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Elvis, Bob Dylan Ride Second Wave Of Popularity

By Ben Peterson / The Daily Cardinal, November 06, 2007 | Other
Two radically different icons of rock music, both unparalleled yet widely imitated, seem more at the forefront of retrospection than ever these days. Bob Dylan claims, like just about everyone else from his era, that the first time he heard Elvis was “like busting out of jail,” the great deciding factor that convinced him to become a musician and, in turn, a hero in his own right. It’s fitting then that the two seem to be at the peak of their second waves of reverence in our modern times, starkly contrasting as their methods may be.

Many people would probably agree that the transformation from Elvis Presley in the ‘50s to people like Dylan and John Lennon in the ‘60s would be akin to water turning into wine, but the King’s foundation shouldn’t be underestimated. To me his music is equally compelling to anything that came after it, if for no other reason than how easy he made it sound—his unhinged performances in 1950s recordings are brilliant, yet all the while comfortably fit in with the notion that the guy didn’t write any of his songs, didn’t really play any instruments and had absolutely no semblance of creative control over his art. Instead, he was an important interpreter of other people’s songs, with his golden voice and incendiary stage moves.

Dylan, on the other hand, was first and foremost a songwriter, one who gained the bulk of his initial recognition by having others interpret his work. He was in complete command of an artistic vision, often accompanied only by himself or musicians he handpicked, and it was never about show or appearance when he played live; the sensationalism in Dylan was in the music alone.

Whatever your outlook on the long bygone days of rock ‘n’ roll infancy, the fact is that both Dylan and Elvis are making larger waves right now than they have for a very long time. One of the main differences is, of course, that Elvis has been dead for exactly 30 years, and old Bobby is still alive and kicking. When you think about it though, this is almost a non-issue: Elvis was never in charge of what he did, and was long done with important artistic output by his death in 1977, so what does it matter that he’s not around anymore? People are acting on his behalf like they have since he first began, and Bob Dylan is following his vision as always.

For Elvis, it’s all about profitability, so to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his death this year, countless reissues of his movies, TV specials and music have been coming out, ranging from inspired to rudimentary. The lowest point was probably when Elvis’ daughter Lisa Marie dubbed her voice onto one of his worst songs, “In the Ghetto,” and released it on iTunes along with a video which spliced together images of him singing, her on some apparent Quaalude binge and babies in cribs toting pistols. Anyway, plenty of people must be buying all this material, since Elvis has recently reassumed his position as Forbes’ top earning dead celebrity with a bang.

Bob Dylan has been going about things a bit differently, establishing new vitality instead of milking the past. His three most recent albums have been great, easily his best since the mid-’70s. He’s got a popular XM radio show, and lent his support and music to a phenomenal Martin Scorsese Dylan documentary (No Direction Home) and an upcoming ambitious Todd Haynes film which seeks to abstractly capture Dylan’s essence (I’m Not There).

Things are good for both the King and Dylan today; it’s still clear that what they did in their own respects they did better than anyone, and fans are now being offered more ways than ever to revel in their love.
byebye wrote on November 06, 2007
I think a lot of Elvis fans have a hard time figuring Dylan out is because of his voice. I like beautiful voices myself, but the songs and the timing in Dylans performances are flawless in their own domain, and ironically his voice is a very important tool for him. I recommend EP fans listening to Bob´s latest album "Modern times" but not comparing it to Elvis in any way. His voice matches the songs perfect in a Willie Nelson kinda way. Perhaps is his gift with words and lyrics on the same level as the voice was to Elvis. I actually enjoy listening to Elvis more and vice versa, after a period with one or the other since they are not that far from eachother musically. If Elvis´voice is like sugar, Bob´s voice is like salt. And for water I choose classical stuff ;)
JerryNodak wrote on November 06, 2007
While it's true that Dylan doesn't have a "great" voice, it suits his type of material. I've always liked him. Never had any trouble figuring him out.
Steve V wrote on November 07, 2007
You cannot compare Elvis & Dylan vocally of course but these 2 artists are perhaps America's greatest contributors to modern music along with Louis Armstrong Their influence cannot be denied. I will go so far as to say Elvis is the greatest singer America has ever produced and Dylan the greatest songwriter. Yes Modern Times is fabulous and proves that artists from another era can still produce good music. Give a listen to John Fogerty's new CD also. Has a Sun sounding song on it that could be from the 50's. Elvis liked these 2 guys I'm sure.
MickeyN wrote on November 07, 2007
Dylan was/is an Elvis fan (read about BD's devastated reaction to Elvis's death in many biographies). I believe that Elvis was (perhaps more secretly) a Dylan fan. I cannot imagine more hauntingly beautiful songwriting and more hauntingly beautiful singing than Elvis's interpretation of Dylan's "Tomorrow is a Long Time"
Elvisnites wrote on November 07, 2007
I am not a fan of Bob Dylan's singing, but I am a fan of his song writting. From what I've read they had a mutual admiration of each other.
byebye wrote on November 07, 2007
Yes "Tomorrow is a long time" and also "Dont think twice it´s alright" are great interpretations by Elvis. But what is interesting though is Dylan´s version of "Cant help falling in love" and "A fool such as I" on his "Dylan" album from 1973. That album was released without Bob giving the OK, and could be seen as a muscle move from his label Columbia when trying to leave them for another companny. Anyway, those versions by Bob are so underestimated and he actually (believe it or not) makes the tunes his own songs, just like Elvis allways did when performing other artists material.
Steve V wrote on November 07, 2007
Anyone know if Dylan & Elvis ever met?
byebye wrote on November 07, 2007
Dont think they ever did.. hence Dylans first statement after a serious hospital visit in early "90´s -quote "I thought I was gonna meet Elvis"(!)
byebye wrote on November 07, 2007
Just a rumour fidelio. The song might be about wishfull thinking though...
FJE wrote on November 07, 2007
I have been a music fan for over 40 years and in all that time I have collected albums (1800+) by almost everyone that is important in Rock, Pop, Country, Soul & Blues. Whenever I am asked who my favourite singers/groups are, my first 3 choices have always been the same - 1. Elvis, 2. The Beatles and 3. Bob Dylan. I have virtually all these three's musical output in my collection. Dylan to me is essential as Elvis, and although his voice is not to everyone's taste (In Bowie's words, a voice like sand and glue), his songwriting and his impeccable delivery of all his songs are flawless (check out 2 of his more acclaimed albums "Blonde On Blonde" and "Highway 61 Revisited"). So I cannot help but agree 100% with the above. But "in The Ghetto" one of Elvis' worst songs? Surely shome mishtake! OK, so that's 99%!!
ElvisZone wrote on November 07, 2007
You can search and find "ELVIS Tribute from Bob Dylan" in youtube videos.
Richard Stables wrote on November 08, 2007
This article for me, appears to be written by someone of no real knowledge of his subject. Firstly, to say that Elvis 'had absolutely no semblance of creative control over his art' is a major error given the way that we all know that Elvis worked in the studio. One only has to listen to the numerous recordings that have been released over the last few years to hear his influence on the entire creative process. I also am amazed to read Mr Peterson's comment that 'In the Ghetto' is one of Elvis' worst songs. I think it's a great track and one that has stood the test of time very well. In respect of the article in general, it is very true to say that both of these artists are still having an impact after all these years, and that can only be because of the undoubted talent of both.
Ruthie wrote on November 08, 2007
Mr. Peterson: Do your homework. NO, Elvis was not a songwriter but he was a great arranger. Yes, he did play musical instruments. This information comes from the musicians he played with, his back up musicians like Hardin, Tutt, etc. He was not an "accomplished" player but he was an average guitar & piano player. He probably could have been better if he had more time to practice or chose to do so. At any rate, they have mentioned that he could pick up about any instrument, figure it out & begin playing it. He could have done a lot if he wanted to. I am not a Dylan fair so it isn't fair of me to comment.
Steve V wrote on November 08, 2007
Ruthie brings up a great point. Elvis could have developed more as a musician & more serious artist had he not been held back by the Colonel & RCA. They just wanted the grind of 3 singles per year, 2-3 soundtracks per year with hack songwriters. How can anyone develp that way? Read Scotty Moore's book. He tells how excited Elvis was about an instrumental album they were planning in 1957. When the Colonel found out about it, he stopped it and Elvis didnt even try to buck him and it was forgotten. A damn shame cause this would have been a major progressive achievemnet for a Rock artist in 1957. But Elvis was to blame as well. At least he had the guts at the most crucial point in his career. Imagine if he listened to the Colonel in 1968. A career would have died.
Myluv4Elvis wrote on November 11, 2007
Is this Ben Peterson guy serious? To say Elvis didn't really play any instruments, had no creative control over his music and to regard him simply as an interpreter of other peoples songs is blatant ignorance of the facts. Presley could play many instruments but chose to focus himself as a vocalist. Presley may have not had control over the bulk of the music produced for the film soundtracks but called the shots when it came to his studio work outside the films and his creativity on stage which is where he shone the brightest. In the 1970's he covered a great many songs he liked that other people sang, however the bulk of his catalogue is not cover tunes. By the 1970's Presley had already conquered the music world, Hollywood and Vegas... he had nothing left to prove to anyone and knew that. He did these cover songs because he wanted to and they felt good to him. Mr. Peterson, if you want to be a lasting, successful journalist please do your homework before you put your opinion in print. After the reading of your article, I find myself questioning your intelligence. The good thing is, Elvis Presley's accomplishments outshine his disappointments and he will be remembered long after you and your lack of journalistic abilities are forgotten.
Good Time Charlie wrote on November 15, 2007
Well, Mr.Peterson is obviously another self proclaimed expert, and this article is full of far fetched conclusions. The fact that he wrote article about Elvis & Robert, and didn't mention their tributes to each other, say's it all. We know better.
mature_elvis_fan75 wrote on November 16, 2007
Lack of confidence,that sums it up in my oppion!
FLASHBOY wrote on November 19, 2007
Elvis voice was a instument. Better than any guitars and pianos! Thank you very much