What is the greatest Elvis Presley song ever recorded?
You can get compelling arguments from his fans for maybe 100 of the King's recordings. He was a unique talent, of that there is no doubt, and he changed American pop culture forever.
Some will make the case that the single he released on this date in 1960, "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" was his greatest recording, and that is hard to dispute. It was definitely a big hit. But one thing that made it different from many of Elvis' hits is the fact that it wasn't a new song. It was written and published more than 30 years earlier — nearly a decade before Elvis was born, in fact.
Elvis' version wasn't the first to be recorded, nor was it the first to show up on the music charts. But it's the one people remember.
And I guess it is the one that I most associate with him.
As it is with any great recording artist, though, listeners can associate Elvis with many songs. He definitely could not be described as a one–trick pony.
Elvis recorded "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" in the predawn hours of April 4, 1960 as a favor to his manager, Col. Tom Parker. For what appears to be the only time, Parker influenced one of Elvis' recording sessions. Parker asked Elvis to record "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" because the song was Parker's wife's favorite.
The recording was done with Elvis and acoustic guitar, drums, bass and the backup group. Everyone else was asked to leave. With the lights turned out, Elvis performed the song with the iconic spoken portion. Not satisfied with the first effort, Elvis did a second take, then told the producer to discard it because "I can't do it justice."
Instead, they did a third take — which became the recording that was released on this date in 1960.
RCA Records delayed the release by nearly seven months, fearing the song didn't complement Elvis' new post–service style (which was largely his old style enhanced by recent technological developments).
The listening public had no doubts. The song debuted at #35 on Billboard's Top 40 and was #1 before the end of November. It remained in the top position until January 1961. Three months after its release, the recording exceeded sales of 2 million worldwide and was certified gold. It was certified double platinum in 1992.
"Are You Lonesome Tonight?" became Elvis' third–best–selling single ever — behind "It's Now Or Never" and "Jailhouse Rock."
Whether it was Elvis' greatest recording is a matter of personal opinion, I suppose, but its success with the record–buying public is beyond question.
It was a good thing RCA Records reconsidered its original decision and released the single.