Lana Del Rey made me cry again. This is not a rare occurrence. If I’m in the mood to work myself up, all I have to do is think of the psychedelic confessional outro of her masterpiece “Venice Bitch” or her devotion to familial love on “The Grants,” or any number of live performances I’ve watched and experienced over the years. But this time, Del Rey did it at a new level, singing a tender rendition of “Unchained Melody” — and in Graceland, of all places.
The singer was part of NBC’s Christmas at Graceland special, a union that feels like undeniable proof of the true and mighty hand of destiny. Del Rey’s love of the Elvis Presley and his former wife, Priscilla, is well known by even her most fairweather of fans. She sings “Elvis is my daddy” on “Body Electric;” she embodies Priscilla’s glamour so viscerally there’s no need for a side-by-side comparison. (Sofia Coppola even tried to get Del Rey to record a song for Priscilla, but it “didn’t work out with the timing.”)
“It’s a dream to be here at Graceland,” Del Rey says ahead of her performance. “I know that [“Unchained Melody”] was one of Elvis’ favorite covers by The Righteous Brothers, and we particularly like his performance at Rapid City.”
Elvis’ 1977 cover of “Unchained Melondy” is legendary, performed almost two months to the date before his passing in August of the same year. It’s a stripped down, seemingly off-the-cuff rendition, with Elvis pounding away at the piano, flanked by two giant cups of Coca-Cola, and the microphone held to his lips by a member of the band. His voice rings clear and triumphant, and his pained, out-of-breath introduction of the song quickly fading to make room for the splendor.
Del Rey’s performance, though softer in nature, harnesses the same power Elvis and The Righteous Brothers achieved all those years ago; it’s timeless, true, and piercing. As she sings her final note and asks “Are you still mine?” my face is covered in fat, salty tears. I’m moved, not only by her crystalline voice, but her solidified place as one of the country’s most prized artists — like Elvis before her, and those who will take up the challenger after her.
Watch Del Rey’s cover of “Unchained Melody,” below.