Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Blue Suede Shoes"

"Blue Suede Shoes" is a rock and roll standard written and first recorded by Carl Perkins in 1955. The 12-bar blues is considered one of the first rockabilly (rock and roll) records and incorporated elements of blues, country and pop music of the time. The song was part of the Beatles' live repertoire from 1957 to 1962.


Johnny Cash planted the seed for the song in the fall of 1955, while Perkins, Cash, Elvis Presley, and other Louisiana Hayride acts toured throughout Texas and the South. Cash told Perkins of a black airman whom he had met when serving in the military in Germany. He had referred to his military regulation air shoes as "blue suede shoes." Cash suggested that Carl write a song about the shoes. Carl replied, "I don't know anything about shoes. How can I write a song about shoes?"

When Perkins played a dance on December 4, 1955, he noticed a couple dancing near the stage. The girl was gorgeous, he thought, and the boy wore blue suede shoes. As they danced the boy cautioned his date "don't step on my suedes." Perkins was bewildered that a guy would value shoes over a beautiful girl.

Later that night, while in bed, Perkins began working on a song based on that incident. His first thought was to frame it with a nursery rhyme. He considered, and quickly discarded "Little Jack Horner..." and "See a spider going up the wall...". Then settled on "One for the money..." Leaving his bed and working with his Les Paul guitar, he started with an A chord. After playing five chords while singing "Well, it's one for the money... Two for the show... Three to get ready... Now go, man, go!" and broke into a boogie rhythm. He quickly grabbed a brown paper potato sack and wrote the song down, writing the title out as "Blue Swade, S-W-A-D-E". "I couldn't even spell it right," he later said.

The song was recorded weeks later, and producer Sam Phillips suggested that Perkins's line "go boy go" be changed to "go cat go."

Success of Perkins' Sun Records release

The Sun recording of "Blue Suede Shoes" was released on January 1, 1956. Two copies of the song on 78 rpm records arrived broken. Perkins soon discovered that the song was only available in the newer 7" microgrooved 45 rpm format. Meanwhile, in both Jackson, where Perkins lived, and in Memphis, radio stations were playing the flip side of the record, "Honey Don't." In Cleveland, Ohio, however, disc jockey Bill Randle was featuring "Blue Suede Shoes" prominently on his nightly show, and before January was over, the Cleveland distributor of the record asked Phillips for an additional 25,000 copies of the record.

"Shoes" became the side of choice throughout the South and Southwest. On February 11 it was the #2 single on Memphis charts, was number one the next week, and remained there for the next 3 months. Perkins made four appearances on the Big D Jamboree on radio station KRLD (AM) in Dallas where he played the song every Saturday night, and was booked on a string of one nighters in the Southwest. The Jamboree emanated from the Dallas Sportatorium with about four thousand seats, and it sold out for each of Perkins' performances. Music shops in Dallas ordered a huge number of records, and at one point the record was selling at a rate of 20,000 copies per day.

A Song Hits review of the song, published February 18 stated that "Perkins has come up with some wax here that has hit the national retail chart in almost record time. Interestingly enough, the disk has a measure of appeal for pop and r.&b. customers."

On March 17, Perkins became the first country artist to reach the number three spot on the rhythm & blues charts. That night, Perkins and his band first performed "Blue Suede Shoes" on television on ABC-TV's Ozark Jubilee (coincidentally, Presley was on Stage Show that same night, singing the song again).

Perkins was booked to next perform the song on The Perry Como Show on NBC-TV on March 24, but on March 22 he and his band members had a serious automobile accident on the way to New York City, resulting in the death of a truck driver and the hospitalization of both Perkins and his brother. While Perkins recuperated from the accident, "Blue Suede Shoes" rose to number one on most pop, R&B, and country regional charts. It also held the number two position on the Billboard Hot 100 and country charts. Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" held the number one position on the pop and country charts, while "Shoes" did better than "Heartbreak" on the R&B charts.

By mid-April, more than one million copies of "Shoes" had been sold. "Blue Suede Shoes" was the first million selling country song to cross over to both rhythm and blues and pop charts.

Sam Phillips retained the rights to the song, although it was represented by the New York house of Hill and Range as part of the agreement when Phillips sold Presley's contract. Perkins would not acquire the rights to "Shoes," along with all of his Sun Records songs until 1977.

Presley and Blue Suede Shoes

Recording cover versions of songs was standard practice during the 1940s and 1950s, and "Blue Suede Shoes" was one of the first tunes RCA wanted their new performer, Elvis Presley, to record. "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Shoes" rose on the charts at roughly the same time. RCA, with its superior distribution and radio contacts, knew it could probably steal a hit record from Phillips and Perkins. For his part, when Presley who knew both Perkins and Phillips from his days at Sun Records gave into pressure from RCA, he requested that they hold back his version from release as a single. The Elvis version features two biting guitar solos by Scotty Moore, along with Bill Black on bass, and D.J. Fontana on drums.

According to Scotty Moore, when the song was recorded, "We just went in there and started playing, just winged it. Just followed however Elvis felt." According to reports confirmed by Sam Phillips, RCA producer Steve Sholes agreed not to release Presley's version of the song as a single while Carl's release was hot.

Presley performed the song on national television three times in 1956. The first was on February 11 on the CBS-TV program Stage Show. He performed it again on his third Stage Show appearance on March 17, then again on the Milton Berle Show on April 3. On July 1, Steve Allen introduced Elvis on the Steve Allen Show, and Presley, appearing in formal evening wear, stated "I think that I have on something tonight that's not quite right for evening wear." Allen asked, "What's that, Elvis?" "Blue suede shoes" was the answer, as he lifted his left foot to show the audience. Presley mentions blue suede shoes a second time on this show. In a song during the "Range Roundup" comedy skit with Steve Allen, Andy Griffith, and Imogene Coca, he delivers the line, "I'm a warnin' you galoots, don't step on my blue suede shoes."

Moore has said that Elvis recorded the song to help out Perkins after his accident. "Elvis wasn't really thinking at that time that it was going to make money for Carl; he was doing it as more of a tribute type thing. Of course Carl was glad he did. It really helped as his record started going down."

"Blue Suede Shoes" was the first song on the first groundbreaking album Elvis Presley, which was released in March. RCA released two other records with "Blue Suede Shoes" the same month: one an Extended Play with 4 songs, and a 2x extended play version with 8 songs.

RCA released the Presley version as a single on September 8. This single reached #20, whereas the Perkins version had topped the chart.

In 1960, Presley re-recorded "Blue Suede Shoes" for the soundtrack of the film G.I. Blues. While Elvis' character's group "The Three Blazes" plays a ballad at a Frankfurt night club ("Doin' The Best I Can" by Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman), a bored GI plays "Blue Suede Shoes" by Elvis Presley on the juke box, remarking that he wants "to hear an original". When another soldier tries to unplug the juke box, the entire place erupts into a fight. This studio re-recording marked one of only a few occasions in Presley's career in which he agreed to re-record a previously issued song.

Other 1956 recordings

"Blue Suede Shoes" was recorded and released many times in 1956. February releases were by Delbert Barker and the Gateway All Stars on the Gateway and Big Hits labels, Thumper Jones (George Jones), Hank Smith, and Buzz Williams. RCA Victor released a Pee Wee King version on March 3 of that same year, the same date as a Capital release by Bob Rubian. These releases were followed closely by the March 10 releases of a Boyd Bennett version on King, and the Columbia release of a Sid King version. Decca, too, released a version by Roy Hall, and the Dot label then released a recording by Jim Lowe.


"Blue Suede Shoes" is often referenced in other songs including Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven" with "I'm giving you the warning, don't you step on my blue suede shoes."

"Blue Suede Shoes" was chosen as one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. In 1986 Perkins' version was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame, and was included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2006. The board selects songs on an annual basis that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

In 2004, Perkins' version was ranked number 95 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. It is his only song on that list. Presley's recording of the song was also on the list at number 423.

In 1999, National Public Radio included "Blue Suede Shoes" in the "NPR 100," in which NPR's music editors sought to compile the one hundred most important American musical works of the 20th century.

The song is referenced in the Beastie Boys song Johnny Ryall from their album Paul's Boutique. The title character, a homeless man, "claims that he wrote the Blue Suede Shoes".

Selected list of recorded versions

The song is a rock and roll standard and has been performed and recorded by many artists, including:

* 1955 Carl Perkins, US #1
* Buddy Holly as recorded on the Buddy Holly Story compilation.
* 1956 Elvis Presley
* 1958 Cliff Richard
* 1969 The Beatles, during the "Get Back"/"Let It Be" sessions
* 1969 Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys in the rock and roll medley Good Old Rock & Roll
* Count von Count on Sesame Street
* Eddie Cochran
* Jimi Hendrix
* Johnny Rivers, US #38, 1973
* 1969 John Lennon covered it live in Toronto
* Bill Haley & His Comets Haley recorded "Blue Suede Shoes" on two occasions: in 1960 for US Warner Bros. Records and again in 1972 for Swedish Sonet Records.
* Albert King "Blues For Elvis: King Does The King's Things" (Stax 1970)
* Lemmy and The Upsetters with Mick Green
* Black Sabbath (back when they were known as Earth)
* Billy "Crash" Craddock on the album Live!
* Brian Setzer
* Jerry Lee Lewis
* The Toy Dolls
* Helloween
* Stray Cats
* Los Super Reyes
* Hurriganes

Cultural references

* Marc Cohn makes a reference to "Blue Suede Shoes" in his song "Walking in Memphis."
* Langston Hughes created a short story titled, "Thank You, Ma'am," mentioning Blue Suede Shoes.
* Chuck Berry mentions "Blue Suede Shoes" in his song "Roll Over Beethoven" in the lines: "Early in the mornin'/I'm a'givin you the warnin'/Don't you step on my blue suede shoes." "Roll Over Beethoven" has been covered by many other artists including the Beatles and Electric Light Orchestra.
* Buddy Holly's recording "Rock Around with Ollie Vee" contains the lyric "Ollie Vee says she's gonna do me right tonight / I'm gonna wear my blue suede shoes tonight."
* Larry Williams, in the song "Short Fat Fannie", mentions "Blue Suede Shoes."
* King Crimson refer to the "old fruitjar" in their song "Easy Money."
* The David Essex song "Rock On" mentions about jumping up and down in her "Blue Suede Shoes."
* Blue Suede Shoes is also the title of a 1980 documentary film about the British rockabilly scene.
* The Nintendo DS game Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney makes a reference to the song, in a sequence where the character mistakenly refers to Detective Gumshoe as "Detective Suedeshoes."
* Brian Setzer also refers to it in The Stray Cats' song Built for Speed.
* Gene Summers and Shawn Summers refer to "Blue Suede Shoes" in their song "Gonna Drive 'em Up A Wall" with the lyric "gonna slick up my hair wear my blue suede shoes/gonna rock all night to the boppin' blues." ("Reminisce Cafe" CD, 2008)
* The Motörhead song "Just 'Cos 'You've Got the Power" makes a reference to "Blue Suede Shoes."
* In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, blue suede shoes can be both stolen from some houses and taken off the bodies of some non-player characters that the player kills.
* The game World of Warcraft has a pair of Blue Suede Shoes dropping from Kaz'rogal, a raid boss in the game's expansion The Burning Crusade.
* In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a cheat code BLUESUEDESHOES can make all pedestrians look live Elvis.
* The first song of Chuck E. Weiss's album Extremely Cool is called "The Devil with Blue Suede Shoes."

Single by Carl Perkins
B-side Honey Don't
Released January 1, 1956
Format 7" single
Recorded December 19, 1955
Genre Rock and roll
Length 2:14
Label Sun Records
Writer(s) Carl Perkins
Producer Sam Phillips

Single by Elvis Presley
from the album Elvis Presley
B-side: "Tutti Frutti"
Released: September 8, 1956
Format: 7" single
Recorded: January 30, 1956
Genre: Rock and roll
Length: 1:58
Label: RCA Records
Writer(s): Carl Perkins
Producer: Steve Sholes


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