Who's the King?

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at yahoo.com
Wed Jan 21 22:44:37 UTC 2009

Let the controversy begin. From Chattanooga's The Pulse:


Would The Real King Of Rock n’ Roll Please Stand Up?        
Written by Chuck Crowder      
Wednesday, 21 January 2009 19:22

The other day I was spending some quality time on the sofa when I ran across two interesting documentaries running simultaneously ontelevision. One was a profile of Elvis’ life as remembered by former wife Priscilla, her parents and members of the Memphis Mafia. The otherwas a technical exploration into the music of The Who.

The Elvis piece mentioned very little about his music, but focused mainly on his lifestyle, personality and how he coped with fame and hiscareer. The piece on The Who, on the other hand, mentioned nothing about the band members’ lifestyles but instead focused on how theinnovative technical stylings of their music broke major new ground and highly influenced the music of their contemporaries. When one program went to commercial break, I switched to the other and vice versa.

Now, I’ve always been a big fan of The Who. Along with the Stones, Kinks and possibly the Beatles, they’ve been integral in helping develop my appreciation for music as a whole, and were likely the key instigators of my love for rock as we know it. Elvis, although “howgreat thou art,” to me, has always been more of an icon of rock.

Call him the “King Of Rock n’ Roll” or not, Elvis definitely took blues and country and married it with R&B and gospel music to help “create” rock n’ roll as we knew it—in 1954. Anything he did after 1970 might be considered a bastardization of the very bastard child he helped invent. His famous “comeback” television special of 1968 (after his time in the army and an extremely poor career as an actor) was a pretty admirable attempt at regaining his throne (so to speak) as the king of rock n’ roll. But by then he was old hat.

The British Invasion had already changed the face of music between 1968 and Elvis’ last performance previous to that in 1961. The Elvisdocumentary explained his main interest at the time was broadening his horizons into acting, but also added his discontent with thetypecasting that Hollywood execs (and manager Col. Tom Parker) drove him into. For that, I felt pretty bad for His Majesty. In fact, his career after the comeback special saw Elvis trying feebly to reinvent himself throughout the ’70s to no avail. He went Vegas on us. And he ended up dying a very confused and frustrated artist. At least that’s what this documentary would have you believe.

The Who documentary, on the other hand, covered how Pete Townshend and crew took rock into new and uncharted technological territories. Advertisement-style pop songs, the rock opera, sampled keyboard layers, powerful guitar chords that began and ended with the same vibrato, unconventional bass and drum playing, and vocals that would have curled Elvis’ pompadour. In fact, you can hear rumblings of The Who in virtually any rockin’ band on the market today. You really can’t say the same for the King. His influence is either so ingrained that it is part of the fabric of the genre, or so insignificant these days it’sbeen completely overshadowed.

Regardless, it got me thinking. Who is the real king of rock n’ roll? Is it Elvis because he was one the first big things? Of the early Brit invaders, only the Beatles truly cite him as a major influence. The Stones cite Chuck Berry, Little Richard and the same blues artists Elvis did. The early music of The Who and The Kinks is more British folk/pop in nature. And musicians since the ’60s more often cite one of those four bands as a major influence than Elvis. Sure, if it wasn’t for him, there wouldn’t be whoever—I get it.

But to me, after the initial golden-shovel groundbreaking of rock, Elvis just lived the “lifestyle” of rock royalty. He showed those little British art-school snots how they could trade their “curds and whey” for steak and lobster. But after coining the initial “one for the money, two for the show,” he didn’t do as much to develop rock n’ roll as say, Pete Townshend. Elvis died a broken man with not much more to say at age 42. John Lennon died with plenty left to say at age 40. Kinda makes me wonder if Elvis and Eddie Cochran had traded fates, who would’ve done more to influence The Who? Just a thought—then I turned the channel to watch Family Guy. 

 -Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!


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