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The Boss to The King: Springsteen Takes on an Elvis Hit

Elvis never penned his own tunes, instead he picked the ones he liked from an endless array of chart-toppers. Among those, he found a song by Bruce Springsteen. As time went on, Elvis’s unique way of picking his music seemed more and more unusual. He was known for his cover songs, especially taking African American blues and rock songs and making them appealing to the wider, mainly white audience. His early hits like ‘That’s All Right’ and ‘Hound Dog’, along with his versions of songs by Little Richard and Ray Charles, shot him to fame but often left the original creators in the shadows.

The fairness of this practice can be questioned. Elvis’s dealings with songwriters and musicians added to the controversy. He often sought credits for writing on songs he covered, despite not having written them. This led to Dolly Parton’s famous decision not to let him cover ‘I Will Always Love You’ because she wanted to keep her own credits. Despite the potential prestige of having Elvis perform their song, many artists hesitated. Yet, with Elvis being such a monumental figure in music, many were eager for him to perform their works, seeing him as a rock and roll icon who changed the industry.

Bruce Springsteen admired Elvis and was keen on having him cover his songs. Springsteen even attempted to visit Elvis at Graceland to meet him. They nearly collaborated when Springsteen wrote a song for Elvis early in his own career. “I’d written ‘Fire’ specifically for him,” he shared with American Songwriter. He thought of giving the song to Elvis while working on the album Darkness On The Edge Of Town. The song, with its rockabilly vibe and straightforward, Americana storytelling, would have suited Elvis well.

Springsteen passed the song to Elvis’s team, but Elvis passed away in August 1977 before he could hear it. After Elvis’s death, Springsteen felt a shift. “The scene was changing,” he remarked. “The rise of punk and British heavy music marked a new era. With the Sex Pistols, Clash, and Elvis Costello challenging the norms, and after the loss of Elvis, the last icon of a bygone era, it was clear a new direction was needed. This inspired Springsteen to craft anthems that spoke of America’s heartland.

He noted, “It was a time marked by significant endings and beginnings. The loss of Elvis loomed over our work. In the 1978 album Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Springsteen’s delivery, narrative style, and portrayal of American life echoed Elvis’s influence, with a fervor that reshaped music.

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