Columnist Hughes, a Presley fan while growing up, says The King’s star lost its lustre when he went into the U.S. army. The 40th anniversary of his death was last week. (Supplied photo)
By Terry Hughes
Forty years ago my mother called to tell me that Elvis had passed away. When I responded passively to the news, she was surprised. While in our teen years my sister and I were quite high on this guy. But for me, Elvis died when he entered the army because the excitement and passion that made him such a dynamic star seems to have faded away.
The proof lies in the number of songs that were number ones. There were more number one songs before he entered the army than after. Coupled with the fact that his movie career may have been sky-rocketing after 1960, the quality of his songs featuring rock music just didn’t cut it. Compare Jail House Rock with Bossa Nova Baby and Viva Las Vegas or Teddy Bear with Spinout and Rock a Hula Baby. The tempo for Stuck on You and Return to Sender is less exciting than his offerings in 1956. The movie companies were not happy with his active on-stage performances of old and that may have taken the enthusiasm out of his singing. His number ones after 1960 were mostly ballads and were no match for the songs Love Me and I Want You I Need You I Love You. These songs had the edge and passion that made him so exciting. And how about his recording, Peace In The Valley as a sign of his strong feelings toward religion.
John Lennon was quoted as saying “before Elvis, there was nothing!” In England what little music that was made for a teen audience was called skiffel. However, attempts at joining r&b with country music on this side of the Atlantic Ocean had been going on since the early 1950’s. A country group called Bill Haley and the Saddlemen had been doing stuff called “Cowboy Jive!” In 1953 the group, now known as Bill Haley and the Comets, released a song on the Essex label called, Crazy Man Crazy. It is recognized as the first rock and roll song reaching as high as number twelve on the charts and being played on national television. By 1954, Rock Around the Clock was part of the movie, Blackboard Jungle, and was being played on juke boxes around the country.
Two disc jockeys took up the promotion of rock and roll music in 1954-5. Allan Freed from Cleveland Ohio and George Lorenz known as “the Hound” from WKBW in Buffalo were playing this music before other stations dared to touch it. Black artists such as Lavern Baker, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and the Platters were heard over the airways in 1955. Elvis, who had a contract with Sun Records, was playing one nighters singing Baby Let’s Play House, Trying To Get To You and Mystery Train. These songs were being played on these two stations as well. So, I guess there was something happening before Elvis!
Although some rock and roll has not been well received because of its lyrics or loudness, I believe one thing has been a fact. It helped to improve our racial relations. Our feature picture for this article shows how early artists used their talents and borrowed from others so that teen music took off in the fifties and continued to grow over the years. Just watch the specials shown on PBS produced by T J Labinsky and you can see how accommodating and friendly people of different races are. (Editor’s note: Elvis Presley passed on August 16, 1977.)
Next Column: When Real Horse Power Trotted On Our Community’s Streets.
(Terry Hughes is a Wellander who is passionate about heritage, history and model railroading. His column, Heritage Lives, appears monthly. )