With Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis currently rocking it at the box office, we thought we’d write about “Elvis The Pelvis”. And a little bit of research told us that one of the top questions people ask the internet about him is “Why is Elvis Presley Famous?” Since he’s been dead for forty-five years, we get it, but it’s also unacceptable. That’s why your pals at Back to the Past are here to tell why people are still in love with the King of Rock and Roll after all these years!
He’s The Original Rock Star
“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” – An urgent letter from the Catholic dioceses of Wisconsin to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover after Elvis played in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Elvis Aaron Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1935 and began his music career at the age of eighteen. His early recordings, singles put out by Sun Records, were country songs. Those, however, are not what would make him famous. Like a great many young white musicians of the era, Elvis was entranced by the music of black American artists. Blues music was a staple of his stage act from the word go. Unlike most white artists (*cough cough* Pat Boone *cough cough*), he played and sang it with the same verve as the original artists. His signature song, espcially in his early days, was “Hound Dog”. The song was written by legendary songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, originally performed by blue artist “Big Mama” Thornton.
Elvis let the music take him when he played. This lead to him dancing in a hip-waggling style considered to be indecent by basically everyone over the age of thirty. Teenagers, and especially young women, loved it. They showed their appreciation by screaming, and Elvis played to rowdy crowds wherever he went. Which sounds like a normal rock show now, but was unheard of in mainstream music at the time.
Elvis Presley would be charting singles and putting out records up until he died in 1977. A bunch of Elvis albums are currently available in our eBay store, both original and reissues on vinyl.
He Was a Heartthrob Movie Star
Elvis made his film debut in Love Me Tender on November 15, 1956. In addition to starring in the film, he provided the title song for the soundtrack. It debuted at #2 in the box office standings and became the 23rd highest grossing flick of the year – which you will note had only about six weeks left in it when the flick debuted. The song went to #1 on the chart and was certified triple platinum.
So, it went well. Elvis would do twenty-nine more movies before returning to music full time after sixteen years in Hollywood. That’s roughly two movies a year, though he took a full year off when he entered the military. Seventeen of his films featured full soundtrack albums by Elvis, with many more featuring title songs.
Not all of his movies were, y’know, very good. But they were financial successes, so they kept getting made. They kept him in fame and fortune throughout the sixties, and were no doubt the inspiration for The Beatles’ live action movies and even later flicks like Purple Rain.
He Had A Unique Style
From the word go, Elvis’ hairstyle borrowed from a strange place: Fawcett Comics’ Captain Marvel, Jr. The jumpsuits he wore on stage during his post-Hollywood career, complete with half-capes and thunderbolt motifs, were also apparently inspired by his childhood hero. Elvis’ distinctive baritone voice, Mississippi/Tennessee accent blend, and unique phrasing stood out against his contemporaries.
The distinctive look and voice made him an easy target for imitation. Elvis impersonators were standards of low-level entertainment for decades. They were such a well-known phenomenon that they themselves ended up pop cultural icons in their own right. Heck, the vocation/hobby is so widespread that conventions are held.
He Died Unexpectedly Young
Elvis died on August 16, 1977, at the age of 42. His final years had been marked by substance abuse and health issues. His heart finally gave out, embarrassingly enough, while using the bathroom. That’s far from uncommon, of course, but rarely happens to someone so famous or so young. He was interred on the grounds of his mansion, Graceland, which remains a place of pilgrimage for fans to this day. It was an unbelievable loss for American popular culture.
“No, Elvis is not dead. He just went home.” – Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) in 1998’s Men In Black.
Literally unbelievable. for some people. Tabloids and fan groups were beset with “sightings” of Elvis for decades after he died. A cult classic horror film, Bubba Ho-Tep, was even based on the idea! it starred Bruce Campbell as an elderly Elvis Presley, who had swapped places with an Elvis impersonator around 1973. His plan to reclaim his life was derailed when the impersonator, unready for the excess available to the King of Rock & Roll, died on the toilet. Or maybe he’s actually the impersonator, suffering from delusions in old age. Either way, he’s just the hero to put an ancient Egyptian ghoul to rest. It’s that kinda movie.
We Stan The King
Such sightings have long since faded away, due in part to generational change and in part to the fact that Elvis would be in his 80s today. But Elvis Presley remains a titan of American pop culture, having had an indelible effect on pretty much all American media. His influence simply cannot be overstated – heck, back when collecting was more niche than it is today, an Elvis collection wouldn’t have been seen as overly eccentric! If you find yourself with an Elvis collection, we’re happy to help you figure out what to do with it!
And if you want a comment or quote on something we’ve written about, we’re always available! We can be found dang near everywhere as @b2pcollect.