Up

    Depending on who you talk to, Otis Blackwell was inspired to write 'All Shook Up' because of a fizzed up Pepsi bottle, or because Elvis told him he'd had an odd dream and had woken up "all shook up".

    Wherever it came from, everyone can agree that the resulting song is an undisputed rock 'n' classic, and Elvis took it to the top of the charts in 1957 for eight weeks.

  16. Burning Love

    Written by Dennis Linde and originally released by Arthur Alexander in 1972, Elvis recorded his take the same year and had his biggest hit for three years.

    'Burning Love' is one of the great 1970s Elvis recordings, and it went to number 2 in the US charts, only kept off the top by Chuck Berry's queasy novelty hit 'My Ding-a-Ling'

    With some powerful guitar overdubbed by Linde himself, it became Elvis's last top ten US pop hit.

  17. Suspicious Minds

    Elvis Presley closed out the 1960s with one of his very greatest recordings.

    Originally written and recorded by Mark James who was messing about with his guitar and organ pedals while he mused on his childhood sweetheart, despite the fact they were both married to other people, his version flopped in 1968.

    Elvis picked up a year later and took it all the way to number one in the US (his 18th and last there) and number 2 in the UK.

  18. Love Me Tender

    The story of 'Love Me Tender' goes back a long, long way. Its melody is actually taken from the Civil War song 'Aura Lee', first published in 1861 and with words originally by W W Fosdick.

    The new lyrics were credited to Elvis with Vera Matson, but they were actually written by Vera's husband Ken Darby.

    Why did Darby hand over credit to his wife? It probably had something to do with Colonel Tom Parker's insistence on giving Elvis credit for songs he didn't write. Or as Ken would say when asked "because she didn't write it either".

    What can't be denied is that Elvis made it a classic, choosing the track to lead his film of the same name, and taking the soft ballad all the way to number 1 in the US and 11 in the UK.

  19. The Wonder of You

    'The Wonder of You' was written by Baker Knight and first recorded by Vince Edwards all the way back in 1958. His version wasn't released, but Ray Peterson had a decent hit with it the following year.

    "He asked me if I would mind if he recorded 'The Wonder of You''," Peterson said of Elvis asking if he could lay down his own take.

    "I said, 'You don't have to ask permission; you're Elvis Presley.' He said, 'Yes, I do. You're Ray Peterson'."

    So, Elvis picked it up in 1970 and it was a standout moment of his Vegas shows of the time.

    A live version was released as a single and reached number nine in the US, going all the way to number one in the UK and staying there for six weeks.

  20. (Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame

    Written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, '(Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame' was first recorded by Del Shannon for his Runaway With Del Shannon album in 1961.

    The very same year, Elvis recorded his own version of the Bo Diddley-beat powered rocker, taking it to the top of the charts in the UK and number four in the US.

  21. Jailhouse Rock

    Another rock 'n' roll classic from Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, this 1957 hit was taken from the classic Elvis film of the same name.

    It doesn't take a genius to read same-sex prison sex antics into the lyrics ("Number forty-seven said to number three/ 'You're the cutest jailbird I ever did see'") but no-one seemed to notice, and not only did it pass uncensored, it went all the way to number one in the US.

  22. That’s All Right

    Where it all began. Originally written and recorded by bluesman Arthur Crudup in 1946 Elvis Presley was jamming a sped up version of the song in the studio in July 1954 when Scotty Moore and Bill Black joined in.

    Sam Phillips asked them to go again with the tape running, and the rest is history.

    Elvis released it two weeks later with 'Blue Moon Kentucky' on the flip and went to number one in the UK and US, being the first white rock 'n' roll hit

  23. Always on My Mind

    Wayne Carson wrote 'Always On My Mind' in ten minutes at his kitchen table. Producer Chips Moman told him it needed a bridge, and Johnny Christopher and Mark James pitched in with the soaring "tell me..." refrain.

    It was first released by Gwen McCrae as ‘You Were Always on My Mind’ on March 28, 1972 (a previously-recorded BJ Thomas take remained unreleased till the 1990s).

    Then came Brenda Lee's version a couple of months later, before Elvis Presley absolutely made it his own when it was released that October.

    While the song was there already, Elvis's performance is imbued with the emotion of his personal life at the time, with his marriage to Priscilla falling apart around him.

    It was a top ten hit in the UK, and later enjoyed covers by Willie Nelson and the Pet Shop Boys.

  24. Heartbreak Hotel

    "'Heartbreak Hotel' sounded a corny title," said John Lennon. "But then when I heard it, it was the end for me … I remember rushing home with the record and saying ‘He sounds like Frankie Laine and Johnnie Ray and Tennessee Ernie Ford'."

    Written by Tommy Durden and Mae Boren Axton, 'Heartbreak Hotel' was supposedly inspired by a newspaper article telling the tragic story of a lonely man who took his own life by jumping from a hotel window.

    It was Elvis's first record for RCA Victor after his move from Sun, and became his first million-selling single, topping the charts for seven weeks.

    Over in the UK, the BBC put the song on its restricted playlist, while the NME sniffed: "If you appreciate good singing, I don't suppose you'll manage to hear this disc all through."

    It still became Elvis's first UK hit, eventually going all the way to number two, only kept off the top by Ronnie Hilton's 'No Other Love'.

  25. Can’t Help Falling In Love

    'Can’t Help Falling In Love' has deep roots, with its melody being based on Jean-Paul-Égide Martini's French love song 'Plaisir d'amour' all the way back in 1784

    Written by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore, and George David Weiss, it was originally written from a woman's perspective and called "Can't Help Falling in Love with Him'.

    By the time Elvis recorded it for his 1961 Blue Hawaii album, the perspective was shifted and "him" got changed to "you".

    It meant you lost the assonance on "fools rush in" and "be a sin", but nobody noticed or cared because the finished recording is one of the most beautiful and tender songs of all time.

    It was kept off the top in the US by Joey Dee and the Starliters' 'Peppermint Twist' but still went platinum and rightfully enjoyed four weeks on the top in the UK.