Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 16. 1972

Pop History Part Two — 'Elvis is the Greatest'

page 16

Pop History Part Two

'Elvis is the Greatest'

Elvis was, is and will be evermore the greatest figure pop has ever known. Elvis was a truck driver and his first ambition was to be a long range truckie so he too would be able to take off his shirt and wave to the other truckies, and be a man. He was more Southern and country than Haley could ever hope to be, he had milk and peanut butter sandwiches for supper, read the bible and loved his mother and all. When his mother died our Elvis sobbed by the graveside and the reporters faithfully reported every tear and gasp. He went into the army to do his bit and when he came out (honourable discharge of course), he hired up ten or twelve guy; from his platoon to be full-time, professional buddies, amusements, till he got bored and sacked them one by one. A reporter from Record Mirror visited his mansion once and was even allowed inside the gate (but only because he chatted up Elvis' uncle who is employed as gatekeeper) so he could watch Mr & Mrs Presley take their daily amusement. Sure enough, after only an hour or two, the objects of the reporter's pilgrimage soon appeared and drove round and round the lawn on go-carts. But Elvis got bored with this after only about half an hour (so would you if you did it every day), so he called for two motorised golf-carts and they drove round and round on these for another half hour or so till it was time to go and rest. Elvis is a genius and Elvis is country.

But if Elvis is country, his image was all urban and violent He was a thug — greased hair.leather jacket, sneer and all. He was flamboyant and wore gold-flecked jackets while riding in a gold plated, diamond studded cadillac. He took Haley s rhythm, made it more fierce and injected it with the hedonism and decadence that characterised the age, fast and flash.

More, Elvis was sex. His voice bubbled with latent sexuality and excitement while he would blatantly gyrate his hips. Unheard of, scandal, shock, shame. So while their parents sanctimoniously denounced the innocent young country boy from Nashville, girls swooned over him, dreamt of him and adored his sensuality, and boys rushed to imitate his looks and his style. Girls in this way released their sexual frustrations "harmlessly"; Elvis was unattainable so they could scream for him during a concert and dream of laying him and then play virgin for their boyfriends. The boys were the teddy boys, incipient bikies and roved in gangs, and fought with flick knives. Not that Elvis really started this, for it was latent for years, but he reflected it and so became the figure head for the movement and gave it a direction. He turned it from an isolated phenomenon into something much bigger. And in the prosperity and lushness of postwar U.S.A. when parents, probably for the first time in history, could adequately provide for their kids materially, imaginations became dulled and people had the time and wealth to be violent and arrogant and self indulgent. The old problem of too much leisure-time. And at that time the solution was Elvis who, being raised in the depressed south had the toughness and energy to provide an outlet. Elvis was quite magnificent.

But Elvis' magnificence as a rock V roll figure is matched by his genius as a performer. Elvis, living in Memphis, had been exposed to all forms of contemporary music from negro R'n'B and gospel through Mushy ballads to Hank Williams, and his early recordings are a synthesis of all these styles. His best songs are fierce true rock 'n roll pieces that owed much more to Bo Diddley than anything Haley ever did. Always they were loved and always they had much the same backing by the Jordonaires twangy country-flavoured guitar and most important, the insistent one-finger prodding piano which defined the rhythm. Elvis' voice always comes over the top, edgy, raw and exciting and bursting with nervous energy, often verging on hysteria. The beat is fast and makes you want to move around.

The songs are mainly little bits of nothing, - a touch of romance and the like; What is important is the mood and the overall impact of the pieces. Jailhouse Rock, All Shook Up, Hound Dog and Blue Suede Shoes stand out as the best.

Elvis had been discovered when he made a private recording of My Happiness for his mother's birthday. He was signed to Sun Records which was one of dozens of Memphis labels and which also handled at that time Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison. In 1956 he left them to join R.C.A. and in February of that year, he cut Heartbreak Hotel, which was a sooped up country song handed to him by Mae Axton after a Concert one night and which Elvis changed around to give it a jazz-R'n'B flavour and which made number-one nation wide. It established Elvis as unchallenged king of American teenagers.

Trouble was that Elvis the image was not Elvis the wholesome somewhat immature kid. Rock 'n' Roll was something he had picked up at the comparatively old age of maybe sixteen, too old for it to be absorbed properly into his bloodstream; He thought in thoughts, not in rock 'n' roll. So it is not surprising that every so often, amidst Never - as his comeback song. Rock 'n' Roll had made Elvis so big that even now, if you happened to be taking a walk in Outer Mongolia and you were to mention his name to anyone you met, nine times out of ten you would be understood. But talk of the Beatles to the same peasant and nine times out of ten, you would receive only a blank stare by way of reply

So his fans bought his records by habit or instinct or something, and so in the contrived hype of the atmosphere of Elvis' return, it is no wonder that Its Now or Never became Elvis' biggest hit to date. From there on Elvis sang ballads all the way, the mushier the better. Elvis was still a legend but he wasn't king of rock 'n' roll anymore. He had ceased to be a significant social force. He started getting fat and stopped touring. In Hollywood he made some of the worst movies ever, all of them the same, but with the guitar strings changed. All of them had a girl who fell in love with Elvis, who plays a small time singer, (if ever there was Pop Art, it is in these movies) Elvis' songs are still all hits but the old magic is gone. But whenever he does get hold of a good song, like U.S. Male or Guitar Man. the kids of today catch a sight of what had made the first pop fans hysterical.

Photo of Elvis

Cartoon of cavemen

Cartoon of cavemen cont.

Cartoon of cavemen cont.

Cartoon of cavemen cont.