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A Tribute to the King: The 30th Anniversary of the Death of Elvis Presley
On August 16th 1977, a tragedy struck the music world. It was 30 years ago today that Elvis Presley passed away and the music world forever lost an amazing musician and cultural icon. So much has been said about Elvis over the years that it seems almost ridiculous to try and say anything new, but I thought I'd give it a try on this anniversary of his death, as a tribute to the King of Rock 'n' Roll.
Elvis is such an immense part of rock and roll culture these days that you sort of absorb various bits of him into your soul without even realizing it and before you know it, you can't remember your first impressions, just a vague memory of always having known about the King. At least that's how it was for me. I didn't grow up anywhere near the time of Elvis, about 30 years too late, and I can't remember when I first heard about him. Instead, it was like I had been born knowing about his music, infamy and persona.
Becoming such a cultural icon has only been achieved by a few people, let alone musicians. Surely the Beatles have reach if not surpassed Elvis in cultural recognition, but they haven't inspired such a wide variety of tributes from death conspiracies and pilgrimages to Graceland, to "Flying Elvises" and "Flying Elvii". Plus, although there are handful of people who can claim a catch phrase as part of their legacy, how many also have a persona forever associated with them? A persona so recognizable that it prompts just about everyone to make some feeble attempt at a bad impression at one time or another?
Who would have thought that a young man from Memphis, on stage swiveling his hips to the sounds of rockabilly and what was at the time considered more of a musical joke, rock and roll, would have had such a lasting impact (both good and bad) on pop culture and society as a whole?
Was it something in the music, raw charisma, exceptional talent, the state of the nation and culture of the time or a combination of them all that propelled him to become such a musical and cultural icon?
It was certainly a combination of things in reality, and unfortunately his celebrity image and persona have probably driven much of the fascination to this day, as opposed to his actual music. That doesn't mean we should trivialize his music though. Celebrity status aside, his influence on the music and style of other early rock and roll artists and the classic rock artists to come later, is enormous. As I said, I can't remember the first time I heard Elvis's music, but when I started really getting into rock and roll, he was the first person I sought to see where everything started and his songs continue to be rock staples to this day.
Songs like "Heart Break Hotel", one of my favorite Elvis songs with it soulful, bluesy vocals over pulsing bass, jazzy piano and some of the first great rock and roll guitar work, is just the perfect combination of soul, blues and a catchy feel. What about the early "Blue Moon over Kentucky" with it's country twang or the rockin' rockabilly of "Blue Suede Shoes"? Then there's "Jail House Rock", a song that still is a kick in the teeth to this day with it's party atmosphere, wailing vocals and back beat that are sure to get anybody up and dancing. And lets not forget the softer more subtle side of Elvis with songs like "Love Me Tender", the soft pop ballad that made all the girls swoon.
These are classics of rock and roll history through and through, and really demonstrate his vocal talent and command.
Songs like "All Shook Up", "Lovin' Teddy Bear" and the afore mentioned "Heart Break Hotel", have a vocal style so distinct that it is immediately recognizable. He has an achingly soulful, almost stuttering wail, that combined with more traditional blues and pop styles that not only fits with the music adding bursts of emphasis perfectly, but has tremendous soul and expression. On songs like "Hound Dog", "Hard Headed Woman" and of course "Jail House Rock" he's voice is more gritty and pushed, just on the edge of out of control, putting these songs firmly in true rock and roll territory. Then of course there are the surprising songs, like "Don't" or "It's Now or Never" where he takes on a far more pop-eqsue, grandiose, even operatic style, demonstrating a powerful vocal talent and range.
I'm not really a huge Elvis fan, (I am not a member of the "Flying Elvii"), but I think even his less than stellar works are evidence of his talent. Some songs are simple not nearly as consistent as others, often fueling a debate as to which period was Elvis's great period, but through it all his talent was obvious, even if the song itself fell short.
Of course combined with this musical talent, Elvis's had incredibly captivating style on stage where he exuded sexual magnetism, raunchy atmosphere and pure explosive charisma. This made him not only an incredible performer, but laid the groundwork for the image of rock and roll to this day and should not be overlooked as part of his legacy. Although it seems easy, not everyone has the necessary larger than life personality to be a rock star. Elvis certainly did, and in the process created much of the rock and roll image.
A great musical talent, an incredible performer and one of the original rock stars... that's who Elvis is to me and for his influence on rock and roll alone Elvis deserves our appreciation. He is, without question, the King of Rock 'n' Roll. His music, performances, and persona combined with his influence on pop culture and society, will forever make him a legend.
In memory of his death, I recommend listening to his music... maybe even watching some of the footage of him performing live as not too many performers can live up to the excitement of the King on stage... and taking some time to remember and appreciate Elvis Presley.
If along with listening to some of his music you want to make a pilgrimage to Graceland or put on some sideburns and a sequined jumpsuit or even believe he's still alive... go right ahead.
This concludes my tribute to Elvis Presley on this day, the 30th anniversary of the day Elvis truly left the building.
Thank you... Thank you very much...