The last time I wrote about Elvis Presley I was a 20something and i did a think piece about how Capitalism destroyed a blue collar, working class hero. Not exactly a lie but hardly the whole truth either. I guess I found the Elvis I needed for those days.
And in many ways that’s one of the hidden stories of Elvis, we keep on finding the Elvis we need. When I was a wee slip of a thing in the early 60s my Mom loved Country Elvis, my dad loved the movie soundtracks and my sister loved rock and roll Elvis (me? i used to cry along to “Old Shep” -“Old Sheppie has gone where the good doggies go…”)
In the 70s when punk said that the honest roar of rock and roll was the only thing that mattered I called Elvis the ultimate working class hero and with the Jordanaires the progenitor of the proletariat’s greatest art form (rock is, first and foremost and always, about making a lot of noise for a very small cash outlay). Of course, punk’s greatest moment, “London Calling” used Elvis as the harbinger of times that were a changing (see above).
Me, the rock critic, read Marcus and Bang (Bangs memorably called his attraction to Presley an erection of the heart) and tried to figure out which recording sessions went with which albums and, a full 20 years after his death at the age of forty-two, tried to piece together his rise, fall, rise and rise and fall.
You want to hear the very second rock was born? It lies in the difference between take one and take two of “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” during the sun sessions, the first take sways in country melody, the second take shakes in musical momentum.
All of these Sun Sessions songs is just awe inspiring; Elvis was so young, so gifted, so, ahem, hard. I would claim even Presley didn’t know what he and Sam Philips were up to but Marcus actually went to the black clubs in Memphis and spoke to the performers who remembered the young Elvis going to the clubs and soaking up the music which lead, even if only unconsciously, to his melding of blues and country.
That would be enough for any one life time but it isn’t even the first chapter with Presley. Presley was a one man sexual revolution: he brought the libido of America to a boil, he made teenagers a demo, he set the stage (though didn’t join the stage) for the 60s. Presley was the embodiment of post – World War II America: him and Disney was why everybody wanted to come here.
I don’t think I can overstate this: no Elvis? No Beatles, No Stones, No U2, no nothing: not even hip hop. Hip hop got its rhythm from James Brown but it got its sex from Elvis. We all did, really: it put the past away once and for all. Now, people were really free.
His work with RCA up to about 61, 62 is all very strong and sexy stuff whether making like Fabian or making like Arthurd Crudup. But Colonel Tom had different plans so zonked out of his mind on downers Presley sleep walked through the 60s only to wake up on the 68 special.
None of his albums after that were most owns because he didn’t make albums, Elvis went into recording sessions, recorded 40 or so over a period of a couple of months, and cut and pasted them into albums.
Some of the songs are great: I consider his cover of Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is a Long Time” simply the best Dylan cover ever; “Suspicious Minds,” ” Moody Blue,” “Don’t Cry, Daddy,” “In the ghetto”.
And then he went to Las vegas, toured a lot, got fat, took too many drugs and died.
I am going to stop with an Elvis must owns, if you don’t like Elvis here is where to start (though, to paraphrase Robert Christgau, if you don’t like Elvis why are you reading this blog?).
The Sun Sessions -Birth of rock
Elvis Is Back -From the army and better than ever
GI Blues and Blue Hawaii – I won’t hear a word against them