Elvis Presley: This No. 1 Hit Is About How Fame Killed Him

Elvis Presley released his most famous hits during the 1950s and 1960s yet he was so famous he inspired songs long after he died. One of the most famous songs about the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll became a hit in the early 1990s. Interestingly, the song explored the dark side of Presley’s life.

Angel statues at Elvis Presley's grave
Elvis Presley | David LEFRANC/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Elvis Presley inspired a huge blues-rock hit released years after his death

When people think of 1990s rock, a few trends come to mind: grunge bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, feminist bands like Hole and Garbage, and shock rock bands like Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails. Another lesser trend from this time was rock music that was infused with a bit of the blues, with bands like Mazzy Star and the Divinyls incorporating twangy, old-school guitars into their production.

Presley was a rock ‘n’ roll artist whose early work was heavily indebted to the blues, so it makes sense that one of the biggest blues-rock hits of the 1990s was about him. The song in question — Alannah Myles’ “Black Velvet” — came from Myles’ self-titled debut album. Myles was very particular when choosing the songs for her debut.

“Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star

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“We had so many songs, it’s impossible to count,” Myles told the Chicago Tribune. “A lot of them were just shells of ideas, but I knew what would work and what wouldn’t. ‘When you’ve got a vision as clear as mine, it can be exasperating. Once we got it down to 10 songs, we must’ve made 10 records, with me singing the song 10 different ways. We finally whittled it down to one record.”

Songwriters offered Myles a lot of songs she thought were good but just didn’t work for her. She was adamant her album should be entirely in a blues-rock style. Her insistence on making blues-rock paid off, and “Black Velvet” became a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1990, not long after its release in 1989.

The darker side of Alannah Myles’ ‘Black Velvet’

Much of “Black Velvet” is about Presley’s attractiveness and the effect he had on his fans. However, the bridge of the song is about how Presley died young.  

Alannah Myles’ “Black Velvet”

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According to The Morning Call, Myles said “Black Velvet” is about how fame killed Elvis. “‘Black Velvet’ is about a man whom we made into a legend when rock ‘n’ roll was becoming a new religion that would bring people to their knees,” Myles said. “But because he was human, he could only withstand so much ego-boosting, stroking and pressure. The song says that we should be honest about the fact that we killed him. We put him where he is and he couldn’t handle it.”

According to History, Elvis died from a heart attack which likely resulted from “his addiction to prescription barbiturates.” He was only 42. Although its meaning is somewhat morbid, “Black Velvet” connected with a wide audience.