I. Introduction By now, the story of Elvis Presley and his meteoric rise from singing truck driver to the "King of Rock and Roll" is universally known and is now an accepted part of American folklore. American teenagers today look back on the innocence of the 1950 s with an amused cynicism and wonder aloud what all the fuss regarding Elvis' gyrating pelvis was all about. To provide some background to those may not be familiar with the story of Elvis' humble beginnings, legend has it that Elvis Presley stepped into a studio to make a recording of the song, "My Happiness" as a gift for his mother. The studio was owned by Sam Phillips, who also ran Sun Records.
Phillips, impressed with what he heard, introduced Elvis to some country music-based studio musicians, and together, they tried to come up with a unique sound, with not too much initial success. Then, Phillips' recommended that they try some blues songs written by a fellow Sun recording artist, Arthur Crud up. One of the songs was, "That's All Right, Mama," and became the first big national hit for both Elvis Presley and Sun Records. The song quickly gained the attention of country music promoter, Colonel Tom Parker, who recognized the raw talent and sex appeal of the 20-year-old unsophisticated country boy.
He became Presley's manager and secured him a recording contract with RCA records. Elvis' first recording under his RCA contract was "Heartbreak Hotel," and the rest, as they say, is history. II. Body The impact of Elvis was both startling and immediate. His infusion of country music and rhythm and blues may have been an accident, but it created a revolutionary musical style. Prior to 1955, rhythm and blues had its roots in black gospel music and though it had a loyal and devoted following, remained on the peripheral of American society.
When the songs were performed by white performer Presley, they became an accepted part of the musical mainstream. Composer Quincy Jones once commented, " (It was) the emotional revolution of young, white America. This is the music that had been in the black communities for years. Now, it was exposed by a white performer to the public at large" (Hochman, p.
73). It was a battle call answered by teenagers around the world. According to author Albert Goldman, hearing the music of Elvis Presley was a defining moment in young John Lennon's life. Goldman (1988) wrote: "Heartbreak Hotel" was not only a catalyst for Lennon but an imitation and an education. It beckoned in him the tantalizing language of dreams. It also pointed him in his natural direction as an artist -- toward the enactment of his deepest fears in a rock & roll psychodrama.
Never has a writer or performer received a more powerful and compelling summons to his profession. (p. 63) His devotion to Elvis drove his Aunt Mimi to distraction and left her often complaining, "He would even stand in front of his bedroom mirror pretending to be that man, Elvis Presley" (Goldman, 1988, p. 65) in much the same way as future generations would imitate The Beatles. As Albert Goldman chronicled in his earlier book, Elvis, Lennon himself publicly acknowledged his musical debt to Presley by saying simply, "Before Elvis, there was nothing" (Goldman, 1981, p. 136).
Buddy Holly started out playing country and western songs that were true to his Texas roots. However, his musical style was transformed when he appeared as a supporting performer during Elvis' tour of Lubbock. Shortly thereafter, he formed his own band and recorded his first rock and roll songs. His career rivaled that of his early mentor when he died tragically in a plane crash in 1959. Although Mick Jagger has expressed public disdain for the music of Elvis Presley, this opinion is not held by all members of the Rolling Stones. In his memoir, Stone Alone, Bill Wyman remembers, "I was completely mad on Elvis Presley...
When I went to London to see my family, I bought Presley's 'Heartbreak Hotel' and played it with the windows to the street open until it wore out" (Wyman, 1990, pp. 62-63). Presley's musical machine churned out the hits in rapid succession, "Blue Suede Shoes,"Hound Dog,"All Shook Up," Don't Be Cruel,"Good Luck Charm," and "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" When Elvis went into the Army in 1958, Col. Parker had stockpiled enough material to keep the public's insatiable appetite for Elvis satisfied. However, Presley career after his return stateside in 1960 seemed to lack the intensity of the earlier days.
During this time, he made many forgettable movies and equally forgettable music, with the sole exception of "Can't Help Falling in Love," which became his largest selling single recording. In the years before his death in 1977, Elvis was in serious danger of becoming a caricature with his sequined jumpsuits full-cut to hide his girth and his gaudy jewelry a la Liberace. III. Conclusion The impact of Elvis Presley's music, however, is still being felt around the world. The Irish band, U 2, often credits Elvis with fueling their musical ambitions and paid tribute to him on their disc, "The Unforgettable Fire." For lead singer, Bono, the music of Elvis Presley was a collision of white European and black cultures. For the German band, The Scorpions, it was also a cultural revelation.
As lead singer Klaus Meine remembers, "When I heard Elvis for the first time, I didn't understand English, but the rock and roll message came across. He was the first white rock n' roller, a revolutionary" (Zimmerman, 1994, p. 1). Paul Simon's narrative of his trip to Graceland with his young son was set to powerful African rhythms in the monumental album of the same name. In recent years, Elvis' influence has manifested itself in many musical forms. Alternative bands like The Smithereens and UB 40 often perform cover tunes, with UB 40's reggae version of "Can't Help Falling in Love" becoming a crossover hit.
Avant garde rocker Laurie Anderson, who has a large and very loyal cult following, waxes poetic about an online Elvis seance. Singer Chris Isaak, who is credited with reviving an interest in rockabilly music with his 1989 release, "Heart-Shaped World" looks a bit like a young Elvis, with his slicked-back hair and pouting lips. Melissa Etheridge, who began her career performing Elvis cover tunes in bars once reflected, "When I started having rock and roll dreams, I didn't think, 'Oh, I'm just a girl, I can't be Elvis.' I saw him and I thought, 'I want to be that'" (Zimmerman, 1994, p. 1). Finally, the music of Elvis Presley has transcended all cultural and ethnic boundaries. Zaire-born Tabu Ley Rocher eau performs a successful variation of pop dance music called souk ous to packed houses and is known as the "African Elvis" (Vandernyff, 1995, p.
1). Jukka Ammon dt, a Finnish doctor of philosophy is the most unlikely carrier of the Elvis torch. He achieved notoriety by making a recording of Elvis' most famous ballads translated into Latin (Berman, 1995, p. 2). Listening to such classics as "Nunc hic aut Num quam (It's Now or Never) " is certainly an eclectic experience, to say the least. With over 1, 000 recordings still being enjoyed and over 100 worldwide fan clubs, the King of Rock and Roll's legacy is secure.
He would be undoubtedly be amazed by his enduring influence by those who have embraced his musical style and incorporated it into their own unique interpretations. The country boy from Tupelo, Mississippi described his innovation by saying simply, "I don't sound like nobody" (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996, p. 20). References Berman, A. "Morning report." (1995, March 7).
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The creative personality. Psychology Today, p. 20. Goldman, A.
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The Lives of John Lennon. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. Gundersen, E. & Zimmerman, D. "Today's stars hail the King of rock & roll." (1994, October 10), USA Today, p. 1 D.
Hochman, S. "Focus; Rock of Ages." (1995, March 12). Los Angeles Times, p. 73. Wyman, B. (1990).
Stone Alone. London: Penguin Group.