Elvis: The Ultimate Live Top Ten Hits (Part 1)

Elvis Presley rocks “Heartbreak Hotel” during taping of 1968’s ELVIS special (NBC)

I was 13 years old during Spring Break of 1988. At that point, I had about a half dozen Elvis Presley albums to my name. At the record store that week, I bought my first 2-record set. The Top Ten Hits was part of an “Elvis Presley Commemorative Issue” series that marked a decade since his 1977 death. I eventually obtained all four of the albums in the series, though I never did mail away for the special bonus album (a future eBay purchase, no doubt).

I had been collecting Elvis records for about a year at that point, and The Top Ten Hits certainly firmed up the foundation of my new obsession by containing all 38 of Elvis’ top 10 hits on Billboard‘s key US charts. These are what I now call mainstream or “general public” Elvis songs in that they are his most famous songs. Back then, these were the ones that various radio stations would still play.

The only two general public Elvis songs that failed to make the US top ten and, thus, this album were “Blue Suede Shoes” (peaked at #20) and “Viva Las Vegas” (peaked at #29). If we include posthumous releases, 1977’s “My Way” (peaked at #22) and 2002’s JXL Radio Edit Remix of “A Little Less Conversation” (peaked at #50) are also general public Elvis songs that are not present on this 1987 release. Except for those few titles and maybe “Blue Christmas,” everything else is here from a mainstream audience perspective. Outside of boxed sets, which really belong in their own category, The Top Ten Hits remains one of the most comprehensive Elvis releases to date when it comes to the general public.

I wore this record out in my 7th and 8th grade years, to the point where many of these songs became boring to me for a time. I will at some point cover this and the other Elvis Presley Commemorative Issue albums as part of my ongoing Vinyl Elvis series. Today, however, I want to use The Top Ten Hits as a jumping off point for a series of four posts covering Elvis’ best live performance of each of his hits. As is the norm here on The Mystery Train Blog, the focus will be on officially released recordings. No bootlegs.

Today’s post will feature hits included on Side A of The Top Ten Hits, all of which were studio recordings on the original album.

01. Heartbreak Hotel (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: June 29, 1968, 6 PM Show, Burbank, CA, ELVIS-TV Special
Recorded in front of small studio audience for Elvis’ 1968 NBC television special, ELVIS, this version of “Heartbreak Hotel” rocks more than any of his other takes on the song. It is unfortunately a shortened version, though, due to being part of a medley with “Hound Dog” and “All Shook Up.” I once created a splice with the June 27, 1968, 6 PM Show version of “Heartbreak Hotel” to partially rectify this (inspired by and in the same vein as the “Blue Suede Shoes” splice on the This Is Elvis album, except starting with the June 29 “stand up” show version and ending with the June 27 “sit down” show version).

02. I Want You, I Need You, I Love You (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: June 5, 1956, Los Angeles, CA, A Golden Celebration
As performed on the Milton Berle Show, following a skit with the host.

03. Hound Dog (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: December 15, 1956, Shreveport, LA, Young Man With The Big Beat: The Complete ’56 Elvis Presley Masters
The finale of one of Elvis’ greatest recorded concerts, this version of “Hound Dog” is not to be missed.

04. Don’t Be Cruel (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: January 6, 1957, New York, NY, A Golden Celebration

Credit: The Ed Sullivan Show channel (YouTube)

After Elvis released “Don’t Be Cruel,” he caught an act in Las Vegas that was doing a number of his songs. The lead singer was Jackie Wilson, and Elvis liked his version of “Don’t Be Cruel” better than his own. When Elvis performed the song on his third Ed Sullivan Show appearance in 1957, he incorporated some of Wilson’s upgrades to the song. What I love about this story is that Elvis inspired Wilson, who, in turn, inspired Elvis. Incidentally, this is the infamous “from the waist up” Sullivan performance where TV cameras were ordered not to show Elvis’ hips and legs – which, of course, only added to his legend. Watch it above or over on YouTube.

05. Love Me Tender (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: June 29, 1968, 8 PM Show, Burbank, CA, ELVIS-TV Special
This live version, recorded for the 1968 ELVIS special, far exceeds Elvis’ original studio recording of the song from 1956. His voice is like velvet.

06. Love Me (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: June 27, 1968, 6 PM Show, Burbank, CA, Memories: The ’68 Comeback Special
This was a close call with the August 12, 1970, Midnight Show, version of “Love Me,” but I slightly prefer the raw sound of the 1968 version.

07. Too Much (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: January 6, 1957, New York, NY, A Golden Celebration
This is the only live version officially released of “Too Much,” to my knowledge, so it wins by default. A decent if sloppy version, performed on the Ed Sullivan Show and broadcast from the waist up.

08. All Shook Up (hit version recorded 1957)
Ultimate Live Version: August 26, 1969, Midnight Show, Las Vegas, NV, All Shook Up
The earliest available live version of “All Shook Up,” which is closer to the arrangement of the studio recording, is March 25, 1961, but the performance is tepid compared to his 1968 and 1969 versions.

09. Teddy Bear (hit version recorded 1957)
Ultimate Live Version: January 26, 1970, Opening Show, Las Vegas, NV, The On Stage Season: The Opening And Closing Shows 1970
This live version of “Teddy Bear” was a pleasant surprise on one of my favorite FTD releases.

10. Jailhouse Rock (hit version recorded 1957)
Ultimate Live Version: June 29, 1968, 8 PM Show, Burbank, CA, ELVIS-TV Special

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

As with a few of the others on today’s list, this incredible live version of “Jailhouse Rock” was captured for the 1968 ELVIS special. It almost equals the flawless studio recording. Watch it above or over on YouTube.

If only some of Elvis’ 1957 concerts had been recorded. Perhaps ultimate live versions of “Too Much,” “All Shook Up,” and possibly even “Jailhouse Rock” would have been among them. Every now and then, new recordings are unearthed. I maintain hope that a 1957 concert will eventually see the light of day.

I pray all of you are doing well and staying healthy. Drop a note in the comments below about some of your favorite live versions of these Elvis classics.


[Read Part 2]

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”
James 1:2-4

10 thoughts on “Elvis: The Ultimate Live Top Ten Hits (Part 1)

  1. Fine list. I feel the “68 Special” is overly represented and rightly so as this was Elvis unleashing himself (so glad he did!!) . One of my all time favorite numbers has an excellent “68” version in “Trying To Get To You”. Does a great job in Rapid City 77 also. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, rayburn. 1968’s ELVIS hasn’t been dubbed the “Comeback Special” for nothing. It captured some truly amazing performances, and many of them didn’t even make the original broadcast!

      I may lose my Elvis credibility for what I’m about to say, but I actually prefer Elvis’ June 27, 1968, 6 PM Show rendition of “Tryin’ To Get To You” over his 1955 Sun original. In 1968, accompanying himself on electric guitar, he turns it from a country song to a killer rock ‘n’ roll song.

      The transition unfortunately didn’t last, and 1970s versions of “Tryin’ To Get To You,” including the one from Rapid City, SD, that you reference, are back to country. While he treats the song with respect throughout the 1970s, nothing compares to his 1968 and 1955 versions.

      The June 21, 1977, Rapid City concert does include his best-ever version of “My Way,” though, and a solid, though all too short, rendition of “I Really Don’t Want To Know” – both released on the Elvis In Concert album.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting.


  2. What a great idea for a post!

    I agree with your choices, although i think “Hound Dog” from the Milton Berle show on June 5 is a classic live version of the song. I remember seeing it from the first time in 1981 in the movie This Is Elvis, and learning what an uproar it made. Of course, the version from his final performance at the Louisiana Hayride six months later is really something, that one I heard for the first time in 1983 on the LP The First Live Recordings, and it blew me away! Still does!

    Another memory that was triggered by your post it one concerning the live version of “Jailhouse Rock” from Elvis In Concert 1977. A good friend om mine in high school heard it (back in 1984 I think it was) and thought it really rocked. So he ordered a greatest hits compilation (without telling me, I could have warned him) and was very disappointed when it was the original version from 1957. Not that it can compete in any way with the 1968 version which is outstanding, but it goes to show that even in 1977 Elvis could touch people with his music.

    And finally some words about the Comeback Special: I had the good fortune to see it when it was shown on certain cinemas back in 2018, and although I have it on DVD, seeing it on the big screen was amazing. The energy in his performances came across so clearly and really hit me, like for example the version of “Trying To Get To You” you mentioned, or songs like “One NIght” and “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”. And by the way, what a cool idea to splice “Heartbreak Hotel” in the same way as “Blue Suede Shoes”, I have to try that sometime.

    Thanks for a great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Thomas. Yes, Elvis’ June 5, 1956, Milton Berle Show version of “Hound Dog” is definitely a close second to the December 15, 1956, Shreveport, LA version. Though we unfortunately have no footage to confirm, he sounds even more wild and loose in Shreveport, though. Not to mention, that concert capped off the year that Elvis erupted around the world.

      I love that 1977 “Jailhouse Rock” story. I recall reading it before, probably on your blog. I’ve had similar reactions when knowing and loving a 1970s live version of a classic song before hearing the original. It takes awhile to get used to it, even if the studio version is ostensibly “better.”

      I can’t remember the years now, but I’ve been able to see a couple of edits of the 1968 ELVIS special in the theater as well. Not to miss! I’ve also seen That’s The Way It Is: Special Edition and Elvis On Tour: Cruel Edition that way. Perhaps we’ll get Aloha From Hawaii on the big screen in 2023 for the 50th.

      Thanks again, Thomas!


  3. I’ve always felt that the original version of Love Me Tender is the most overrated of the “classic” Presley tunes; so any live version is preferable. Me, I grew up with the Aloha version of Love Me and I’ve always loved it. When later I heard the original I was really thrown by its crawling tempo. You’ve sparked some good memories of the old “Top Ten Hits” album I had on cassette.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Gary. I heard the As Recorded At Madison Square Garden (1972) and Elvis In Concert (1977) versions of “Love Me” first, so I had the same reaction you did when first hearing the 1956 version. It truly is a sublime recording, though. His post-1970 live versions don’t do it justice.

      Liked by 1 person

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