by Robert Wilkinson
Elvis Presley would have been 77 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!
Rather than reinvent the wheel, this year I'll just borrow from past birthday odes to the King of Rock and Roll. First, some history....
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 young 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. It was as though aliens had landed!
"Elvis the Pelvis" (he hated that name!) 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:
Said to be his first TV appearance in Jan 1956, here's "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" (a.k.a. "Flip, Flop, and Fly") From the same show (if the outfit is any indicator) here's a great performance of "I Got A Woman." Scotty's lead is a gem!
From Feb 4, 1956, a great live performance on the Tommy Dorsey Show of "Baby Let's Play House, "Ready Teddy," and "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" From the same show, a killer version of Elvis doing "Tutti Frutti" - MUCH better than the Pat Boone version that killed Little Richard's time on the charts.
A Feb 11, 1956 TV performance on the Tommy Dorsey Show of his first major national hit: "Heartbreak Hotel"
Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show doing "Ready Teddy"
An early number one hit, the title track of his first movie "Love Me Tender."
Here's Elvis performing "Money Honey" at his last appearance at "the Stage Show" on 24 March 1956.
Among his first TV appearances, "Blue Suede Shoes" on Milton Berle April 1956.
Here's the King at his peak in June 1956 doing "Hound Dog" on the Milton Berle Show, where Scotty Moore rips.
This one broke it wide open! I don't know who the narrator is, but it's instructive.... (Here's a treat! I found a clip from 1965 featuring Buddy Guy backing Big Mama Thornton doing her version of "Hound Dog." Elvis heard Big Mama doing this version, then took it into the stratosphere!)
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 a great live performance of Elvis doing "Long Tall Sally" at the Louisville, Kentucky Armory in Nov 1956.
A mid-50s live performance of "Don't Be Cruel," one of the only double sided #1 records in history ("Hound Dog" was on the other side!) Here's another live television performance in the mid-50s of "Don't Be Cruel"
From 1956, a great performance of Elvis and the Jordanaires doing "Love Me"
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"
I found some amazingly good very early performances from Tupelo in the mid-50s. Here's the King at his electrifying best, in an amazing 13 minute, 6 song performance by Elvis in Tupelo in 1956! Here's Elvis live maxing out the microphone diaphragm doing "Heartbreak Hotel," "Long Tall Sally," "I Was the One," "I Got A Woman," "Don't Be Cruel," and "Hound Dog." Also said to be in Tupelo in 1956, the early hit "I Was The One." Here's another great early live performance of "I Was The One."
A great edited piece set to several very early performances, including clips from "The Louisiana Hayride," the venue in October 1954 where Elvis was first seen by thousands. These are audio only with still photos. Here's one of his earlier hits, "That's Alright Mama." Check out some of the moves that had never been done before by any performer anywhere any time. This was history being made. Here's the original radio broadcast of both of the songs he did then that made history, "That's Alright Momma," and "Blue Moon of Kentucky"
Here are several audio clips of "That's Alright Momma," from the 1954-1955 Shreveport Louisiana Hayrides broadcast on KWKH radio. These performances were recorded October 16, 1954, January 15, 1955, January 22, 1955, and August 20, 1955.
A lot of the same footage, here's Elvis at the Hayride in 1955 doing, "Good Rockin' Tonight." Here's his live version of "Long Tall Sally."Elvis maxing the mic diaphragm seemed to be the norm back then!
Also from the Hayride, here's the audio of Elvis doing "Maybelline."
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 1958 movie, Elvis performing King Creole
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.
"Hound Dog" and "Blue Suede Shoes" live in Las Vegas, 1970.
Also from 1970, a performance of his last major hit, Suspicious Minds.
From Live in Hawaii 1973, here are a few great ones! First, "Burnin' Love." (Sound's a little low, so turn it up!) From the same show, "Fever," followed by "Suspicious Minds" and the beautiful George Harrison composition, "Something." We'll close this one with his 1960 smash hit from the movie "Blue Hawaii," "Can't Help Falling In Love With You."
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 2012 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 2012 Robert Wilkinson