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Everyone’s heard it. Most of us can sing along with it word for word. It’s rare to see a live oldies band that doesn’t cover it. It seems like I’ve never been to a wedding reception dance where they didn’t play it. The song “Blue Suede Shoes” is without a doubt one of the most influential rock and roll songs of all time.
“Blue Suede Shoes” was written in late 1955 by rockabilly great Carl Perkins. The story goes that Perkins’ friend and Sun Records label mate Johnny Cash first introduced the idea of writing a song about blue suede shoes. Then, when Perkins heard a young man scold his dancing partner not to step on his blue suede shoes, Perkins knew he had to write it. He wrote the lyrics down on an old potato sack. Said Perkins later, “I didn’t even know how to spell,” and he wrote out blue “swade” shoes.
But whether he could spell or not, the young Perkins could certainly write songs! His version of the song was recorded a few days after he’d written it and it became an instant hit. It sky rocketed to number one on many regional pop charts and eventually hit number 2 on the Billboard top 100. The only thing that kept it from hitting number one was a smash hit by another Sun Records alumnus named Elvis Presley. His first hit on his new record label RCA Victor flew to the number one spot and it was “Heartbreak Hotel” that kept “Blue Suede Shoes” out of the top spot.
But Perkins’ recording of his song still made rock and roll history. It was the first million seller for Sun Records and the first song to cross over and hit the top five on all three major charts, pop, country, and rhythm and blues. A handful of songs had succeeded at topping two of the three charts. Chuck Berry had of course topped the R&B charts and had also broken through the color barrier to do well on the pop charts. Elvis had done well on the pop and country charts. Bill Haley had hit the pop and R&B charts, but it took the genius of Carl Perkins to rule all three.
The fact that the song appealed to such a wide variety of musical tastes was an amazing accomplishment. It was also a testament to the roots of rockabilly and thus rock and roll as it brought together three styles that he been ingrained in Perkins as a youngster, thus becoming the perfect definition of rockabilly.
Having come out in a time when it was not unusual for many artists to cover a great song, there were numerous releases by various people of “Blue Suede Shoes,” and along with Perkins’ original recording, Elvis’ version was also a hit in 1956. But though the song is associated with Elvis in the minds of many fans, Perkins’ version was the bigger hit.
In any event, a simple 12-bar blues progression, country-style guitar licks, and dead-on pop sensibilities made “Blue Suede Shoes” one of the greatest rock and roll songs ever written. The song might have been written on a potato sack, but it was pure gold! And the treasure just keeps getting more valuable with age.
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write by Wilfred