“They called Elvis the king, why not me?” – Michael Jackson
Elvis Presley: The man, the myth, the legend.
The man because he energized himself as a provocative artist, the myth because some say he overdosed from a ham sandwich, and the legend because he came and conquered the world like a Rock ‘n’ Roll storm. For over half a century, his music has continued to send shivers up our spines, tangling us with sources of 50’s hit tunes that you would obviously hear in silver box diners or dine-in restaurants that sits along Route 66. His musical influence comes in disguises across all genres; in each and every elemental rock and roll, R&B, blues, country, hip hop, or easy listening music, there is an Elvis in there somewhere.
The debuting of Elvis in the starlight would not have happened if the dilemma had not fallen to the nearly reluctant hands of Sam Phillips, who was the founder of Sun studios and Sun records. Sam famously brought countless country artists in the spotlight, including Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis. After discovering Elvis in the studio, it was time to put Rock ‘n’ Roll in the books.
Roughly 60 years later, Elvis Presley, also known as Elvis Presley Rock n’ Roll in the UK, became an instant piece of art that needs to be preserved for history; allowing all musicians, music fans, music historians, and everyday people that identify with music to understand how important this prominent album became. It is a pinnacle ingredient used to create a solid foundation of the rock genre that still lives in its establishment today.
The album was the first Rock ‘n’ Roll album to make it to the Billboard charts, certifying gold and platinum by the RIAA (Record Industry Association of America), and one of the three of Elvis’s albums to be praised in “1001 albums you must hear before you die.”
Elvis Presley deserves to be celebrated for its 60th year in this series of Decades in Album Reflection for its remarkable impact on the Rock ‘n’ Roll establishment.
The 1940s, as some would theoretically believe, was a bleak time for music to be relished. Sure, America is repairing itself from the war, but that doesn’t mean the entertainment has to stop for society. Fortunately by the 1950s, someone had to bring up the good deeds of music listening for the nation to smile about.
Sam Phillips worked as a DJ and engineer for a cheesy AM radio station in Memphis. The station had a unique ideal in having an “open format” genre that first premiered both black and white musicians in the airplay. However, a rise of racial tensions began shortly after, contemplating both races to eye their boundaries of segregation. But Sam did not give a rat’s fart at all, even if that meant pursuing so would increase the chances of getting him mob lynched. His arms were wide open for any convenient, race musicians who wanted their songs to be heard on the radio in hopes of blending both races of music together as a concept to believe that “only the music matters,” and the whole racial bulls**t can stick it up their own butthole.
After opening his own recording company, Sun Records and Sun Studios, Sam allowed many black musicians (such as B.B. King and Howlin’ Wolf) to perform and record their songs in his service studio, aiding them to attract superior record labels soon after to make them a star. Most of the black artists were subjected as blues player and Sam grew incredibly fond of the blues. Like himself, it attracted white audiences to witness the amazing beauty of what the blues sounded like and it opened their eyes to other music besides country and jazz.
One day, Marion Keisker, a long time collaborator of Sam, came to inform him that an extremely talented young man entered their premises to record a few tracks for himself. From her first impression, Marion believed that he sounded like nobody she was familiar with, even with the fact that the young man told her that he plays all kinds of music. Luckily Marion had kept the recording tapes she had for backups and played it for Sam, who eventually found his answer of the dream artist he always had in mind. Marion recalls of Sam saying: “’If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars”, and Elvis Presley was that guy.
Sam then recruited three acquainted musicians to weigh along Elvis: Winfield “Scotty” Moore on guitar, Bill Black on the upright bass, and D.J. Fontana on drums. Together they recorded an impulsive jamming session jumping and dancing around the studio, leading to the first instigation of Rock ‘n’ Roll in action.
Everything that Sam wanted had started to come true with Elvis serving as his company’s feature attraction.
Listeners started to phone in more of who he was. More live venues were booking Elvis, which meant that more money was needed, not just an album production but for the infrastructure of promoting him. It made a difficult balance for Sam to hold on to, whether it was sacrificing his main favorite for financial gain or demolishing his successful status as a failing producer.
Elvis had done many country-oriented styles of music that the fans had looked upon, but at the same time he began to stir up a new genre of music that would become “Rock ‘n’ Roll” to some extent . This really put Sam in the edge of dilemma: aching to keep Elvis for future role of higher investment for his company which would then lead to his destructive plan. Suddenly a mastermind talent scout, named Colonel Tom Parker, steps in as Elvis’s newest promoting manager who saw him in a bigger league. Sam knew he only had one choice that would save his own company and Elvis’s career.
In the November of 1955, Elvis’s recording contract was sold to executive Steve Sholes from RCA Victor Records, a famous label home for a wide range of artists: from Arthur Fiedler to Justin Timberlake.
Sam sold his contract with Elvis to the label for a fair profit of $35,000, which back then was an incredible amount of money to help Sam recover the financial trouble he had. Besides, Sholes had a better chance of making Elvis successful than Sam did. It wouldn’t made any sense if Elvis stuck around in a cheap, lousy record label if he wanted to become more prominent to bigger audiences.
Auspiciously for Sam, the RCA money had led him to become more of a successful producer in
radio stations, capturing Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and
Johnny Cash as his new prospective artists in the label. Sam and Elvis reconciled in a heartfelt reunion soon after the release of Elvis Presley when a recording session including Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash was joined by Elvis unexpectedly. That record session then became the spontaneous session jam of the so called “Million Dollar Quartet,” marking as one of the most important events to occur in Rock ‘n’ Roll history. By the late 1960s, Sam sold his company rights to label producer Shelby Singleton from Mercury Records and focused on other business investments; eventually finding himself as one of the first groups to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Meanwhile, Elvis’s career was just getting started as his recordings with RCA Records began to incorporate R&B and country in a stylistic motion that became Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Most of these Rock ‘n’ Roll songs were essential covers from bigger blues and country artists like Carl Perkins and Ray Charles, so Elvis re-categorized blues and country hits the way he envisioned. All of the songs were arranged the way he wanted it, how he wanted it, and in a way that made all listeners feel the same way Elvis felt.
There were a few old tracks that were recorded at Sun studios. RCA Records considered it best to keep a few Sun recordings in Elvis’s first album, knowing that it to be a compelling album if it connected various genres like country and R&B. Five unreleased tracks from Sun Records were transferred to RCA records and were the start of Elvis’s musicality creation.
“I Love You Because” is one of the few country ballad songs that Elvis recorded. Mimicking and covering from Leon Payne’s original, the song softens Elvis as a teenage dream idol as he whispers at the intro, like a bird call in need of a mating mission, catching every girls admiration to his precious eyes and dreamy, candy-shaped face.
The rhythmic, beatdown, slow-swinging, rebel-without-a-cause attitude of “Trying to Get to You” was originally by The Eagles (the 1950s R&B group from Washington D.C.). Elvis definitely got a complete rip over The Eagles vocal man Charles Singleton, while
Scotty surfed it out in a country-style, flamboyant guitar playing. The whole thing felt like a bad voodoo swinging over a man’s charming lowdown in a ’50s Cadillac through a deserted diner (at least that was the way I felt when I heard of this song).
While the Sun recordings show the significance of Elvis’s prominent beginnings, the faithful side of Elvis began shining in the RCA sessions.
All cover versions that Elvis sought for during his time in RCA were either aesthetically intriguing, compared to the Sun recordings, or a completely different amusement to what the listeners expected from Elvis. Either way, it was something fresh and exciting to witness and Rock ‘n’ Roll was right around the corner during this time of new exploitation of western music discovery. In the United Kingdom, the album was titled Elvis Presley Rock and Roll to ensure to signification of what Rock ‘n’ Roll meant and sounded like in the western culture (or who help popularized it). Sure enough, foreign cultures began to take Elvis’s first album into matter of their own impetus music reign, even influenced by the artwork cover itself.
The recordings in RCA are exceptionally redefining for the first wave of 1950s rock music.
Who could forget how erupting the opening track of the album? “Blue Suede Shoes” became the Rock ‘n’ Roll blowout that was a complete takeover of Bill Haley and his Comet’s “Rocking Around the Clock.” Originally by Carl Perkins, Elvis covers this impacting hit that instigates the initiation of rockabilly sounds. Elvis shouts in a thematic intro of a rolling show he’s trying to create.
The main focus was the actual blue suede shoes he wore on shows, ironically as a factual trajectory to Perkin’s tune. Elvis boogies out in this rocking rhythm that includes his abusive rules of doing anything he can at his own will: whether it’s stepping on his face, burning his house down, drink his liquor, steal his car, call him an asshole (I made that up) or virtually anything you can think of. But for the love of God, just don’t step on his blue suede shoes!
“I Got a Woman” is a jangling country tune that felt like a first taste of a fast-tempo rockabilly do over. This cover of a Ray Charles tune surely is a prime example of a white man doing black man things; prioritizing the significance of blues and country together in a rocking blend, or simply white man blues. Sure enough, this would put an enormous smile on Sam Phillip’s face if he had ever witnessed the production of such a hit.
But Ray Charles wasn’t the only colored bad boy that Elvis admired.
Little Richard was acquainted so much in Elvis’s Rock ‘n’ Roll vision that he had to cover the tangy “Tutti Frutti.” Elvis voice mimics a hundred girls chasing behind him while he’s running for dear life. Scotty’s guitar paces his fast picking like a choreographic player capturing Elvis eloping adventure, as well as D.J. Fontana
keeping up on drums. The outcome became a staple as rock music’s biggest accomplishment, creating the hype and stir for every white kids. Seriously, the track could not get any way superior to start off its rocking, bopping initiation of “A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a–lop-bam-boom!” (try saying that 3 times fast and it’ll guarantee a tongue twister).
“Money Honey” is yet another white-man-doing-the-black-man’s-blues kind of song. Elvis also looked up on The Drifters and this original track made him cover it in his own unique way. The song‘s morality is purely simple: the cost of getting a woman’s sensual consent will definitely pin you like a prominent pimp: “Money Honey, if you want to get along with me.” It’s pretty subjective for an early ’50s song, but Elvis and The Drifters had their personality splattered all over the wall for everyone to see and everyone including the hot cats really dig it.
As I mentioned before at the first paragraph of this article, Elvis was literally known as the man, myth, and legend in our times.
The mythical part became the defining mystical fact about the King and that was determining if he was meant to be known as the King. Apparently with all the accusations and theoretical statements, Elvis in actuality was known to be a simple, white man. To many fans dismay, Elvis grew up, listened to white man’s country and black boys blues, sang the crap out of his influences, made million bucks, went to war, came back bigger than ever, and left to die alone (in the bathroom some say).
Audiences and listeners accept the fact that he’s a historical person to ever laid foot in the 20th century, but idolizing him shouldn’t be much of a big deal. Elvis just made historical music; similar to how the Beatles made pop, Kraftwerk invented electronic, and Nickelback made on the list of being the most hated artist ever. Yet, some could say that not only was he was a mythical being: he was a hero of all musicians. My music nerd buddy Robert Christgau has his own input in this fact:
“Internalizing him will become harder for the faithful as well; already, common sense tells us, their experience of his accessibility reflects what they’ve been told about him, both orally and in texts of all kinds. But if Elvis is a literary hero, no one, patient reader, needs his literature more than you and me. He is a literary hero who confounds literacy itself.” (The King & I)
The release of Elvis Presley made a historical impact that made everyone nuts over this god Rock ‘n’ Roll hillbilly. Artists to this day respect this prominent notion as if they wished they were the Elvis of whatever generation of music they came from. Elvis is way gone from this world, but don’t let that sadden you. Take a heartwarming trip to Graceland where Carla Tortelli from Cheers has always done whenever she needed a break from the Boston bar. Just stop by whenever you’re around his hometown in Memphis and may the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll satisfy you with his iconic possessions and memorabilia. Or do what I would do if Memphis is out of the question; visit the Fremont Strip in Las Vegas in hope to find a good, fat looking Elvis impersonator (hey, it always get me!).