歌詞がいい じっくり聴く プレスリーの柔らかく しっとりとした 歌声に 時がゆったり流れる。
書き物をするとき よく ハワイアンを流していた。 また 想いだしてかけてみよう。 雑事を
このプレスリーの歌声にしびれ 完全暗記して 持ち歌にした記憶がある。 ずいぶん 歌っていないが
プレスリーの弾き語りのUnchained Melody には 感動した。 たぶん 色々な想いが プレスリーの頭の中で
★監獄ロックは 衝撃的だった。 じつに Cool だった。 かっこいいことが 大切と 思った。
英語は プレスリーから ずいぶん 習ったなあ。 you don’t have to say you love me. もそうだった。
プレスリーは最初「The Hillbilly Cat（田舎者の猫）」という名前で歌手活動を始め、その後すぐに歌いながらヒップを揺らすその歌唱スタイルから、（彼に批判的な人々から）「Elvis the Pelvis（骨盤のエルヴィス）」と呼ばれた。アメリカのバラエティー番組『エド・サリヴァン・ショー』の3度目の出演の際には、保守的な視聴者の抗議を配慮した番組関係者が意図的にプレスリーの上半身だけを放送したというエピソードが伝えられている。その際にサリヴァンが「このエルヴィス・プレスリーはすばらしい青年です」と紹介したことからサリヴァンにも罵声が飛んだ。しかしこのおかげでプレスリーへの批判は少なくなった。また、フロリダの演奏では下半身を動かすなとPTAやYMCAに言われ、小指を動かして歌った。この時には警官がショーを撮影し、下半身を動かすと逮捕されることになっていた。ステージでの華やかさに反して緊張しやすい性格で、レコード会社の門を叩けずに、入り口付近でウロウロ、ソワソワしていたこともあった模様。「初舞台の時には死ぬほど緊張した。観客の声が怖かったんだ」との言葉も残っている。
1953年の夏にプレスリーはメンフィスのサン・スタジオで最初の両面デモ・アセテート盤を録音するため4ドルを支払った。収録曲は当時のポピュラーなバラード “My Happiness” と“That’s When Your Heartaches Begin” であった。サン・レコードの創業者サム・フィリップスとアシスタントのマリオン・ケイスカーはその録音を聞きエルヴィスの才能を感じ、1954年6月に行方不明の歌手の代理としてプレスリーを呼んだ。セッションは実り多いものであったかは分からなかったが、サムは地元のミュージシャン、スコッティ・ムーア、ビル・ブラックと共にプレスリーを売り出すこととした。
1954年7月5日のリハーサル休憩中にプレスリーは “That’s All Right, Mama” をいじくり始め、サムはプレスリーが適所を得たかもしれないと考えて録音ボタンを押した。即興での演奏でドラムスが不在であったため、ベースをかき鳴らしての演奏となった。B面に “Blue Moon of Kentucky” が収録されたシングルは、WHBQラジオが放送した二日後に、メンフィスでのローカル・ヒットとなった。また、公演旅行はプレスリーの評判をテネシー中に広げることとなった。ラジオを聴いた人たちは黒人歌手だと勘違いしていた。
- “That’s All Right / Blue Moon Of Kentucky” – Sun 209, 1954年7月19日
- “Good Rockin’ Tonight / I Don’t Care if the Sun Don’t Shine” – Sun 210, 1954年9月25日
- “Milkcow Blues Boogie / You’re A Heartbreaker” – Sun 215, 1954年12月28日
- “Baby Let’s Play House / I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone” – Sun 217, 1955年4月10日
- “Mystery Train / I Forgot To Remember To Forget” – Sun 223, 1955年8月6日
1956年1月27日に第6弾シングル “Heartbreak Hotel / I Was the One” がリリースされた。これは1956年4月にチャートの1位に達した。Heartbreak Hotel はその後数多く登場したミュージシャンに多大な影響を与えた。
歌手として有名になっていくにつれて、映画配給会社数社から出演の依頼がプレスリーのもとに届いた。プレスリーは大変喜んで、劇場に通いつめ、演技を独学で勉強した。初出演映画にはパーカー大佐がプレスリーを映画の主演にさせたかったので20世紀FOX配給 Rino Brothers を選んだ。プレスリーはシリアスな演技派を目指していた為、映画内での歌には興味がないと公言していたが、結局パーカー大佐の要請で4曲も歌う羽目になりタイトルも Love Me Tender に変更されて公開された。プレスリーは当時のガールフレンドに「映画会社がアホな曲を用意してきたんだよ。せっかくのいいストーリーが台無しになっちゃったよ」と不満を漏らしている。
陸軍入隊前までの1958年までに4作の映画が製作されたが、いずれも挿入歌ありの主演映画に終始し、おまけに映画挿入歌を収めたアルバムが好評だったため、当時のショウビジネスの世界に新たなビジネスの形態を作り出した。1960年に陸軍除隊するとパーカー大佐は配給会社数社と長期に渡り出演契約を結んだ為、1969年まで1年に3本のペースで27本もの映画の製作が行われ、活動の拠点をハリウッドに移さざるをえなかった。おおよその映画は制作費を抑えた挿入歌アルバム付きのものが多かったが、G.I. Blues、Blue Hawaii、Viva LasVegas（ラスヴェガス万才）等、話題になったものもある。結局、1956年から1969年まで計31本の映画が公開された中で、プレスリーが望んだ（主題歌以外の）歌のない映画は、1969年公開の Charro!（殺し屋の烙印）のみであった。 この映画が製作された頃のプレスリーは1960年代初期と違い、映画への意欲が薄らいでいた時期ではあった（1968年のカムバックを経て、残った契約の消化を急いでいた）が、久しぶりに前向きに臨んだ西部劇で役作りの為にあごひげまではやし撮影された。しかし、プレスリーの主演映画に対する世間の注目度が低かったこと、脚本の出来もイマイチだったことなどが原因で映画の興行成績は振るわなかった。そういう状況の中、ミュージカル映画の枠を超えていなかったこと、台本の出来の悪さ、また、プレスリーが力を入れて撮影したシーンがカットされたことなど、プレスリーの仕事への不満は募っていき、それが歌手としてコンサート活動を再開するきっかけになった。
歌手活動の本格再開後も、1970年8月のラスベガス公演やリハーサル風景を収めたドキュメンタリー映画 Elvis: That’s the Way It Is（エルヴィス・オン・ステージ）や1972年4月のコンサート・ツアーの模様を収めたドキュメンタリー映画 ELVIS On Tour（エルヴィス・オン・ツアー）が製作され、好評だった。それ以降は映画の公開はなかったが、プレスリーの死後の1981年には、ほとんどを生前の映像等で構成したライフ・ストーリー的映画 This Is ELVIS が公開された。これらを合わせると、プレスリーが主演した映画は計34本となる。
Presley in a publicity photograph for the 1957 filmJailhouse Rock
|Born||Elvis Aron Presley
January 8, 1935
Tupelo, Mississippi, U.S.
|Died||August 16, 1977 (aged 42)
Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
|Alma mater||Humes High School|
|Occupation||Singer, musician, actor|
|Home town||Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.|
|Spouse(s)||Priscilla Presley (m. 1967;div. 1973)|
|Children||Lisa Marie Presley|
|Relatives||Danielle Riley Keough(granddaughter),Amelia Presley(cousin)|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1958–1960|
|Unit||Company A, 1st Medium Tank Battalion, 32nd Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Division|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, piano|
|Labels||Sun, RCA (Victor), HMV|
|Associated acts||The Blue Moon Boys, The Jordanaires, The Imperials,Million Dollar Quartet|
Elvis Aaron Presley[a] (January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977) was an American rock musician and actor. Regarded as one of the most significantcultural icons of the 20th century, he is often referred to as “the King of Rock and Roll”, or simply, “the King”.
Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, as a twinless twin– his brother was stillborn. When he was 13 years old, he and his family relocated toMemphis, Tennessee. His music career began there in 1954, when he recorded a song with producer Sam Phillips at Sun Records. Accompanied by guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, Presley was an early popularizer of rockabilly, an uptempo, backbeat-driven fusion of country music and rhythm and blues. RCA Victor acquired his contract in a deal arranged by Colonel Tom Parker, who managed the singer for more than two decades. Presley’s first RCA single, “Heartbreak Hotel“, was released in January 1956 and became a number-one hit in the United States. He was regarded as the leading figure of rock and roll after a series of successful network television appearances and chart-topping records. His energized interpretations of songs and sexually provocative performance style, combined with a singularly potent mix of influences across color lines that coincided with the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement, made him enormously popular—and controversial.
In November 1956, he made his film debut in Love Me Tender. In 1958, he was drafted into military service. He resumed his recording career two years later, producing some of his most commercially successful work before devoting much of the 1960s to making Hollywood films and their accompanying soundtrack albums, most of which were critically derided. In 1968, following a seven-year break from live performances, he returned to the stage in the acclaimed televised comeback special Elvis, which led to an extended Las Vegas concert residency and a string of highly profitable tours. In 1973, Presley was featured in the first globally broadcast concert via satellite, Aloha from Hawaii. Several years of prescription drug abuse severely damaged his health, and he died in 1977 at the age of 42.
Presley is one of the most celebrated and influential musicians of the 20th century. Commercially successful in many genres, including pop,blues and gospel, he is the best-selling solo artist in the history of recorded music, with estimated record sales of around 600 million units worldwide. He won three Grammys, also receiving the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at age 36, and has been inducted intomultiple music halls of fame.
- 1Life and career
- 3Public image
- 8See also
- 11Further reading
- 12External links
Life and career
1935–53: Early years
Childhood in Tupelo
Presley was born on January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi, the son of Gladys Love (née Smith; 1912 – 1958) and Vernon Elvis Presley (1916 – 1979), in the two-room shotgun house built by Vernon’s father in preparation for the child’s birth. Jesse Garon Presley, his identical twin brother, was delivered stillborn 35 minutes before his own birth. As an only child, Presley became close to both parents and formed an especially close bond with his mother. The family attended an Assembly of God, where he found his initial musical inspiration. Although he was in conflict with thePentecostal church in his later years, he never officially left it. Rev. Rex Humbard officiated at his funeral, as Presley had been an admirer of Humbard’s ministry.
Presley’s ancestry was primarily a Western European mix, including Scots-Irish, Scottish, German, and some French Norman. Gladys’s great-great-grandmother, Morning Dove White, was possibly a Cherokee Native American.[b] Gladys was regarded by relatives and friends as the dominant member of the small family. Vernon moved from one odd job to the next, evincing little ambition. The family often relied on help from neighbors and government food assistance. The Presleys survived the F5 tornado in the 1936 Tupelo–Gainesville tornado outbreak. In 1938, they lost their home after Vernon was found guilty of kiting a check written by the landowner, Orville S. Bean, the dairy farmer and cattle-and-hog broker for whom he then worked. He was jailed for eight months, and Gladys and Elvis moved in with relatives.
In September 1941, Presley entered first grade at East Tupelo Consolidated, where his instructors regarded him as “average”. He was encouraged to enter a singing contest after impressing his schoolteacher with a rendition of Red Foley‘s country song “Old Shep” during morning prayers. The contest, held at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show on October 3, 1945, was his first public performance: dressed as a cowboy, the ten-year-old Presley stood on a chair to reach the microphone and sang “Old Shep”. He recalled placing fifth. A few months later, Presley received his first guitar for his birthday; he had hoped for something else—by different accounts, either a bicycle or a rifle. Over the following year, he received basic guitar lessons from two of his uncles and the new pastor at the family’s church. Presley recalled, “I took the guitar, and I watched people, and I learned to play a little bit. But I would never sing in public. I was very shy about it.”
Entering a new school, Milam, for sixth grade in September 1946, Presley was regarded as a loner. The following year, he began bringing his guitar in on a daily basis. He played and sang during lunchtime, and was often teased as a “trashy” kid who played hillbilly music. The family was by then living in a largely African-American neighborhood. A devotee of Mississippi Slim‘s show on the Tupelo radio station WELO, Presley was described as “crazy about music” by Slim’s younger brother, a classmate of Presley’s, who often took him into the station. Slim supplemented Presley’s guitar tuition by demonstrating chord techniques. When his protégé was 12 years old, Slim scheduled him for two on-air performances. Presley was overcome by stage fright the first time, but succeeded in performing the following week.
Teenage life in Memphis
In November 1948, the family moved to Memphis, Tennessee. After residing for nearly a year in rooming houses, they were granted a two-bedroom apartment in the public housing complex known as the Lauderdale Courts. Enrolled at L. C. Humes High School, Presley received only a C in music in eighth grade. When his music teacher told him he had no aptitude for singing, he brought in his guitar the next day and sang a recent hit, “Keep Them Cold Icy Fingers Off Me”, in an effort to prove otherwise. A classmate later recalled that the teacher “agreed that Elvis was right when he said that she didn’t appreciate his kind of singing.” He was usually too shy to perform openly, and was occasionally bullied by classmates who viewed him as a “mama’s boy”. In 1950, he began practicing guitar regularly under the tutelage of Jesse Lee Denson, a neighbor two-and-a-half years his senior. They and three other boys—including two future rockabilly pioneers, brothers Dorsey and Johnny Burnette—formed a loose musical collective that played frequently around the Courts. That September, he began ushering at Loew’s State Theater. Other jobs followed, including Precision Tool, Loew’s again, and MARL Metal Products.
During his junior year, Presley began to stand out more among his classmates, largely because of his appearance: he grew out his sideburns and styled his hair with rose oil and Vaseline. In his free time, he would head down to Beale Street, the heart of Memphis’s thriving blues scene, and gaze longingly at the wild, flashy clothes in the windows of Lansky Brothers. By his senior year, he was wearing them. Overcoming his reticence about performing outside the Lauderdale Courts, he competed in Humes’s Annual “Minstrel” show in April 1953. Singing and playing guitar, he opened with “Till I Waltz Again with You“, a recent hit for Teresa Brewer. Presley recalled that the performance did much for his reputation: “I wasn’t popular in school … I failed music—only thing I ever failed. And then they entered me in this talent show … when I came onstage I heard people kind of rumbling and whispering and so forth, ‘cause nobody knew I even sang. It was amazing how popular I became after that.”
Presley, who never received formal music training or learned to read music, studied and played by ear. He also frequented record stores with jukeboxes and listening booths. He knew all ofHank Snow‘s songs, and he loved records by other country singers such as Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Ted Daffan, Jimmie Rodgers, Jimmie Davis, and Bob Wills. The Southern gospelsinger Jake Hess, one of his favorite performers, was a significant influence on his ballad-singing style. He was a regular audience member at the monthly All-Night Singings downtown, where many of the white gospel groups that performed reflected the influence of African-American spiritual music. He adored the music of black gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe.Like some of his peers, he may have attended blues venues—of necessity, in the segregated South, on only the nights designated for exclusively white audiences. He certainly listened to the regional radio stations, such as WDIA-AM, that played “race records”: spirituals, blues, and the modern, backbeat-heavy sound of rhythm and blues. Many of his future recordings were inspired by local African-American musicians such as Arthur Crudup and Rufus Thomas. B.B. King recalled that he had known Presley before he was popular, when they both used to frequent Beale Street. By the time he graduated from high school in June 1953, Presley had already singled out music as his future.
1953–55: First recordings
Sam Phillips and Sun Records
In August 1953, Presley walked into the offices of Sun Records. He aimed to pay for a few minutes of studio time to record a two-sided acetate disc: “My Happiness“ and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin”. He would later claim that he intended the record as a gift for his mother, or that he was merely interested in what he “sounded like”, although there was a much cheaper, amateur record-making service at a nearby general store. Biographer Peter Guralnick argues that he chose Sun in the hope of being discovered. Asked by receptionist Marion Keisker what kind of singer he was, Presley responded, “I sing all kinds.” When she pressed him on who he sounded like, he repeatedly answered, “I don’t sound like nobody.” After he recorded, Sun boss Sam Phillips asked Keisker to note down the young man’s name, which she did along with her own commentary: “Good ballad singer. Hold.”
In January 1954, Presley cut a second acetate at Sun Records—”I’ll Never Stand In Your Way” and “It Wouldn’t Be the Same Without You”—but again nothing came of it. Not long after, he failed an audition for a local vocal quartet, the Songfellows. He explained to his father, “They told me I couldn’t sing.” Songfellow Jim Hamill later claimed that he was turned down because he did not demonstrate an ear for harmony at the time. In April, Presley began working for the Crown Electric company as a truck driver. His friend Ronnie Smith, after playing a few local gigs with him, suggested he contact Eddie Bond, leader of Smith’s professional band, which had an opening for a vocalist. Bond rejected him after a tryout, advising Presley to stick to truck driving “because you’re never going to make it as a singer”.
Phillips, meanwhile, was always on the lookout for someone who could bring to a broader audience the sound of the black musicians on whom Sun focused. As Keisker reported, “Over and over I remember Sam saying, ‘If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.'” In June, he acquired a demo recording of a ballad, “Without You”, that he thought might suit the teenage singer. Presley came by the studio, but was unable to do it justice. Despite this, Phillips asked Presley to sing as many numbers as he knew. He was sufficiently affected by what he heard to invite two local musicians, guitarist Winfield “Scotty” Moore and upright bass player Bill Black, to work something up with Presley for a recording session.
Presley transformed not only the sound but the emotion of the song, turning what had been written as a “lament for a lost love into a satisfied declaration of independence.”
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The session, held the evening of July 5, 1954, proved entirely unfruitful until late in the night. As they were about to give up and go home, Presley took his guitar and launched into a 1946 blues number, Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right“. Moore recalled, “All of a sudden, Elvis just started singing this song, jumping around and acting the fool, and then Bill picked up his bass, and he started acting the fool, too, and I started playing with them. Sam, I think, had the door to the control booth open … he stuck his head out and said, ‘What are you doing?’ And we said, ‘We don’t know.’ ‘Well, back up,’ he said, ‘try to find a place to start, and do it again.'” Phillips quickly began taping; this was the sound he had been looking for. Three days later, popular Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips played “That’s All Right” on his Red, Hot, and Blue show. Listeners began phoning in, eager to find out who the singer was. The interest was such that Phillips played the record repeatedly during the last two hours of his show. Interviewing Presley on-air, Phillips asked him what high school he attended in order to clarify his color for the many callers who had assumed he was black. During the next few days, the trio recorded a bluegrass number, Bill Monroe‘s “Blue Moon of Kentucky“, again in a distinctive style and employing a jury-rigged echo effect that Sam Phillips dubbed “slapback”. A single was pressed with “That’s All Right” on the A side and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” on the reverse.
Early live performances and signing with RCA
The trio played publicly for the first time on July 17 at the Bon Air club—Presley still sporting his child-size guitar. At the end of the month, they appeared at the Overton Park Shell, withSlim Whitman headlining. A combination of his strong response to rhythm and nervousness at playing before a large crowd led Presley to shake his legs as he performed: his wide-cut pants emphasized his movements, causing young women in the audience to start screaming. Moore recalled, “During the instrumental parts, he would back off from the mike and be playing and shaking, and the crowd would just go wild”. Black, a natural showman, whooped and rode his bass, hitting double licks that Presley would later remember as “really a wild sound, like a jungle drum or something”. Soon after, Moore and Black quit their old band to play with Presley regularly, and DJ and promoter Bob Neal became the trio’s manager. From August through October, they played frequently at the Eagle’s Nest club and returned to Sun Studio for more recording sessions, and Presley quickly grew more confident on stage. According to Moore, “His movement was a natural thing, but he was also very conscious of what got a reaction. He’d do something one time and then he would expand on it real quick.” Presley made what would be his only appearance on Nashville‘s Grand Ole Opry on October 2; after a polite audience response, Opry manager Jim Denny told Phillips that his singer was “not bad” but did not suit the program. Two weeks later, Presley was booked on Louisiana Hayride, the Opry‘s chief, and more adventurous, rival. The Shreveport-based show was broadcast to 198 radio stations in 28 states. Presley had another attack of nerves during the first set, which drew a muted reaction. A more composed and energetic second set inspired an enthusiastic response. House drummer D. J. Fontana brought a new element, complementing Presley’s movements with accented beats that he had mastered playing in strip clubs. Soon after the show, the Hayrideengaged Presley for a year’s worth of Saturday-night appearances. Trading in his old guitar for $8 (and seeing it promptly dispatched to the garbage), he purchased a Martin instrument for $175, and his trio began playing in new locales including Houston, Texas, and Texarkana, Arkansas.
By early 1955, Presley’s regular Hayride appearances, constant touring, and well-received record releases had made him a regional star, from Tennessee to West Texas. In January, Neal signed a formal management contract with Presley and brought the singer to the attention of Colonel Tom Parker, whom he considered the best promoter in the music business. Having successfully managed top country star Eddy Arnold, Parker was now working with the new number-one country singer, Hank Snow. Parker booked Presley on Snow’s February tour. When the tour reached Odessa, Texas, a 19-year-old Roy Orbison saw Presley for the first time: “His energy was incredible, his instinct was just amazing. … I just didn’t know what to make of it. There was just no reference point in the culture to compare it.” Presley made his television debut on March 3 on the KSLA-TV broadcast of Louisiana Hayride. Soon after, he failed an audition forArthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts on the CBS television network. By August, Sun had released ten sides credited to “Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill”; on the latest recordings, the trio were joined by a drummer. Some of the songs, like “That’s All Right”, were in what one Memphis journalist described as the “R&B idiom of negro field jazz”; others, like “Blue Moon of Kentucky”, were “more in the country field”, “but there was a curious blending of the two different musics in both”. This blend of styles made it difficult for Presley’s music to find radio airplay. According to Neal, many country-music disc jockeys would not play it because he sounded too much like a black artist and none of the rhythm-and-blues stations would touch him because “he sounded too much like a hillbilly.” The blend came to be known as rockabilly. At the time, Presley was variously billed as “The King of Western Bop”, “The Hillbilly Cat”, and “The Memphis Flash”.
Presley renewed Neal’s management contract in August 1955, simultaneously appointing Parker as his special adviser. The group maintained an extensive touring schedule throughout the second half of the year. Neal recalled, “It was almost frightening, the reaction that came to Elvis from the teenaged boys. So many of them, through some sort of jealousy, would practically hate him. There were occasions in some towns in Texas when we’d have to be sure to have a police guard because somebody’d always try to take a crack at him. They’d get a gang and try to waylay him or something.” The trio became a quartet when Hayride drummer Fontana joined as a full member. In mid-October, they played a few shows in support of Bill Haley, whose “Rock Around the Clock” had been a number-one hit the previous year. Haley observed that Presley had a natural feel for rhythm, and advised him to sing fewer ballads.
At the Country Disc Jockey Convention in early November, Presley was voted the year’s most promising male artist. Several record companies had by now shown interest in signing him. After three major labels made offers of up to $25,000, Parker and Phillips struck a deal with RCA Victor on November 21 to acquire Presley’s Sun contract for an unprecedented $40,000.[c]Presley, at 20, was still a minor, so his father signed the contract. Parker arranged with the owners of Hill and Range Publishing, Jean and Julian Aberbach, to create two entities, Elvis Presley Music and Gladys Music, to handle all the new material recorded by Presley. Songwriters were obliged to forgo one third of their customary royalties in exchange for having him perform their compositions.[d] By December, RCA had begun to heavily promote its new singer, and before month’s end had reissued many of his Sun recordings.
1956–58: Commercial breakout and controversy
First national TV appearances and debut album
On January 10, 1956, Presley made his first recordings for RCA in Nashville. Extending the singer’s by now customary backup of Moore, Black, and Fontana, RCA enlisted pianist Floyd Cramer, guitarist Chet Atkins, and three background singers, including first tenor Gordon Stoker of the popular Jordanaires quartet, to fill out the sound. The session produced the moody, unusual “Heartbreak Hotel“, released as a single on January 27. Parker finally brought Presley to national television, booking him on CBS’s Stage Show for six appearances over two months. The program, produced in New York, was hosted on alternate weeks by big band leaders and brothers Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. After his first appearance, on January 28, introduced by disc jockey Bill Randle, Presley stayed in town to record at RCA’s New York studio. The sessions yielded eight songs, including a cover of Carl Perkins‘ rockabilly anthem “Blue Suede Shoes“. In February, Presley’s “I Forgot to Remember to Forget“, a Sun recording initially released the previous August, reached the top of the Billboard country chart. Neal’s contract was terminated and, on March 2, Parker became Presley’s manager.
RCA Victor released Presley’s eponymous debut album on March 23. Joined by five previously unreleased Sun recordings, its seven recently recorded tracks were of a broad variety. There were two country songs and a bouncy pop tune. The others would centrally define the evolving sound of rock and roll: “Blue Suede Shoes”—”an improvement over Perkins’ in almost every way”, according to critic Robert Hilburn—and three R&B numbers that had been part of Presley’s stage repertoire for some time, covers of Little Richard, Ray Charles, and The Drifters. As described by Hilburn, these “were the most revealing of all. Unlike many white artists … who watered down the gritty edges of the original R&B versions of songs in the ’50s, Presley reshaped them. He not only injected the tunes with his own vocal character but also made guitar, not piano, the lead instrument in all three cases.” It became the first rock-and-roll album to top the Billboard chart, a position it held for 10 weeks. While Presley was not an innovative guitarist like Moore or contemporary African American rockers Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, cultural historian Gilbert B. Rodman argues that the album’s cover image, “of Elvis having the time of his life on stage with a guitar in his hands played a crucial role in positioning the guitar … as the instrument that best captured the style and spirit of this new music.”
Milton Berle Show and “Hound Dog”
Presley made the first of two appearances on NBC’s Milton Berle Show on April 3. His performance, on the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego, prompted cheers and screams from an audience of sailors and their dates. A few days later, a flight taking Presley and his band to Nashville for a recording session left all three badly shaken when an engine died and the plane almost went down over Arkansas. Twelve weeks after its original release, “Heartbreak Hotel” became Presley’s first number-one pop hit. In late April, Presley began a two-week residency at the New Frontier Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. The shows were poorly received by the conservative, middle-aged hotel guests—”like a jug of corn liquor at a champagne party,” wrote a critic for Newsweek. Amid his Vegas tenure, Presley, who had serious acting ambitions, signed a seven-year contract with Paramount Pictures. He began a tour of the Midwest in mid-May, taking in 15 cities in as many days. He had attended several shows by Freddie Bell and the Bellboys in Vegas and was struck by their cover of “Hound Dog“, a hit in 1953 for blues singer Big Mama Thornton by songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It became the new closing number of his act. After a show in La Crosse, Wisconsin, an urgent message on the letterhead of the local Catholic diocese’s newspaper was sent to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. It warned that “Presley is a definite danger to the security of the United States. … [His] actions and motions were such as to rouse the sexual passions of teenaged youth. … After the show, more than 1,000 teenagers tried to gang into Presley’s room at the auditorium. … Indications of the harm Presley did just in La Crosse were the two high school girls … whose abdomen and thigh had Presley’s autograph.”
The second Milton Berle Show appearance came on June 5 at NBC’s Hollywood studio, amid another hectic tour. Berle persuaded the singer to leave his guitar backstage, advising, “Let ‘em see you, son.” During the performance, Presley abruptly halted an uptempo rendition of “Hound Dog” with a wave of his arm and launched into a slow, grinding version accentuated with energetic, exaggerated body movements. Presley’s gyrations created a storm of controversy. Newspaper critics were outraged: Jack Gould of The New York Times wrote, “Mr. Presley has no discernible singing ability. … His phrasing, if it can be called that, consists of the stereotyped variations that go with a beginner’s aria in a bathtub. … His one specialty is an accented movement of the body … primarily identified with the repertoire of the blond bombshells of the burlesque runway.” Ben Gross of the New York Daily News opined that popular music “has reached its lowest depths in the ‘grunt and groin’ antics of one Elvis Presley. … Elvis, who rotates his pelvis … gave an exhibition that was suggestive and vulgar, tinged with the kind of animalism that should be confined to dives and bordellos”. Ed Sullivan, whose own variety show was the nation’s most popular, declared him “unfit for family viewing”. To Presley’s displeasure, he soon found himself being referred to as “Elvis the Pelvis”, which he called “one of the most childish expressions I ever heard, comin’ from an adult.”
Steve Allen Show and first Sullivan appearance
The Berle shows drew such high ratings that Presley was booked for a July 1 appearance on NBC’s Steve Allen Show in New York. Allen, no fan of rock and roll, introduced a “new Elvis” in a white bow tie and black tails. Presley sang “Hound Dog” for less than a minute to a basset hound wearing a top hat and bow tie. As described by television historian Jake Austen, “Allen thought Presley was talentless and absurd … [he] set things up so that Presley would show his contrition”. Allen, for his part, later wrote that he found Presley’s “strange, gangly, country-boy charisma, his hard-to-define cuteness, and his charming eccentricity intriguing” and simply worked the singer into the customary “comedy fabric” of his program.Just before the final rehearsal for the show, Presley told a reporter, “I’m holding down on this show. I don’t want to do anything to make people dislike me. I think TV is important so I’m going to go along, but I won’t be able to give the kind of show I do in a personal appearance.” Presley would refer back to the Allen show as the most ridiculous performance of his career. Later that night, he appeared on Hy Gardner Calling, a popular local TV show. Pressed on whether he had learned anything from the criticism to which he was being subjected, Presley responded, “No, I haven’t, I don’t feel like I’m doing anything wrong. … I don’t see how any type of music would have any bad influence on people when it’s only music. … I mean, how would rock ‘n’ roll music make anyone rebel against their parents?”
The next day, Presley recorded “Hound Dog”, along with “Any Way You Want Me” and “Don’t Be Cruel“.The Jordanaires sang harmony, as they had on The Steve Allen Show; they would work with Presley through the 1960s. A few days later, the singer made an outdoor concert appearance in Memphis at which he announced, “You know, those people in New York are not gonna change me none. I’m gonna show you what the real Elvis is like tonight.” In August, a judge in Jacksonville, Florida, ordered Presley to tame his act. Throughout the following performance, he largely kept still, except for wiggling his little finger suggestively in mockery of the order. The single pairing “Don’t Be Cruel” with “Hound Dog” ruled the top of the charts for 11 weeks—a mark that would not be surpassed for 36 years. Recording sessions for Presley’s second album took place in Hollywood during the first week of September. Leiber and Stoller, the writers of “Hound Dog,” contributed “Love Me.”
Allen’s show with Presley had, for the first time, beaten CBS’s Ed Sullivan Show in the ratings. Sullivan, despite his June pronouncement, booked the singer for three appearances for an unprecedented $50,000. The first, on September 9, 1956, was seen by approximately 60 million viewers—a record 82.6 percent of the television audience. Actor Charles Laughton hosted the show, filling in while Sullivan recuperated from a car accident. Presley appeared in two segments that night from CBS Television City in Los Angeles. According to Elvis legend, Presley was shot from only the waist up. Watching clips of the Allen and Berle shows with his producer, Sullivan had opined that Presley “got some kind of device hanging down below the crotch of his pants–so when he moves his legs back and forth you can see the outline of his cock. … I think it’s a Coke bottle. … We just can’t have this on a Sunday night. This is a family show!” Sullivan publicly told TV Guide, “As for his gyrations, the whole thing can be controlled with camera shots.” In fact, Presley was shown head-to-toe in the first and second shows. Though the camerawork was relatively discreet during his debut, with leg-concealing closeups when he danced, the studio audience reacted in customary style: screaming. Presley’s performance of his forthcoming single, the ballad “Love Me Tender“, prompted a record-shattering million advance orders. More than any other single event, it was this first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show that made Presley a national celebrity of barely precedented proportions.
Accompanying Presley’s rise to fame, a cultural shift was taking place that he both helped inspire and came to symbolize. Igniting the “biggest pop craze since Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra … Presley brought rock’n’roll into the mainstream of popular culture”, writes historian Marty Jezer. “As Presley set the artistic pace, other artists followed. … Presley, more than anyone else, gave the young a belief in themselves as a distinct and somehow unified generation—the first in America ever to feel the power of an integrated youth culture.”
Crazed crowds and film debut
Presley’s definition of rock and roll included a sense of humor—here, during his second Sullivan appearance, he introduces one of his signature numbers.
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The audience response at Presley’s live shows became increasingly fevered. Moore recalled, “He’d start out, ‘You ain’t nothin’ but a Hound Dog,’ and they’d just go to pieces. They’d always react the same way. There’d be a riot every time.” At the two concerts he performed in September at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, 50 National Guardsmen were added to the police security to prevent crowd trouble. Elvis, Presley’s second album, was released in October and quickly rose to number one. The album includes “Old Shep”, which he sang at the talent show in 1945, and which now marked the first time he played piano on an RCA session. According to Guralnick, one can hear “in the halting chords and the somewhat stumbling rhythm both the unmistakable emotion and the equally unmistakable valuing of emotion over technique.” Assessing the musical and cultural impact of Presley’s recordings from “That’s All Right” through Elvis, rock critic Dave Marsh wrote that “these records, more than any others, contain the seeds of what rock & roll was, has been and most likely what it may foreseeably become.”
Presley returned to the Sullivan show at its main studio in New York, hosted this time by its namesake, on October 28. After the performance, crowds in Nashville and St. Louis burned him in effigy. His first motion picture, Love Me Tender, was released on November 21. Though he was not top billed, the film’s original title—The Reno Brothers—was changed to capitalize on his latest number one record: “Love Me Tender” had hit the top of the charts earlier that month. To further take advantage of Presley’s popularity, four musical numbers were added to what was originally a straight acting role. The film was panned by the critics but did very well at the box office.
On December 4, Presley dropped into Sun Records where Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis were recording and jammed with them. Though Phillips no longer had the right to release any Presley material, he made sure the session was captured on tape. The results became legendary as the “Million Dollar Quartet” recordings—Johnny Cash was long thought to have played as well, but he was present only briefly at Phillips’ instigation for a photo opportunity. The year ended with a front-page story in The Wall Street Journal reporting that Presley merchandise had brought in $22 million on top of his record sales, and Billboard‘s declaration that he had placed more songs in the top 100 than any other artist since records were first charted. In his first full year at RCA, one of the music industry’s largest companies, Presley had accounted for over 50 percent of the label’s singles sales.
Leiber and Stoller collaboration and draft notice
Presley made his third and final Ed Sullivan Show appearance on January 6, 1957—on this occasion indeed shot only down to the waist. Some commentators have claimed that Parker orchestrated an appearance of censorship to generate publicity. In any event, as critic Greil Marcus describes, Presley “did not tie himself down. Leaving behind the bland clothes he had worn on the first two shows, he stepped out in the outlandish costume of a pasha, if not a harem girl. From the make-up over his eyes, the hair falling in his face, the overwhelmingly sexual cast of his mouth, he was playing Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik, with all stops out.” To close, displaying his range and defying Sullivan’s wishes, Presley sang a gentle black spiritual, “Peace in the Valley“. At the end of the show, Sullivan declared Presley “a real decent, fine boy”. Two days later, the Memphis draft board announced that Presley would be classified 1-Aand would probably be drafted sometime that year.