Synopsis of Pop Music
“Before Elvis, there was nothing.” – John Lennon
Rock and roll music might never have come to be if it weren’t for Elvis Presley. Few musicians did as much as Elvis to popularize rock music: He charted more hits, spent more weeks at the top of the chart, and scored more consecutive #1 hits than any other artist in the history of popular music. His swagger and his sneer spawned millions of fans and inspired almost as many imitators. These achievements are impressive, but they only scratch the surface of what makes Elvis Presley the undisputed 'King of Rock and Roll.'
Elvis Aron Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1935. He also had a twin brother, Jesse Garon, who died in childbirth. This made Elvis’ mother, Gladys, doubly protective of him and they formed a strong bond as he grew up. Although the Presley family was poor, Elvis never lacked for love or encouragement in his interests. He became obsessed with music in his pre-teen years after winning his first talent contest at age 8. Elvis’ family moved to Memphis when he was 13, opening up a new world for him. He developed a loner persona, wearing wild clothes and long sideburns as he frequented the city’s r&b clubs, all-night gospel sings and juke joints. In these places, he absorbed the many different styles of music that would color his output as a recording artist.
By 1953, Elvis had graduated high school and was working as a truck driver. One April afternoon, he went into Sun Records to cut a record as a gift for his mother (“My Happiness”/“That’s When Your Heartaches Begin”). The secretary noticed Presley’s singing ability and tipped off label owner Sam Phillips. He soon began allowing Elvis to hang around the studio and started testing him out on different kinds of ballads. Nothing clicked until one night when Presley improvised a rave-up version of the blues song “That’s All Right Mama” with the house band. An excited Philips overheard this between-session jam and got Elvis to record it along with similarly rocked-up version of the song “Blue Moon Of Kentucky.”
Both “That’s All Right Mama” and “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” proved Elvis Presley was an exciting vocalist who could blend elements of country, r&b and pop into a fresh, exciting sound all its own. They were released as a single and quickly lit up the local pop, country and r&b charts all at the same time. Meanwhile, Elvis toured the Southern states and developed a unique performance style involving plenty of hip-swinging and wild dancing that drove women crazy. In the studio, he continued to perfect his fusion of country, soul and pop on songs like “Baby Let’s Play House” and “Mystery Train.” He also acquired a powerful manager in Colonel Tom Parker, who would remain Presley’s manager for the rest of his life.
In 1956, Elvis Presley hit the big time. Colonel Tom Parker got Elvis signed to one of the country’s biggest labels, RCA Records, where Elvis would remain for the rest of his career. In his first session for RCA, Elvis immediately produced a hit in the form of “Heartbreak Hotel.” It was an unusual, powerful song about the pain of living with a broken heart, and Presley brought it to life with a vivid, dramatic vocal that perfectly captured the song’s sense of emotional desolation. “Heartbreak Hotel” caught the imagination of the public, quickly shooting to #1 and staying there for eight weeks. It also hit #1 on the country charts and #5 on the r&b charts, making it one of the most successful debut singles of all time.
Elvis continued to rock the charts throughout 1956 with four more #1 singles, starting with the intense ballad “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You.” Both sides of his next single went to #1: “Hound Dog” was a rave-up version of old blues tune with a spirited delivery from Elvis, while “Don’t Be Cruel” was a slice of pure pop with Elvis crooning in heart-melting style. All these hits got plenty of exposure on television, thanks to well-timed performances on The Milton Berle Show and The Ed Sullivan Show. At the time, Presley’s hip-gyrating antics were considered so controversial that he was usually shot from the waist up by the television cameras. Even so, these performances were big hits.
Elvis Presley’s fifth #1 single of 1956 was “Love Me Tender,” a tender ballad. Its delicate arrangement of acoustic guitar and subtle background harmonies allowed Presley’s lovely crooning to take center stage as he promised eternal devotion. This song also happened to be the theme song for Presley’s first feature film, a Western about the conflict that the Civil War causes between two brothers. It was inevitable that the film would be a hit thanks to Presley’s prominent role, but it also revealed that Presley could act as well as he sang. The movie marked the beginning of a long-lived film career that would make Elvis Presley one of the top box-office attractions in the world.
Between 1957 and 1958, Elvis Presley concentrated on his film career by doing three flicks back to back. The first was Loving You, a story of young gas-station attendant who becomes a famous pop star that was loosely modeled on Presley’s life. It was shot in gorgeous color and boasted impressive musical numbers, including a great performance of the #1 hit “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear.” Elvis closed out 1957 with another box-office hit in Jailhouse Rock, about a prisoner whose gift for music becomes his ticket to freedom. The title track, a drum-driven rock tune about a prison jam session, became a hit that stayed at #1 for six weeks. It also made pop history by being the first song to ever enter the pop charts at #1.
Elvis Presley also bought a palatial mansion in Memphis for his family in 1957. It was called Graceland and would soon become the ultimate rock star dwelling to many a rock music fan. The next year, pop fans all over the world sunk into a serious depression when they heard that Elvis Presley was going to be inducted into the U.S. Army. Before beginning life as a military man, Elvis finished one last film: a stark drama called King Creole, which told the story of a gifted young musician pulled into New Orleans' criminal underworld. Many Elvis fans consider it to be his finest screen outing. As he entered the army in May of that year, he also topped the pop charts with the dramatic ballad “Don’t.”
By all accounts, Elvis Presley was a model soldier who did his fair share. On his furloughs, he recorded songs like “I Got Stung” that helped keep his name alive on the pop charts while he did his time as the world’s most famous army private. However, things were not perfect for Elvis: His mother died of hepatitis in late 1958, and her passing affected him deeply. Nonetheless, he finished his tour of duty in Germany and was eventually promoted to the rank of sergeant. Meanwhile, RCA Records kept Elvis in the hit parade by releasing a string of big-selling singles like “One Night,” a swinging rock remake of a blues classic, and “A Big Hunk O’ Love,” a #1 smash that was one of Presley’s fastest rockers.
In March of 1960, Elvis Presley finished his tour of duty and returned home to Memphis. He immediately hit the comeback trail, knocking out new tunes in the studio and appearing on a television special with Frank Sinatra. His first post-army single was “Stuck On You,” a mid-tempo declaration of love that shot straight to #1. It was followed by two hits that showed him growing more adventurous in his musical explorations: “It’s Now Or Never” was an English version of the operatic Italian classic “O Sole Mio” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight” was a rich ballad highlighted by a section that featured a dramatic spoken declaration about heartbreak. Both songs became #1 hits.
Elvis Presley returned to the movies in 1960 with G.I. Blues, a film inspired by his army experiences. Its soundtrack was a hit and contained an international smash in “Wooden Heart,” a mid-tempo ballad that included German lyrics. Blue Hawaii followed the next year and produced one of Presley’s most enduring hits in “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” a gorgeous, Hawaiian-styled ballad. Although Elvis would release the occasional non-soundtrack album during the 1960’s, he spent much of the decade making films like Fun In Acapulco, Viva Las Vegas, and Clambake. These mostly-musical films always placed Elvis in an attractive setting where he could sing plenty of tunes penned quickly for these films.
By 1968, this constant stream of movies had led most people to think that Elvis Presley had forsaken his music for his film career. Presley decided to change this perception and teamed up with young producer Steve Binder to create a television special that would prove he was a musician first and foremost. Simply titled Elvis, the show intercut stylish song-and-dance numbers with an informal acoustic jam session between Presley and his original backing band from his Sun Records days. Presley proved he was electrifying in both settings and then brought the house down with his closing number, the gospel-inspired “If I Can Dream.” This inspirational plea for peace has become one of the most beloved Elvis Presley classics.
The success of the television special prompted a musical comeback for Elvis Presley. He phased out his film career—making his last non-concert film in 1969—and returned to Memphis to record on his home turf. New songs like “Suspicious Minds” and “Kentucky Rain” meshed an effective down-home sound with Presley’s committed, mature vocal style to become big hits. Presley also began tackling social topics like divorce on “Don’t Cry Daddy” and inner-city poverty on “In The Ghetto.” At the same time, Elvis returned to live performing for the first time in several years with a string of dates at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. These dates were a smash success and led to Presley becoming a fixture on the Las Vegas concert scene.
As the 1970’s began, Elvis Presley was back in his rightful place as The King, dividing his time evenly between concert tours and the recording studio. In 1971, Elvis recorded one of his finest albums in Elvis Country, a collection of country tunes that combined decades-old classics like “Make The World Go Away” with modern tunes like “Snowbird” to create a fascinating display of Presley’s vocal ability and musical knowledge. In 1972, he continued to score hits with “Always On My Mind,” the classic ballad later recorded by Willie Nelson and The Pet Shop Boys, and “Burning Love,” a good old-fashioned rocker that finished with an unforgettable “hunka, hunka, burnin’ love” refrain.
In 1973, Elvis Presley began to spend more and more time at Graceland after deciding to spend less time in the public eye. However, he continued to release a steady stream of records that sold very well among his massive, devoted fan base. Some of his finest hits from this period include the moody, soulful “If You Talk In Your Sleep” and the slick yet countrified “Moody Blue.” He also did the occasional tour and these were always well-attended affairs.
But despite this continued success, all was not well with Elvis Presley. By this time, he had developed severe health problems due to drug addiction and constant battles with weight control. He died of heart failure at home on August 16, 1977. The next day, thousands of fans around the world flocked to Graceland to pay tribute to their hero.
Although Elvis Presley has been gone for well over twenty years, it feels as if he never left. His music and image continue to be a vital part of the world’s popular culture: His movies have been staples of television programming since the 1970’s and oldies radio stations all over the world play his music on a daily basis. Musicians as diverse as Ronnie McDowell and X have paid tribute to ‘The King’ in their music, and any would-be rocker who picks up a guitar borrows a bit of the Elvis Presley sneer-and-swagger (whether they realize it or not). Meanwhile, millions of fans flock to Graceland every year to see where Presley once lived. In short, it seems likely that Elvis Presley will always be an important part of pop music. Simply put, he was, is, and always will be The King of Rock and Roll.
Artist Release History04/56 - Elvis Presley
10/56 - Elvis
08/57 - Loving You
11/57 - Elvis' Christmas Album
03/58 - Elvis' Golden Records
08/58 - King Creole
02/59 - For LP Fans Only
08/59 - A Date With Elvis
12/59 - 50, 000, 000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong (Golden Records, Vol. 2)
04/60 - Elvis Is Back!
11/60 - G.I. Blues
02/61 - His Hand In Mine
06/61 - Something For Everybody
10/61 - Blue Hawaii
06/62 - Pot Luck
11/62 - Girls! Girls! Girls!
03/63 - It Happened At The World's Fair
09/63 - Elvis' Golden Records, Vol. 3
12/63 - Fun In Acapulco
03/64 - Kissin' Cousins
10/64 - Roustabout
04/65 - Girl Happy
07/65 - Elvis For Everyone
10/65 - Harum Scarum
04/66 - Frankie and Johnny
06/66 - Paradise Hawaiian Style
10/66 - Spinout
03/67 - How Great Thou Art
06/67 - Double Trouble
11/67 - Clambake
02/68 - Elvis' Golden Records, Vol. 4
06/68 - Speedway
12/68 - Elvis - NBC TV Special
04/69 - Elvis Sings Flaming Star
05/69 - From Elvis In Memphis
11/69 - From Memphis To Vegas - From Vegas To Memphis
06/70 - On Stage
10/70 - Almost In Love
12/70 - That's The Way It Is
03/71 - You'll Never Walk Alone
06/71 - Love Letters
07/71 - C'mon Everybody
10/71 - I Got Lucky
10/71 - Elvis Sings "The Wonderful World Of Christmas"
02/72 - Elvis Now
04/72 - He Touched Me
06/72 - Elvis As Recorded At Madison Square Garden
11/72 - Burning Love and Hits From His Movies
01/73 - Separate Ways
01/73 - Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite
07/73 - Fool
11/73 - Raised On Rock/For Ol' Times Sake
05/74 - Good Times
09/74 - Elvis Presley Live On Stage In Memphis
10/74 - Having Fun With Elvis On Stage
02/75 - Promised Land
06/75 - Today
03/76 - The Sun Sessions
06/76 - From Elvis Presley Boulevard
03/77 - Welcome To My World
08/77 - Moody Blue
1982 - Memories Of Christmas
1984 - The Rocker
1985 - Reconsider Baby
1987 - The Complete Sun Sessions
1987 - The Top Ten Hits
05/88 - The Alternate Aloha
02/90 - Million Dollar Quartet
06/92 - King Of Rock And Roll: The Complete 50's Masters
09/93 - From Nashville to Memphis: The Essential 60's Masters
10/94 - Amazing Grace: His Greatest Sacred Songs
10/94 - If Every Day Was Like Christmas
10/95 - Walk A Mile In My Shoes: The Essential 70's Masters
10/96 - Great Country Songs
03/97 - An Afternoon In The Garden
07/97 - Platinum: A Life In Music
03/99 - Home Recoridngs
07/99 - Artist Of The Century
Pop Sub Categoriesrock
Essential Music AlbumsElvis Presley (RCA)
Elvis Is Back! (RCA)
Elvis TV Special (RCA)
Elvis Country , (RCA)
The Sun Sessions , (RCA)
The Top Ten Hits , (RCA)