Showing posts with label elvis presley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label elvis presley. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 2, 2020



When I'm writing I've found that my best soundtrack is rock and roll from the fifties. I don't want anything too jarring to take me out of my head, yet I need something in the background. We like to remember the fifties as Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard; but frankly the majority of charted hits in the fifties were soothingly bland -- three-girl groups, Bobby Rydell, groups named after shapes -- The Platters, The Diamonds, The Coasters. Maybe it sounded subversive at the time; we all take our rebellion where we find it; but it was in reality conformitive. Music producers didn't want to push the envelope too far and offend straight-laced sensibilities. 

The fifties were before my time. My older sisters lived it -- I lived the sixties. I didn't latch onto fifties music until a couple of decades later, via K-Tel compilation LP's. All my music up 'til then was tied up in my life experiences. I was born in 1955, so my first cognition of music was sometime around 1961. But as someone who gobbled up music, I was keen to learn. No offense, but I think my sisters were focused on the wrong music.They bought singles, as many as their collected pennies allowed, but they kind of missed the gems. They bought things like this:


Instead of this:


I know they liked this:


And you know how I feel about Elvis. But they missed this:



And this:

I don't condemn anyone for their taste in music. Music is tied up in memories, a conduit for recalling our past. Lord knows I don't claim most of the pop music from the seventies, even though it happened during the prime of my life. And something happened in the sixties that hadn't been dreamed of during the Eisenhower years.There is a clear dividing line between the middle of the century and what came after. That's not to say there wasn't seminal music created during Ike's time; there was. My sisters, though, had only American Bandstand and nervous AM radio as their guide. I was six years old when my sisters were sixteen and seventeen. They collected few physical albums. One I liked, but didn't know why, featured this song:

I now know why. It was country music, which I'd never heard of at age six. I bet my sisters didn't know about country music, either.

Fifties music had its gems. Every decade has its own. 

Nevertheless, as I'm struggling with my novel, listening to the fifties soothes me and informs me. 

And I don't want to simply let it pass by.



Saturday, January 19, 2019

Over-Rated Artists

(Just kidding!)

Tonight as I was clicking around my favorite channels on SiriusXM, it struck me that some artists are perhaps misguidedly exalted. Famous for being famous. Celebrated not so much for their music but for their persona. 

Everyone has their own list, and some people will detest me for my choices, but they're mine. And I'm not saying I loathe these guys; I'm just saying they're perhaps a pinch over-rated.

No one loves Bruce Springsteen as much as Bruce Springsteen does. I tried to read his autobiography, but it was so bloviated and precious, I gave up. His cloying exertion to come across as a "real writer" exhausted me. I don't want to be cognizant of an author's writerly struggles ~ I have enough of my own.

I was watching the 10,000 Pyramid sometime in the mid-seventies, and Dick Clark was doing the requisite celebrity interview. Some actor who I've forgotten (as has everyone else) was asked by Dick who the best rock singer was. This guy said, "Bruce Springsteen"; a name I'd never once in my life heard. Dick said something like, "A lot of people would disagree with you," and this flash in the pan responded, "Well, they'd be wrong." The actor in question was clearly from New Jersey. There's something about people from New Jersey ~ they're very sure of their opinions and that their judgements are the correct ones.

I've got nothing personal against Bruce Springsteen ~ he had his best success in the eighties when I was watching MTV, although I'm sure he would disavow those hits, because he's rather above it all, ACT-ually. My only point is that, taken as a whole, his catalog is sub-par. I do like this one, though:

Rolling Stone Magazine love-love-loves Johnny Cash. I'm not entirely sure why, but he did wear a black waistcoat, so there's that. As someone who was heavily steeped in country music in the sixties, I can tell you with certainty that Johnny Cash was not at the top of any country fan's playlist. The truth is, all his songs sounded almost precisely the same. Folsom Prison was a remake of a song he'd originally recorded in the fifties on Sun, and even in 1968 it still had that thump thump thumpety thump, like every single Johnny Cash song in history. The good news is, even I could play that intro on the guitar, and I was a shitty guitar player.

Someone with actual talent:

I do like this song, though:

My meager knowledge of the nineteen fifties confirms for me that music was putrid until Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis came along. I guess there was Perry Como and some chick singing about a doggie in the window...and maybe The Percy Faith Orchestra. The fifties were a staid time, so I can forgive the teens of that era for falling (hard) for someone who had even a semblance of spark. And granted, my perception is colored by the caricature he became, but I never understood Elvis.

I'm puzzled, much as my dad probably was when my older sisters swooned over the grainy black and white image on our TV screen when Elvis serenaded a hound dog on The Steve Allen Show. I'm torn about that appearance, because TV variety shows all the way through the nineteen sixties liked to make fun of rock/pop artists; and in this case the aim appeared to be to humiliate the future king. I'm not on board with that. I guess Steve didn't like Presley usurping Eddie Fisher's popularity.

Nevertheless, I don't "get" Elvis. Maybe it was real, but his on his singles he always sounded like he was posturing...embellishing. The only time I remember him sounding real was on a hit from 1965, "Crying In The Chapel", which also convinced my dad that this dude maybe wasn't so bad after all.

Even leaving aside his Vegas period, Elvis's RCA works were...odd. I don't know if he was popular because of the visuals, because his recordings were badly produced (sorry, Chet Atkins). The mark of a true artist is that you don't have to see them to recognize their artistry. I'd never laid eyes on the Beatles when I heard, "I Want To Hold Your Hand" on my AM radio.

However, I like this one:

These are my top three. There are others, to be sure, but I've probably offended enough people for one night. Maybe I should do a post about the most under-rated artists of all time, but that would be very lengthy ~ actually it would go on forever.

Friday, July 14, 2017


As a music sociologist, I try to understand popular music from before my time. For example, I now like Frank Sinatra. I'm a Big Band fan, which took no effort on my part, to be honest. I truly appreciate fifties roots music -- I love, love Jerry Lee Lewis; doo-wop is great; Buddy Holly was a man before his time; the whole Little Richard screamin' thing had a primal honesty. Carl Perkins doesn't get his due.

Elvis? I've really tried. To be honest, all of Elvis's popularity wasn't before my time. I remember "Return To Sender", which I, as a young child, misinterpreted as "Return To Cinda", which I thought was a derivation of the name "Cindy". My dad liked "Wooden Heart", but he was sentimental that way. Since my best friend, Cathy, and I, as obedient Catholic schoolgirls, attended only the Sunday matinees that our church bulletin labeled as "A" movies (although we really wanted to see the "B's"), we saw practically every stupid movie Elvis ever made, so I definitely remember this one (which wasn't bad, in the larger scheme of his expansive catalog):

Generally, however, when an Elvis song comes on my (Sirius) radio, my first thought is, "Is this a parody?" Elvis was one of the few artists who truly became parodies of themselves. I know the whole back story -- he was controlled by an opportunistic manager (who called himself a "colonel") who forced him to record dreck. And then, of course, there were the pills. However, I'm a big believer in controlling one's own destiny, and therefore, Elvis, to me, was complicit in the trashing of his own career.

This is the song that set me off tonight:

Sure, he's got "the look", but what's with the Bing Crosby buh-buh-buh's

At least "Return To Cinda" had something:

People say, well, if you knew him when -- but actually, that's not true. When was "when"? Hound Dog? "Blue Suede Shoes" was done better, and more honestly, by its writer, Carl Perkins.

Truly, we kids in the early sixties were just supposed to like Elvis. It was decreed. Elvis was "the guy", so we had to like him. No matter that Roy Orbison's voice soared like the heavens. Elvis was everywhere. He was on our movie screens. He was there, in black and white, on the twelve-inch TV in our bedroom. Elvis was a staple, like the wide-lined paper we were forced to write on, even though it was beige and ugly and scratchy.

I will, however, begrudgingly concede "Jailhouse Rock":

...even though it was "jailhouse" like 50's movies starring Sal Mineo were jailhouse. "Ooh, is he whipping out his comb? No! It's a switchblade! Look out!"

Maybe what bothers me about Elvis is that he was so fake. I've read that what he truly loved was gospel music. Then that's what he should have gone with.

The best Elvis songs were sung by others:

My older sisters loved Elvis. I would never denigrate their memories. But the Elvis I remember was fat and bloated, and yes, a parody. Sweaty. Elvis never sent a chill up my spine like the Beatles did. And he never once wrote a song. Elvis was the Steve Lawrence of popular music -- good for the old soft shoe and a straw-brimmed hat. 

I try -- really try -- to understand music that came before my time. Unfortunately, Elvis, to me, will always be a mixture of a sunglassed rogue pulling up on the beach in a white convertible, his eyes shaded by Ray-Bans, ready for a clambake; and a man squeezed inside a white spangled jumpsuit, performing half-conscious Karate moves.

The song by Elvis I always liked more than any other (no offense to Cinda) wasn't even a single. There's just something about:

He could sing, given a chance. But one makes their own chances in life. Elvis chose the money and the bennies. I think if he'd lived, he might have matured into his own man. There's no denying his talent.

I think I might have liked the man he would have become.

Thursday, November 26, 2015


I don't particularly like holidays. I just like "days". I'm a creature of habit, so anything that intrudes on my carefully constructed schedule makes me feel out of sorts.

However, I suppose, in keeping with the All-American tradition, one should use Thanksgiving to reflect upon thankfulness. The cynical me would say that most people utilize this holiday to pig out on foods their wives only cook one or two times a year, and to drink mass quantities of beer, and to gorge themselves on football. The sentimental me would harken toward gratitude and family familiarity (once I'm done slaving over a hot oven and washing multitudes of dishes).

You know me; I'm honest, at least on my blog, if nowhere else. To whit, I don't know that I have a ton of things to be thankful for this year. 2015 has been a struggle. Financially. But the past three years have been a struggle, so I either accept it or go mad. I prefer to accept it.

My job becomes more and more tedious and stress-inducing as the years go by. I comfort myself, sometimes, with the thought that I only have five more years until retirement, but then I think, five more years?

So I search out the finer things. Things like my dog, who I love and depend on. Which sounds silly, but honestly, I depend on her being there...or here...napping, dreaming on my loveseat, legs pointed toward heaven; content. Which makes me feel content. 

Finer things like PBS documentaries, which have no commercials, and therefore I can fall asleep for a heavenly thirty-minute nap and not be jarred awake by someone hawking GOLD! To put in my safe. And asking me, impudently, what actually is in my safe. None of your damn business, William Devane!

Finer things like rediscovered music; music I'd forgotten or brushed aside because it was silly.

Here's a tip: Don't worry about "silly".

For example:

So, it all comes down to music.

It always comes down to music.