Tuesday, 21 August 2012

35 years ago...

35 years ago last week (yes I know I'm running a bit behind!!!) Elvis left the building...for good...through the bathroom...*

I don't know quite what it is about the man and the legend that is - or was, rather - Elvis Presley. His legacy has endured this long and it looks like it will continue to do so.

It's hard for me to grasp what it is about him that is so compelling, being born out of time from when he was most influential: I only have the music to refer to. I missed the excitement of the early TV appearances which cemented his image in the hearts and minds of impressionable teenagers everywhere.

The Allmusic Guide sums him up beautifully:

Not necessarily the best, and certainly not the most consistent. But no one could argue with the fact that he was the musician most responsible for popularizing rock & roll on an international level.

No-one can deny the impact he had as a performer in his early career. The bulk of his records from the 1950s, pre-Army conscription in 1959 are raw and passionate and compelling. After 1960, the quality of his releases varied dramatically, from some stunning singles to out and out rubbish. And there is just so much of it that it's difficult to find the gems among the junk.

The cynic would suggest that the sheer volume of product the man created would indicate that he was mostly a money-making enterprise - anything with his face on the cover was bound to be a hit. And it's true, he did record anything and everything to give the fans another record to buy. But, the demand was there, all he had to do was meet it...

...to be fair, is most of Elvis' legacy based on his image and distinctive voice? A lot of what makes Elvis's early work so compelling is his backup band - Bill Black's thumping bass and Scotty Moore's thrashing lead guitar, the sound of which launched a thousand George Harrison's. Elvis was just the voice and the face - Scotty Moore arguably did more to inspire the next generation of rockers than Elvis did. In fact, Keith Richard said in an interview recently that when he went to America, he wanted to meet Scotty Moore instead of Elvis.

Elvis didn't write his own songs - he outsourced all his material. The songs he is remembered for were made famous and/or popular to an extent by others before him. This isn't a barrier however - Frank Sinatra never write a song in his life either and it didn't hurt his career either. But, if nothing else, he presented a radical new style of music in such a way that the world sat up and took notice. At the time, in the mid-1950s, that's what the world needed. And those songs have endured. Elvis was the deliverer.

The one thing that really annoys me about the man ironically is not really his fault. It's not the ridiculously convoluted discography, the cheesy films or the sequinned Vegas jumpsuits. It's those bloody Elvis impersonators!!! I've never seen a good one, and the very thought of them makes me cringe. Most of them can't even hold a candle to the real thing and if they actually had any real talent, they'd try and make a musical career under their own image and their own songs and not those of Elvis. These people just take the cheese factor and amplify it to unbearable levels.

I guess at the end of the day the impersonators do remind us that there was only one Elvis and that even when he was awful, in film or on record, he was still better than any impersonator anywhere. May he rest in peace.

*I knew he had all sorts of clever ways of leaving the building to escape his rabid fans, but this is ridiculous!

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