Does Elvis Still Matter?
As part of our ongoing celebration of Elvis' birthday week, Rocks Off asked our writers the simple question in the headline.
Chris Gray: Absolutely he still matters. When I was compiling that list of quotes and lyrics about Elvis earlier this week, I wasn't that surprised to see that even Beyonce and 50 Cent acknowledged their debt to E. If you want to talk about "swagger," the discussion pretty much begins and ends with Elvis. I bet Jay-Z has some TCB memorabilia lying around his office somewhere too.
And consider this: As far as I can tell, besides his Memphis bud Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," Elvis is the only artist from the '50s whose songs are still in regular rotation on Houston commercial radio, over on Country Legends 97.1. Frank Sinatra? Buddy Holly? Fats Domino? Chuck Berry? Little Richard? All gone. But the King remains.
Neph Basedow: Elvis is still undoubtedly still relevant. He was the first rock and roll rebel, censored for simply swaying his hips; rock and rebellion have gone hand-in-hand ever since. He was also among the first performers to introudce such sex appeal and fan mania into the musical equation.
It's also curious and significant to remember that he barely contributed to the writing of any of his songs, which leads me to regard him as a highly notable and groundbreaking performer and entertainer, but not particularly an artist or songwriter. He was a perfect precursor to the Beatles, who took that flair and innovation he brought to the table and rattled it up, improving and redefining what we had considered to be rock and roll (as had been introduced to us by Elvis), by writing their own material.
I think he's relevant because he was an integral stepping stone to where we find ourselves today-- in both rock and pop music, as we're still amidst a sea of pop singers and performers who are wildly popular, though they don't write a lick of their lyrics or music.
Craig Hlavaty: Elvis Presley is hard-wired into American history whether we like it or not. He used sex, the blues, bluegrass, and his voice to get the world off. It's always funny to me watching the crass reassessments that go on long after an artist has shuffled off. He was a thief, he was a racist, the list goes on. I found this quote by Brit journalist Tony Parsons a few minutes ago:
"Elvis changed the soul of modern music. Without him, Madonna would be a teacher in Detroit."
Then you look into how much Presley and the rest of the guys in his musical gang meant to that second of rock and roll, the Beatles, the Stones, the teen-idol craze in general, and you can't argue with his influence or what he means to us today.
Many say that Presley and people of his ilk stole blatantly from black blues artists, but like Dizzy Gillespie said, music is a gift given to the world. Those same blues artists were not living in a vacuum; they were also snagging influences from hillbilly and early folk.
In many ways, it's the mass idolatry of Presley, the sex symbol, that has probably done the most to cloud what he means today. Look at his run of singles from 1954 to 1960. Jesus Christ, that was the bedrock of the next 50 years of music. That didn't just transcend sex, it was sex. In the most pure form that it had been seen in recorded music history up until that point.
For boys and girls in the '50s, he was the sound of liberation in so many ways. Blame him for the sexual liberation of the '60s, punk rock, boy bands. I'm sure he would have been proud to hear it.
Matthew Keever: The importance of Elvis is, if nowhere else, is in his title: The King. Although I'm sure many young music fans have brushed off the originator of rockabilly music, their thankfulness for sexuality in music can be attributed to the honorary Tennesseean, whose memory will live on through his music.
And on the week of his birth, I suggest you give him another listen, if you haven't already. You might just hear something you like.
Don't have any of his albums? Talk to your parents. I can pretty much guarantee that they do.
Adam P. Newton: I'm not sure that Elvis has mattered for a couple of decades now. We long ago figured out that he (via Sam Phillips, Sun Records, and eventually The Colonel) was just copping his entire sound and look from the African-American soul, blues, and early rock singers that populated Memphis and the greater South during his adolescence and early adulthood.
Sure, we can thank Elvis for breaking down some of those barriers so that white kids could appreciate black music when the South was still segregated, but I'd much rather give Chuck Berry and Little Richard credit for rock and roll and the associated hip-shaking antics.
Can we still learn lessons from his legacy, as he was probably the first musician to use mass media (music, movies, and TV specials) to great effect? Sure - I'm surprised there aren't more books out there exploring that theory. Does it mean that his music still matters? Not in the slightest.
Rizoh: Music historians will forever debate his status in the rock pantheon. Prudes will dismiss him as vulgar. Critics will always label him a "swaggerjacker." But Elvis will remain a global icon on the sheer force of his colossal impact. Truth be told, any man who has the audacity to rock bejeweled jumpsuits in public and swivel his hips violently without a hint of humor deserves to be immortalized.
Brittanie Shey: Elvis matters mostly because of the inroads he made for black musicians to be more accepted by white audiences. He introduced the world to rock and roll, and without him Motown and everything that it brought along probably never would have happened.
A lot of people want to write him off as gimmicky, a thing spinster old ladies make pilgrimages to Vegas or Memphis for, but if you watch That's the Way It Is and see him in his unguarded musical moments while he's rehearsing, the charisma is so evident. Hell, even Cary Grant, one of the most charismatic men in Hollywood, went to see him. Performers like only come around once in a few generations.
William Michael Smith: Does Elvis still matter? No Elvis, probably no Beatles, no Rolling Stones, no Bowie, no U2, no T Rex. I doubt even guys like Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry would have ever had the high-profile careers they had without Elvis crashing the party.
Would most of us even care who Bill Monroe is without Elvis' cover of "Blue Moon of Kentucky"? He may not have invented rock and roll, but he was the first guy to break the sound barrier, and he is still sending a sonic boom through our society that will never be reversed. And they didn't film him originally from the waist up only for nothing!
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