Elvis Presley is undoubtedly one of the biggest musical icons of the last century. He is commonly referred to as the “King of Rock n’ Roll” and is revered for his charismatic charm, boomy voice, and high-energy dance moves. Elvis Presley is one of the most highly accomplished singers of all time, but few recognize his guitar playing. I wouldn’t consider Elvis one of the best guitarists to walk the earth, but he helped make guitar playing “cool” and wrote some pretty fun riffs in the process.
In this article, I have compiled a list of 21 easy Elvis songs on guitar for beginner guitarists to enjoy. Let’s get straight to it!
1. Don’t Be Cruel
“Don’t Be Cruel” is one of Elvis’ biggest-selling singles. The song was written by Otis Blackwell, who wrote a handful of top-selling singles for Elvis. “Don’t Be Cruel” was the start of their working relationship and was a lucky strike for Blackwell, who was struggling financially at the time and needed a break.
“Don’t Be Cruel” uses a traditional blues standard with just four chords throughout the entire arrangement. The composition is just two minutes long and consists of three repeated verses and choruses that all use the same progression. At the end of the song, there is a turnaround to give the progression a resolution.
Elvis was not only a talented singer but also an actor who would perform singles as part of his movie roles. “Trouble” was first heard in Presley’s army movie King Creole at the turn of the 1970s and soon became a firm fixture on his stage show for most of his live performance career.
“Trouble” uses a call-and-response system in the verse where you play the chords between the singing parts. Towards the end of each verse, you open up your strumming to give the song more intensity. “Trouble” also falls into a double time for the song’s final verses, but the chord progression remains the same throughout the whole arrangement.
3. Can’t Help Falling In Love With You
“Can’t Help Falling In Love ” was written by acclaimed songwriter George Weiss for Elvis’ part in the 1961 movie Blue Hawaii. Initially, none of the movie’s producers or Elvis’s colleagues thought much of the demo recordings, but Presley insisted on having it featured in the movie. It would go on to be one of his best-selling singles to date and has been covered countless times by musicians globally.
This is one of the easiest Elvis songs on guitar. A crucial fingerpicking pattern in “Can’t Help Falling In Love” helps support the vocal melody’s rhythm and cadence. The chord changes in this song are also easy to follow if you use the lead vocal as a guide, as the changes are written to wrap around the song’s lyrics.
4. Blue Suede Shoes
You simply can’t make an Elvis song list without mentioning “Blue Suede Shoes”. This is the song that most people associate Elvis with when they hear his name and is the opening track on his self-titled debut album. However, the song is a tribute to Presley’s friend Carl Perkins, who originally recorded the song in 1955. True to form, Elvis famously wore his pair of real blue-suede shoes during many of his performances.
“Blue Suede Shoes” uses a blues standard that is very similar to “Trouble” but is in the key of A and only uses three chords. The song was originally played on acoustic guitar, but you can switch over to playing this on an electric guitar to give the chords extra drive and aggression.
5. It’s Now or Never
This tender ballad is another one of Presley’s best-selling singles. Released in 1960, it has sold over 20 million copies and remains one of the best-selling physical singles to date. The song was inspired during Elvis’s service in the military. While on duty, he overheard the famous Italian song “O Sole Mio” on the radio and decided to release something similar. “It’s Now or Never” was written by famous pop rock producer Aaron Schroeder, who also worked with the likes of Barry White and Jimi Hendrix.
The verses of “It’s Now or Never” are relatively straightforward, and all revolve around the E chord, which you can play in an open shape or barred up on the 7th fret. The chorus uses a similar chord structure to the verse but replaces the F Sharp Minor chord with the relative A Major.
6. Suspicious Minds
“Suspicious Minds” is one of my personal favorite Elvis songs. He sounds so energized and enthusiastic on the original recording it’s almost infectious. The song is based on a real-life triangle between songwriter Mark James, his wife, and his childhood sweetheart. The song has genuine confessions of confusion, frustration, and ultimately heartbreak.
There’s a very straight, even 4/4 backbeat in “Suspicious Minds” that line up with the guitar strumming. You can use this backbeat as a reference when playing through the different chord progressions in the arrangement. The original recording of “Suspicious Minds” fades out at the end, but you can also just play the last chorus out with slow, sustained chords to give it a proper ending.
7. Heartbreak Hotel
“Heartbreak Hotel” is one of the songs most synonymous with the Elvis brand. Upon release, the single reached the top spot on every major Billboard pop, country, and rock chart and even placed on global R&B charts simultaneously. The lyrics have a dark origin story, as they were inspired after steel guitar player Tommy Durden read an article about a man who killed himself, sparking the line, “I walk a lonely street”.
Despite its somber backstory, “Heartbreak Hotel” is played with quite an energetic, thumping groove that helps to push the lyrics forward. Most of the verses switch between an E Major and E7 chord, staying true to Elvis’ blues roots. Once your chords reach up to the A7 in each section, the playing has a lot more sustain and volume in its dynamic.
8. Are You Lonesome Tonight
On top of releasing a long string of successful original singles and albums, Elvis also recorded and released a healthy list of covers to add to his success. One of the most well-known Elvis covers is the ballad “Are You Lonesome Tonight”. In fact, many people mistake the Elvis version of this song for an original composition.
The song was originally written in 1926 by Tin Pan Alley and distributed amongst a wide range of artists, including Gene Austin and Al Jolsen. Elvis recorded his version in 1960.
“Are You Lonesome Tonight” is one of the more complex Elvis arrangements and follows a particular chord arrangement that backs the beautiful vocal melody. Learning this song might be trickier for beginner guitarists. That said, fortunately, the song is played at a slow and steady tempo, so it is still a relatively easy Elvis song to play on guitar if you memorize each respective chord change.
9. A Little Less Conversation
While many people in the modern era will know this song from the 2002 Junkie XL remix, the original song was released in 1968. This Elvis song was not as big of a hit as the later remix.
The original version of “A Little Less Conversation” is arranged using a very simple sequence of chords common in blues compositions. The progression of 7th chords gives the song its distinct bluesy tension and harmony, and you can play these chords using barre chord shapes around the fretboard to make the progression more comfortable to play.
10. Hound Dog
One of Elvis’s most popular songs is “Hound Dog”, which was originally recorded and released by female singer Big Mama Thornton in 1953. Elvis heard a reworked version of this song performed by Freddie Bell and The Bell Boys and decided to add that version to his repertoire. Elvis’s final version uses lyrics from both the original and reworked versions of this hit song to create his arrangement of the single.
“Hound Dog” is one of the faster, livelier Elvis compositions and sounds excellent played on solo acoustic guitar. The chord structures follow a traditional rock n roll progression in the key of C Major and include the 7th chords to give it some necessary tension. In total, there are six verses in Elvis’s version of this song, all with the same chord progressions and timing.
11. That’s Alright Mama
“That’s Alright Mama” is the very first single that Elvis Presley released. At the time of its recording, Presley was 19 years old and working as a truck driver with dreams of making it as a full-time musician. The song was demo-ed at Sun Records, where Elvis would go on to record several hit records with a long list of songwriters and instrumentalists.
“That’s Alright Mama” is another easy Elvis song on guitar that uses the 1-4-5 chord structures common in blues music, “That’s Alright Mama” is played at a very easy tempo and should be simple enough for most beginner guitarists to navigate. The interlude uses a D9 chord instead of a standard D major, so make sure you understand this chord shape when learning this arrangement.
12. All Shook Up
“All Shook Up” is another major Elvis hit and is one of his most popular rock singles. The song was born after songwriter Otis Blackwell entered publisher Al Stanton’s office shaking a bottle of Pepsi, sparking the suggestion for the song’s subject matter. After it was released, the song spent nine weeks at the top of the Billboard Top 100 Singles chart. The song has been covered numerous times by artists like Suzi Quatro and Billy Joel.
Even though this song uses just three chords, it can be challenging to play correctly. This is mostly because of the quick rhythms that the song uses in its arrangement. Try to listen out for the right-hand movements that are used to play through the chord progressions, and try to slow it down at first if it feels complicated.
13. Love Me Tender
“Love Me Tender” was written as the theme song for the movie Reno Brothers, which also starred Elvis as one of the lead characters. Elvis featured in 31 movies over his career, and this song was one of the most commercially successful movie songs in his catalog. During the filming of this movie, the director recognized the star potential Elvis had and increased his role and script lines to give him more screen time.
The verses of “Love Me Tender” use a pretty conventional set of chords that are quite common in pop arrangements to this day. However, in the choruses, the song introduces some slight jazz tendencies, adding a GM6 passing chord and an F#/C# 7th chord with some wonderful harmonic density. The tempo of the song is quite slow, and you can play each chord using strumming or fingerpicking patterns with a soft sway in the feel.
14. Run On
The single “Run On” is a traditional American folklore that Elvis adapted to create his top-selling release. The original composition has been redone several times by artists, including the legendary Percy Sledge. The song was one of Elvis’ final releases, first distributed in 1967.
“Run On” is played using a traditional country-folk strumming pattern that is quite percussive on an acoustic guitar. The chord progression revolves around the key of the song, which is originally F Major. The end of each verse also uses some innovative chord movements that change with each lyric to give the guitar part more added impact.
15. The Wonder Of You
With lyrics and production from songwriter Baker Knight, “The Wonder Of You” is one of Elvis’s most beautiful melodic arrangements. The song is a direct love letter to one of Presley’s partners, where he declares his eternal love and admiration for her. The song remains popular today and was informally adopted by the English football club Arsenal as one of their stadium chants.
This song has some stunning acoustic renditions, most of which use a fingerpicking pattern to arpeggiate each chord in the arrangement. The composition uses very specific chord structures to support the melody, but after some repetition, it’s quite easy to pick up on the overall structure.
“Fever” is an extremely popular jazz-pop standard performed by some incredible artists, including Nina Simone, Peggy Lee, Michael Buble, and Beyonce. The song was penned by Elvis’s trusty songwriting partner Otis Blackwell but was initially intended for R&B singer Little Willie John’s debut album.
The descending chord progression in “Fever” is somewhat iconic in songwriting circles and has been used to build a long list of other classic songs. You can either play the song by holding the first chord down and changing the root note or change the chords with each descending note accordingly.
17. Baby Let’s Play House
This song was a surprise success for Presley and was featured in the fourth issue of one of his early record pressings with Sun Records. The song was not formally distributed to radio but still managed to reach the number 5 spot on the Billboard Country Single Chart. Coincidentally, this was also the first song that Elvis recorded to feature on a national chart.
Elvis’s version of this song drastically differed from the original recording and was specifically made to appeal to a more country audience. The chord structures have stayed the same and are easy for beginner guitar players to learn and memorize.
Fun Fact: The lyric, “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man.” was taken by John Lennon for use in the Beatles’ song “Run For Your Life”
18. Teddy Bear
“Teddy Bear” is a quirky fun song that was composed for the movie “Loving You”, which also starred a young Elvis Presley. Hollywood composers Kal Mann and Bernie Lowe wrote this song and somehow started a nationwide rumor that Presley was extremely fond of teddy bears. Several fans bought into this rumor and would send Elvis teddy bears of all shapes and sizes as tokens of appreciation.
The composition in this song consists of just three chords throughout the arrangement. You can play a stripped-down version with a soft, steady fingerpicking pattern, and the song can also easily be adapted to a ukulele.
19. Return To Sender
“Return To Sender” was another Elvis song written by Otis Blackwell and Winfield Scott as part of a scene for the movie “Girls! Girls! Girls!” In the song, Presley’s character details his toxic relationship with a scornful lover. Presley writes the woman a letter that she refuses to read and instead sends straight back to him in a heartbreaking act of spite.
The original version of “Return To Sender” uses a capo on the 1st fret, but the song can also be played in regular tuning for a slight change in key. The song uses two sets of four-chord progressions, and the chord changes are evenly balanced over each bar of the composition.
20. Way Down
This song was the last recorded single from Elvis Presley before his untimely death in 1977. It’s also one of the songs that Elvis recorded from his Graceland home studio, which can still be visited as a tourist site today. “Way Down” was Elvis’s 146th appearance on a national pop chart. The lyrics tell a sad tale of the effects of a bad relationship.
The melodies in “Way Down” have an extremely somber tone, and the song sounds much darker and sadder when played solo on an acoustic guitar. The arrangement uses a traditional blues standard in the verses and choruses with slight nuances in each turnaround, and the right hand locks into the drummer’s shuffle-boogie rhythm for the strumming patterns.
21. Mystery Train
The final entry to the list of easy Elvis songs on guitar is “Mystery Train”. This song was originally written and performed by acclaimed blues musician Junior Parker in 1953. Elvis was a big fan of Parker’s work and released the song in tribute to him. Elvis’s version of this song was released in 1955 and went on to be the most popular version to date. “Mystery Train” is a simple song about a long train that carries away the writer’s lover, only to bring her back around again on the same set of tracks so he can keep her forever.
“Mystery Train” uses a blues standard in the key of E Major that is still widely used by modern musicians today. The repetitive rhythms and simple structure make it an easy song for beginner players to learn the basic movements used in blues playing.
Elvis has an eternal spot in the hearts of rock fans and guitarists as he helped spark the boom in guitar-focused rock music. By learning some of the easy Elvis songs on guitar, you will improve your abilities and better understand the history of rock music.