Blue Suede Shoes
"Blue Suede Shoes" is a rock-and-roll standard written and first recorded by Carl Perkins in 1955. It is considered one of the first rockabilly records, incorporating elements of blues, country and pop music of the time. Perkins' original version of the song was on the Cashbox Best Selling Singles list for 16 weeks and spent two weeks in the number two position. Elvis Presley performed his version of the song three different times on national television. It was also recorded by Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, among many others.
|"Blue Suede Shoes"|
A-side label of US single
|Single by Carl Perkins|
|Format||7-inch 45 rpm, 10-inch 78 rpm|
|Recorded||December 19, 1955|
|Studio||Memphis Recording Service, Memphis, Tennessee|
|Genre||Rockabilly, rock and roll|
|Carl Perkins singles chronology|
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 the South. Cash told Perkins of a black airman, C. V. White, whom he had met when serving in the military in Germany, who had referred to his military regulation airmen's shoes as "blue suede shoes". Cash suggested that Perkins write a song about the shoes. Perkins 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. Between songs, he heard a stern, forceful voice say, "Uh-uh, don't step on my suedes!" He looked down and noted that the boy was wearing blue suede shoes and one had a scuff mark. "Good gracious, a pretty little thing like that and all he can think about is his blue suede shoes", thought Perkins.
That night Perkins began working on a song based on the 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!" he 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. According to Perkins, "On December 17, 1955, I wrote 'Blue Suede Shoes'. I recorded it on December 19", for Sun Records. Sun's producer, Sam Phillips, convinced Perkins to change the lyric from "go, boy, go" in the first take of the song to "go cat go" in the second, the one released.
Success of Perkins' Sun Records release
Perkins' recording of "Blue Suede Shoes" was released in early 1956, as Sun 234. Two copies of the song on 78-rpm records were sent to Perkins but arrived broken. He soon discovered that the song was available in the newer 7-inch microgrooved 45-rpm format and was disappointed that he didn't have a copy in the older, more substantial 78-rpm format.
In Jackson (where Perkins lived) and 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.
"Shoes" became the side of choice throughout the South and Southwest. On February 11 it was the number two single on Memphis charts; it was number one the next week and remained there for the next three months. Perkins made four appearances on the radio program Big D Jamboree on 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 was broadcast from the Dallas Sportatorium, with about 4,000 seats, and it sold out for each of Perkins' performances. Music shops in Dallas ordered a huge number of copies of the record, and at one point it was selling at a rate of 20,000 copies per day.
A Song Hits review of the song, published on 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 and 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 on CBS-TV that same night, for which he also performed the song).
Perkins was booked to appear on The Perry Como Show on NBC-TV on March 24, but on March 22 he and his band were in a serious automobile crash 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 his injuries, "Blue Suede Shoes" rose to number one on most pop, R&B and country regional charts. "I was a poor farm boy, and with 'Shoes' I felt I had a chance but suddenly there I was in the hospital," Perkins recalled bitterly. 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.
Perkins never attained the stardom of Presley, who, according to Perkins, "had everything. He had the looks, the moves, the manager, and the talent. And he didn't look like Mr. Ed, like a lot of us did, Elvis was hitting them with sideburns, flashy clothes, and no ring on the finger. I had three kids." After Presley hit the chart with his version of "Blue Suede Shoes," Perkins became known more for his songwriting than for his performing.
By mid-April, more than one million copies of "Shoes" had been sold, earning Perkins a gold record. "Blue Suede Shoes" was the first million-selling country song to cross over to both the rhythm and blues and the pop charts. He became the first Sun Records performer to reach this milestone.
Sam Phillips retained the rights to "Blue Suede Shoes", although it was represented by the New York house of Hill & Range as part of the agreement when Phillips sold Presley's contract. Perkins acquired the rights to the song, along with all of his other songs recorded for Sun Records, in 1977.
Elvis Presley rendition
|"Blue Suede Shoes"|
A-side label of US single
|Single by Elvis Presley|
|from the album Elvis Presley|
|Released||September 8, 1956|
|Format||7-inch 45 rpm, 10-inch 78 rpm|
|Recorded||January 30, 1956|
|Studio||RCA, New York City|
|Genre||Rockabilly, rock and roll|
|Elvis Presley singles chronology|
Recording cover versions of songs was a common practice during the 1940s and 1950s, and "Blue Suede Shoes" was one of the first songs RCA Victor wanted its newly contracted artist, Elvis Presley, to record. "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Shoes" rose on the charts at roughly the same time. RCA Victor, with its superior distribution and radio contacts, knew it could probably steal a hit record from Phillips and Perkins. Presley, who knew both Perkins and Phillips from his days at Sun Records, gave in to pressure from RCA, but he requested that the company hold back his version from release as a single. Presley's version features two guitar solos by Scotty Moore, with Bill Black on bass and D.J. Fontana on drums.
According to 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 Victor producer Steve Sholes agreed not to release Presley's version of the song as a single while Perkins' release was hot.
Presley performed the song on national television three times in 1956. The first was February 11 on Stage Show. He also performed it again on his third appearance on Stage Show on March 17, and again on the Milton Berle Show on April 3. On July 1, Steve Allen introduced Presley on The Steve Allen Show, and Presley, dressed in formal evening wear, said, "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 mentioned blue suede shoes a second time on this show: in a song during the "Range Roundup" comedy skit with Allen, Andy Griffith, and Imogene Coca, he delivered the line, "I'm a-warnin' you galoots, don't step on my blue suede shoes."
Moore has said that Presley 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 groundbreaking album Elvis Presley, which was released in March. RCA Victor released two other records with "Blue Suede Shoes" the same month: an extended play with four songs (RCA Victor EPA 747) and a double extended play with eight songs (RCA Victor EPB 1254).
RCA Victor released the Presley version as a single on September 8, one of a number of singles RCA issued simultaneously, all culled from the album Elvis Presley. This single reached number 20, whereas Perkins' version had topped the chart.
In 1960, Presley re-recorded "Blue Suede Shoes" for the soundtrack of the film G.I. Blues. While Presley's character and his band, the "Three Blazes", play a ballad at a Frankfurt nightclub ("Doin' the Best I Can", by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman), a bored GI plays Presley's version of "Blue Suede Shoes" on the jukebox, remarking that he wants "to hear an original". When another soldier tries to unplug the jukebox, the audience erupts in a fight. This studio re-recording was one of the few occasions in Presley's career in which he agreed to re-record a previously issued song. He did it on this occasion because the rest of the soundtrack was recorded in stereo, and thus a stereo version of "Blue Suede Shoes" was required. The 1960 version uses virtually the same arrangement as the 1956 recording. This version was included on the soundtrack album to G.I. Blues but was never released as a single in the United States.
In 1985, RCA issued a music video of Presley's original version of "Blue Suede Shoes". The video featured a contemporary setting and actors (and Carl Perkins in a cameo appearance), with Presley shown in archival footage.
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 version by Pee Wee King on March 3 of that same year, the same date as a Capitol release by Bob Rubian. These were followed by the March 10 releases of a version by Boyd Bennett on King and a version by Sid King on Columbia. Decca released a version by Roy Hall, and the Dot label then released a recording by Jim Lowe. The song was also recorded in 1956 by Loren Becker with the Light Brigade on Waldorf Music Hall Records and by Bob Harris and the John Weston Orchestra on Sapphire. By April there were also recorded versions by Lawrence Welk (Coral), Sam Taylor (MGM), and Jerry Mercer (Mercury).
A version by Boyd Bennett and His Rockets was issued by Parlophone (R4167 MSP 6233) in the UK. "Blue Suede Shoes" was one of many songs that were included in the mashup novelty record "The Flying Saucer", which was a No. 3 hit in 1956. It was referenced in the record as "Shoes", by Pa Gherkins. Rockabilly artist Eddie Cochran recorded his version in May or June 1956. It was first released in 1962.
"Blue Suede Shoes" was chosen by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll". In 1986, Perkins' version was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame and in 1999, National Public Radio included "Blue Suede Shoes" in the NPR 100, in which NPR's music editors sought to compile the 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century.
In 2004, Perkins's version was ranked number 95 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time." Presley's recording of the song was also on the list, ranked number 423. The National Recording Preservation Board included the song in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2006. The board annually selects songs that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
As a rock-and-roll standard, "Blue Suede Shoes" has been performed and recorded by many artists. Some charting renditions include:
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