Upon the ten-year anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death in 1987, Bob Dylan told US magazine: “When I first heard Elvis’ voice, I just knew that I wasn’t going to work for anybody; and nobody was going to be my boss. He is the deity supreme of rock ‘n’ roll religion as it exists in today’s form. Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail,” he said, before concluding: “I think for a long time that freedom to me was Elvis singing ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’. I thank God for Elvis.”
While Dylan may have come along and grabbed the reigns of pop culture to steer into a more introspective direction, there is no doubt that Mr Presley’s hip snaking ways proved to be a Promethean force that presented an exciting future to the youth of the day. This made him a revered forefather to many would-be musicians as The King initially found himself globally adored. Thus, if you were one of the artists, like Bob Dylan, who was stirred up by his whirlwind, then seeing him take on one of your songs was like having Christ compliment your wine.
This notion of your childhood hero suddenly channelling your whims is what Bob Dylan had in mind when Rolling Stone asked him if there were any particular artists that he liked to see take on his songs. “Yeah, Elvis Presley,” Dylan replied. “I liked Elvis Presley. Elvis Presley recorded a song of mine. That’s the one recording I treasure the most…it was called ‘Tomorrow Is A Long Time’. I wrote it but never recorded it.”
As Ernst Jørgensen explained regarding the recording in the book Elvis Presley: A Life In Music, Elvis had been expanding his musical interests in the late 1960s, and one album that he took to was Odetta’s covers album of Bob Dylan’s work, Odetta Sing Dylan. One song, in particular, stood out for Dylan, ‘Tomorrow Is A Long Time’, which was a Dylan original that had been covered many times over but never released on record by Dylan himself.
As Jørgensen writes: “Charlie McCoy had been among the Nashville players on Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde sessions; now, nine months later, here he was watching Elvis give Dylan a try. True to the song’s folk origins this was a guitar piece, so Scotty, Chip, and Charlie McCoy grabbed their acoustics while Bob Moore shifted to the electric bass. With only a tambourine added to the arrangement, they delved into another world, a place where Elvis had never ventured before. By take three they had completed a gorgeous—and, for Elvis, extraordinarily long—five-minute master.”
The track stands out in Elvis’ back catalogue as a rare moment where the rock ‘n’ standards of old were traded for the new unruly folk that Dylan was ushering into the mainstream. While The King also covered a few other Dylan numbers, including the eternally borrowed passive aggressive break-up track ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’, it was this sway in a style that Dylan particularly enjoyed, as was often the case when artists took on his work. As Dylan added: “He did it with just guitar.”
While the song may not have found itself on any of Bob Dylan’s studio albums, a recording of it crept onto his Greatest Hits Vol. II record. You can listen to both versions below.