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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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The Week In Music: Elton Rocks Rush
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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.

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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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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)