To start— I have never heard this before. Bowie, during a concert in 2002 that coincided with the 25th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death, covered two Elvis songs. And they’re GREAT!!! I actually don’t know either of these songs as Elvis songs, but they sound like Elvis songs. Bowie’s renditions are in the style of Elvis without sounding like imitations. Bowie was never shy about singing covers— he’s covered famous bands like the Beatles and Stones and far more obscure artists (as well as a lot of Iggy Pop). I had never heard him cover Elvis before but I’m glad he did (I’m thinking also about a cover he did in concert of John Lennon’s “Imagine”— terrific, but not on any record I know of. Maybe there’s a potential for a “Pin Ups Pt. 2”).
Bowie was known to be an Elvis fan. There’s a story in the interview compilation, “Bowie on Bowie,” that he tells of going to An Elvis concert in 1971, when he was dressed as Ziggy and as such drew unwanted attention to himself.
I found this video embedded in a story that indicated that Bowie had originally written, “Golden Years” for Elvis, but it never happened. I’ve read elsewhere that Elvis was also a Bowie fan, so there was a potential collaboration that would have had a lot of potential to either be terrific or embarrassing.
That’s the thing about Elvis— Elvis was great. He was a great singer. He had great presence. He left an indelible mark and probably has the greatest following in rock and roll. But he had also become a cartoon in his last years. Still capable of sounding great, after the square (but actually still fun) movies, outlandish outfits and his final, fat period, the image of Elvis today is a combination of apex performer and unintentional clown.
Bowie, here, seems to suggest that he’s well aware that there’s something funny about Elvis, but these two songs are not funny. Its like Bowie wanted to remind people why Elvis is still the King.
Which reminds me of a meme I saw of Elvis, Freddy Mercury, Prince and Bowie— each obviously dead, labeled, of course, “The King, the Queen, the Prince and the Duke.”