Elvis Presley

There is no question that rock ‘n’ roll would have been a totally different concept without Elvis Presley. What’s more, mach has been made of Elvis blending black music (gospel, blues, R&B) with Country & Western forms. Elvis was born into a dirt-poor family in Tupelo, Mississippi on January 8.
1935Although he may not have invented rock ‘n’ roll in the purest sense of the term–though the truth is he did begin recording his Sun singles nearly a year before Chuck Beerry recorded “Maybelline” for Chess Records in Chicago–there is no question that rock ‘n’ roll would have been a totally different concept without Elvis Presley. What he did invent was the style, the themes and the naturally rebellious spirit that became central to the form–and via Presley, the world saw the birth of the baby- boomer youth culture and subsequent counterculture. What’s more, much has been made of Elvis blending black music (gospel, blues, R&B) with Country & Western forms. Thhe element that historians sometimes forget to mention, however, is the pop spirit he blended into the overall sound. After all, Dean Martin had been his childhood hero, and when he first entered Sun Studios in Memphis and was asked wh

hat kind of music he sang, his reply was: “I sing all types.” After Elvis, pop music and American culture were never the same.

Born into a dirt-poor family (read: poor “white trash”) in Tupelo, Mississippi on January 8, 1935, he relocated to the Memphis housing projects while still an adolescent with his parents, Vernon and Gladys. (A twin brother, Jesse Garon, had died at birth.) He absorbed all the music styles indigenous to the South, and years later, people still swear that the young Elvis was frequently found on Beale Street and other black districts of Memphis, simply absorbing the culture. It was shortly after high school graduation, while driving a truck for Crown Electric Company, that he went into Sun Studios too cut a record (he would pay) for his beloved mother’s birthday. Sun owner Sam Phillips, who’d produced mainly black artists, heard something in Presley, put him together with local musicians Scotty Moore and Bill Black (later, D.J. Fontana would join on drums, and they were soon dubbed the Blue Moon Boys), and after some experimentation, they cut a series of singles that remain legendary today as the birth of modern white rock.

Elvis and the Boys toured the South, becoming a

sensation at the Louisiana Hayride and scoring numerous regional hits (though some sounded too black for country radio and vice versa). Enter former carnival huckster Colonel Tom Parker, who became Elvis’s manager and sold the “the boy”‘s record contract to RCA; through 1958, the King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll (as his fans and the press soon dubbed him) was the world’s first major teen idol and the original rock star. He was inducted into the U.S. Army in 1958, and although many historians believe this was the end, his unsurpassed run on the pop charts continued until the Beatles (whom he’d deeply influenced) unseated him in 1964.

Throughout the ’60s, Elvis made a string of forgettable films; nevertheless, the Colonel saw to it that the King received the unheard-of-at-the time $1 million per flick, and he remained one of the world’s top five box office attractions through 1967. The following year, he took control of his career one last time, resulting in his final moment of black-leathered grace ‘n’ glory– the legendary 1968 NBC-TV “Comeback” special. He followed with some brilliant Las Vegas shows, but by 1973’s Aloha From Hawaii satellite TV special and album, he was falling into MOR formula. He had some great mo

oments even during his decline– but his health continued to fail, his marriage ended, and he fell more into depression and a tragic addiction to numerous prescription painkillers. He ultimately died at the end of Lonely Street, a victim of paranoia and his own demons, on August 16, 1977, resulting in unheard-of national mourning and hysteria.

Presley’s myth has become part of American folklore, in a league with the legends of, say, Davy Crockett and George Washington. In fact, Graceland probably has more visitors a year than Mount Vernon could even imagine. He’s also been the victim of national jokes, both funny and cruel. What sometimes gets lost amid the camp and postage stamps, however, is how truly brilliant and intuitive Elvis was as a musician at his best. RCA hasn’t helped matters, as his catalog has habitually been the worst organized amongst all musical legends. Recent years have been somewhat kinder due to a series of box set projects (it’s said that the main caveat which led to German conglomerate BMG purchasing RCA in the late ’80s was the Elvis catalog, and BMG thus wanted to finally release his recordings in an appropriate manner). Presley, however, first and foremost made his mark as

s a singles artist. There are currently so many (some absolutely ridiculous) “specialty” compilations LPs–Sings Leiber & Stoller; Elvis Sings For Children And Grownups Too!; several “country” compilations (In Nashville, Elvis Country, Great Country Songs, Welcome To My World)–that it sometimes seems impossible simply to keep track. Only compounding matters are the numerous Elvis albums RCA released on its budget Camden label throughout the ’60s and ’70s. These inferior albums generally featured non-rock tracks from assorted soundtrack LPs–although when the King finally scored a huge rock ‘n’ roll hit with “Burning Love” in 1972, RCA’s brilliant decision was to release it on a Camden LP called Elvis Sings “Burning Love” & Hits From His Movies. (Believe me, aside from the title track, none of them were “hits.”) There are also the Essential Elvis compilations and the Legendary Performer LPs, which were the first pre-box set compilations to include outtakes, alternates and even stereo mixes amongst previously released hits. And, of course, the box sets as well as the recent CD reissue of the Worldwide Gold Award Hits volumes makes the separate Golden Records, Top Ten, and Number 1 compilation LPs extremely redundant.

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