FIRST, there was Elvis. Long before The Beatles were anointed the heart of rock and roll, ages before the Rolling Stones were crowned the loins of rock and roll, not too far from when Bob Dylan was anointed the mind of rock and roll and as recent as the 1980s, when Bruce Springsteen was the conscience of rock and roll, there was Elvis Presley, the King of rock and roll.
He reigned for a good two decades, purloining the blues and soul of black music and, with not an iota of subtlety or subtext, converted it into his own legendary making, making the girls scream in decibel madness, swoon in overawed drama and breathlessness in keeping up with his bravura.
It’s been 34 years since his less-than-delicate death but in those 31/2 decades, Elvis’ stature has transcended somewhat beyond religion, so much so that his obsessed fans have prayed and insisted that the King is alive and doing his pelvic gyrations to Hound Dog and Blue Suede Shoes. That fanaticism — and the kind of guilt, angst and attempts at redemption that Elvis’ might carried — might have turned him into a 21st Century prophet. That’s right: A prophet of rock and roll, an elevation from his monarchical sovereignty.
Reinforcing that mysticism is what propelled his old record company, RCA (now under the aegis of Sony Music) to reissue yet another reissue of his greatest hits, this time a 3-CD wonder of 75 songs to mark what would have been his 75th birthday.
Simply entitled Elvis 75, this collection supercedes the far superior 4-CD box set complete with an 80-page booklet carrying a Billy Altman biographical essay, rare pictures, reproductions of original record labels, covers and picture sleeves, film posters, master tape boxes and detailed recording, chart and personal data.
The box may yet make its way into Malaysia but for now, Elvis fans continue to worship him for more than just his music and the lightweight films.
The songs are far too familiar, a loop in the time-space continuum, a recycled deja vu, to be given a further once over. It’s pointless really because the credentials are supremely solid. The songs may be beyond criticism. They have become a life’s code for many on Earth. Cherry pick your way into the collection and see what tunes befit your generational epiphany.
Heartbreak Hotel? Blue Moon? Suspicious Minds? Moody Blue? I Just Can’t Help Believin’? That’s All Right? Each of these songs defined and redefined rock and roll’s governance and imperceptibly coerced rockers to elevated levels of groundbreaking performances.
On the discretionary aspect of music, does it matter now that much of the early, rip roaring and pelvic pulverising songs were ripped off, inadvertently or otherwise, from some poor Southern bluesman or that the stylings were crude and unrefined? What matters most was that Elvis came to the fore when the world badly needed a fresh slate, away from the flavourless and vapid music dominating the air waves and oppressing other alternative acts.
Elvis broke the taboos of the niceties of the1950s and rallied people, the people of his generation especially, away from the obscene trauma of two successive wars that pulverised the world first and then Korea, and later Vietnam.
He may have not realised that he was innovating and winging his way towards rock and roll divinity but he changed the way music was heard and appreciated and he brought people of all colours together to the consternation of the white establishment..
Elvis pioneered a new attitude, stage presence and dance (if you can define his pelvic palpitations as dance) that influenced the modern preening of frontmen like Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury, Bono and Mick Jagger. He whispered, wowed, hummed and purred killer ballads that shook the soul hard — for that post-war age. His voice was the sui generis the world will never witness again, save for the unnerving mimics who find their destiny in walking, talking, singing, moving and smirking like Elvis. Eddie Murphy does a scarily fine version of Elvis in Delicious, his X-rated 1980s rancid comic stand-up.
Elvis was also a walking fashion statement — deliciously strident sideburns, loud, sassy hairstyle and sartorial slickness. These statements perforated the consciousness of the rebellious new youth screaming to heave their individuality beyond their horrified parents’ haplessness in stopping the red tide of rock and roll, piercingly devilish and all.