Today is Elvis Aaron Presley’s 75th birthday.
I’m not sure that it is possible for people my age or younger to appreciate Elvis in the way those of my Dad’s generation did – they got the see the whole thing unfold, and we are left, mainly, with his gaudy Vegas shtick and the teeming, jokey impersonators. For those of us who have gotten past that cultural detritus, it’s maybe hip to like the Sun Sessions, those recordings Elvis made in Memphis alongside Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins (before any were nationally known). These are, time and time again, lifted up as the best thing he ever did, especially for those who came around to Elvis on their own through the lineage of punk or indie. I disagree, considering how much he developed and expanded what he could do, but, yeah, okay, I’m probably more likely to play “Blue Moon of Kentucky” than just about anything to sway the unbeliever. But you really got to stick it out further than that to get the full measure of the King.
Anyway, here I’ve compiled a little highlight reel of the best Elvis material I could find on YouTube:
We start with the sweet and rough demo, where he just sounds like an impassioned teenager starting to realize the thrilling power of his gifts. Moving through the early “country” standards, we come to his early breakout days (handsome!), and then onto his forays in sleek contemporary pop, film soundtracks, and traditional gospel — I think you’ll be surprised at the different deliveries and vocal stylings he could pull off. I’ve put in two selections from his seminal ’68 Comeback Special, my favorite televised music moment ever — after years of formula movies and recordings of variable quality, Elvis broke his 7-year hiatus from performance, because “I want everyone to know what I can really do.” This was Elvis at his peak, and he never looked or sounded better; look at just how damn cool he was in all black leather. And of course, I put in my favorite Elvis number, “In the Ghetto.” Finally, at the end, we see the self-parody he is sadly remembered as; bloated, caked in makeup, and self-medicated – but still able to give a hell of a moving performance, despite all the theatrics and fluff.
So, In honor of the King, take care of business today, and everyday. TCB, everyway.
Bonus Birthday links:
- Favorite Food
- Free listen of an album worth of some of Elvis’ best, and often overlooked, early music
- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds sing about Elvis’ birth!
(Happy Birthday also to Stephen Hawking, David Bowie, and R. Kelly.)