Recently, I rented Mystery Train on DVD — a film I haven’t seen since its original release in 1989. Back in the late ’80s, it seemed the U.S. was experiencing an Elvis resurgence, but a lot of it was tongue in cheek. It spilled over into the film world where some filmmakers were trying to capture the zeitgeist of all things Elvis. Certainly Mystery Train was a blatant homage to The King, but David Lynch — no stranger to the ’50s — also jumped aboard the Elvis train with Wild at Heart. Nicolas Cage certainly had no trouble channeling his inner Elvis to depict the character, Sailor Ripley. But through all the TV movies, books, fake Elvis interviews (and yes, I bought one of those back in the day on cassette), there was, at bottom, a genuine appreciation for the music that Elvis recorded. So here we go with a mix that starts with the power of E and then rides out with covers, tributes, and meditations.
“Mystery Train,” Elvis Presley (Download)
The bloated Elvis at the end of his life was a sad spectacle. A man so clearly tormented by his inner demons, and outward excesses, that he was ripe for ridicule. But when going back to the early recordings, there’s no denying the talent he had in that voice and the emotion he could bring to a song.
“Love Me,” Nicolas Cage (Download)
Some flinch at Cage’s odd-ball characters he’s created, but to me he’s one of the more inventive actors who can take a line and not only make it his own, but make it memorable as well. In Wild at Heart portraying Sailor Ripley as a wannabe scion of Elvis was brilliant. The film was hit and miss, but there’s no denying that Laura Dern and Nicolas Cage commanded the screen in this potpourri of American iconography that was more Wizard of Oz than Blue Hawaii. And the fact that Cage could actually sing was just the cherry on top.
“Suspicious Minds,” Fine Young Cannibals (Download)
Perhaps FYC was on the cutting edge of the Elvis rebirth because their cover of “Suspicious Minds” came out in 1985 — about two years before Elvis mania really started to take off. Still, while it’s a fairly faithful cover, the group rightfully upped the tempo and added co-vocals from Jimmy Sommerville from Bronski Beat.
“Elvis’ Rolls Royce,” Was (Not Was) (Download)
Was (Not Was) was right in the middle of the Elvis obsession of the late ’80s/early ’90s. On their third album, What Up, Dog they peppered in the Elvis references on “Walk the Dinosaur,” and “Earth to Doris.” How do you top that? Well, you dragoon Leonard Cohen into supplying his growl to “Elvis’ Rolls Royce.” It proved to be a smart move because Cohen was able to supply a read that had the right amount of dry humor for a song that was silly to begin with.
“Blue Moon Revisited (Song for Elvis), Cowboy Junkies (Download)
Under the category of “tasteful tributes,” Cowboy Junkies rank in the top five. This semi-cover of “Blue Moon” was atmospheric, smoldering, and beautifully sung by Margo Timmins. Yes, the recording sessions of this album often had the band playing around a single mic, but because of the placement of the instruments, the mix is surprisingly distinct — as you can hear on “Blue Moon Revisited (Song for Elvis).”
“King of the Mountain,” Kate Bush (Download)
After a 12 year break in recording, Kate Bush returned to the music world with a two CD collection of songs that was more “mommy diaries” than her more obscure and eccentric explorations of relationships and the inner working of the mind. However, one song departed from tunes about her son, washing machines, and the like to focus on Elvis. It’s tough to know, but perhaps Kate had this song sitting around in a half-finished state since the early ’90s. How else do you explain a song about Elvis after the rest of the music world had seemingly moved on.