When Elvis died in 1977 it was big news all round the world – with the notable exception of my primary school. During a morning assembly in the new school year, my headteacher addressed a hall of cross-legged children with the solemn news that a very famous singer had recently died. “Does anyone know who that was?” she asked. We, all only familiar the recent TV news coverage about Elvis, thought the question was probably rhetorical.
“That’s right,” she said. “I’m talking about Bing Crosby.”
John Lennon famously said that before Elvis there was nothing, but that wasn’t strictly the case. As you’ll read in this latest Ultimate Music Guide, there was a whole previous generation of pop singers, and Bing – so beloved on my headteacher – was the guy routinely quizzed about Elvis’s rise. What did he think? Would it last? Bing – not engaging with the rock revolution per se – observed that perhaps Elvis would do well to try some different styles of song. Good advice, as it turned out.
Bing wasn’t the only one to help the writers of NME and Melody Maker register the impact of this new singer, and his new sound. Among the manufactured rivalries (“Elvis v Pat Boone”; “Elvis v Johnnie Ray” “No Presley without Haley”) created at the time by a British press struggling for information in an enormous world, Johnnie Ray makes the wise observation that Elvis is a force helping to make the world smaller. Such is the demand for Elvis’s music, Ray notes, his records are being released at the same time in the USA and England.
The NME isn’t slow to pick up on the fact that Elvis isn’t just a singer, but a force which portends far more. He has “swarthy good looks” and “sex appeal”, and it’s this which gives him the power to unsettle parents. And in so doing, they imply, sow the seeds for something remarkable and generational to follow.
What comes next for Elvis, and for the world, you can read in this comprehensive guide, in a selection of gems from our archive of historic Elvis writing. We’ve also done what you might have thought impossible: we’ve mase sense of Elvis’s many hundreds of recordings, finding our way through a baffling profusion of budget compilations, indifferent film soundtracks and outtakes to bring you a definitive guide to the absolute pick of Elvis’s extraordinary catalogue. The landmark early sessions. The religious ones. The decent film soundtracks. The comeback records and the late classics. You’ll find it all inside.
Whether it’s through the music, or a fantastic new film like Baz Luhrmann’s current biopic, new people are always having their heads turned by Elvis. Hopefully we can help you navigate your way through his kingdom.
Enjoy the issue.
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