Written By: Ethan Griggs
My Music: ethangriggsmusic.virb.com
Some refer to him just as Presley, some refer to him as the King, but he will forever (that is, until the end of time itself) be globally renowned as Elvis. Born in Mississippi in 1935, throughout an all too short career of just under twenty-five years, Elvis became the world’s first rock star. In that itself, he became rock’s first movie star. He was the young, rebellious version of Frank Sinatra with a sound that was rough around the edges and an attitude that would be imitated by countless individuals over the next sixty years, including everyone from the Beatles and the Stones to One Direction. Here are five of his greatest moments.
- “Heartbreak Hotel” (1956)
After huge initial success with a two-year run of singles at Sun Records, Presley’s manager Colonial Tom Parker sold the singer’s contract to RCA Records, and it was in their New York studios that Presley and his band would record the song that catapulted rock and roll from the status of small time fad to international phenomenon. With a guitar played by Chet Atkins, the song firmly established Elvis as a “crossover” artist for both country and rock and roll fans. What’s most striking about the song is the sparseness of its arrangement: a reverb drenched Elvis in silence, followed by the tremendous pounding of an E chord, then by a chorus with twinkling, mischievous piano and a walking bass line. John Lennon famously would describe it as “this hillbilly hiccuping on tape echo”. The lyrics were allegedly inspired by the suicide of a man whose note read, “I walk a lonely street”. There had never been anything quite like it on the radio at the time.
- “Hound Dog” (1956)
Whatever “crossover” elements Elvis retained between country and rockabilly throughout his initial success were shredded a few months later when “Hound Dog” became an international number one smash in July of 1956. Regarded by author Larry Brinbaum as “an emblem of the rock ‘n’ roll revolution”, “Hound Dog” still resonates throughout classic rock radio, movie theaters – you name it – through this current day. Containing one of the first guitar solos that could truly be described as “incendiary” (thanks to the late Scotty Moore), any true rock fan worthy of their knowledge will never forget this track’s relevancy as a no-holes-barred, simply ecstatic rock’n’roll tune.
- “Jailhouse Rock” from Jailhouse Rock (EP) (1957)
By the time “Jailhouse Rock” was released in September of 1957, Elvis had become a worldwide sensation that the world had never seen before. It would be over five years until Beatlemania would hit, and since that day, no other solo artist (excepting Michael Jackson, perhaps) has made a wave as seismic in the music industry. “Jailhouse Rock” sounds exactly like it suggests: it’s a rollicking, revved up rock band charged by Elvis’s ear splitting shrieks. “Spider Murphy played the tenor saxophone/Little Joe was blowin’ on the slide trombone/The drummer boy from Illinois went crash, boom, bang/The whole rhythm section was the Purple Gang.” That’s sounds like a band I want to play in!
- “Can’t Help Falling in Love” from Blue Hawaii (1961)
In 1958, the U.S. Army drafted Elvis as a Private, and upon arriving to serve at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas he publicly stated, “The army can do anything it wants with me”. It would be nearly three years before he would return to the spotlight, but “Can’t Help Falling In Love” probably exceeded expectations as far as Elvis and his camp were concerned. This is arguably Elvis’s best love song in a career chock full of them, and it’s certainly one of his most sentimental. You couldn’t count on enough hands how many weddings this song has been played at. As love songs go, it doesn’t get more primal in its emotion or starker in its deliver than Elvis manages on his classic 1961 interpretation for the soundtrack of his newly released film, Blue Hawaii.
- “Suspicious Minds”
The 1960s were certainly not as kind to Elvis as the 1950s were. With John, Paul, George and Ringo being the talk of the entire world, Elvis found it hard to stay relevant within a constantly changing industry and through increasingly experimental sounds in pop and rock music. It was at the end of the decade, though, where he made his big comeback. As a part of his ’68 Comeback Special, “Suspicious Minds” presented a more mature, seasoned Elvis – both as a performer and as a singer. With its sunny, guitar driven arrangement, it reminded listeners who grew up with Elvis that he was where it all started, and that even though the industry had changed he should not easily be forgotten about. It would be Elvis’s last number one single.