Be it our favourite toy in childhood or the most elegant watch we saved up for, we all have that one thing we are possessive about. In other words, the song ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ is a whole mood. One of the first Rockabilly recordings, it blends together different styles of blues, pop and country to an upbeat number that voices the desperate plea: “You can do anything but lay off of my blue suede shoes.”
A lesser-known fact for Elvis fans is, of course, that the song was first recorded and released by Carl Perkins in 1955. In the fall of the same year, Johnny Cash told Perkins about the airman who he met during his military days in Germany. The man, named C.V White, captured Cash’s imagination by referring to his military regulation airmen’s shoes as “blue suede shoes”. Cash tried to make Perkins write a song with this fancy phrase but the latter dodged the opportunity saying: “I don’t know anything about shoes. How can I write a song about shoes?”. In December, while performing at a dance, Perkins noticed a couple near the stage. A few songs later hearing a stern voice say “uh-uh, don’t step on my suedes!” he looked down to see that the boy was wearing blue suedes and one had a scuff mark. That night he got off the bed and composed the song with his Les Paul guitar in hand. The opening lines are taken from a nursery rhyme ‘One For The Money’ that was typically used to count before a race or any activity. Perkins, a simple man, admitted “S-W-A-D-E – I couldn’t even spell it right.”
Though Perkins’ original version was on the Cashbox Best Selling Singles list for 16 weeks and was the first million-selling country song to cross over to both the rhythm and blues and the pop charts, it was Elvis Presley’s cover that made the song a sensation. Perkins, talking about Elvis’ appeal, said that he “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.”
Released just a year later, the song featured in his debut album, Elvis Presley. Scotty Moore, who played two guitar solos in the cover song, said that Elvis wanted 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.” Perkins became more famous as a writer than a performer after Elvis’ version hit the charts.
Later, the song was covered by various artists but Black Sabbath’s version is, unsurprisingly, uniquely different. In 1970, Sabbath decided to play the up-tempo number during one of their recording sessions for the German TV show Beat-Club in the month of May. Their performance was later aired on Beat-Club episode number 55 and, during an interview, Tony Iommi said that the decision to play ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ was a joke, just “a run-through for the cameras.”
The funniest part was that Sabbath’s lead vocalist Ozzy Osbourne didn’t even know the lyrics of the song past the opening rhyme. He went on with a straight face to sing the impromptu lines “I know a girl she lives next door/ She sleeps in the kitchen with her feet in the hall/ But don’t you step on my blue suede shoes…” It only gets worse after this. Though they got the lyrics of the classic all wrong, their spirit was unparalleled. A special mention for Iommi’s guitar solo which probably made up for the messed-up lyrics.
Let’s take a look at The Black Sabbath’s performance of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’.