John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

Elvis Sings “Suspicion”

Presley’s version of great Doc Pomus song wasn’t a hit, but displays the talent of both.

By - Sep 10th, 2015 02:42 pm
Sign-up for the Urban Milwaukee daily email
Elvis Presley and Doc Pomus.

Elvis Presley and Doc Pomus.

Though his name appeared on a lot of his records, Elvis Presley was not a songwriter. His manager, the conniving Colonel Tom Parker, was a master thief and didn’t mind taking money away from great artists like Otis Blackwell. The proposition was simple, you could have 100 percent of nothing, or Elvis’s name goes on with yours and you get a share of a million seller. Blackwell died in Nashville in a nice house on a hill, but he could’ve owned the hill had The Colonel not stolen millions from him.

This kind of deal wouldn’t fly with Doc Pomus, whose biography, written by Alex Halberstadt, and called Lonely Avenue, is a must-read. Doc knew publishing and wouldn’t fall for the cheapest scam of the time. The Colonel gladly paid, though, because Doc, along with his partner, Mort Shuman, wrote hits that stuck in the mind and the heart. Lonely Avenue, an early effort, was done in unforgettable fashion by Ray Charles. This Magic Moment and Save The Last Dance For Me were hits for Ben E. King when he was lead singer for The Drifters.

That last song was especially poignant and came from personal experience. Doc sat through all the dancing at his wedding, watching from a wheelchair as his young bride, Willi, danced the night away. He had contracted polio as a boy and hobbled around on crutches well into his adult life, before giving in completely and using the wheelchair exclusively. While still on crutches, he had a modest career as a blues shouter, very influenced by Big Joe Turner, who would eventually sing his songs.

Back to Elvis: The colonel was buying and Doc & Mort had bills to pay. When Elvis started making his increasingly mediocre films, there were three soundtracks a year to create. At that pace no one could be expected to write gems. But it made little difference, they sold like everything else that said Elvis. The rare exceptions, like Viva Las Vegas and today’s track, Suspicion, stood out against this backdrop of schlock.

This song was written near the tail end of Doc’s marriage. With two kids and a house in the suburbs, it looked like the American dream. But it wasn’t. Willi had dreams of performing and when she finally did land a role on Broadway, she met someone. Doc spent a lot of time in the city, across the street from his publisher and the cubicle he wrote in. It wasn’t conducive to happily ever after and he was probably feeling pangs of jealousy long before the picture came into focus and things changed permanently. These words must have almost written themselves:

Every time you kiss me
I’m still not certain that you love me
Ev’ry time you hold me
I’m still not certain that you care
Though you keep on saying
you really, really, really love me
Do you speak the same words
To someone else when I’m not there

Suspicion torments my heart
Suspicion keeps us apart
Suspicion why torture me

Every time you call me
and tell me we should meet tomorrow
I can’t help but think that
you’re meeting someone else tonight
Why should our romance just
keep on causing me such sorrow?
Why am I so doubtful
whenever you’re out of sight?

Suspicion torments my heart
Suspicion keeps us apart
Suspicion why torture me

Darling, if you love me,
I beg you wait a little longer
Wait until I drive all
these foolish fears out of my mind
How I hope and pray that
our love will keep on growing stronger
Maybe I’m suspicious
’cause true love is so hard to find

Suspicion torments my heart
Suspicion keeps us apart
Suspicion why torture me

© Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman

Paranoia perfectly captured and expressed. Many are familiar with the nearly identical version by Terry Stafford, that was a hit later. He certainly did a good Elvis and I sort of prefer the way Stafford phrases the chorus, which is set against the pounding triplets. RCA apparently wasn’t convinced by and never released the King’s version. Hearing it today, it sounds a bit over-sweetened, but, let’s face it, Elvis could bring the drama. It’s a little known fact that he was the driving force in the studio, doing endless takes after his producer, Chet Atkins, had called it a successful day. All of this is to say that, if your image of Elvis is as some sort of cracker/savant, he was a much more conscious artist than that.

Doc held court at The Lonestar Cafe in the ‘80s. After many ups and downs, he was a legend on wheels. Rolling in the service entrance every night and holding court with adoring celebrities and strangers alike, he was easily one of the most accessible legends of his time. He was present when the R&B Cadets played there. Warm, funny and encouraging, he talked to us like he’d known us his whole life. He had just had a bad go around with Willie DeVille and was once again swearing off “teenage music.” The funny thing is, with all the pain and truth that went into his lyrics, his teenage songs were were fully grown up, from the downbeat all the way to the coda.

3 thoughts on “Sieger on Songs: Elvis Sings “Suspicion””

  1. Ann says:

    The instrumentation, vocals and arrangement for this track I feel really nail it. The twangs after the lines in the verse almost mock the singer. And the back up singers uttering the word “suspicion” before Elvis has the chance to jump in just confirms everything.

  2. Dale Pautzke says:

    I will never understand why bands like R&B Cadets do not become wildly successful on the national level.

  3. Harvey Taylor says:

    thanks for another master class in profound song appreciation–
    the intertwined stories of Doc & Elvis give it an operatic dimension–
    here’s the teaser for a documentary on Doc that I’d love to see

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *