Fans saw Elvis on stage and on the big screen, but fans never had the chance to see Elvis work in one of his favorite environments – in the studio.
And, really, the studio is at the heart of Elvis’ career. It was in studios in Memphis, Hollywood, Nashville and New York, where he cut songs that became No. 1 hits, songs that shook the foundation of American music, and songs that became fan favorites.
Elvis had hundreds of recording sessions in many different studios, but let’s take a look at just a few of the special ones where Elvis recorded some of his biggest hits.
ELVIS’ FIRST STUDIO – SUN STUDIO
The very first songs Elvis recorded at Memphis Recording Service – aka Sun Studio – were “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin,” in 1953.
But his recording sessions got interesting on July 5-6, 1954, when he recorded a little record you may have heard of – “That’s All Right” – as well as “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and “I Love You Because.”
During Elvis’ time at Sun, he recorded many songs that would go on to become classics, like “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” “Baby Let’s Play House,” “Mystery Train” and “I Forgot to Remember to Forget” (Elvis’ first No. 1 hit), all with Sam Phillips at the helm.
In the spring of 2017, the new state-of-the-art entertainment complex, Elvis Presley’s Memphis, will open at Graceland and will feature a permanent Sam Phillips exhibit.
Two of the Hollywood studios Elvis used were the Paramount Scoring Stage and Radio Recorders. Here are some insights into just a few of the sessions that took place at these studios.
On September 1-3, 1956 Elvis recorded a slew of songs at Radio Recorders – a studio used by most of the major labels – for RCA.
On September 1, he recorded songs like “Love Me” and “How’s The World Treating You,” followed by “Long Tall Sally,” “Too Much,” “Old Shep” and “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again.” On September 3, he wrapped the session by recording “Ready Teddy,” “First in Line” and “Rip It Up.”
Elvis was very familiar with “Old Shep” – he performed that song in a talent show as a young boy growing up in Tupelo (and only won fifth place). He performed the master recording in one take, but performed another four just in case.
Sessions for RCA continued on January 12-13 1957, also at Radio Recorders.
Elvis took care of business at Radio Recorders in Hollywood on January 12 and 13, recording hits like “All Shook Up,” “Mean Woman Blues” and “Peace in the Valley.” Elvis wanted to record a gospel album, so “Peace” was recorded alongside gospel favorites like “I Believe” and “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” Over the course of January 15-16, and from January 21-22, Elvis recorded tunes like “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear” “Blueberry Hill,” and the end version of “Loving You.”
Elvis returned to Radio Recorders in the spring of 1957 to record tracks for “Jailhouse Rock,” including the title track, “Young and Beautiful” and “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care.”
Elvis recorded several tunes for the “King Creole” soundtrack on January 15-16 and 23, 1958, at Radio Recorders. He cut a slew of fan-favorites from “King Creole” on January 15, including “Hard Headed Woman,” “Trouble” and the title track. Tunes cut the next day include “As Long As I Have You” and “Don’t Ask Me Why.” Of course, Elvis had to get this work done – he’d just been drafted into the Army.
To capture a New Orleans sound, Paramount hired some of the best session players. This meant there were now 14 band members backing up Elvis, making this the largest group of musicians Elvis ever worked with in the studio.
“Heartbreak Hotel” was recorded in Nashville’s RCA Studios on January 10, 1956.
Just a few months later, on April 14, he returned to that studio to work on some new material. Before the Record button was pressed on this session, Elvis received a gold record for “Heartbreak Hotel.” That’s exciting, sure – but once the excitement died down, Elvis prepared to record – by taking off his jacket and shoes. That’s right – “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” was recorded here by a shoeless Elvis.
Decades later, that same studio was used as a television studio.
Elvis entered RCA’s new Studio B on June 10, 1958 to work on new songs. Before Elvis left to start serving his time in the Army, RCA wanted to get as many hits out of him as possible. The late morning – early afternoon session brings us hits like “(Now And Then There’s) A Fool Such as I” and “A Big Hunk O’ Love,” along with B-sides “Ain’t That Loving You Baby” and “I Need Your Love Tonight.” “I Got Stung” was recorded from 2 a.m.-5 a.m.
When Elvis returned to Studio B in June 1970, he was accustomed to late-night recording sessions, so he and his band recorded tunes like “I’ve Lost You,” Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Just Pretend,” “Love Letters” and “Make the World Go Away” in sessions that ran from 6-9 p.m., 10 p.m.-1 a.m. and 1:30-4:30 a.m. His 1971 sessions at Studio B – which also took place after the sun went down – included gospel songs, Christmas tunes and tracks like “My Way,” “Help Me Make It Through the Night” and “I’m Leavin’.”
Elvis wasn’t the only artist to create musical magic at Studio B. During Studio B’s history 20-year history, from 1957-1977, many artists such as The Everly Brothers, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, Roy Orbison and Porter Wagoner brought their music to life in the historic building.
In 1969, Elvis and his producer Felton Jarvis were impressed by the incredible music being made at Chips Moman’s American Studios in Memphis. Just a few of the hits recorded there include “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond, “The Letter” by the Box Tops, B.J. Thomas’ “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” and Dusty Springfield’s legendary LP, “Dusty in Memphis.”
In January and February of 1969, Elvis recorded some of his most famous songs right here in Memphis, including “Suspicious Minds,” “In the Ghetto,” “Don’t Cry Daddy,” “Kentucky Rain,” “Mama Liked the Roses” and “Rubberneckin’.”
In the 1960s and 1970s, Memphis’ Stax Studios became famous as a soul studio, producing hits like Eddie Floyd’s “Knock on Wood,” “Try a Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding and “Hold On! I’m Comin’” by Sam & Dave. Elvis recorded at Memphis’ famous Stax Studios in 1973, laying down tunes like “It’s Midnight,” “Raised on Rock,” “My Boy,” “Promised Land,” “I’ve Got a Thing About You Baby” and “For Ol’ Time Sake.”
Elvis’ final recording sessions took place right at home at Graceland, in the legendary Jungle Room. The tracks recorded here – which you can hear on the new 2-disc release, “Way Down in the Jungle Room” – included “Hurt,” “Moody Blue,” “Solitaire,” “She Thinks I’ll Still Care” and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”
What are some of your favorite songs recorded in these studios?
Don’t forget – you can get discounted tickets to see Memphis attractions like Sun Studio and Stax Museum of American Soul Music when you purchase your Graceland tickets, and of course, the famous Jungle Room is included in the Graceland tour. Trust us – pictures don’t do it justice. You have to experience the Jungle Room for yourself.