Do you write lyrics that could be considered unintelligible or nonsensical based on the laws of English? If so, you’re certainly not alone. Elvis Presley, who is undoubtedly one of the greatest artists to have ever lived, is famous for spitting lyrics that defied natural language or comprehension, but resonated with millions of fans around the world.
Commonly referred to as the ‘King,’ the rock and roll legend was not only a pop culture icon during his heyday; many believe he is the father of what modern pop music has evolved to. In addition to that, his unique style of delivery and great vocals were just a few of the things that set Elvis apart from other musicians in his time. But, he was also considered a genius for the way he used lyrics in his songs.
It is no secret that other people wrote much of his songs but the way he delivered lyrics that often defied basic logic seemed to be an extension of his personality.
Let’s look at lines from a few of Presley’s iconic songs:
▪ A well’a bless my soul/ What’sa wrong with me?/ I’m itchin’ like a man in a fuzzy tree. Taken from “All Shook Up,” these lyrics depict how a woman was causing him to have a ‘fuzzy’ feeling. Makes sense now, doesn’t it?
▪ Well, since my baby left me/ Well, I found a new place to dwell/ Well, it’s down at the end of Lonely Street/ At Heartbreak Hotel. Lines from another of his big hits, “Heartbreak Hotel,” these lyrics sound pretty corny when read but actually hit home for many of Presley’s fans based on the song’s sad message.
▪ Rock-a-hula baby/ Rock-a-hula baby/ Got a hula lulu from Honolulu/ That rock-a-hula baby of mine. This is simply a very upbeat and catchy refrain for “Rock-a-hula-baby.”
For many songwriters, it is often quite easy to obsess about the sound and meaning of lyrics, resulting in much chopping and changing. However, listening to some of Presley’s songs, one gets the feeling that he wanted to keep the lyrics as ‘organic’ and un-modified as possible. Sure, many of his songs were written by other people, but Presley is credited a lot for arranging the lyrics to suit his style. Just ask Hamilton Leithauser, who recently conducted a series of songwriting lessons via TheAtlantic.com based on the music of Elvis Presley.
A recurring theme among those lessons is the catchiness and gimmickry that can be found in quite a few of Elvis Presley’s songs, some of which were his biggest hits in the 1950s through to the 1970s. These themes are elements that grabbed listeners and kept his fans wanting more, while causing him to be an influence for many other artists during his time and countless others who came after him.
Over the years since Presley’s death, numerous interviews with people who were close to the singer have helped to give lovers of his music a better idea of why he could use lyrics the way he did and wow audiences. Whether it was his accent, his voice, his music persona, or a combination of all the above, Presley’s lyrics stood out and still stand the test of time.