Regarded by many as the “King of Rock and Roll”, a moniker he was not quick to adopt, it is indisputable the impact Elvis Presley has had on music. There is no rock band or singer in the last 50 years that can’t trace their influence back to Elvis and his cultural influence is felt, still, today, nearly 40 years after his death.
I don’t, personally, consider Elvis Presley “The King” and reserve that title for Chuck Berry but love much of what Elvis released in his career. His vocals on his first recordings are raw, primal, energetic and without race distinction which helped him cross barriers that nobody prior was able to cross, at least at the same level of success. His ability to sing a ballad like Love Me Tender with the same emotion as a rocker like Jailhouse Rock has been an enduring and rarely matched ability in the rock era and his love for gospel, blues, r&b, and country blend brilliantly, creating his distinctive sound.
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Combine that with the incredible musicians that performed with him and Elvis was truly a massive force. One of my favorite tracks of his is a little known track entitled Like a Baby which is a perfect example of his blending of blues and gospel vocal stylings. Musically, this track bumps and grinds with the best blues records of the day and is probably raunchier than anything a white artist had ever released to that point. Presley, masterfully, adjusts his dynamics and intensity throughout his performance and creates a groove with his voice that rocks as hard as any groove the band establishes. Oh, and there’s some dirty guitar work and raspy sax too.
It’s hard, out of context, to understand what all the controversy was about when Elvis rose to stardom but this track exemplifies what the “establishment” meant when they called it the devil’s music. To better put it into context, listen to this track.
And now listen to this track which was the sixth most popular song of the same year, ahead of any Elvis single.
If I had to pick one that was, without doubt, devil’s music, I guess I’d have to go with Elvis. Not to say that Brenda Lee isn’t great, but next to Elvis it is like comparing Sesame Street to Breaking Bad. Do yourself a favor today and check out some of Elvis’ early, non-hit, recordings. Thank me later. Post your favorites in the comments below.