Elvis Presley - Heartbreak Hotel
Everyone realises the importance of Elvis in modern musical tradition, but many can no longer relate to that 50 or 60 years on. Elvis became the rebel and then slowly turned into the more commercial side of early rock and roll, even though putting today's terminology onto yesterday's music scene can sound a bit out of place. Elvis caused his controversy by appealing direct to young girls, and thereby threatening indirectly the very fabric of American morality. His famous arse wiggle and the heavy sexual innuendo that carried with it may have been too much for the fifties as a visual experience, but musically and lyrically Elvis was a traditional bubblegum and ponytails sort of guy. When I compare that with Eddie Cochran, my personal favourite from that era, I see less of the subversive lyrical content and more of the subversive performance.
However, for many, myself included, Elvis will always be tainted by his later years. First off was the awful Hollywood period when Elvis became a film star and sang his way from Hawaii across the States. This was Elvis the pop star, cashing in on his image and making a mint out of it (or somebody was). The songs of this era were by and large as awful as the films, too saccharine and fluffy almost a Disney concept of the wonderful life and boundless future of the American Dream.
Then came his worst years. The bloated, drug ravaged body hauling its way round that ultimate in tackiness, Las Vegas, was not an edifying spectacle. After a series of frankly appalling Hollywood movies, he retreated into the persona of the glorified lounge singer, about as far away from rock and roll roots as you could get. This is not how anyone would wish to remember one of the pioneers of rock and roll, but whenever I think of Elvis it is this image which springs to mind.
During the seventies at school, I knew people who just went out and bought every single Elvis released so it would go straight to the top of the charts. And go straight to the top of the charts it did. No discernment, no discrimination, simply "if it's Elvis it must be good". Gods need worship to stay alive. Elvis needed valium and barbiturates to keep himself going. Oh, and large numbers of cheeseburgers as well.
Maybe I am biased, but I can't help it. Behind it all was Colonel Tom Parker (who I cannot help but confusing with the friendly smiling face of the Colonel down at the local Kentucky Fried Chicken). Still, my favourite Elvis song - "Hound Dog" is here and the album is a reasonable collection of his works. It concentrates on the part of his career when he was still worth something, as opposed to the later years when he was a shadow (albeit a huge shadow) of his former self. That they have managed to put this onto a single vinyl is quite remarkable, but there are plenty of other Elvis compilations around if I wanted to go looking any further.
In truth I cannot really be bothered with Elvis but to find pretty much all of what I like of his on a single album, well that is enough. To some he will always be the King of Rock and Roll, but his rock and roll years were but a short period in his long career. They may have been his best, but in my view there were others who came after him who did it better. Elvis was notable as an icon, but I find his music less appealing than that of many of his contemporaries.
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