by Robert Wilkinson
Elvis Presley would have been 79 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....
Elvis Presley’s (January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977) 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."
Elvis, along with Scotty Moore, Bill Black, and D.J. Fontana, helped birth the musical form known initially as "rockabilly," later to be known as "rock and roll." 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, when our world seemed a lot younger. We start with some of the earliest tunes, a mix this year of live clips and studio versions, with more live performances down the line a little. Many of the earliest TV performances are nowhere to be found on the internet, so maybe it’ll be better next year!
Here's the song that kicked the doors down and introduced Elvis to the world! It's the studio version set to still photos of "That's All Right Mama."
Here’s a great early live performance clip (in color!) from 1956 in Memphis. The brief performance clip begins about 2 minutes in! “Baby Let’s Play House”
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 Elvis Live in 1956 – “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."
The 1955 studio version of Junior Parker's 1953 hit for Sun Records, “Mystery Train”
Here’s the 1955 studio version of “Baby Let’s Play House”
Here’s one of his first monster hits! The studio version of “Heartbreak Hotel”
The first double sided #1 in history! “Don’t Be Cruel” ("Hound Dog" was on the flip side).
The studio version of “Shake Rattle and Roll”
As I said, last year I had all 6 appearances on the Dorsey Brothers shows in the mid-50s, but they've all been taken off you tube. But I found these live performances, so enjoy rock and roll in its infancy!
From 1956 on Milton Berle, "Hound Dog." Dig Scotty’s lead! It’s followed by a gag bit that is definitely classic Uncle Miltie!!!
And again from Uncle Miltie, here’s the King doing “I Want You I Need You I Love You”
Here’s a bizarre jingoistic offering! From 1956, supposedly featuring Elvis but actually featuring an aircraft carrier, 9+ minutes of Elvis on the Milton Berle show
From the Steve Allen show in 1956, Elvis, Scotty, Bill and DJ doing a live performance of "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" and "Hound Dog."
Here’s Elvis’ screen test at Paramount in 1956, cranking out "Blue Suede Shoes"
From Ed Sullivan in 1956, a great live performance of “Ready Teddy”
Here's Elvis in 1956 live on the Ed Sullivan Show doing "Love Me." For 1956, those screams were something else! As was usual, the band was off camera.
Again on Ed Sullivan, an early number one hit, the title track of his first movie "Love Me Tender."
From Ed Sullivan October 1956, the song that broke it all wide open! Here's a very short clip of Elvis and Scotty belting out “Hound Dog”
Here's a treat! I found a clip from 1965 featuring Buddy Guy smokin' on guitar, backing Big Mama Thornton doing her version of "Hound Dog." Elvis heard Big Mama doing this version in 1952, then took it into the stratosphere!)
From 1957 on the Ed Sullivan Show, here’s the flip side of “Hound Dog,” which as noted earlier, was the first double sided #1 record in history! It’s clipped at 1 minute so it’s not the whole song, which the Ed Sullivan owners seem determined not to allow on you tube. “Don’t Be Cruel”
Here's Elvis in 1957 on the Ed Sullivan Show doing "Too Much" Scotty's definitely playing the guitar behind Elvis and the Jordanaires.
Called “Tupelo Gold Suit,” here’s Elvis and the band live in September 1957 doing “Hound Dog”
Still in his Tupelo gold suit from 1957, a short one minute live performance of "I Got A Woman"
From the 1957 movie "Jailhouse Rock," here's Elvis doing "Treat Me Nice."
Here’s a rare one! When Elvis got out of the Army, Frank Sinatra produced a TV special called “Welcome Home Elvis” in 1960. Again, the band is off camera, but history was made when Scotty was invited to get together to play with drummer D. J. Fontana for this special. Here’s Elvis live on stage performing “Too Much” and “Fame and Fortune”
And in a strange clip, while Scotty isn’t in them, it’s an interesting juxtaposition of this song! Elvis Performing “Don’t Be Cruel” – 1956 and 1968
From "The Louisiana Hayride," the venue in October 1954 where Elvis was first seen by thousands, an audio only recording of one of his earlier hits, “That’s All Right Mama”
A lot of the same footage, here's Elvis at the Hayride in 1955 doing 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.
In a famous quote by Rolling Stones founder and guitarist 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" and "All Shook Up."
Having found those clips, of course I eventually found the entire comeback concert! For your enjoyment, all 1 hour 13 minutes of The 1968 Elvis Presley Comeback Concert
"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." 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."
Here’s the entire 1973 hour-long concert “Elvis Presley - Aloha From Hawaii”
Here's 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 2014 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 2014 Robert Wilkinson