Elvis Presley was a one-man seismic shift. He changed everything — music, stage performance, culture. In the 1950s his performances caused riots. His primal vocal delivery and suggestive body movements caused DJs to smash his records, churches to denounce him and girls to tear his clothes off. In the 70s he conquered Las Vegas with a stage show that was majestic musical magic. Decades after his death he’s more alive than ever.
Here are 30 books about Elvis Presley, one of the all-time most original and iconic American artists.
#1 – Last Train to Memphis
This is Volume 1 of what will stand as the Elvis biography for at least a generation. Guralnick is considered the preeminent writer on 20th-century American popular music. Last Train tracks the first 24 years of Elvis’ life and his explosive entrance onto the scene with “That’s All Right,” “Mystery Train”, “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog,” and “Don’t Be Cruel”. Everything he tried was wildly successful and transformed an entire society. It ends with his being drafted into the Army and his mother’s death.
#2 – Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley
In Volume 2 the author picks up where he left off in Last Train to Memphis and tracks the last two decades of Elvis’ life. As with Last Train, the book is based on hundreds of interviews and a decade of meticulous research. Guralnick not only helps us understand one of the most recognizable and misunderstood figures of our time, he also encompasses the elements of race, class, wealth, sex, music, religion and the man behind the myth.
#3 – Elvis and Me
Elvis fell in love with Priscilla when she was 14 years old. They married eight years later. They divorced in 1973. Priscilla went on to have a successful acting career and proved to be a savvy business woman who turned Graceland into one of the top tourist attraction sites in the U.S. Her memoir is honest and provides an inside look into the hectic lifestyle of being married to the world’s most recognizable star.
This is one of the first serious biographies of the man-who-changed-the-music. Marsh, a respected rock critic and one of the organizers of the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, looks at Elvis, the kid from Tupelo, Mississippi, the rock-and-roll pioneer, the soldier, the husband and father, the movie star, and the legend. It’s one of the most well-written and factual Elvis biographies. The index contains a comprehensive bibliography, discography, and filmography of Elvis’ career.
#5- Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n Roll
This is a classic in the field of music criticism by a respected author, music journalist and cultural critic, It focuses on six key artists–Robert Johnson, Harmonica Frank, Randy Newman, the Band, Sly Stone, and Elvis Presley. Marcus explores the evolution and impact of rock ‘n’ roll and its unique place in American culture. It places Elvis in the larger context of both music and American culture. The book’s title, by the way, is the title of the Elvis single released in 1955 and ranked as #77 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
#6 – Elvis and Ginger: Elvis Presley’s Fiancée and Last Love Finally Tells Her Story
Ginger Alden was born and raised in Memphis so Elvis and Graceland were part of the daily local lore. She describes their whirlwind romance, his proposal of marriage, her attempt to get to know the Memphis Mafia, Elvis’ exploration of Eastern religions and his untimely death. Elvis’ passing shocked the entire world and Alden describes the 50,000 mourners and reporters who invaded Graceland in 1977. Alden remained silent for three decades about her life with Elvis. Her goal is to set straight the hearsay, rumors and speculation about Elvis in his final years. This is a warm, intelligent and honest book.
#7 – That’s Alright, Elvis
James Dickerson & Scotty Moore
Moore, Elvis’ guitarist, created the mesmerizing licks on Elvis’ Sun Records singles, sounds that influenced an entire generation of guitarists. Moore knew Elvis for years before the Sun Sessions and Elvis’ explosive entrance onto the music scene. He played with Elvis on the Sun Sessions records that introduced Rock n Roll to the world. He toured with Elvis and served as his manager. He also created a guitar sound that became the prototype for all rock guitar that followed. Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards once said. “Everyone else wanted to be Elvis—I wanted to be Scotty.” This is a quiet, honest and intimate memoir.
#8 – Elvis What Happened?
Based on interviews with Elvis’ “bodyguards,” this 1977 book was the first expose of Elvis provided by those closest to him. Elvis learned of the book just before he died and was deeply hurt by it. The men talk of his demons, his sex drive, his temper, black moods and drug use. Almost nothing negative was written about Elvis until this book. It caused a shockwave in the music industry and among Elvis’ millions of fans.
#9 – Elvis Day by Day: a Definitive Record of his Life and Music
Peter Guralnick and Ernst Jorgensen
Written and assembled by two pre-eminent Elvis scholars, this is a very accessible, complete account of public, private, rare, forgotten, famous moments. The authors present the information with such detail and immediacy the text and photos read with the immediacy and intimacy of a diary entries. Elvis Day by Day captures the daily life and times of one of the most extraordinary artists of the 20th century.
10-Elvis: A Radio History from 1945 to 1955
This is a straightforward but revelatory volume composed of transcripts of radio interviews and descriptions of performances that Elvis made in the postwar era. Presley was walled away from the public, both by accident and design, after his initial success, but before then he was an open book, and this book attempts to show the Elvis we might have met on the street before he became an icon. Essential reading for those interested his life before 1954, the year that changed everything.
11 – Elvis! Elvis! Elvis! The King at the Movies
The author studies the 31 films Elvis made in his 13-year screen career. At the beginning of his acting stint, many thought he was the possible successor to James Dean. Film historian Guttmacher examines the evidence and offers the hard facts on every single film, including full-color reproductions of every poster and loads of rare on-the-set photos
12 – The Death of Elvis
James P. Cole & Charles Thompson
Elvis Presley died as he lived — mired in controversy. And the unfortunate circumstances of his demise have been fodder for tabloids since before his burial. Newsmen Cole and Thompson, leave no doubt that Presley died from drug abuse and not heart failure through a long and detailed look at the last decade of his life.
13 – Dead Elvis: A Chronicle of a Cultural Obsession
One of rock’s most respected critics, Marcus looks at the afterlife of Elvis. The world is still fixated with Elvis. There are still Elvis “sightings,” celebrations and those who still mourn. Marcus is irreverent and funny and rightly contends that Elvis is worth more to us dead than alive. Elvis represents “the necessity existing in every culture to produce a perfect, all-inclusive metaphor for itself,” and how his “vitality has intensified in direct proportion to the obsession with his memory.”
#14 – The Elvis Treasures
With the help of the Graceland Estate, historian Robert Gordon examines The King’s possessions. The book includes a 60-minute CD of interviews and 22 removable documents. Personal letters, business contracts, invitations, greeting cards, hand written plays for “Memphis Mafia” football games. The book tells Elvis’ life story through handwritten letters, press releases, movie scripts, photographs and additional artifacts. This is artifact heaven where you can get a ticket to “Frank Sinatra’s Welcome Home Party for Elvis Presley,” evaluate the Elvis’ hand-drawn football plays, read his first RCA contract, and check out a book that he borrowed from the Humes High School library as an eighth-grader.
#15 – Elvis ‘56: In the Beginning
In the fall of 1956, Colonel Parker took full control of Elvis’s media appearances and official photographs, limiting these largely to Elvis on stage, at airports, leaving a car or in formal poses. Subsequently, the media restrictions mean that little survives of Elvis in everyday situations after 1956. The author – the first official photographer assigned to Elvis – noticed this after looking at what was published in the immediate aftermath of Elvis’s death, during which period he received many requests to publish his own collection.
This book is the result. It ends in early July without saying anything about how, why or exactly when the author ceased to be Elvis’s official photographer. However, the pictures and the accompanying text provide insights unlikely to be found in any other books about Elvis. The text may also provide insights into 1956 you probably won’t find anywhere else.
Air travel in 1956 was in its infancy. Elvis usually travelled by train over long distances. Passenger trains normally contained compartments with corridors down one side of each carriage. Pictures here include several of Elvis in trains, one of them showing him in a sleeping carriage on a bunk bed listening to his music on a battery-operated player.
It’s also revealing that while Elvis recorded his music on the best equipment available, he liked to play it using cheap copies on cheap equipment so that he could hear it as his fans would hear it.
#16 – Elvis ‘57: The Final Fifties Tours
In 1957, Elvis was still a one-man phenomenon with six singles on the charts, one movie to his credit, and two movies soon to follow. But while he pursued his dream of becoming a Hollywood actor, the military draft threatened to shatter it along with his wildly successful rock ‘n’ roll career. Elvis couldn’t resist the excitement he found performing on stage before swarms of shrieking teenage girls, and in that final year before he entered the U.S. Army, he went back on the road for three short tours. This book relives that magical year when the King played to audiences a quarter of a million people strong, and the controversy and pandemonium that accompanied him wherever he went. Hanson takes us for a ride through 18 major cities in the U.S and Canada as he chronicles the most exciting tours of Elvis’s career. In Chicago, Elvis wore his famed gold lame suit and 13 girls fainted trying to reach him. In Vancouver, fans rushed the stage, forcing him to end the show. Drawing on first-hand accounts from the disc jockeys on the front lines of Elvis’s exploding career and fans who attended the ’57 concerts, Hanson brings to life the year that, in music, Elvis owned America.
#17 – Elvis Vegas ‘69
When Elvis pulled out of his slump with the 1968 TV special, he headed with new energy to Vegas, the town that once rejected him. This time he took it over. Elvis called the performance “one of the most exciting nights of my life.” He went on to assemble a full orchestra, donned the now iconic jump suits and created one of the most dynamic stage shows of the 20th century. It was here that he earned — and kept the title — The King.
#18 – Channeling Elvis: How Television Saved the King of Rock ‘n Roll
Alan J. Wiener
Incorporating research and insider interviews, the author examines how Elvis used television of build his career, then later use it occasionally to revive his career. Included are dozens of interviews with people who worked with Elvis on the TV projects. He appeared on network TV 17 times between 1956 and 1977. The most notable are of course the Ed Sullivan Show, the 1968 NBC Comeback Special and Aloha from Hawaii.
#19 – Return of the King: Elvis Presley’s Great Comeback
Gillian G. Gaar
The author traces the resurgence in Elvis’ career from 1968 through 1970, most notably the NBC Comeback Special. The author credits Elvis’ 1967 recording of “Guitar Man” as causing a change in attitude about his music and leading to a very productive renaissance period.
#20 – Elvis: His Life From A to Z
Fred Worth and Steve Tamerius
From the important to the trivial, this is a major compendium of all things Elvis. Every song Elvis recorded, every concert he gave, every movie he made, every TV appearance, along with the people and places in The King’s life. People, places, pets, girlfriends, servants at Graceland, the names of his dogs and horses, favorite foods, and yes, even his favorite toothpaste.
#21 – Leaves of Elvis’ Garden: The Song of His Soul
Geller was Elvis’ hairdresser and spiritual confidant from 1964 to his death in 1977. It’s quirky but emotional and at times, very revealing.
#22 – Baby, Let’s Play House: Elvis Presley and the Women Who Loved Him
Award-winning journalist Alanna Nash explores Elvis’ relationships with women and how they influenced his music and life. It looks at his affairs with actresses Ann Margaret and Cybill Shepherd as well as his friendships with Raquel Welch, Barbara Eden, Mary Ann Mobley, Yvonne Craig and Celeste Yarnall. Also included are his first love and wife Priscilla, and lovers June Juanico, Linda Thompson and others.
The book also spotlights important early girlfriends and the women who dared to turn him down, including Cher, Petula Clark, and Karen Carpenter, as well as two women—Kay Wheeler and Tura Satana—who taught him dance moves he used onstage. The interviews reveal how various women helped influence and shape the man that TV Guide named The Entertainer of the Century.
#23 – The Gospel Side of Elvis
Gospel music was a big part of Elvis the man and Elvis the artist. This book looks at his roots and the role of gospel in his foundational years, as well as the comfort, solace, and strength it offered him in the years of his meteoric rise in popularity. The book is a rarely explored aspect of this American icon and one that reveals much about the spiritual side of Elvis. It’s also ironic that the only Grammys Elvis earned were for his gospel recordings How Great Thou Art and He Touched Me.
#24 – Good Rockin’ Tonight: Twenty Years on the Road and on the Town with Elvis
The author met Elvis in the Army. After their discharge he became Elvis’ personal manager and friend. He was also the key figure in the “Memphis Mafia,” the inner circle who surrounded Elvis until his death in 1977. Esposito looked after every detail of Elvis’ personal life, making sure he was where he needed to be, and making sure he had food and beautiful women. It is, as one expects, a wild story told by the closest of the Elvis insiders.
#25 – Still Taking Care of Business: Memories and Insights about Elvis Presley From His Friend and Bodyguard
West was also a charter member of the Memphis Mafia and presents what he feels is a balanced, respectful and insightful look at his friend and employer. West provides an honest look at the entertainer’s personal and professional highs and lows. He gives examples of Elvis’ temper as well as his generosity. West also answers some tough questions from fans in the appendix.
#26 – Elvis and the Memphis Mafia
This is another oral history the author conducted with three of Elvis’ closest freinds — his cousin Billy Smith, Memphis Mafia foreman Marty Lacker and Lamar Fike, touring crew member. As can be expected, there are stories of teen Elvis, and stories of his drug dependency and some unexpected revelations such as Elvis’ plan to change his identity and his self-mutilation. The reader should remember that in the end these are good ol’ boys who had a one-of-a-kind ride with the King of Rock n Roll. While some of what they dish out should be taken with a grain of salt, they do provide insights into one of America’s most revered and complex entertainers.
#27 – Inside Graceland: Elvis’ Maid Remembers
The author worked for Elvis from 1967 to the artist’s death in 1977. While it’s tempting to dismiss a book by the maid, Rooks gives us insights into the Graceland household that no one else could provide. This memoir, from a female point of view, also shares stories about Elvis grandmother and his Aunt Delta, two strong women. Her details about Elvis’ last days and the strange goings in Graceland after his death make for fascinating reading..
#28 – Me and a Guy Named Elvis: My Lifelong Friendship with Elvis Presley
Schilling met Elvis at a touch football game in 1954 as the 19-year-old singer’s first record, “That’s All Right,” had just debuted. The two became friends and as Elvis shot to fame he invited Schilling to work for him. Schilling wound up with his own room at Graceland, working in various capacities from bodyguard to photo double and other roles. Elvis trusted Schilling with protecting his life when he received death threats, and asked his friend to accompany him during the famous “lost weekend” when he traveled to meet President Nixon at the White House. Schilling talks from the perspective of a friend and offers insights into creative frustrations that helped lead to Elvis’s abuse of prescription medicine and his death.
#29 – The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley
Journalist Nash offers a well-researched biography of “The Colonel” Tom Parker, the mysterious man behind Elvis Presley. Parker handled every aspect of Elvis’ career and much in his personal life. Here he is seen selfish man who sought to hide his own illegal alien status, often at the cost of Elvis’ career. A complicated and dark individual,. Colonel Parker shaped Elvis, and in turn shaped music history. A native of Holland, Parker fled to the U.S. after a possible murder. He immersed himself in the worlds of the carnival and circus. This led him to promoting musical acts, which led him to the young Elvis. Elvis sizzled on stage. Behind the scenes, Parker controlled Elvis and created the biggest entertainment and merchandising bonanza the world had seen to that point, all the time fearing his own deportation.
#30 – Elvis: My Best Man: Radio Days, Rock ‘n’ Roll Nights, and My Lifelong Friendship with Elvis Presley
George Klein and Chuck Crisafulli
Klein, who met Elvis in eighth grade and remained his friend until the singer’s death. He hosted early rock shows on Memphis radio and TV, was on hand for the beginning of Elvis’ career and remained a member of The King’s inner circle. . Klein can be heard weekly on Sirius XM channel 19 Elvis Radio, and on the George Klein Original Elvis Hour on WLFP FM. This memoir is heartfelt, entertaining and has lots of inside looks at the music business as well as his relationship with Elvis. It is also the memoir with the longest title.
Other books of interest:
Elvis Presley: A Southern Life by Joel Williamson
Elvis (One on One) by Alfred Wertheimer, photographer
Private Presley: the Missing Years– Elvis in Germany by Andreas Schrorer
Elvis Presley: A Life in Music: The Complete Recording Sessions
The Girls’ Guide to Elvis by Kim Adelman.
My Life Before, During and After Elvis Presley by John Wilkinson and Nick Moretti
The Girls’ Guide to Elvis by Kim Adelman