Travel up and down rock music’s roads and they lead to one person. Elvis Presley.
His imagery and sound and attitude are engrained in the evolution of rock music, and in the wider popular culture sphere. When Hound Dog was released it was like nothing heard before, and Presley exploded into the 1950s world where television was emerging, where international flight was evolving. He was at the right place at the right time to become the first global superstar. And there was something else that is often overlooked. He had talent. Raw, visceral and unforgettable.
Elton John said Elvis Presley was ‘the one that started it all off’. He was right. He changed the sound of music but he also changed its face. With Presley came the power of the look, the image, and style to complement a sound. Watch George Michael strike a pose in the 1980s emergent MTV age with the video of Faith. It’s Presley. Watch Prince rock the 2007 half-time Super Bowl with his unforgettable rain-drenched performance. Presley’s influence is there in Prince’s stance and showmanship, his attitude, exuberance and humour.
John Lennon said that before Elvis there was nothing. Then Elvis Presley came along and thrilled his peers, outraged their parents and inspired a revolution in youth music culture. John Lennon also said ‘if there hadn’t been an Elvis there wouldn’t have been a Beatles’. Imagine our music heritage without Abbey Road, and Sgt. Pepper and the White Album. If there had not been a Beatles, there would never have been Oasis.
Bruce Springsteen said that if there hadn’t been a Presley, he would be selling encyclopedia. If the Beatles and Bruce aren’t your thing, then imagine music without Al Green, who said that Elvis had an influence on everybody with his musical approach. ‘He broke the ice for all of us.’ Miley Cyrus cites Elvis as the influence for her 2017 album Younger Now, and the eponymous video is a homage to him.
Conor McPherson’s new play, the Girl From The North Country, packs a poignant punch. Its story of 1930s depression hit America is laced with lyrics and music by Bob Dylan. It is set in Duluth, Minnesota, where Bob Dylan was born in 1941, six years after Presley was born in 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi. Bob Dylan, perhaps the most influential and controversial performer, writer and musician of the modern era. Bob Dylan, recipient of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. Bob Dylan who said of Elvis Presley ‘The highlight of my career? That’s easy, Elvis recording one of my songs.’
All roads, and all gods, lead to Elvis Presley.