Elvis Aaron Presley (January 8, 1935 — August 16, 1977), known as "the King of Rock & Roll", was one of the most influential singers of the mid-20th century, selling over a billion records worldwide. He began his professional singing career and signed his first contract in 1954 with Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records, who teamed him with two other musicians, guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black. (They were later joined by drummer D.J. Fontana) Elvis himself often played guitar. The legendary sessions can be enjoyed on the compilation album The Sun Sessions (1976).During The Fifties, several popular artists had combined Country and Blues influences to make Rock and Roll. But the genre really took off with Presley's breakthrough in 1956 at the age of 21. Presley stood out with his energetic performances, distinctive singing voice, influence from black musicians and his often-controversial use of sex appeal. Moral Guardians were shocked by some of his dance moves, particularly how his tendency to shake his hips. Teenagers, of course, loved him. Many future rock stars were directly inspired by him to take up music, including The Beatles, Roy Orbison and Bruce Springsteen. His career was interrupted from 1958-1960 by military service. He then came back and made some of his best-selling records.Presley had a notorious manager "Colonel" Tom Parker who had played an important role in his early breakthrough. In return, Parker took a great chunk of his earnings and dictated to Presley the direction of his career and image. In the 1960s, Parker steered him away from touring and making records towards acting in films and selling soundtrack albums, which he hoped would prove more lucrative. They were generally poorly received, and as The British Invasion took hold, Presley started to look out of touch with the music scene.He then made a comeback in 1968 with his first live performance in seven years on a massively-watched show called Elvis. On the back of this, he returned to being a rock star, releasing more albums and taking several successful tours in the US. The last great moment of his career was Aloha from Hawaii, the world's first satellite-televised rock concert. Thereafter, his health (and the quality of his concerts) severely declined due to his abuse of prescription drugs. He died in August 1977 in Graceland, his mansion in Memphis.Despite the fact Presley never actually wrote songs himself, he became one of the most successful and influential musicians in the 20th century. The enduring popularity of guitar-driven rock music owes a lot to him.The Elvis timeline:
In late 1953, Elvis recorded a record at Sam Phillips' Sun Studios as a gift for his mom (in those days, anyone could pay to record a single at any number of studios). Phillips' assistant captured part of the performance on tape and brought Elvis to Phillips' attention; Elvis recorded a second demo in early 1954.
In July 1954, after several false starts involving Dean Martin-esque ballads, Elvis and his musicians began jamming on an R&B song called "That's All Right". Although not the first rock and roll song, for Elvis, the clock started here. He subsequently recorded a half-dozen singles for Sun that sold well regionally, but didn't do much on a national level.
In November 1955, Phillips auctioned off Presley's contract to RCA Records. His first single for RCA, "Heartbreak Hotel", was released in late January 1956, a mere 17 weeks after recording, and sold over a million copies, 300,000 of those in its first three weeks.
Also in January 1956, Presley had his first screen test for Paramount Pictures. His first movie was Love Me Tender. (Presley eventually starred in 31 fictional films, as well as two Documentaries). Over the spring and summer of that year, he made several television appearances.
The naturally blond Presley began dyeing his hair black in January 1957. By his early 20s, his hair was described as naturally a dark chestnut color.
In March 1957, Presley bought Graceland, which would later become his famous estate. He didn't spend his first night there until June 1957.
Presley filmed King Creole in the first quarter of 1958, before being inducted into the U.S. Army. During his 18-month tour in Germany, he met his future wife, Priscilla Beaulieu, and took karate lessons. In 1960, Presley was promoted to sergeant and received his full stripes before being officially discharged from active military duty. Within days, he was back in the recording studio; within weeks, he was shooting his first post-army movie, GI Blues.
The soundtrack for Blue Hawaii entered the Billboard charts in October 1961 and stayed there for 1˝ years. His best-selling album was G.I. Blues.
In 1962, Presley saw Beaulieu for the first time since their meeting in Germany. They married in spring 1967 in a private ceremony in LasVegas. Their daughter, Lisa Marie, was born in February 1968.
After years of diminishing returns from record sales and movie ticket sales, in 1968 Elvis taped a one-hour TV special for NBC. The special revitalied his career and is known as the Comeback Special.
In the late summer of 1968, Presley filmed Charro!, the only movie in which he did not sing on camera.
In early 1969, Elvis recorded two albums worth of songs in his hometown of Memphis, including "Suspicious Minds", the best-selling single of his later career.
In the summer of 1969, Elvis began performing in Las Vegas, and later followed this with an extensive series of tours across the US (but never beyond its borders) that lasted for the rest of his life.
In January 1973, a charity performance in Honolulu was broadcast worldwide via satellite.
"Do anything but don't step on my blue suede tropes":
Anachronism Stew: This applies to several of Presley's movies, especially any that are meant to be period pieces, yet Presley sings a rock and roll song or something approaching it. Love Me Tender, set in the Civil War era, for example, features the semi-rocker "Poor Boy" which Presley performs complete with his trademark hip-swivel (in reality he'd have been arrested on the spot). One of his last films, The Trouble with Girls, is set in the 1920s, yet features the 1960s soul-style song "Clean Up Your Own Backyard" in which the lyrics reference "armchair quarterbacks" - a term coined only after the advent of television sports broadcasting in the 1950s.
Big Eater: More like Huge Eater. Elvis (with a pair of Colorado cops) once flew all the way out to Denver at about midnight to eat a couple of Fool's Gold Loaves (a hollowed-out, lightly-toasted Italian loaf) filled with a whole jar of peanut butter, a whole jar of grape jelly, and an entire pound of bacon. That's right, we said a couple: he probably ate at least four of the things that night. Since one of the cops was the friend of the guy who owned the restaurant that made the damned things, they got a tray of them wheeled out to the Denver airport, where they and their pilots ate the sandwiches (washed down with Perrier sparkling water and Dom Perignon) and flew back to Memphis. Without even leaving the airport.
He had a love of all other forms of Satiating Sandwich, particularly if it could in any way, shape, or form be combined with deep-frying. For this reason, he loved the Monte Cristo: some combination of bacon, turkey, and ham, with Swiss cheese, battered and deep-fried—with a bit of jam and powdered sugar on top.
Big Fancy House: Graceland, naturally, although in his lifetime, critics tended to use less flattering words to describe it. One description compared the place to a brothel, saying that “nothing in the house is worth a dime”, and that the “gaudy,” “garish,” and “phony” renovations were “of an intensity that makes you gag”. Of course, since his death, the place has practically become a shrine.
Bookends: "In The Ghetto" starts and ends with a boy being born in the ghetto.
The first song Elvis ever recorded, "My Happiness", was a country weepie. The last song Elvis ever recorded in a studio, "He'll Have to Go", was a country weepie.
But Not Too Black: Think Eminem in the mid-1950s. It's the primary reason why Presley is considered the "King of Rock and Roll". Being considered a pale imitation (don't excuse the pun) of the black singers who originated Rock and Roll would be an understatement.
Elvis himself seemed to believe this. He was once heard to lament that he couldn't sing as well as Fats Domino, but people would only listen to him anyway.
Corpsing: Elvis throws in a random Mondegreen in this live performance of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" ("Do you gaze at your bald head and wish you had hair?") He thought it was funny and could not stop laughing. But after a while, neither could the audience. Legend says it that the laughter was brought on by a combination of seeing a bald man in the audience as he sang the line and got more hysterical from the lone backup singer just carrying on as if nothing happened.
Dream Team: The Million Dollar Quartet. Elvis met up with Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins in Sun Studios in 1956 and they recorded a few songs in an impromptu jam session. There was also a time in 1965 when The Beatles went to his mansion to meet him and they had an impromptu jam session (though Ringo was mostly left out since they didn't have drums handy), though no recordings exist of this due to them specifically forbidding it.
Do Not Call Me Paul: Inverted; he hated being called The King, and would tell anyone who called him this that there was only one King—considering he was a Christian, you can probably guess who he meant.
Eagleland: Type 1, easy. Films of his live performances show him shedding Manly Tears when singing "Battle Hymn Of The Republic." Also see "Promised Land."
First Name Basis: You can go anywhere in the English-speaking world (and even in some places where they don't speak English) and say "Elvis", and they know who you mean.
By the start of the 1960s, RCA had pretty much stopped putting the name "Presley" on Elvis' album and singles sleeves.
Generation Xerox: The vicious cycle of poverty implied at the end of "In The Ghetto."
Momma's Boy: Elvis promised that he would take care of his parents when he made it big, and he kept that promise, even bringing his parents to live at Graceland, where they are buried alongside him.
The death of Gladys Presley, while Elvis was preparing to ship out with the army, had a profound lifelong impact on him, with some writers suggesting the slow decline leading to his death in August 1977 began with her death. Presley recorded at least two songs in her memory, the ultra-depressing duo of "Don't Cry Daddy" and "Mama Liked the Roses", and reportedly refused to watch Loving You because his mom appears as an audience member.
Music of Note: Sweet Jesus, yes. He took rock & roll from a radical new movement in music to a major international phenomenon and changed youth culture forever. On a sheer musical basis, he is the Trope Codifier of rockabilly and early rock & roll in general, and demonstrated the full range of the music like no one else at the time. In fact, when asked early in his career what kind of music he played, he famously replied "I play all kinds of music." He meant it.
Nice Guy: He was known to friends, fans and strangers for his extremely generous and kindhearted personality. This included often giving away objects to people who liked them (Including his cars), being a big and open supporter of Civil Rights and admiring Martin Luther King and getting Muhammad Ali a robe that read "The People's Champion" when most of his market was in the south, purchasing an electric wheelchair for an impoverished East Memphis woman and giving her daughter his car, and being fiercely proud of his Cherokee ancestry at a time when racial tensions with Native Americans were still high.
Odd Friendship: Became good friends with Liberace after Liberace advised him to start wearing his famous gold jacket. Elvis reserved him a seat at most of his concerts to say thanks.
Shoot The Television: Elvis is, at least, the Trope Codifier, if not the Trope Maker. He was known for doing this at least once, possibly many times. Several stories and explanations of Elvis doing this exist, some less true than others. He's rumored to have kept a basement full of spare TV's so he would always have a fresh set handy after destroying another one. One television set shot by Elvis is on public display at Graceland.◊
Too Hot for TV: When Elvis appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, the cameras kept trying to censor his waist by aiming up or doing close-ups of his face, due to the effect his gyrations were having on female audience members. (And thus, presumably, any teenage girls tuning in.)
Comedian Ernie Kovacs spoofed this on his show by presenting "The bottom half of Elvis!" (A pair of pants with a guitar attached dancing around the stage.)
Bacon, in general, was something he liked most of all, mainly because it was a luxury his mother couldn't afford when he was a child. As an adult, he was known to keep a large plate of it on his piano to eat while practicing.
Uncle Pennybags: As noted under Nice Guy above, Elvis was very generous and prodigal, and he loved showing off his wealth. One tv host commented on his generosity and added that he wished Elvis could get him a new car. He meant it as a joke, of course, but guess what Elvis had brought to his house the next morning...
Undignified Death: A common belief about his death is that he died while on the toilet. In truth, he was found unresponsive on the floor of his bathroom, so while this is possible, it is not a certainty.
He is also rumored to have died of a heart attack brought on by straining to relieve impossibly constipated bowels (see Big Eater, above, though he was also known to have suffered from a twisted colon). In reality, one of the signs of an impending heart attack is a loosening of the bowels, which makes many victims run to the toilet.
Verbal Tic: "Uh-huh!" Elvis was aware of this and lampshaded it while videotaping a promo for his 1968 NBC Special (the outtakes are included on the special's DVD release).