All In

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.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
The Houston Press is a nationally award-winning, 33-year-old publication ruled by endless curiosity, a certain amount of irreverence, the desire to get to the truth and to point out the absurd as well as the glorious.
Contact: Houston Press