"Elvis Presley is the greatest cultural force in the 20th century."
"If you're an Elvis fan, no explanation is necessary; If you're not an Elvis fan, no explanation is possible."
"For a dead man, Elvis Presley is awfully noisy."
(Professor Gilbert B. Rodman)
"History has him as this good old country boy, Elvis is about as country as Bono!"
"Absolute id crashed into absolute superego...as the uptightset man in America shook hands with just about the loosest."
(Mark Feeney on the 'Elvis meets Nixon' meeting)
"Elvis is everywhere"
(Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper)
"...especially in the South, they talk about Elvis and Jesus in the same breath"
(Michael Ventura, LA Weekly)
"The image is one thing and the human being is another...it's very hard to live up to an image"
(Elvis Presley, Madison Square Garden press conference, 1972)
"Elvis was a major hero of mine. I was actually stupid enough to believe that having the same birthday as him actually meant something"
"No-one, but no-one, is his equal, or ever will be. He was, and is supreme"
"I wasn't just a fan, I was his brother...there'll never be another like that soul brother"
(Soul legend, James Brown)
"Before Elvis there was nothing!"
'It's Over' - Gordon Minto sums up the recent 18 Uk #1s campaign.
Elvis’ 18 UK #1s box-set is due to be released in October in Australia.
In this fascinating article Gordon Minto questions whether this Elvis singles campaign was clever marketing or bad exploitation and suggests that it actually hurt Elvis’ image, yet at the same time adding yet more number 1’s to his achievements.
EIN thanks Gordon Minto & Trevor Cajiao, editor of the excellent magazine'Elvis The Man and His Music', for use of this article. (June issue, right)
Recently some of you may have heard a wind-like noise across the UK. Well, exclusively. I can reveal it was, in fact, a collective sigh of relief that the end had come to the release of the 18 No.1 singles. Boy, it's a sorry tale, and not one I care to relive. Instead, let's look at some general points.
Now, there's an old saying, 'what goes round, comes around', and nowhere is this more apt than in the record industry. Without compunction or exception, all companies exploit an artist's back catalogue: but Elvis is a repeat victim. Thus, the marketing of his 18 UK number ones on consecutive weeks - each with an additional track of previously issued material, apart from 'A Little Less Conversation' - was viewed with bemusement by most fans.
From the start Sony BMG experienced a serious marketing problem which, paradoxically, triggered a tawdry buying frenzy! You know the deal: hint at a bread shortage and then everyone panic buys bread or similar products and you have a real problem. And whatever the intended objectives, the implementation of these releases was shockingly poor and, commercial considerations aside, utterly pointless. Now before some of you become apoplectic, let's be clear. Yes, I'm proud of the fact that Elvis has had more number ones (currently 21) than any other artist - though it's a vanity really - and although initially ambivalent about the latest incarnation, I readily concede that the general presentation and artwork was very good. However, this quickly turned to dismay, disgust and disillusionment as the weeks went on. Let's take a quick look.
Each release featured both sides of the original single, though there was a third track added. The problem here was a lack of consistency: some had a previously issued outtake while others - 'Return To Sender', for instance, featured 'Girls! Girls! Girls! Surely it wasn't asking too much to have a previously unreleased additional track to give value to real collectors? Whatever, as 'All Shook Up' was included with the box (CD and vinyl set) it was not eligible for a chart placing. Not surprisingly though, the second release, 'Jailhouse Rock', entered the charts at No.1 (as the original had done in 1958 - the first single ever to do so) and the third, 'One Night', repeated this success and became the 1000th UK No. 1 single. All very laudable, I suppose, until you consider the fact that these placings were achieved by selling around 20,000 copies.
Don't get bored or bogged down by the numbers game: these days, it means diddly-squat. And of the subsequent releases, only 'It's Now Or Never' hit No.1, while the others all achieved Top 5 status. Yet absurdly - as illustrated by the poor showing of 'Return To Sender' (5) and 'The Wonder Of You' (4) - this had little to do with the quality or musical strength of each song: it was about what was each release up against on a particular week! It was also a damning indictment on the state of the charts when a single could sell so few copies - with virtually no TV promotion or radio play - and achieve high chart success. Compare this to the early '60s releases when a half a million advance orders was the norm. Halcyon days!
Remember, initially, the press run was strictly limited and each release deleted on the day it was released. Oh dear! Not surprisingly, those who genuinely wanted copies - and not the parasitic pricks who bought to sell on eBay at ridiculously inflated prices - were unable to do so and so started an unseemly scramble to get them. To counter widespread criticism, Sony BMG were 'forced' to make more copies (unnumbered) available. But the scramble went on. Now, I'm not without sympathy for some of the shops and specialist dealers who were being asked to meet orders they couldn't guarantee to fulfil (self-evidently it was a headache for them, one repeated week after week) - but the way some handled the situation and treated customers was appalling. Having embarked on collecting the series, what fans wanted was an undertaking that each release was obtainable. One mail order dealer repeatedly sent releases out late (occasionally items were missing) - without explanation or apology. Wholly unacceptable. However, what the experience has taught me (apart from taking my business elsewhere) is to confirm what a vacuous and artificial business collecting has become. Both John Townson (my `Elvis UK2' co-author) and I have concluded that this experience has tipped the balance and concluded, no more. We're done.
Just consider the economics. If you bought every release in both formats then it is likely that you spent something approaching £200. Yet how many of you played any of them? Very few, I imagine. Just like the main radio stations (particularly Radio 2) while initial reaction was one of bemused interest, that quickly turned to boredom and indifference. And those who claim that this exposed Elvis to a caucus of new fans are delusional. Get real, people. Principal buyers were dopey die-hards (myself included), or those looking to make a buck later. Some halfwits were even paying huge sums of money to get specific numbered releases. Isn't this missing the point?
Surely the idea of buying a record/CD is to play the goddamned thing! Ironically, although 'everyone' clamoured for a numbered edition (as if that really mattered), as there were fewer unnumbered copies, arguably they are the rarer of the two! Perhaps the ultimate irony is that the market is now saturated with a back catalogue which, like excess currency, is worthless. But the real damage is that Elvis is perceived of as a commodity, not a serious artist.
Ultimately, I suppose, we have to bear some responsibility for all of this. If we weren't so besotted by the now disreputable sham that collecting has become - collecting for the sake of it (not to be confused with genuine collectables that usually occur accidentally) - we would exercise better judgment and refuse to buy into each of these marketing scams. Let's be radical: Why not just sit back and play his music? After all, isn't that what it's supposed to be about?
And, incidentally, should you do so, take note that 'Milky White Way' is Take 3 as used on the 'Platinum' box-set, while the outtake of 'Good Luck Charm' is the one featured on 'The EP Collection Volume 2', thus making its first official appearance on a UK CD. There now! I'm off to lie down.
THE 18 UK
How they fared in 2005
JAILHOUSE ROCK - January 9th - No.1
ONE NIGHT - January 16th – No.1
(NOW AND THEN THERE'S) A FOOL SUCH AS I - January 23rd - No.2
IT'S NOW OR NEVER - January 30th - No.1
ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT? - February 6th - No.2
WOODEN HEART - February 13th - No.2
SURRENDER - February 20th - No.2
(MARIE'S THE NAME) HIS LATEST FLAME - February 27th - No.3
ROCK-A-HULA BABY - March 6th - No.3
GOOD LUCK CHARM - March 13th - No.2
SHE'S NOT YOU - March 20th - No.3
RETURN TO SENDER - March 27th - No-5
(YOU'RE THE) DEVIL IN DISGUISE - April 3rd - No.2
CRYING IN THE CHAPEL - April 10th - No.2
THE WONDER OF YOU - April 17th - No.4
WAY DOWN - April 24th - No.2
A LITTLE LESS CONVERSATION - May 1st - No.3
Note - First release 'All Shook Up' was not eligible for the charts.
Spotlight by Gordon Minto.
EIN thanks 'Elvis: The Man and His Music' for permission to reprint this article. For more information about how to subscribe to this excellent magazine, click here for their e-mail address.
Click to comment on this EIN spotlight
"Elvis Presley is the supreme socio-cultural icon in the history of pop culture"
(Dr. Gary Enders)
" Elvis is the 'glue' which holds our society together....which subconciously gives our world meaning"
"Eventually everybody has to die, except Elvis"
(humorist Dave Barry)
"He is the "Big Bang", and the universe he detonated is still expanding, the pieces are still flying"
(Greil Marcus, "Dead Elvis")
"I think Elvis Presley will never be solved"
"He was the most popular man that ever walked on this planet since Christ himself was here"
"When I first heard Elvis' voice I just knew I wasn't going to work for anybody...hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail"
"When we were kids growing up in Liverpool, all we ever wanted was to be Elvis Presley"
(Sir Paul McCartney)