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5 Ways Elvis Presley Forever Changed The Music Industry, From Vegas Residencies To Cultural Fusion
Elvis Presley

Photo: John Springer Collection / Getty Images

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5 Ways Elvis Presley Forever Changed The Music Industry, From Vegas Residencies To Cultural Fusion

The music industry would be unrecognizable without Elvis Presley. Along with Colonel Tom Parker, the 20th-century innovator activated divergent spaces, helped architect the modern-day Las Vegas residency and so much more.

GRAMMYs/Apr 11, 2022 - 09:23 pm

Is it possible to undersell someone by calling them "the King"? It might be when you're talking about Elvis Presley.

Despite rising from nothing to become one of the most recognizable figures of the 20th century — and posthumously weathering periods of wrongheaded associations, from "fat Elvis" to rumors of racism — Presley didn't emerge simply as a monarch, or an icon baked into culture and taken for granted. These days, it's more edifying to consider him as an innovator.

That's how Panos A. Panay, the co-president of the Recording Academy, views the three-time GRAMMY winner and 14-time nominee. Instead of regarding Presley as a figurehead reigning over rock's development, Panay calls him "a multi-faceted superstar" who, along with his savvy yet misunderstood manager, Colonel Tom Parker, drew the blueprint of the multidimensional pop titan of today.

"I think people forget that this is a kid who grew up dirt-poor in the heart of the old south," Panay, who co-authored the 2021 book Two Beats Ahead, about the intersection of business acumen and musical artistry, tells GRAMMY.com. "He fused all the different things around him — from styles to music — to create something that literally took the world by storm." 

Need a reminder of how seismic Presley's impact was? Turn to the first few pages of almost any rock bio, and you'll find the artist as a young man or woman, hearing "Heartbreak Hotel" or "That's All Right" or "Jailhouse Rock" for the first time. Chances are, they described that moment in the language of natural phenomena: a meteor strike, a tsunami, a thunderclap.

Every star in his wake who repeatedly overhauled their image, staked claims in wildly various media spaces, and fused divergent cultural signifiers owes Presley a debt of gratitude — from the Beatles to Beyoncé, from Michael Jackson to Lady Gaga.

Of course, Presley wasn't the first rock star. He didn't invent the music, and he arguably walked so others (namely the Beatles, who worshipped him) could run. But the fact remains: there's never been another Presley before or since. Here are five ways he irrevocably changed the music-industry landscape.

He Helped Braid Disparate Cultural Threads

Granted, rock 'n' roll was a colorless cultural interchange years before Presley showed up.

For decades prior, musicians both Black and white — from what we might designate "country" and "R&B" and "gospel" and "rock 'n' roll" spheres, but who were really parts of the same primordial soup — perpetually inspired and influenced each other.

But nobody elevated that fusion to the world stage than Presley, and his large-scale disregarding of easy racial and sexual categorization was highly jarring to buttoned-up 1950s America. 

Hip-swiveling shock value aside, what would pop music sound like without his revved-up amalgam of gospel, blues, country, and R&B? What would it look like without his tousled hair, twisted visage and skin-tight black leather?

It's anyone's guess what an Elvis-free world would be like, but it wouldn't include disciples like the Beatles, the Stones, or scores of other greats. In other words, it would be a drag beyond belief.

He Galvanized A Nascent Teenage Market

According to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstram, Presley could scarcely have arrived at a better time.

"A new young generation of Americans was breaking away from the habits of its parents and defining itself by its music," Halberstram wrote in his 1993 book The Fifties. And with the advent of new technology — namely the transistor radio — came a paradigm shift in authority.

"The important figures of authority were no longer mayors and selectmen or parents," the author continued. "They were disc jockeys, who reaffirmed the right to youthful independence and guided teenagers to their new rock heroes."

Who was the ideal leader for this emerging market? In the cinema space, you had Marlon Brando and James Dean as brooding avatars for the post-WWII cultural milieu.

Then, in music, you had Presley, who landed in culture like an ambassador from Andromeda, ready to lead a teenage exodus from suburban monotony to frenzied, life-affirming joy.

He Activated Film & TV Spaces Like Never Before…

When Panay considers how to shepherd the Recording Academy into the future in the 2020s, he looks to what Presley accomplished on small and large screens during his career.

"If you want to know the future of the business, man, look at Elvis Presley," he says. "Look at all the artists that followed the guy. He set the mold for what a prototypical superstar is."

One way Presley did this, Panay says, was by transcending the boundaries of a record or concert and strolling into your TV screen in any number of films — especially during the '60s, when he focused on that component of his work with flicks like G.I. Blues, Blue Hawaii and Girl Happy.

While Presley's films are sometimes contemporaneously criticized as formulaic dreck that stalled his creative evolution, the man did have serious aspirations as an actor — and presence in that space was important to pop's multimedia development.

…And Paved The Way For The Modern Music Video

As Panay says, Presley's participation in film wasn't just proof musicians could be actors. The entire point of a music video — to make an artistic statement while selling a record — is crystallized in Presley's films.

Through that lens, there's a direct thread from Love Me Tender and Jailhouse Rock to the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, Prince's Purple Rain and more.

Still, Presley's onscreen innovation extends beyond cinema: 1973's "Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite" was revolutionary in that it was the first live satellite broadcast to feature a single performer.

When you take it with the unforgettable "Jailhouse Rock" video and "'68 Comeback Special," a case can be made that Presley's DNA is encoded deep within in this modern artform.

Thank Elvis For The Las Vegas Residency, Too

Think the format of the Las Vegas residency is the province of wash-ups? Think again: This month alone, 2022 GRAMMY performers BTS, Silk Sonic and Lady Gaga will delight audiences in Sin City. (The 2022 GRAMMYs were held there, too.)

"People used to make fun of the Las Vegas residency," Panay says. "But name an artist right now who doesn't want a Las Vegas residency."

As Richard Zoglin explained in his 2019 book Elvis in Vegas: How the King Reinvented the Las Vegas Show, Presley's first Vegas run in 1969 — and more than 600 shows in the city afterward — set the stage for loftier, glitzier affairs.

This was a marked turn from the era's typical, intimate nightclub shows featuring older performers, like Nat "King" Cole or Judy Garland. "It opened the door to big shows," Zoglin told The New York Post. "All the modern residencies in Vegas, from Celine Dion to Lady Gaga — Elvis was the first of those kinds of shows."

So, next time Presley seems hopelessly fossilized in the past, a frozen face on a lunchbox, simply stream his greatest songs — they'll set your head straight. 

"He sang from his heart," Panay says, summarizing Presley's genius. "He was an amazing interpreter of songs in a way that, frankly, few people before and after have ever been."

From there, consider how the pop universe would be unrecognizable without Presley — complete with the performers who never fail to wash away the drudgery of daily life, making it more vibrant, more colorful, more meaningful.

He was the King, indeed. But he was also something more.

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Jackson Tops Dead Earners List

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Jackson Tops Dead Earners List
GRAMMY winner and Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Michael Jackson topped Forbes' annual list of top-earning dead celebrities with $275 million, earning more than the combined total of the other 12 celebrities on the list. Elvis Presley ranked second with $60 million, John Lennon placed fifth with $17 million and Jimi Hendrix tied for 11th place with $6 million. Forbes compiled the list based on gross earnings between October 2009 and October 2010. (10/26)

UK Arts Council Announces Budget Cut Plans
Following a previous report, Arts Council England has revealed plans to implement the 30 percent cut to the UK's arts funding budget. The cuts will include a 7 percent cash cut for UK arts organizations in 2011–2012, a 15 percent cut for the regular funding of arts organizations by 2014–2015 and a 50 percent reduction to the council's operating costs. (10/26)

GRAMMY Winners To Perform At World Series
GRAMMY winners Kelly Clarkson, Lady Antebellum and John Legend are scheduled to perform "The Star-Spangled Banner" during Major League Baseball's 2010 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers. Legend and Lady Antebellum will perform at games one and two in San Francisco on Oct. 27 and Oct. 28, respectively, and Clarkson will perform at game three on Oct. 30 in Arlington, Texas. (10/26)

 

The Week In Music: Elton Rocks Rush
Elton John performs at the 52nd Annual GRAMMY Awards

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

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The Week In Music: Elton Rocks Rush

The Rocket Man performs at talk show host Rush Limbaugh's fourth wedding

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

We're guessing he didn't play anything from his album A Single Man. According to a People.com report, flamboyant rocker Elton John was the musical guest (for a cool fee of $1 million) at conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh's fourth wedding, this one to 33-year-old Kathryn Rogers, who is reportedly a direct descendant of President John Adams. Regarding the couple's age difference, Rogers said, "I'm sometimes not able to relate to the average person my age." It would seem the 59-year-old Limbaugh is neither her age nor the average person.

Here's a concert that went to the dogs. Performance artist Laurie Anderson staged a show outside the Sydney Opera House for an audience of canine music lovers on June 5. The show took place as part of the city's Vivid Live festival, which is being co-curated by Anderson and her husband, Lou Reed, and featured music for mutts including high-pitch squeals and even sounds only dogs could hear. Anderson called the show, which was born from a conversation with cello master Yo-Yo Ma, "a highlight of my life." For man's best friend, it may have been the best dedicated music since the Singing Dogs' version of "Jingle Bells."

If you think Richard Wagner's "Ring" cycle — the four-part opera based on Teutonic and Norse mythology that can run as long as 15 hours over four nights for the full cycle — carries some pretty heavy artistic heft, you'd be right…and literally right. For a new Metropolitan Opera staging over the next two years, the Met had to install 65-foot steel girders to support the 45-ton set. This might make Wagner the biggest current heavy metal act in music. The opera is set to open Sept. 27.

Coldplay's own artistic heft just got heavier...and freakier. In 2002 guitarist Jonny Buckland and frontman Chris Martin starred as a murder-solving duo in Irish rock band Ash's self-made slasher flick, appropriately titled Slashed. Unfortunately, the project was shelved, but footage has made its way into the band's new video for "Binary." Meanwhile, Coldplay bassist Guy Berryman is steering clear of axe-wielding killer ghosts to restore Scandinavian furniture with his brother Mark. Berryman's Antiques specializes in tables, seating, cabinetry, and even a Swedish bridal chest. Customers who find their purchased antiques haunted should contact Buckland and Martin immediately.

Now you can love him tender, love him mashed, or even love him au gratin. The Elvis Presley estate has teamed with Hasbro and PPW Toys to launch an Elvis version of the classic Mr. Potato Head toy. The first release will be a Las Vegas jumpsuited Elvis, scheduled to debut during Elvis Week in Memphis, Tenn., in August, and will be followed by a leather-clad Elvis spud. The Elvis potato follows a Kiss version released last year.

Bon Jovi launched an impressive 12-night, sold-out residency at London's O2 Arena on June 7, marking a return to the venue they officially launched three years ago. The GRAMMY-winning New Jersey natives also recently christened their new hometown digs, New Meadowlands Stadium, with three concerts in late May. AEG Live is predicting tickets sales for the band's current tour will eclipse their 2007–2008 Lost Highway trek, which was Billboard's highest-grossing tour in 2008. Not bad for a band Rolling Stone magazine once described as a "bad fourth-generation metal, smudgy Xerox of Quiet Riot." Jon Bon Jovi's take? He recently smirked, "Like it or not, we're one of the biggest bands in the world." No word on a JBJ Mr. Potato Head, however.

Looks like international singing sensation Susan Boyle will be making a holy trip later this year. The Roman Catholic Church says Boyle will likely perform for Pope Benedict XVI at an open-air papal Mass in Glasgow's Bellahouston Park on Sept. 16. An unidentified spokesman said negotiations are still taking place. "Likely" and "negotiations still taking place"? Could be a tour rider issue brewing…

Have the the Melvins gone commercial? The band's latest album, The Bride Screamed Murder, sold 2,809 units this past week, good enough for the bottom spot on the Billboard 200 and marking the first time the Seattle indie rock legends have placed on the album chart in their 25-plus-year career. With another 2,000 units, they would have reached the chart's upper echelon and passed the likes of Beyoncé, Eminem, Michael Jackson, Nickelback, Pink Floyd, and Timbaland. Asked for his comment on the milestone, singer/guitarist Roger "Buzz" Osborne said, "Top 200 what?"

Katy Perry's "California Gurls," featuring Snoop Dogg, reclaimed the No. 1 position on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, as well as the top spot on the iTunes singles chart.

Any news we've missed? Comment below.

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Last Week In Music

 

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Lil Wayne Scores Most Hot 100 Hits

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Lil Wayne Scores Most Hot 100 Hits
GRAMMY winner Lil Wayne scored his 109th appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 this week as a featured artist on the Game's "Celebration," which debuted at No.82, surpassing Elvis Presley for the most Hot 100 chart appearances by a solo artist, according to Billboard.biz. Presley previously held the record with 108 chart appearances. Lil Wayne's record comes with some caveats. While Presley was the lead artist on all his Hot 100 hits, Lil Wayne was lead on only 42 of his, and a "featured" artist on the other 67. Additionally, Presley charted 31 hits on Billboard's pre-Hot 100 charts. (9/27)

11 Amazing Elvis Covers, From Frank Sinatra To Kacey Musgraves
Elvis Presley during his second appearance on the "Ed Sullivan Show" in 1956.

Photo: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

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11 Amazing Elvis Covers, From Frank Sinatra To Kacey Musgraves

Baz Luhrmann's 'Elvis' hits theaters June 24 with a star-studded soundtrack. In honor of the King and his new film, GRAMMY.com shares 11 Elvis covers — because imitation is the highest form of flattery, thank you very much.

GRAMMYs/Jun 24, 2022 - 06:21 pm

The legend of Elvis Presley still reverberates to this day, thanks to his knack for both boundary-pushing and genre hopping, as well as a unique style — all of which is embodied by his now-legendary discography.

It’s a legacy that’s currently exploding on the big screen thanks to musical-movie mastermind Baz Luhrmann. The simply titled Elvis, which arrived June 24, sees Austin Butler portraying the King of Rock and Roll and some of music's biggest names coming together for a star-studded soundtrack. Among some originals from the likes of Eminem and Doja Cat,  much of the soundtrack consists of a series of Elvis covers from newcomers (Shonka Dukureh) and established stars (Kacey Musgraves).  

But imitating the King is nothing new. From pop acts to blues artists, rockers to opera singers, generations of disparate artists have put their own distinct spins on Elvis classics. 

These are some of the most memorable Elvis covers to date — including a few new additions, thanks to the film's soundtrack.

"Can’t Help Falling in Love"- Kacey Musgraves

One of the newest — and brightest — additions to the canon of classic Elvis covers comes Kacey Musgraves' heart-rending version of Presley’s 1961 standard "Can’t Help Falling in Love." While other artists have interpreted the song in fluffier ways (see: UB40’s reggae version), Musgraves lets the words shine in this acoustic version sung in the vein of her previous hit "Rainbow."

With a melody based on a three hundred year-old French love song ("Plaisir d'amour"), the tender track was originally recorded for Elvis’s film Blue Hawaii and is one of the most romantic songs in the singer’s repertoire — despite having a discography full of them. With lyrics that drip with passion, along with a nod to a previous Elvis hit "Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear to Tread)." Musgraves rendition of "Can’t Help Falling in Love" serves as a poignant moment for the GRAMMY-winning star, a self-proclaimed  longtime Elvis fan

"In the Ghetto"- Dolly Parton

As Elvis grew older, his songs went from the rollicking and simple cuts of the '50s to tracks with deeper meaning, including this heavy story song "In the Ghetto." Chronicling the life of a doomed young man and the effect on his hapless mother, the song is one of Elvis’ more somber cuts and one Dolly Parton makes all her own. While it's musically similar to Presley’s version (right down to the repeating guitar hook), Parton’s voice and vibrato add an even deeper layer of sadness to its lyrics while a drumbeat foreshadows a mournful ending.

For Parton, her "In the Ghetto" cover  was the closest she’d get to Elvis. "I was going to meet him for the first time when he was coming to the studio to sing ‘I Will Always Love You,’ which didn't work out, as you know, because Colonel Tom Parker, his manager, wanted half the publishing," Parton said in an interview earlier this year. "I was gonna meet him and I'm sorry, I didn't get to meet him."

"Don’t Be Cruel"- Cheap Trick

How did an ‘80s pop-rock band manage to pull off a cover of a 50s-era Elvis classic — somehow retaining its flair while also making it their own? A seemingly impossible task, Cheap Trick did just that with their 1988 spin on "Don’t Be Cruel," complete with the era’s signature electronic drum sound and a vocal flair from frontman Robin Zander. 

Written by the R&B and country singer/songwriter Otis Blackwell — who  first broke out at Amauetr Night at the Apollo before writing "All Shook Up," "Return to Sender" and "Don’t Be Cruel" for Elvis, as well as "Great Balls of Fire" for Jerry Lee Lewis — the song marked the first track Elvis’ publishers brought him to record.  The track no doubt inspired Zander, who once said that Elvis was one of the artists who made the biggest impact on his approach to singing and phrasing

"Are You Lonesome Tonight?"- Frank Sinatra

The Chairman of the Board and the King had an interesting relationship, which started with Sinatra’s pure hate of Elvis before they formed a  friendship. One of the most formidable music stars in America in the 1950s, Sinatra knew that when Elvis shook his hips on "The Ed Sullivan Show" that his own brand of music, standards and swing, was suddenly old news.

"[Rock and roll] manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth," Sinatra mused in an interview in the ‘50s. "His kind of music is deplorable. It fosters almost universally negative and destructive directions in young people."

Nevertheless, by 1960, Sinatra realized he better align himself with the King to stay relevant — and later that year, the pair starred in  a blockbuster TV special together. By 1962, the crooner recorded this smooth cover version of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?", which allowed Sinatra to maintain his signature jazzy sound despite his earlier hatred of Elvis' aesthetic — demonstrating that maybe the pair weren't that different all along.

"I Got a Feelin’ in My Body"- Lenesha Randolph

Later on in Presley’s life, the King became deeply religious and as a result began recording a slew of spiritual and gospel songs from "How Great Thou Art" to "Amazing Grace." In 1973, he combined biblical lyrics with a disco sound in the form of "I Got a Feelin’ in My Body," which GRAMMY nominee Lenesha Randolph, recreated in the form of her cover of the track for the Elvis movie’s soundtrack.

Randolph, who plays Sister Rosetta Tharpe in the film, is supported by a powerful and seemingly massive choir on the track, with the whole affair transporting the listener into a Sunday service like no other.

"Viva Las Vegas"- Bruce Springsteen

The 1992 Nicolas Cage comedy Honeymoon in Vegas appropriately has a soundtrack populated with a bevy of Elvis covers by a disparate list of artists, from Billy Joel to Trisha Yearwood. However, one track that stands above the rest is Bruce Springsteen’s wild spin on "Viva Las Vegas," the otherwise corny Elvis song that the King released in 1964.

Springsteen plays up the song’s liveliness with a frenetic energy that could easily soundtrack a rowdy game of craps. Just like Presley did in his own career, The Boss deftly melds a country flavor to a rockin’ track. Top it off with his distinctive vocals and you have a worthy addition to both artist's stacked legacies.

"Love Me"- The Little Willies

Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller were the iconic songwriting duo behind a bevy of Elvis’s early rockin’ hits including "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock." In addition to the upbeat tracks they were known to concoct, the two also had a tender side. 

Case in point: "Love Me," a sweetly sacrine song that the Norah Jones-fronted group The Little Willies covered for their 2011 self-titled debut album. Their version puts a twangy spin on the ode which, oddly enough, was originally penned as a farce. 

"To be honest, when we first wrote ‘Love Me,’ we were thinking of it as sort of a take off," explained Stoller in a 2020 interview, who cited the satirical country duo Homer & Jethro as an inspiration. "It's got all these masochistic lyrics: 'Treat me like a fool, treat me mean and cruel but love me.' It could have been a joke, but Elvis' performance makes it genuinely touching." Alas, so does Norah’s. 

"Baby, Let’s Play House"- Austin Butler

Actor Austin Butler is accumulating an avalanche of rave reviews thanks to his stunning performance of Presley — and after listening to his covers of the King, including early cut "Let’s Play House," it’s easy to understand why. Butler made it a point to sing every song himself, a brave move that ultimately paid off thanks to his impressive vocal mimicry. Even Elvis’ daughter Lisa Marie was taken aback, tweeting "​​Austin Butler channeled and embodied my father’s heart & soul beautifully."

It was a meticulous process, the actor said in a recent interview. "I’d hear him say a certain word and I would clip just that bit out so I knew how he said that word," he recalled. "I created my own archive of how he said every word and every diphthong, and the way that he used musicality in his voice."​

"Love Me Tender"- Andrea Bocelli

It was almost as if this romantic ballad was tailor-made for Bocelli’s velvety voice. Recorded for the Italian tenor’s 2013 aptly-titled album Passione, the singer brings out the song’s stark emotion with an orchestra that deftly compliments each lyric.

"There is no denying that Elvis had a great talent," Bocelli said in an interview earlier this year. "He possessed a pliant voice with extensive range and a soft and enveloping timbre. Plus, he was an extremely charismatic person." The song itself is a unique one in the King’s repertoire with Elvis receiving a rare co-writing credit on the track, which was inspired by the melody for the Civil War-era song "Aura Lee" and written for his 1956 western film The Reno Brothers.

"Hound Dog" - Shonka Dukureh

Just as Presley smoothly moved his hips, he also gilded between genres — and subsequently became a master of rock, country and blues. The latter artform is where the King got his start, including one of his earliest smashes, 1956’s "Hound Dog."

It’s a track that Shonka Dukureh brings to vivid life in both the Elvis movie and on its wide-ranging soundtrack, all in character as the legendary Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton. Hearing Dukureh's powerful wails alongside the sparse — but monstrously impactful — guitar and drums, it's hard to not start moving yourself.

"I was very aware and wanting to really be intentional about making sure I was paying respect, respecting her, respecting her legacy, respecting her spirit, respecting everything about what she brought to music,"saidDukureh of Thornton. "And understanding that I'm able to do it because she's done it and laid that foundation."

"Jailhouse Rock"- The Blues Brothers

Let’s face it: the original "Jailhouse Rock" is a pretty kitschy track, from its hokey intro (who goes to a party at the county jail, anyway?) and right on through its cries of "Let’s rock!" But when one of the most successful satirical bands of all time fittingly put their spin on it, magic happened.

Released in the midst of the disco-70s, Dan Akryod and John Belushi formed the Blues Brothers as a Saturday Night Live sketch. It later became a smash move that featured the two (spoiler alert!) hauled off to jail. Antics, and this fun cover, ensue.

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