Who wrote the song “Blue Suede Shoes?” Well, it wasn’t Elvis. In fact, Elvis did not write any of “his” songs. He just popularized them. A few of the earlier songs accredited to Elvis were written by Carl Perkins, including Blue Suede Shoes. Once more, Johnny Cash pitched the idea of the song to Perkins. So one might say that this iconic Elvis Presley song is a cover. Yes….I’ll repeat that Elvis Presley’s Blue Suede Shoes is a Cover and NOT the original.
Since its inception in 1956, dozens of artists have released their own Blue Suede Shoes cover versions. Meatloaf, The Scorpions, Brian Seltzer, Conway Twitty, and Cliff Richards – these are just a few of the names that I came across doing research for this article. Incidentally, these are also a few of the big names I had to leave out because there simply wasn’t enough room to dedicate to every single cover. I had to pick out of over 200 covers to critique. With that in mind, I picked ten separate versions, based on their what the artists brought to the song, and how important the version is to the legacy of Blue Suede Shoes. This is Cover vs Original: Blue Suede Shoes.
Original: Carl Perkins (1955)
Carl Perkins OG version of Blue Suede Shoes sounds like a cover, because we are so used to the Elvis version. A rockabilly classic, and a nod to the (then current) craze of early rock and roll. Blue Suede Shoes is a simple song for certain. Very basic instrumentation (drums, bass, guitar) played at a tempo that would be considered fast in its day – but maybe a little slow by today’s standard. Perkins’ voice really is the star of Blue Suede Shoes. His half baritone, half tenor tones really please the ear. Perkins also adds a teensy bit of a country drawl at times, especially on the line “You can knock me down.” Fitting, as rockabilly was a mixture of country and blues.
Blue Suede Shoes provides a nice song to dance to, and probably made a few parents mad because of that new fangled music!
Cover: Elvis Presley (1956)
In 1956, Blue Suede Shoes Cover versions were recorded by at least eleven different artists. The most famous, was, of course, Elvis himself.
If there is one notable difference to the Elvis version of Blue Suede Shoes, it’s the tempo. The Perkins version, as I said before, seems a little slow (at least to our rock oriented ears). Presley speeds things up to the speed we’re used to with Blue Suede Shoes. A minor, but also notable difference between the two versions is in the instrumentation. For the most part, the two songs are identical in the bass and guitar parts – but those drums! The Elvis version really lets the drums go free, fast, and loud!
Of course, the major difference between the Elvis and the Perkins versions – Elvis has a solid baritone crooner voice, with no hints of tenor. While I love Perkins voice, I must admit, I see why people love the Elvis version better. His voice is just superior. His voice is, after all, is what made Elvis Presley so great.
Cover: Buddy Holly (1956)
Another of the eleven versions recorded in 1956, Buddy Holly’s Blue Suede Shoes almost seems like a compromise between the Elvis version and the Carl Perkins version. Holly used the same tempo as the Elvis version, but his voice is more of a tenor range. Once more, the drums are line in file, and not as wild and free as the Elvis version.
Oh, but Holly does bring something of his own to Blue Suede Shoes. The guitar playing is a lot more complicated than the Elvis or the Carl Perkins version. With a rhythm and a lead guitar, we get an early wall of sound effect! This loud effect makes the song a bit more raucous and rowdy. You think parents in the 50s hated the Carl Perkins version, well, they must have loathed Buddy Holly’s version! The kids, however, probably loved it!
Cover: Johnny Cash (1968)
Part of his famous concert at Folsom Prison (eat your heart out, Kanye) comes the first recording of Johnny Cash’s Blue Suede Shoes. Johnny Cash was the king of covers, partly because he never tried to repeat the formulas of others, but rather added his own voice and style to each cover. With Blue Suede Shoes, we see this as Cash brings a brand new and unique energy to the song.
The tempo might be a couple steps slower than the Elvis version, but fast enough to keep our interests. The band plays the instruments unhinged, and rather rowdy. In fact, that’s kind of the point of the Cash version…..get freaking rowdy – this was a concert for prisoners! Vocally, Cash does not try to sing pretty like Elvis or Perkins or even Holly – he just sings like he sings. We hear his country drawl all throughout the song. We also hear his “talking blues” throughout the song. All in all, the Johnny Cash Blue Suede Shoes Cover version is unrefined – but that’s a good thing.
In true Johnny Cash humility, he mentions that Perkins wrote the song – but does not mention his own influence on the song. This was just a song to sing, a song to entertain a bunch of murders, thieves, and other people society had thrown away.
Cover: John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band (1969)
John Lennon and band slow Blue Suede Shoes down to the tempo of the orignal Perkins version, but keeps the rowdiness of the Johnny Cash version. Part of the rowdy part of the song might have to do with the fact that both Lennon and Cash played Blue Suede Shoe live. Part of the rowdiness has to do with Lennon’s guitars. Lennon plays lead guitar like the rock star he was. The licks are fast, random sounding, and even a little ahead of their time.
Thankfully, there are no Yoko yodels (this was the plastic Ono band after all).
Cover: Black Sabbath (1970)
Ozzy Osbourne sings subdued and messes up a few lyrics, while the rest of Black Sabbath plays hard. That’s really all there is to say about the Black Sabbath version of Blue Suede Shoes. Of course, the instrumentation is more metal/ psychedelic rock than previous versions – dominated by loud guitars.
Black Sabbath’s Blue Suede Shoes Cover version seems simple, yet still rocks you just where you want to be rocked. I guess, that’s kind of the point of the song.
Cover: Merle Haggard (1977)
As part of his tribute to the recently deceased Elvis, Merle Haggard takes a middle road approach to Blue Suede Shoes. There’s a little country, there’s a little rock and roll. The guitars are overwhelming in a raucous and rowdy country way. While Elvis certainly had a legendary voice, so did Merle – and Merle doesn’t try to mask his own voice to mimic Elvis.
The nuances of Merle Haggard’s Blue Suede Shoes make the song Mere’s own, but it’s still a tribute. This is still a letter of admiration to a fallen comrade. And a solid one at that!
Cover: Motörhead (1990)
Up until this point, most Blue Suede Shoes cover versions don’t touch the composition too much. Motörhead, however, changes the song’s structure entirely. The cold open is gone, replaced with metal guitars. Of course, those are different chords than we’ve heard in any other version. Lemmy sings, in his signature raspy voice, a melody similar, but not quite the same, to the original. Oh, and that tempo? It’s so much faster than the Elvis version.
The results of Motöhead’s Blue Suede Shoes cover – well – let’s just agree to play it loud and proud.
Cover: Nine Inch Elvis (2000)
Elvis impersonators imitators, and tribute bands are a dime a dozen. Perhaps one of the most unique, however, is Nine Inch Elvis. Nine Inch Elvis reimagines Elvis songs as though they were done in the industrial stylings of Nine Inch Nails. The results – well….they’re interesting.
Looking specifically at Blue Suede Shoes. The instrumentation is heavily laden with synthesizers. Any guitars included are drowned by effects pedals. The vocals are sung raspily, and the drum beat sounds canned and electric. It’s an interesting experiment to say the least. The Nine Inch Elvis cover of Blue Suede Shoes is surprisingly listenable.
Cover: The Brotherhood of St. Gregory (2003)
The Brotherhood of St. Gregory, a gregorian chant ensemble, truly messes with our heads with their version of Blue Suede Shoes. To put it simply, Blue Suede Shoes does not really lend itself to the genre (unlike The Sound of Silence). Blue Suede Shoes is a raucous mid 50s dance song, and Gregorian Chants are just the opposite. To further mess with our heads, the Brotherhood keeps the instrumentation. Yes, along Gregorian chants, you hear drums and guitars, played in a rock and roll style. Its quite a juxtaposition!
I will not recommend, or commend this version – as your tastes may vary….but at the very least, this is an interesting experiment and worthy of at least one listen through.
Which Blue Suede Shoes Cover works best?
Full disclosure: I’m not a huge Elvis fan. I’ve said he’s one of the most over hyped musicians of all time. He had a good voice mind you, but I just don’t see why he’s “The King” of rock and roll. Meh, whatever – a lot of people liked him, and I don’t want to diminish their opinions.
With that disclaimer out of the way, the Elvis Blue Suede Shoes cover certainly sounds more palatable to most of the other versions – including the original Carl Perkins version. While not my favorite, I can certainly see why it’s the definitive version.
What is my favorite? While the genre experiments by Nine Inch Nails and The Brotherhood of St. Gregory might be interesting, we can go ahead and rule them out. We can also rule out the John Lennon and Black Sabbath versions as well. The Merle Haggard version sounded interesting, and even palatable, but it’s just not my style. I hate to say this, as much as I love and respect Johnny Cash – this is one time where he doesn’t give the best cover of the song. The two covers that stick out the most, are the Motörhead and the Buddy Holly versions. Sure, they seem like the antithesis of each other, but I love both of them so much. I love the heavy metal sounds of Motörhead, and I love the fact that Buddy Holly saw something more than just a rockabilly tune in Blue Suede Shoes.
So, there you have it folks. One final note, so many of these people are no longer with us. Lemmy, Lennon, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Carl Perkins. Maybe they’re all jamming up in heaven. Maybe they’re comparing their own notes on Blue Suede Shoes. I wonder if Cobain and Jimi Hendrix and, heck, even Ella Fitzgerald are joining in on the jam right now. What a concert that would be!