“I don't know anything about music. In my line you don't have to” – Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley- The King
An American cultural icon, the original rock star, the heartbreaker, the legend and a legacy which will never end. His soulful voice, his good looks and raw sensuality, that devilish smile and of course his stage performances! Elvis Presley made rock & roll music what it is today, revolutionized the genre and gave it an international popularity. He is easily the single most important artist in American popular culture. Thirty years after his death, he continues to sell millions of records to every new generation of fans and mesmerizes them by his power. Elvis Presley will remain a part of our consciousness forever. His artistic achievement is unparallel and can be summed up by the fact that he won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at age 36! His home Graceland in Memphis is a rock temple with million of visitors every year.
The undisputed king of Rock
Elvis was born in Mississippi in 1935 in a two-room house built by his father. In 1948 he moved to Memphis; though he never was trained in music, as an early teen he would go down to record stores and listen to gospel and country music which were his first love. In 1953 he just walked into the Sun records office and wanted to pay for a little air time to record songs as birthday gift for his mother. His first few recordings did not impress Sam Phillip (Sun Studio boss), but then Elvis started fooling around with the song “That’s all right Mama” singing it in a faster back-beat. It sounded great and Sam Phillips started recording and the world would never be the same again. The Sun Sessions has been widely regarded as one of the greatest records of all times. Now managed by Col Tom Parker, Elvis Presley signed to big label RCA in 1955.
The Early Years and the Sun Sessions
“Well since my baby left me”- the world changed when it heard the opening line from Heartbreak Hotel in 1956. It gave Elvis’s his first no.1 single; another 25 would follow over the course of the next two decades. His stage performances were also gaining a lot of controversy with his body movements and raw sexuality. In 1956 he debut on the America’s iconic Ed Sullivan Show, his first TV show was seen by nearly 60 million people a record for that era, though Elvis was shown only from waist up. His performance of “Love me Tender” on the Ed Sullivan Show is considered the Big Bang of rock & roll! America was going through a cultural change and Elvis was brining rock & roll into the mainstream. His live performances were becoming riots of young men and women screaming. Elvis was changing America. His first movie Love me Tender was also released. Between recording sessions and movie shoots, Elvis found time to buy an 18 room mansion – Graceland. The year saw two movies; three sold out tours and ended with a Christmas Album. In 1958 Elvis made world wide headlines when he was drafted into the US army. While in the Army post in Germany, Elvis met 14 year old Priscilla Beaulieu his future wife.
After completing his stint in the army, he immediately recorded two of his all time best sellers – “It’s Now or Never” and “Are you Lonesome Tonight”. From 1960-67 Elvis focused on his movie career. Elvis took his acting career very seriously he wanted to be respected as an actor doing serious roles. But his manager insisted on lighter roles. The movie soundtracks did sell, but it affected the sincerity by moving to pop sound away from his rock roots. Most of his 27 movies were panned by critics and were successful initially like Viva Las Vegas and Jailhouse Rock. The movies were becoming all too similar and had an assembly-like feel. The soundtracks were poor and his popularity took a hit. The damage had been done.
Hollywood’s new Leading Man
By 1967, Elvis had lost some of his popularity and his singles were commercial failures. Increasingly paranoid about his career Elvis first started using drugs which would later take his life. Along with his manager Elvis realized that TV specials are where he would gain some of his audiences back. And In 1968 Elvis recorded the legendary “68 Comeback Special” simply known as “Elvis”. The massively successful shows buoyed him to record more prolifically. His new non-soundtrack album in 8 years “From Elvis in Memphis” was a phenomenal album and featured what many consider his finest single “In the Ghetto”. It would also begin a series of shows at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. The next few albums topped the charts and Elvis had cemented himself as the King of Rock. By the early 70s Elvis now performing in the famous jumpsuit toured America many times over.
The Second Coming
In the year ’73 the marriage to Priscilla ended due to his frequent infidelities and it took a toll on him. His groundbreaking “Aloha from Hawaii” special was the first ever show to be broadcasted live globally watched by over a billion people. But by 1976, Elvis’s heavy drug use and constant touring started affecting his health. He also had gained a lot of weight and was sometimes unable to perform. Ironically he even joked about his own death several times on stage shows. And on Aug 16 he was found dead in his home in Graceland by an apparent drug overdose.
The Beginning of the End
His death only increased his popularity and cult status. From Elvis sightings to Elvis impersonators, there was a complete sub-culture which had taken shape. Elvis will always remain the King of Rock!
Did you know that...
- ...Elvis has never played a show outside North America.
- ...he learnt Karate while in the army and some of his moves were part of his stage shows.
- ...Elvis’s private jet is name after his daughter Lisa Marie.