Elvis Presley may be the single most significant figure in American 20th century popular music. Not necessarily the best, and certainly not the most unswerving. But no one could dispute with the fact that he was the musician accountable for popularizing rock & roll on an international level. Viewed in cold sales figures, his influence was unparalleled. A continuum of international smashes from the mid-'50s through to the '70s, as well as the stable sales of his catalog and reissues since his death in 1977 make him the sole highest-selling entertainer in history.
More imperative from a music lover's standpoint, are his noteworthy artistic accomplishments. Presley was not the pioneer of white men to sing rhythm & blues; Bill Haley predated him in regards to that but Elvis was unquestionably the first, however, to vigorously blend country and blues music into the now know Rockabilly style. While rockabilly arrangements were the foundations of his first (and possibly best) recordings, Presley could not have become a conventional superstar without a much more diverse musical appetite that also incorporated pop, gospel, and even experimented with bluegrass and operatic sounds. His 1950s recordings founded the basic tongue of rock & roll; his fiery and sexual stage charisma set standards for the music's visual image; his vocals were incredibly dominant and flexible.
Unfortunately, in the public eye, Elvis became more of a mainstream super-icon than an artist. Numerous bad Hollywood movies, increasingly caricatured records and gesticulations, and a personal life that progressively became more secluded from real-world concerns (and steadily more peculiar) gave his account a somewhat mythic status. By the time of his death, he'd become more a symbol of gross Americana than of cultural and artistic originality. The persistent speculation about his implausible career has held great interest in his life, and supported a large tourist/entertainment industry, that may last for an indefinite period, even if the allure is promoted more by his celebrity status than the actuality of his music.
Born to a meager Mississippi family in the heart of Depression, Elvis had moved to Memphis by his teens, where he absorbed the vivacious melting pot of Southern popular and fashionable music in the form of blues, country, bluegrass, and gospel. After graduating from high school, he became a truck driver, infrequently singing in public. Some 1953 and 1954 demos, recorded at the emerging Sun label in Memphis chiefly for Elvis' own pleasure, helped rouse attention of Sun owner Sam Phillips. In mid-1954, Phillips, looking for a white singer with a black feel, teamed Presley with guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black. Almost by accident, the trio hit upon a adaptation of an Arthur Crudup blues tune, "That's All Right Mama," which became Elvis' first single.
Elvis' five Sun singles broke new ground with the blend of R&B and country and western that would distinguish...