by Robert Wilkinson
Elvis Presley would have been 75 today. The world's first true superstar, he made moves on stage no one had seen before, outraging elders and exciting young people all over the world. Though his films are mainly parodies of 60s B-movies rendered obsolete by the Beatles, back in the 50s when he cut loose on stage, he electrified us all and changed our world forever. This man blew the doors wide open!
As I noted a couple of years ago, his 50s movies, such as "Jailhouse Rock" and "King Creole," set a new standard in merging pop music and film even as they ushered out the film noir era. His 60s movies made Hal Wallis and Colonel Tom Parker a lot of money and Elvis a parody of everything he had been before his military service. While he'll never be remembered for his acting, his music was another thing entirely.
He was a singular pioneering force, a genuinely humble, generous, and spiritual man, personifying electricity in motion blazing a gyrating trail of a new form of art that would impact our world for all time. He created near-riots everywhere he performed, and was the first white man to sing rhythm and blues so convincingly that people thought he was black.
He broke down barriers in what used to be called "race music," and jump started "rockabilly" and "rock and roll." By doing the music of Chuck Berry and Little Richard for his global audience, he set the foundations of everything we heard in the 60s and since. To sum it up, John Lennon was famously quoted as saying "Before Elvis, there was nothing."
I was a kid when he hit the national airwaves, and had the privilege of hearing the King via the now extinct thing we called "a transistor radio." Even though I didn't know much, I knew THAT voice got everyone agitated, both kids and adults, and that a whole lot of people started getting very excited one way and another.
"Elvis the Pelvis" was truly electromagnetic, and lit the way riding the wave of the huge stellium in Leo that opened a huge heart door and ushered in the civil rights era, along with America's youth "rebellion" against the 50s paranoid authoritarian model. Since our power structures are still trying to convince us to be paranoid and trust their authoritarian dictates, we can only wish another such "Sun King" would show up on the world stage to turn the rigid dictatorial model on its collective ear while unifying us all through music.
I've been a long time believer that we should make January 8th a national holiday where we can Sheik Ourbootes. It would even give our international marketing culture a new holiday, a week after the Western New Year's, so it fits with the long term plan to make every week a holiday!
And now, before we enjoy the music, a strange bit of trivia about this remarkably spiritual man. During the last few years of his life he studied Theosophical metaphysics extensively, including "The Secret Doctrine" and "The Voice of the Silence" (which he used to read from while on stage) by H.P. Blavatsky, as well as "The Tibetan Book of the Dead, " "Cosmic Consciousness" by Bucke, "New Mansions for New Men" by Dane Rudhyar, (more here) "The First and Last Freedom" by Krishnamurti, and "Flame in Chalice" by Nicolas Roerich, (more here) among many other venerable spiritual works. So it would seem that Elvis was not shallow or lacking in Spiritual aptitude, given his interest in the Masters of the Wisdom and the Spiritual Teachers of all ages.
And now, on with the shew! For your enjoyment, here are slices of music, history, and culture from over 50 years ago:
A 1956 TV performance of his first major national hit: Heartbreak Hotel
An early number one hit, the title track of his first movie Love Me Tender.
Among his first TV appearances, Blue Suede Shoes on Milton Berle April 1956.
From July 1956, here's Elvis on the Steve Allen show doing "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You," and "Hound Dog"
Here's the King at his peak in October 1956 doing Hound Dog on the Ed Sullivan Show, where Scotty Moore rips. Ed just loved the ratings! Here's a shorter version of Hound Dog from another Ed Sullivan show a month earlier.
This one is billed as Tupelo goldsuit 1957 with Elvis doing Hound Dog
Still in his Tupelo gold suit from 1957, a short one minute live performance of I Got A Woman
From 1956, several great live TV performances! Here's Baby Let's Play House.
Tutti Frutti - better than the Pat Boone version that killed Little Richard's time on the charts.
Said to be his first TV appearance in Jan 1956, here's Shake, Rattle, and Roll (a.k.a. Flip, Flop, and Fly) Another version of Shake, Rattle, and Roll here.
A great edited piece set to several very early performances, including clips from "The Louisiana Hayride," the venue in the early 50s where Elvis was first seen by thousands. One of his earlier hits, That's Allright Mama. Check out some of the moves that had never been done before by any performer anywhere any time. This was history being made. A lot of the same footage, set to another major early hit, Good Rockin' Tonight
Also from the Louisiana Hayride in Tupelo, Mississippi (his hometown) on September 26, 1956, a great live performance of Long Tall Sally. Also from the same show, Don't Be Cruel, complete with a lot of screaming, cops pulling people off stage, and Elvis maxing out the diaphragm of the microphone. Still, the sound isn't bad for an outdoor show in 1956!
Here it's appropriate to give a major league shout out of greatest respects and gratitude to Capricorn Scotty Moore, Elvis' first guitarist and Sun Records legend in his own right. If you want moore, you can also catch him on early Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis tracks. To quote Keith Richards, ""When I heard Heartbreak Hotel, I knew what I wanted to do in life. It was as plain as day. All I wanted to do in the world was to be able to play and sound like that. Everyone else wanted to be Elvis, I wanted to be Scotty." Thanks for the licks, Scotty. Tie-Dye sez hi.
From the movie, Jailhouse Rock. Dig the moves!
From his 1968 "comeback" concert, a live performance of Jailhouse Rock showing that Tom Parker could only keep Elvis a parody of himself for a while before the wildcat reappeared.
Also from the comeback show, Hound Dog/All Shook Up.
From his movie, Elvis performing King Creole
Hound Dog live in Las Vegas, 1970.
Also from 1970, a performance of his last major hit, Suspicious Minds.
From Live in Hawaii 1973, here's a great trifecta! First, Burnin' Love. From the same show, a performance of Suspicious Minds, and we'll close this one with his 1960 smash hit from the movie "Blue Hawaii," Can't Help Falling In Love With You.
Here are a bunch from Yahoo music including an amazing early version of "Hound Dog" and some early hits performed in the late 60s and early 70s.
An interesting clip of Elvis performing Always On My Mind in the studio, done as a sort of pseudo documentary related to Priscilla.
If you're into gospel, Elvis recorded hundreds. Here's a live version of How Great Thou Art featuring phenomenal harmonies by the Jordanaires. Another great live performance is O Happy Day, definitely worth a watch.
Happy 2010 Birthday Elvis! Though you lived a tragic life, you truly changed our world for the better in many ways. I have a feeling your voice will entertain us for many generations, even if you have truly "left the building." "Thaankyewverramuuch......"
ps. - All thanks and major league gratitude to Sam Phillips of Sun Records for giving Elvis to the world before Tom Parker neutered him for 8 years.
pps. - If you ever want to see one of the funniest movies ever made, check out "Elvis meets Nixon," a true story of one of the weirdest encounters in history. I laughed harder the second time I saw it than the first. Hard to find, but utterly brilliant.
© Copyright 2010 Robert Wilkinson