As the media has ensured that you know, today is Elvis’ 80th Birthday (Happy Birthday, Elvis!). I’m a lifelong Elvis fan, thanks to my parents’ musical heritage. I’m not an Elvis fanatic, mind you. I don’t have a shrine in the corner of my bedroom or fervently hope that the sightings are true (though I have been to Graceland – required pilgrimage!), but I do feel his place in Music History is completely and absolutely justified. Because this isn’t one of the many academic papers I have to write in the next few weeks, I don’t have to quantify that statement with lengthy research. 😉 I will, however, explore his awesomeness, starting now:
Like most great artists, Elvis does have periods that we can skip over (first half of the 1960s when he was more movie star than musician) and others that are cringe-worthy and yet valuable (the generally-ill-considered-sequined-jumpsuit era). There are plenty of retrospectives, from high level to in-depth, so I’ll keep it simple and just choose some of my favorites. 🙂
That’s Alright: His first radio hit. It’s no secret why – how fun is this version? You just have to shake your hips as you listen. ;D
Blue Suede Shoes: Every time I hear this, I think “Poor Carl Perkins – his performance doesn’t top this. And lucky Carl Perkins, for having written the song!” Here is a live version from the Milton Berle show (check out that jacket!) from the deck the USS Hancock in 1956. I love how he just yanks what I think is the low E string out of the way when it fails. A true professional fixes the problem and moves on without missing a beat!
And for something fun, here is the lead up to that performance (Isn’t technology awesome? We can watch things that aired on TV when our parents were kids!):
Hound Dog: His performance on The Steve Allen Show (complete with actual Hound Dog) is iconic but finding a decent video of it proved a tad difficult. Click here if you want to see it, but to go with something a little racier, here he is on Milton Berle again (with Italian subtitles. Just roll with it):
For a lot more information on the performance and a longer look at the skit afterward (how much was scripted and how funny and sorta shy is Elvis?!), check out this very dedicated site from Australia. And the original version, cuz Big Momma Thornton is awesome.
All Shook Up: I love how simple this recording is, it shows off his voice so well. Another hip shaker! 🙂
Don’t Be Cruel: I think we’ve all felt this way! Here he is rocking black leather (and maybe eye-liner? Yummy!) in the ’68 Comeback Special:
I Believe: Growing up with the Rock n Roll version of Elvis, I was surprised as an adult by the depth of his Gospel music catalog. Since I’m not a big Gospel person, my experience is mostly limited to what appears in the Christmas collections. I love the passion in his voice on this tune:
Suspicious Minds: Totally just realized how all these are classic early Elvis. This is one of my favorite later Elvis songs. He so thoroughly owns the songs he sings, you find yourself thinking about why he wrote the song, until you remember, wait, Elvis didn’t write his own songs! But “why did he choose it?” is also a good question and one to ponder on while you listen. 🙂 (Sorry for the boring vid, the live versions that I could find of this are weirdly sped up):
And one for the road. While I like the song–and that little tiny riff is so very famous–it isn’t one of my favorites. But the video is worth watching (for his moves and since I highly doubt most of us are watching his films at this point in the game):
In sum, Elvis is simply Elvis. Love him or hate him, he broke down barriers, paving the way for so much of the music I love so dearly. He was a huge music fan who became an incredible singer who will, hopefully, be remembered for his contributions to music more than his very human weaknesses and mistakes. I hope you enjoyed walking down memory lane with me. Viva la Elvis!