Andrea has studied film, writing, and music for her career. She loves to find and work with talented artists to give them some spotlight.
The King of Rock & Roll and His Love for Gospel Music
Elvis Presley was one of the last rock & roll artists to make gospel music and make it a significant component of his repertoire. He had popular secular and gospel songs, a feat that's not really repeated in contemporary times.
Presley's first Grammy Award was for Best Sacred Performance. He earned the award with his album How Great Thou Art (1967). In fact, all three of his Grammy wins were for gospel music. He was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2001.
His first musical influence was at church. At the age of two, he would rush down the aisle and try to get on stage to sing with the choir. He never had formal vocal training, but he was deeply aware of the musical idioms of both the white and Black churches. His vast knowledge of hymns, when he was just a teen, impressed people.
The singer's first gospel record was Peace in the Valley (1957). It became the top-selling gospel record in history.
The singer had a short life. He died at 42. Many of us have grown up with his music, and younger generations might not realize just how young he was when he died, and how earth-shattering it was back in 1977.
Elvis Presley Gospel Songs Ranked
43. Mansion Over the Hilltop
28. Lead Me, Guide Me
13. I've Got Confidence
42. Somebody Bigger Than You and I
27. Working on the Building
12. Reach Out to Jesus
41. Farther Along
26. Just a Little Talk with Jesus
11. Bosom of Abraham
40. An Evening Prayer
25. I'm Gonna Walk Dem Golden Stairs
10. Milky White Way
39. In My Father's House
24. So High
9. I, John
38. Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
23. I Believe in the Man in the Sky
8. Where No One Stands Alone
37. We Call Upon Him
22. He Touched Me
7. A Thing Called Love
36. In the Garden
21. (There'll Be) Peace in the Valley
6. Run On
35. If We Never Meet Again
20. Stand By Me
5. Swing Down Sweet Chariot
34. He Is My Everything
19. By and By
4. Amazing Grace
33. There Is No God but God
18. Seeing Is Believing
3. Crying in the Chapel
32. Without Him
17. Where Could I Go But to the Lord
2. You'll Never Walk Alone
31. It's No Secret (What God Can Do)
16. He Knows Just What I Need
1. How Great Thou Art
30. Known Only to Him
15. If the Lord Wasn't Walking By My Side
29. Take My Hand, Precious Lord
14. Joshua Fit the Battle
The following gospel songs are ranked in descending order. I ranked them based on the messages they carry, their popularity, and how well they're executed. Elvis at his worst is still better than most singers' at their best.
#43 Mansion Over the Hilltop
The passion isn't quite there for this song. Elvis sings it well enough (he is Elvis after all), but compared to his other gospel songs, it's mediocre. I would also argue that lyrics like "I want a mansion" is Christian pedagogy that hasn't aged well, so the song is dated in a not-so-good way. The song is simple and charming, but it plays to a materialistic kind of Christianity.
There are some interesting things to note, like the Hawaiian-esque instrumentation at times, Elvis' sliding around notes with a peculiar uncertainty, and a sadness that seems to hold things together.
#42 Somebody Bigger Than You and I
The creative choices on this song are noticeably odd. At times it sounds like Elvis' mouth is covered while singing or that he's got marbles in his mouth. He sounds tired and at times flat. It doesn't have a spark to it at all. It almost sounds like it was sung by an Elvis impersonator. You don't get the sense that he really cared about the words. There is no possible way this was one of his favorites to sing.
#41 Farther Along
The song sounds like the world had beaten Elvis' musical gift out of him, as if he is defeated from all his years of work, and he has sobered on the glamour and glitz of the Hollywood star scene.
It makes me sad to listen to this tune where he doesn't have that spunk he normally projects. There isn't any real special charm here, just a man singing words to get to the finish line.
It's more for the fans of the traditional gospel songs than a showcase of Elvis' ability. It feels like a waste of his talents.
This song is also really slow and goes on forever... it's more than 4 minutes long.
#40 An Evening Prayer
A meticulously slow vocal arrangement with very long and garbled notes, distracting piano arpeggios on stimulants, and a background choir of hums.
The notes are so long and sustained that the song comes off like a hallucination. The King's passion is there, absolutely. The He Touched Me album is overall produced extremely well, but this might be the weakest song of the album. It's not one you really want to seek out and listen to over and over again. The ending to this song is a little off-pitch.
#39 In My Father's House
The song is simple enough. It appeared on Elvis' first full gospel album His Hand in Mine. It doesn't have as much oomph as other gospel songs Elvis would do later in his career.
His voice is very sweet, in a comfortable tenor range, and at times very quiet. I would consider this a gospel lullaby.
There are some incredible basses in the recording. They sing about as low as low can get. I like this song more than some of the other slower songs, but because it doesn't have a lot of personality or any of Elvis' big signatures, I rank it near the bottom. He sings it perfectly well, like a high school all-state singer.
#38 Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
At the beginning of the song, Elvis sounds like he is singing from his bed as he falls asleep. Everything is slowed down in the music to a crawl. This song sounds like someone trying to walk through mud or talk with marbles in their mouth.
There are times when Elvis' voice disappears, and he lets the choir lead with their haunting arrangement. The song grinds on the slowest speed possible.
Then about two minutes into the song, Elvis lets it rip. He cries out in a way that can be startling for the listener. The suffering of life is on full display in his vocal blast, and then he descends his notes down into quietness.
I would bargain the right technology to record this song hadn't been invented yet. I think this song is like a draft of something that could be way bigger.
The recording I found has people talking and clapping, and it's noticeable after he turns up the volume. The song has a second round of Elvis and his lightning bolt cry.
The way he sings the refrain is goosebump-inducing. It's one of the more compelling and weird things I've ever heard.
#37 We Call on Him
If a gospel choir had a baby with an old country music star, a 1960s musical, and an animated Disney movie from the 1950s, this song would be it.
There is a kind of fluttering magic here where at times Elvis seems to rely on country standards, and sometimes the background vocals sound like the oohing and ahhing from Bambi, Sleeping Beauty, and Lady and the Tramp. The atmosphere sounds rustic, his low notes tell the tale of an aimless forgotten cowboy, and sometimes the singers in the background sound like cows mooing (likely unintentional.)
Then there is a spooky rift in the background with someone singing some high notes like a ghost. This song seems simple on the surface, but if you slow down to listen to the parts, it's a fever dream of a recording.
#36 In the Garden
The hymn was written by C. Austin Miles in 1913. It was inspired by John 20:14. The song is slow and simple. It could actually put you to sleep.
Elvis is backed by a choir—one of my favorite parts is during the chorus you can hear the deep basses. Elvis sings this song as if he were in a church pew in the middle of introspection. It's not an overly expressive song; it's more subdued, especially for Elvis and how much he can put into a song. There is something somber and soft here, giving the popular tune a kind of reverence.
This song doesn't have the right dynamics to really pull out the best of Elvis' talent, but it's decent enough. The choir is a class act.
#35 If We Never Meet Again
This song exudes charm as if it were a romantic ballad centered on unrequited love or unfinished business. Elvis gently sings "If We Never Meet Again", expressing it like a lullaby to a newborn. The song is entirely in his upper register, giving him an angelic, almost ethereal sound.
There is something captivating about this sweet rendition, and under the right conditions, it might cause the listener to shed a tear or two.
The piano plays in an old speakeasy way, giving it a bewitching and nostalgic feel. Elvis sings a song of parting: it's a message promising to someone if they can't meet now, they will one day and in a better place.
There are times when Elvis almost whispers the lyrics. If you compare his softer side to his more dynamic and brassy side, you'll notice how versatile he was as a singer. There wasn't an emotion too far-fetched for him to express. There wasn't a song that he couldn't do. He could sing about the ritz and glam of Vegas or the intimate existential hope for life on the other side.
#34 He Is My Everything
Do you need a slow dance song with everything '70s in it? This song sounds like it is intended for a big ballroom. Elvis gets emotional in the song, and you can tell his voice has aged from his earlier works. Not in a bad way, it's just a more mature and polished voice.
There is a Vegas-style showmanship about this gospel song. It's dramatic, almost operatic, and fairly predictable. At times when Elvis goes through the lower notes, he sounds drunken. Though many of these songs that have a natural sway to them have a drunken-pub-like factor.
#33 There Is No God But God
An old country song that sounds like cowboys going into the west. It sounds like background music for a John Wayne movie. Elvis turned his vibrato to its max level: there is enough vibrato in this song to feed the masses.
"There Is No God But God" is on He Touched Me, Elvis' third and final studio gospel album. Overall, the album shows how much music recordings evolved during Elvis' lifetime. The backing tracks are more complicated than on his other gospel albums, and his voice is very polished, devoid of any flaws.
The song is kitschy—it kind of sounds like an advertisement for cigarettes.
#32 Without Him
There are a lot of really slow, somber, and depressing songs on How Great Thou Art. I was worried "Without Him" would fall to the same pattern as "Somebody Bigger Than You and I" and "Farther Along", but I think Elvis got out of that box and showed off more of his vocal chops.
His voice grows more pleading and powerful as the song continues, and he lets his voice swell with a kind of urgency that makes you wonder about things beyond our earthly plane. There is a delightful piano arrangement that at times has just the right punctuation for Elvis' phrasings. It's not my favorite Elvis song, but it isn't the weakest of the bunch.
#31 It's No Secret (What God Can Do)
A whole paper could be written about the way Elvis sings "The chimes of time ring out the news", the very first line of the song. He cuts into those words with a distinct and unusual freshness. When he says "chimes" and "ring" he makes his voice sound like a ringing bell, and by the last word, he fades making for unpredictable phrasing—his next line is almost lost to quietness.
You can hear some blues traditions in this song, and Elvis has a kind of sway to his voice, a kind of inviting allure to wait and expect more. He masterfully dances around the high notes. I would argue this song is a mashup of gospel, lullaby, and blues.
Elvis holds himself back quite a bit in this song. He plays around with enunciation deciding what he really wants to highlight and slacking on other consonants. It might be hard to understand what he is saying without the lyrics right in front of you.
There are a lot of interesting creative choices in this song: dithering with pitches, playing with different accents, and a gladness to finally get to the big crescendo at the second to last phrase: "With arms wide open, he'll pardon you".
This song gives us a subdued and unpredictable Elvis performance.
#30 Known Only to Him
I wish there were more Elvis gospel songs with violin strums, partly because this song sounds like it would benefit from some string accompaniment. His voice in this song is crystal clear, graciously in his upper register, and it's beguiling. This is a short and sweet song, but it's vocally one of Elvis' best. He shows amazing vocal control, and with precision, he adjusts from his lower to higher vocal registers. I'm envious at how well he can sing high and low.
The elegance of this song is what makes it a star. It's pure, not overproduced, and there's a kind of hopefulness from Elvis that gets lost in his later years.
#29 Take My Hand, Precious Lord
Of the slower Elvis gospel songs, this is one of the better ones. Elvis belts out the notes with a passion that makes you believe in him. The song has a sway to it, like horses going up and down on a merry-go-round.
There are times when you can tell Elvis is really digging the lyrics and is trying very hard to capture a scene and take us to another place. With a certain punchiness when he sings "Precious Lord", Elvis makes a sincere plea.
#28 Lead Me, Guide Me
If you adjusted this song just slightly, it would be an old country song. It seems as if cowboy Elvis was asked to come into the studio, and the famous singer came in with his boots, belt, hat, and horse. They asked him to sing one of his favorite tunes, and he whipped out "Lead Me, Guide Me".
It does at times get a little cloying and kitschy, but it's okay, because Elvis' voice is perfectly syrupy, and as a listener... I'm a moth to the flame.
He gets particularly sassy when he stretches notes. At other times, he breaks notes down into staccatos as if chewing tobacco.
There is something about Elvis' voice that sways from left to right, and in a country-esque song like this that swaying is very apparent. This song is entertaining because of the way Elvis attacks certain consonants... and then the way he swells into the word "for" in the line "For if you lead me I cannot stray".
#27 Working On the Building
The song combines African American spiritual and gospel traditions. The recording sounds like Elvis is jammin' out with his band and choir. There is a little bit of blues guitar to keep the song together. There is another singer in this song who brings a rich flavor to the music.
I love when Elvis shares his music with others and invites others into the spotlight. Many of the best Elvis songs feature other singers. Elvis also does well with fast-paced rhythms and his intentional stuttering of consonants.
#26 Just a Little Talk With Jesus
The singer incorporates what he knows from rock & roll and blues. It's a faster-paced song with a pizzicato-like rhythm, and it lets Elvis do his signature pulsating and hound dog treatment to words.
This song comes with guitar solos, handclaps, and soulful intonations from another singer. The song fits with Black gospel traditions with call and response, big swoons, and hums.
Elvis has a bounce to his rhythms, like a ball bouncing in quick succession until it rolls on the ground. There are some tempo changes and bluesy plot twists on par with the Memphis standards of the time. If we could time travel, we might find Elvis playing this song in a bar, having the time of his life, talking to people about Jesus, and getting a beer with his friends.
#25 I'm Gonna Walk Dem Golden Stairs
I can't get over how fun it is to listen to Elvis when you can tell he is having a blast. This upbeat song sounds like a mix of doo-wop, barbershop quartet, and church revival music. It's almost as good as "Swing Down Sweet Chariot", but it doesn't have quite enough personality to be memorable.
Elvis' smile comes across through the music. It's a blast of positivity that can help lift your spirits on a bad day.
#24 So High
Elvis to me is at his best when he's given plenty of rhythm and room to show off his personality. I love when he has a strong choir behind him, particularly one that sounds excited. You can tell all the people in this song love music, and they just want to share that gift with others. This song is full of old-school church revival traditions from clapping, singing, shouting, and, well, triangle beating.
Elvis sounds as if he is singing off to the side of the stage, maybe leaning against a piano. He lets the choir on stage shine. He just barely pushes the needle to keep the excitement going. The choirs for Elvis Presley's songs are some of the best. The geniuses in the recording studios who brought these different personalities together make this seem easy.
#23 I Believe in the Man in the Sky
You have to wait almost 30 seconds before you get to Elvis on this song. It starts with a piano introduction and a chorus interlude. Then Elvis sings "I believe in the man in the sky", and the song takes on a more groovy rockabilly sound. He sings this song with a sassiness, like a bird whistling a familiar tune. There is a stutter in this song typical of Elvis where he keeps repeating the same syllable with a forward kind of momentum, and this helps him build to the end of the song where he shows off his prima voce.
While listening to this song, you may get carried off to another time when wait staff rolled up to your car on skates, giant neon signs flashed at stores, and black-and-white TVs played simplistic sitcoms.
#22 He Touched Me
Elvis at the start of this song appears to blend with the choir. There is something in his unique vocal signature that tickles the ears. I would argue his emotions propel him, and it's unlike any singer—of his time or the present.
We don't have an Elvis in contemporary times. There are not a lot of singers who can be one with a choir, step out as a leader, and be fully known in the secular world. It's easy to get wrapped up in Elvis-mania when you take a closer listen to his catalog.
Elvis is all over the place on this song switching his register from his lower notes to higher notes, but he does it effortlessly. He uses his emotions to connect to different parts of his range. There is a strength that's noticeable in the lower notes, and there is a resplendence in his higher notes.
This song wouldn't be my first suggestion for people to listen to when it comes to Elvis Presley's gospel music; however, the song and its album did earn him his second Grammy.
#21 (There'll Be) Peace in the Valley
Diving into a bass range like he's cruising along with Johnny Cash, he sings adamantly in his recognizable lower register. This song is fairly simplistic compared to his other gospel songs, but sometimes a good song is designed around simple mechanics. It is arranged like a barbershop quartet.
The song is a black spiritual gospel written in the 1930s by Thomas A. Dorsey and performed by Mahalia Jackson. The song received mass coverage because Presley performed it on his third and final appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on January 6, 1957.
The performance was seen by an estimated 54.6 million viewers. Presley dedicated the song to the 250,000 refugees who left or were leaving Hungary. They fled after the Soviet Union invaded Hungary twice; the invasions took place on October 24th and October 31st.
#20 Stand By Me
This song has a soul-stirring quality to it. The song is beautifully suited for Elvis' voice. He sounds deeply sad as if yearning for something more. I think it's an honest portrayal of the early 20th-century gospel song written by Charles Albert Tindley, a Methodist minister.
Elvis articulates the song well, giving just the right nuances to convey emotion. He gives some of his signature blues sway to the song, and there is something to this bluesy style that makes the song poignant.
I think this song is haunting because Elvis died young, and the lyrics have lines like: "When I'm growing old and feeble, stand by me."
#19 By and By
Rock & roll with a hint of electric guitar. Elvis can at times drown in the slowness of songs that were produced for How Great Thou Art. "By and By" picks up the rhythm, bringing life into the album. It's a toe-tapper with a lot of promises and messages of hope. It has an American stamp to it as Elvis' gospel and rock traditions overlap.
#18 Seeing Is Believing
When rock & roll combines with piano, Motown backup singers, and country guitar strums. The song occasionally goes electric like the bands of its time, the 1970s.
If I didn't actually know, I never would have guessed this was a gospel song. It's easy to get lost in the music and not pay attention to the lyrics.
Elvis sounds like he is having a blast singing this song. The recording is pristine, masterful even. You can tell there were massive improvements in song recording during Elvis' lifetime. Occasionally, songs get overproduced in Elvis' later work, but I think the right elements came together for this track.
#17 Where Could I Go But to the Lord
Have mercy. This song has some serious swagger. And you can tell Elvis knows it too. You can picture him with his thick hair, swinging his hips, and snapping his fingers. The choir's arrangement is spot on, backing him perfectly.
Elvis turns this song into a smooth blend of gospel and blues. He uses the right elements of his voice, making the words easy to understand with some occasional stylistic choices based on a rightly earned confidence.
The song has a steady tempo—it's not too fast or too slow. Sometimes Elvis could hold those notes a little longer and louder, but he subsides when he feels like it, and he lets the choir fill in the gaps. You can tell he really enjoyed dropping down to the lowest notes of the song.
This is a really honest version of Elvis where he seems relaxed, not too fussed about making things perfect, and enjoying making music. His authority comes from a place of loving to create music and be part of it all.
#16 He Knows Just What I Need
There are times when you're listening to Elvis and you think he's done with his bag of tricks. You think, yeah, I've got him figured out. And then he does something with his voice that makes your eyes get big, and you have to stand back in awe of his talent.
This song seems on the surface like it's pretty run of the mill for the King, but he does something gorgeous with his voice in this song when he reaches up to a high note that transcends all expectations. He gets there by ascending in the chorus starting with the low line, "My Jesus knows just what I need" and craftily finds his way to his high note in the word "satisfies" ... it is as smooth as butter and as gorgeous as an aurora borealis.
It's perfection. He starts off "My Jesus knows just what I need" with lovely velvety tones. The next line repeats the same verse, but a little higher, and he holds back just enough that when he gets to "He satisfies and every need supplies" he really takes the wheel and drives the song home. The way he executes the word "supplies" is musical gymnastics that will make your heart pound. People were right for being obsessed with him when he was alive (and still today).
#15 If the Lord Wasn't Walking By My Side
The blues riffs happening in the background of this song make it a class act number. Things get a little more loose and groovy in this gospel tune.
Elvis gets lost at times to the choir, but I feel like this song is more of an ensemble and Elvis sometimes maneuvers best when he doesn't try to carry the whole weight of the song.
I also love that the choir tries to mimic some of Elvis' signature moves, like making his hound dog noises and other idiosyncratic enunciations. I think this song deserves more love than it gets.
#14 Joshua Fit the Battle
This song is dangerous because the chorus is catchy, so just as a fair warning: it can get stuck in your head.
I think Elvis enjoyed singing complicated tongue twisters because there is a certain precision and excitement in the way he sings, "Joshua fit the battle around Jericho." This is one of those fun songs where Elvis can be more of a storyteller than a singer. In his own way, he brings life to the old Bible tale about the fall of Jericho.
The King brings his rock & roll and bluesy ways to this gospel tune. There are definitely times in this song where he slips into the styles he'd use more so for his secular music.
#13 I've Got Confidence
Another song on the He Touched Me album. It has more variety to it than other songs on this list—in fact, no other song on this list is like this.
I'd call it Vegas mish-mash with country and blues. There are key changes and funky transitions. The song will go fast and punchy and suddenly it'll nosedive into slowness. Elvis' voice at times gets grunty. This song could be matched with videos of people line dancing and tours of steakhouses in Texas. As for an actual gospel message, it's about having a healthy self-esteem and the freedom to express yourself.
I can't imagine a song like this getting created today. It's 100% of its time. Straight up 1972.
#12 Reach Out to Jesus
The final track to He Touched Me. The conclusion to the album has many of Elvis' signature moves. This song takes itself back to the roots of gospel music, harkening back to tracks he did in the '50s and '60s.
Elvis at this point in his career has a masterful handle of his voice. He knows exactly how to play into the notes and words. He packs little bits of his personality into the song, making it his own. There are some amazing runs in this song where Elvis effortlessly expresses the lyrics. He takes on this song by bringing his whole self to the table and nothing less.
The way his voice swells and transitions from note to note is perfection, and he ends powerfully in a way that makes you feel like you really did get to fully hear the full versatility of his voice.
#11 Bosom of Abraham
A seriously good musical arrangement that's catchy, upbeat, and full of what makes Elvis great. It's got rockabilly written all over it, with Elvis likely swaying, shaking his head of hair, and whatever it is that he does with his hips.
This song is fast-paced, Elvis' voice is attractively deep, and there is a barbershop quartet-like set of backup singers. Elvis is somewhat of a one-man show on this song singing different lines that sound like they're too far octave-wise to be done by one person, but he does it to perfection.
The song is based heavily on rhythm and speed. Elvis belts out some lines and at times seems to make love to the music. It's fun to hear him sing, "Rock, rock, rock down in the bosom."
#10 Milky White Way
It's honestly not fair that we don't have someone like Elvis with us today, or even someone making music like this. He had a comfortability to singing church music that felt honest and open to anyone of any faith, the way music should be. He let you enjoy gospel music as an art form like medieval and renaissance paintings did for Christianity: the fun becomes the way the artist looks at the things and not the monolith that is religion itself.
Anyway, this song has got 1950s diner feels, country guitar strums, piano trills, and Elvis sitting at the center telling us he's going to meet his mom again, and he's going to meet his maker.
Elvis was reportedly never the same after his mother died in 1960. She was diagnosed with hepatitis and her condition worsened very quickly.
My hope is he did make it to heaven, and he and his mom get to play cards every Tuesday.
#9 I, John
Another smooth track from He Touched Me, the second album to get him a Grammy and the most contemporary of his gospel albums. The energy on this song just keeps building.
Elvis gets impressively into this song; he gives his all without cracking his voice or losing his pitch. This song is worth listening to for Elvis' intensity, especially near the end. The storytelling is also compelling, digging its heels into a portrait of one of the most beloved Bible characters.
There are a lot of harmonies stacked right up on top of each other, so there is this interesting echo-like effect. It's made even more compelling when Elvis belts out over the noise. Elvis uses the strongest part of his voice for this gospel song.
#8 Where No One Stands Alone
Welcome to the stage our friend Country Elvis, who sings with all the roots he has from Tennessee and beyond. Where No One Stands Alone is an album of archival voice recordings of Elvis. It was released in 2018. It revisited gospel songs from his previous albums.
The track "Where No One Stands Alone" was remixed as a duet with his daughter Lisa Marie Presley. The song, in my opinion, is a tribute to Elvis from his daughter. It's a snapshot of what could have been for her if her father hadn't died in his 40s.
It's a beautiful composition; the two vocal tracks are mixed together perfectly. It's far better than most of the country music that's on the radio today. This song is high on my rank list along with Milky White Way because of the connections the songs have to two of the most important people in Elvis' life, his mother and daughter.
#7 A Thing Called Love
This song sounds like it was designed for a 1970s musical. It's unlike the majority of Elvis' songs. It changes tempo sporadically, there is a nice percussive beat keeping things together. There is an array of instruments and background singers. It's highly creative, kind of confusing at times, and it descends into deep and dark notes at the end. This is Elvis at his heavy bass range.
There is a piano that plays all over the place, at times Elvis sounds like a soldier on a mission. He sounds serious, like an adult with bills, children, and a wife. It doesn't have the swagger of his teenage and young adult days.
I like this song for its absolute randomness. There isn't anything like it. At moments it could be a song for the Mary Tyler Moore Show—other times it's a dreamy song of an otherworldly tavern. It's similar to the experimental songs of The Beatles.
#6 Run On
Elvis has entered the building! Elvis plays this song with all the charisma and zeal that he has in his thick hair and swinging hips. "Run On" is a beautiful marriage of gospel, rock & roll, and blues. It has a similar percussive treatment to the Golden Gate Quartet's version of "Run On". The Golden Gate Quartet is a group that formed in 1934, has changed members out frequently, and is still active today.
Elvis Presley's version perfectly represents the zeitgeist of the time. The song is fast-paced, full of rockabilly thunder, and sounds like it inspired the musical Grease. This is the kind of song the Coen Brothers or Quentin Tarantino would use in their movies. It has bewitching backup vocals and an excitable blues guitar. The lyrics are full of imagery, making this song ripe for cinema.
#5 Swing Down Sweet Chariot
A barbershop quartet with a noticeable southern twang, and Elvis clearly enjoying being part of the music and the band. His voice is velvety delicious, and he has a lot of fun swaying into notes and fluttering that god-given vibrato.
Elvis gets to be a storyteller on this one, but he also very clearly gets taken away with the music. He sings about Ezekiel from the Bible as if he is a man driving in his old blue Chevrolet to get home to his family by dinnertime.
I admittedly love this song. It is infectious in all the right ways. It's delightful to hear Elvis sing his flirtatious "well" six times in a row. It's also fun to hear him pop into the "Z" of Zeek. Elvis really was the entire package when it came to music and performance, and he could still be humble while amazing you. This was an electric singer who knew how to connect with people.
#4 Amazing Grace
In his true velvety deliciousness, Elvis Presley sings the classic hymn in a way that makes it all his own. He is backed by a choir, a simple percussion line, and an old-school organ. He doesn't always nail the pitches, but the passion more than makes up for it. There is a section of the song where Elvis takes a break and lets the choir shine.
Elvis comes off as a powerful solo leader, inspiring the choir to dig deeper. His performance is passionate, and somehow, despite the power of his voice and his name recognition, he comes off humble and authentic. He sounds like someone you could get lunch with later in the day, have work on your car, or go shoot some hoops with you in the neighborhood.
This is an exquisite rendition of Amazing Grace, a definite time capsule of an almost forgotten era.
#3 Crying in the Chapel
A swoon-worthy song oozing with Elvis charm. The song was recorded during his sessions for His Hand in Mine, but it was released later on How Great Thou Art. The song was originally written in 1953 by Artie Glenn for his son Darrell to sing.
Elvis nails the first couple of lines drawing out the emotions in it:
"You saw me crying in the chapel,
the tears I shed were tears of joy."
I think part of why this song works so well is because of the imagery. Elvis is an excellent storyteller who can really bring out the importance of each word and really drive out the images that are at the core of the story. His low notes are like honey in this song, his middle range is elegant, and those high notes are as perfect as a bird in flight.
Elvis recorded the song three times and wasn't happy with the way it sounded or his performance. It was shelved, and he moved on with his life. Thank goodness someone turned around and brought it back because it is Elvis at some of his finest.
#2 You'll Never Walk Alone
This is perhaps the most cinematic gospel song of Elvis' career. It's hard not to imagine the end of a movie and the credits going by while listening to this.
You can tell Elvis enjoyed singing this song. It showcases a lot of his favorite and signature vocal moves: his love for sustaining notes, sliding wonderfully into key changes, dipping into low notes, powerful crescendoes, and unleashing his gorgeous vibrato.
"You'll Never Walk Alone" is a show tune created by Rodgers and Hammerstein for the 1945 musical Carousel. It was recently used as an anthem for first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are renditions of this song from a long list of famous singers: Johnny Cash, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, and Glen Campbell.
"You'll Never Walk Alone" is the anthem of the football team Liverpool F.C.
#1 How Great Thou Art
This is hands down the most important track of the King's gospel career. I can't imagine someone arguing for a different song to be in the number one slot.
Elvis Presley is often at his best when he is allowed to fully express his vibrato. This song lets him drive long sustaining notes. He is backed by a piano, played like it's a harp. A choir accompanies him with grace, never overpowering him, precisely finding their arrangement.
The chorus of this song almost seems like it was written for Elvis. You can tell he loves to sing the big chorus with its swelling notes and the composition's natural nudging to crescendo.
Elvis expresses every emotion he can in this song. He conveys a sense of awe at God and that which is bigger than himself; he also conveys despair as a human who isn't fully in the presence of his maker. I recommend listening to this song a few times to get a feel for Elvis' emotional nuances.
The song is a capstone of Elvis' vocal ambitions. He sings it as a one-man quartet.
The album Elvis Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis included a version of "How Great Thou Art"; it earned Elvis his third and final Grammy Award.
© 2022 Andrea Lawrence