Monday, November 15, 2010

"Suspicious Minds" (1969)

37. Elvis Presley, "Suspicious Minds" (Sept. 20, 1969, #1)

I know it could well be considered some kind of sacrilege to not only place the hallowed king of rock 'n' roll at such a relatively low level on a list like this, but then to complicate the matter further—adding insult to injury, like—by choosing this title to do it with. But I was born almost exactly too late for Elvis (and right on time for the Beatles) and never caught up with his great '50s work, the best of which did not chart anyway, until well after his death. Meanwhile, this song has worked its way far inside me, slow and steady, starting from that first autumn when it was on the radio. As I say, I was almost entirely ignorant about who he was and what he represented. I didn't understand this was part of a comeback that many considered almost miraculous. To me, it was just something I heard on the radio, shut up in my bedroom by myself working on puzzles and/or Ed Roth hot-rod models (which I wasn't particularly into either, I just wanted something to do while I played the radio, and liked the "Mad" magazine vibe). This song wasn't even a particular favorite, at least not consciously, but the worried tone of it worked on me, the simple but dexterous guitar playing, the strings sawing in on the big moments, the subdued and submerged tone of his vocal, as if he is singing from the bottom of a very deep place, and the overweening, aching sadness that it communicates. Over the years, I came to love this more and more, until finally, in 1981, I bought a copy of the 45 single and proceeded to wear it down to surface noise. I think I'm probably not explaining very well what is important to me about this song, but it's important.

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