This is a subject that is open to discussion as to its importance. Did Elvis write any songs? Add to that, did any of those early rock n rollers? I will come back to that a little later.
But, who was this man dubbed by some “The King of Rock N Roll”? He must have had something that set him apart from his peer group.
- Quite Normal To Have Writers
- But It Wasn’t Love At First Sight
- Sunday Lunch 1956
- Elvis Presley, The Performer
- Did Elvis Write Any Songs? – His Musical Abilities
- Why Was He So Revered?
- The King?
- The Songs
- The Songwriters
- Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
- Aaron Shroeder
- Ben Weisman
- Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman
- A Notable Absentee On The Writers List
- Were The Early Rock n Rollers Any Different?
- Someone is Missing
- What Was It that Elvis Had?
- Interested in How Rock Music Evolved After Elvis?
- Did Elvis Write Any Songs? – Final Thoughts
Quite Normal To Have Writers
It wasn’t unusual for the singers of the time to rely on professional songwriters for their music. Some of them, anyway. When Elvis arrived on the scene, record companies went into panic mode to jump on the bandwagon.
Kids were found from somewhere, anywhere, to front this “new” music. As long as you could curl your lip, had a greased-back hairdo, and didn’t look like your mother had dropped you on your face at birth, you were in.
Musical ability? It didn’t matter if you didn’t know which end to hold a guitar. Songwriting ability, not even worth asking.
But It Wasn’t Love At First Sight
Elvis’ first single was a song called “My Happiness,” released in 1953 when he was just 18. He had started singing at age 14 in his hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi. He gained some notoriety in what was a usually quiet, conservative town. Not all were particularly enamored by him.
His first single to make a little ripple was “That’s Alright Mama,” released in 1954. It was a cover of a song first recorded in 1946. But Elvis did something with the song. He used it as a vehicle to stamp his personality all over it.
These were not songs anymore; they were Elvis songs. It was something he continued to do through most of his career.
Sunday Lunch 1956
My parents, my sister, and I all sat down, as always, for Sunday lunch at 1:00 pm. My sister was home from the Royal Academy of Music in London, where she was studying piano. She was eleven years older than me.
The radio was on, and in the middle of the first mouthful, we heard, “Well since my baby left me (boom, boom) – I’ve found a new place to dwell (boom boom).”
Everyone just stared at each other…
What on earth was this? This wasn’t Pat Boone? No, this was “Heartbreak Hotel.” Elvis is in full flow.
My father offered an expletive, while my mother was shocked by him and the music. But my sister and I exchanged knowing glances. Even at my tender age, I had the feeling something was stirring. Music was never going to be the same.
Elvis Presley, The Performer
Elvis was more than just a singer. There were loads of those, and more arriving every day. He was a performer. We didn’t see what was behind the songs and the voice for a while. Communications weren’t quite the same in the mid-50s as they are these days (to say the least). But, when we did, it had quite an effect.
More songs soon followed in “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and the film of the same name. It was all so visual and too much for some people. But there was no doubting his presence in his live performances.
Did Elvis Write Any Songs? – His Musical Abilities
It was reported that he learned to play the guitar when he was in his teens. But, of course, there is playing it and “playing it.” From what we could see, it was an ornament hanging around his neck to add to the show.
No matter, he never claimed he was a virtuoso guitarist, and neither could he read music or ever claimed to. He knew a few chords, and that was probably it.
Why Was He So Revered?
I have already discussed the visuals, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that he could sing. Of that, there was no doubt. It was a soulful voice and impossible to pigeonhole. He could sing some good Rock n Roll, as we know. But he could also deliver a great ballad.
Elvis was a baritone but had a range of over two octaves. That would often put him in the range of the tenor at the top end. But, he could also descend into bass notes at the other.
That is how he is described by his ardent fans. There are reasons they make that claim on his behalf, an appellation I am sure he enjoyed. I will come back to that a bit later on.
What is not disputable, though, is that he was a pioneer and will be remembered as such. He came up against “the establishment” very early on. His rise to popularity was eventful and not without its problems and controversies along the way.
Some get very defensive that Elvis did not write his songs. They claim that no one else did either. Most didn’t, but some did. As I said earlier, I will consider that point in a little more depth later.
Elvis’ vocal talent and ability to make a song his own are undeniable. He recorded over 600 songs. Eighteen were #1 in America, and fifty made the Top 100. Yes, he suffered with the arrival of The Beatles and the rest. But then, who didn’t?
Like many other artists at the time, Elvis worked with many songwriters. It might be considered quite a “financial coup” to be someone who wrote a song for Elvis, given that it could well be a big hit and all the royalties that could be earned from such success.
In the early days, that might have been the case. However, there is evidence that other strings were being pulled by a certain Mr. Parker. There is no documented evidence of what sort of financial constraints he may have exerted on some writers.
However, we do know that he demanded 50% of Dolly Parton’s royalties if Elvis sang “I Will Always Love You.” She told him to shove it, and rightly so. Well done, Dolly. Now, let’s take a look at some of the songwriters who worked with Elvis.
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Leiber and Stoller had a 40-year career that included well over 60 chart hits. They were established songwriters before Elvis came along. Leiber wrote the lyrics and Stoller the music.
They had written “Hound Dog” and “Kansas City” in 1952 and continued to score in their collaboration with The Coasters with songs like “Searching.” Originally, “Hound Dog” had been written for Big Mama Thornton in 1952. Elvis revitalized, and it became his first big hit.
Aaron Schroeder didn’t write as many songs as some writers for Elvis. But he scored some big hit records for him, including five #1’s. Two of those songs that did well were “Stuck On You” and “Good Luck Charm.”
Schroeder was a prolific songwriter who also worked with Sammy Davis Jr., Pat Boone, and Nat King Cole.
Weisman wrote more songs than anyone for Elvis, 57 in total, over 20 years. Elvis called him the “Mad Professor.” He tended to sit in the background a little and wrote many of his songs for Elvis’ films.
Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman
Pomus and Shuman wrote too many songs to catalog. Elvis recorded twenty of them. They had a particular style that seemed to suit Elvis.
Other songwriters contributed to Elvis’ career. And in the later years, produced some of the best songs that he recorded, such as:
And, of course, that is only scratching the surface of well over 100 singles alone without the albums and the films.
A Notable Absentee On The Writers List
And that is Elvis himself. So, did Elvis write any songs? Later in his career, while working with Ken Darby, who part-wrote “Love Me Tender,” there were four songs that credited Elvis as a co-writer with Darby and his wife. They were:
Unknown songs, for the most part, and we will never know just how much input he had.
Were The Early Rock n Rollers Any Different?
Some were. Little Richard part-wrote “Long Tall Sally.” Jerry Lee Lewis relied on writers, but Chuck Berry? We’ll say no more about him.
So, it is clear that some wrote some songs, and in the case of Chuck Berry, most of them. Even though it could be argued half of them were the same thing with different words.
And Buddy Holly, of course, wrote very good songs. Berry and Holly made Elvis look inadequate at times with their songwriting and guitar playing. Elvis admitted in later life that he’d not written songs. He just couldn’t do it. And that he’d never even had an idea for a song, let alone write one.
Someone is Missing
We’ve mentioned some of the early rockers, and rivals, if you like, of Elvis at the time. But, there is one name missing. A man who could deliver a great ballad and could rock with the best of them. An entertainer who had all the moves and the looks.
An artist that played a half-decent guitar in his stage performances as well. Not one hanging around his neck just for decoration. And a man who wrote much of his own material. Who am I talking about?
The late, great, Eddie Cochran…
Elvis was known as the “King of Rock n’ Roll,” but the only one who could probably challenge that was Eddie Cochran. What would he have achieved if he had lived? Impossible to tell. Was he better than Elvis?
Well, he had all the stage moves and a very good voice. But he had quite a bit more in some areas. He played guitar pretty well, and he wrote his songs. So did Chuck Berry, but it wasn’t quite the same.
Eddie Cochran gave us enormous Rock classics that he co-wrote and are still played and covered today:
And he played guitar on all of them.
We Will Never Know
You could easily argue that Cochran was more talented musically than Elvis. As was Buddy Holly. There really cannot be an argument about that. And if they had both lived, maybe they would have gone toe-to-toe with Elvis over the years. We will never know.
What Was It that Elvis Had?
And that maybe Cochran or the others didn’t? He was more of a rebel, more of a controversial figure at times. That endeared him to the younger people. So was Jerry Lee, of course. However, controversial isn’t a strong enough word for Mr. Lewis.
But Elvis was the first through the door. He influenced a generation and led the charge. His label as “The King” had more to do with that than any perceived musical ability. He was a showman at a time when we only had Liberace.
Interested in How Rock Music Evolved After Elvis?
Well, take a look at our detailed articles on the Best Classic Rock Songs, the Best 60s Rock Bands, the Best 70s Rock Bands, the Best 80s Rock Bands, and the Best 90s Rock Bands for some great Rock n Roll song selections.
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Did Elvis Write Any Songs? – Final Thoughts
He could do some things, like whip an audience into a frenzy, or deliver a song in his own inimitable style. But no, Elvis couldn’t write songs. Chuck, Buddy, and Eddie could. Little Richard had a go, but not Elvis.
Did it matter?
I don’t think it did in the way the public perceived him. He was an artist and showman with a great voice. He had great writers around him to do the job of coming up with the songs. His job was to deliver them. And he did that as well as anyone could, if not better.
So, until next time, happy listening.