August 17

“I’m Working on a Building:” An Adaptation by Elvis Presley

"I'm Working on a Building:" An Adaptation by Elvis Presley 1
Elvis Presley | Photo credit:

We just can’t get enough of Elvis Presley’s gospel music. Why not? They’ve been delivered from the Rock & Roll king’s vocals. Besides, after knowing his profound love of sacred songs, we can’t help but feel carried away. The pull that his gospel music has on us is something that can’t be denied. There’s a certain power that comes along with his songs. It’s something that’s spirit-awakening, so to speak. Each time he delivers any gospel tune, he seemed to exude pure faith and sincerity. It’s no wonder why people who love him continue to make efforts in compiling and re-releasing his gospel recordings long after he’s gone. Even his covers of many great gospel hits are sounding like his own. Just like this old-time tune that originated from the African-American spiritual and southern gospel traditions. The song originally has the title I’m Working on a Building.”

Working on a Building

Brief Song Details

The exact origin of the song remains unclear. Some sources claimed that its earliest version has been around in the late ’20s. In her book Old Songs of Hymnals, Dorothy G. Bolton specifically highlighted the calypso feel of the song. From that premise, she speculated the song may have originated either in Florida or in the Caribbean.  Also, there exists a version of it that took the tune as a traditional folk song, one that has a similarity with a negro spiritual.

But when The Carter Family recorded their version of the song in 1934, it became commonly thought of as a Southern gospel music. Later on, both traditions of southern gospel and the African-American spiritual served as this tune’s origins. It went on to become a standard of the genres and was recorded countless times. Aside from The Carter Family and Elvis Presley, other notable artists who covered the song were Bill Monroe and The Oak Ridge Boys. As the song passes through different vocals and singing styles, its title and lyrics were likewise altered.

Elvis Presley’s Version

Presley’s adaptation of the song used the title “Working on the Building.” His cover was one of the tracks included on his first gospel album His Hands in Mine released in 1960. It has the following lyrics:

I’m working on the building
It’s a true foundation
I’m holding up the blood-stained
Banner for my lord
Well I never get tired, tired, tired of working on the building
I’m going up to heaven to get my reward

The six-line single stanza tune is repetitive. In Presley’s case, it comes five times and that comprises the whole of the song. Other covers such as that of Bill Monroe used a different song text.

Listen to Elvis Presley’s version of “Working on a Building” below.

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Elvis Presley, His Hand In Mine, Working on a Building

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