"Discovering Elvis" - converting non-fans
to The King
Simpson, November 2003)
to the real Elvis, you have to clear away all the dross - the Burger
King jokes, the jibes about impersonators and movies - and persuade
people to listen to his work afresh. It's not enough to play them
the immortal hits. Greats like All Shook Up are too familiar for most
people to really hear them.
things happen to almost everyone who discovers Elvis. Our first
impulse is to talk Elvis over with someone who has already made
second reaction, which comes slightly later, is to introduce
someone else, usually a friend or a colleague, to Elvis's
world. Introducing someone to Elvis can be a tortuous process.
The inevitable reaction from Joe or Joanna Public whenever
Elvis is mentioned is to crinkle their lip and mumble "Uh-uh-uh".
Britain one in three households probably owns at least one permutation
of his greatest hits. That's why A Little Less Conversation was
always - even before it became the theme for a TV ad - more likely
to zoom up the charts than a re-release of, say, Suspicious Minds
even though the latter is a much greater song. A Little Less Conversation,
an oddity plucked from the late 1960s, was almost like having a
real new Elvis single. And Rubberneckin, though it hasn't topped
the charts in the same way, benefitted from a similar unfamiliarity
to the general public and the casual fan.
most seductive records, I've found in the course of two decades
of campaigning on Elvis's behalf, are From Elvis In Memphis and
any album of the Sun sessions. For too many people, the Sun sessions
are a - if not the - defining moment in rock history but a defining
moment they haven't actually heard. When they hear the voice of
the last century at its innovative, eerily confident, best, most
admit grudgingly that there's more to Elvis than first meets the
some, the Sun sessions is the beginning and end of a journey. For
some, the mere presence of that voice will be enough to intrigue
them no matter how good or bad the songs. Others may restrict themselves
to a handful of Elvis's finest albums and a greatest hits compilation.
other great starting point is From Elvis In Memphis. Elvis sings,
throughout, with a soul, a passion, an aching need, yet a control,
and a purity of tone which can overwhelm even the most hardened
cynic. The mannerisms which made his voice famous are conspicuous
by their absence. Instead, it's as if Elvis has poured more of his
soul into this album than any other. It is, as Woody Allen would
say, a travesty of a mockery of a sham that this album isn't better
known in the non-Elvis world; as a country/soul album it has few
peers, as a collection of strong songs sung by a great singer, it
must surely be one of the finest vocal albums of all time.
I'll mention that their idol liked Elvis - almost every rock or
pop act from Dylan to Led Zeppelin to Robbie Williams had paid homage
to him - which can help challenge people's prejudices. The 1968
TV special, the original MTV Unplugged concert long before MTV was
invented, comes in useful, the power of the performance impressing
even rock music snobs who hated the King's ballads.
I just slip a track on the office computer - the other day, El's
version of Words stunned a twenty-something whose musical tastes
had hitherto only gone as far back as the Smiths. Some tin-eared
souls will never get Elvis and, if none of this works, move on.
It's their loss, after all.
my own compilation of lesser known cuts which has, over the years,
served to intrigue, titillate and captivate sceptics. My personal
12 track selection is as follows: Long Black Limousine, Reconsider
Baby, Tomorrow Is A Long Time, Money Honey, I'm Leavin', Whole Lotta
Shakin Goin' On, It Hurts Me, Promised Land, Tryin' To Get To You
(the original Sun version), His Latest Flame, Lawdy Miss Clawdy,
An American Trilogy. Bonus track: He Touched Me.
friend, after listening to this anthology, said with admiration
-he was into angry loud rock music - "That Whole Lotta Shakin Goin
On is really heavy, like something by the Lemonheads". I nodded
sagely, not knowing who the Lemonheads were but glad that from now
on, some part of his record collection would be forever Elvis. Won
over, many new fans then listen to the classic hits anew, picking
up every nuance in his voice. It's never too soon to start the campaign.
eight year old son Jack now sings the chorus Return To Sender and
Hi Heel Sneakers, although he's also besotted by Madonna. The other
day, working at home, I caught him, unawares, singing "A hunk a
hunk a burnin' love" and rocking forward in the chair as if his
life depended on it. This victory is only temporary - in five years,
as a teenager, he'll despise dad's music. But he may return to Elvis
later. The seeds, at least, have been planted.