Friday, February 27, 2009

Elvis Presley - The Rise and Decline and Comeback

(updated November 21, 2009)

In his hit period with RCA I see three phases. First before and during the army. Second from his army return to 1968. Third from his 1969 comeback til his supposed death in 1977.
What I call the decline started after 1965 and lasted til his comeback Christmas TV special in December 1968.
So there are two ways of looking at this - one by his 3 periods, and secondly by the ups and downs.

His first period 1956 - 1959 was the raucous rockabilly, using his instrumental trio as backup. When he was drafted in 1958 RCA picked as many songs as they could for him to record and release while away. These were not the best songs, but kept him afloat, and were collected on his second Golden Hits LP. They ran out of these hit singles by summer 1959 and he was not on the charts until his return in April 1960.

The second phase 1960 -1968.
In Europe he learned some classic European songs like O Sole Mio, and probably matured. On his return he asked the songwriters to adapt some of these for him. So O Sole Mio became It's Now Or Never, Torne a Sorrento became Surrender. Wooden Heart was from a German song.
No time was wasted when he returned. A couple of the songs debuted on the Top 40 immediately at #1. A couple others took a whole two weeks to reach #1.
Well the power of 1960 didn't quite continue in full force. I'd say he continued to have great original hits til the end of 1962 with "She's Not You". But even by 1961 they dropped to the level of "Feel So Bad", and people could sense this.
They were now using fuller arrangements at the Nashville scene. I suspect Boots Randolph was adding those great sax bits in the background, and maybe Floyd Cramer was in piano. These were his greatest productions, based on songs of the greatest writers like Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman.
There were four great regular albums (non-movie) between 1960 and 1965 - Elvis Is Back, Something For Everybody, Potluck, and Elvis For Everyone.
By 1963 his singles started to lack that great originality, tho they were still fine - Return To Sender, One Broken Heart For Sale, Bossa Nova Baby ...
Now they fell back on recycling some previously recorded album songs like Such An Easy Question (from Potluck).
By now his last #1 was Good Luck Charm in 1962. In 1963 he had some top 10s, in 1964 no top tens. In 1965 came his last top 10 until 1969 - Crying In the Chapel at #3 (Billboard). There would be no more #1s until Suspicious Minds in 1969.
In an interview around 1970 Elvis said there was a problem finding great new rock&roll songs by then. RCA started wasting our time with singles like Puppet On a String, Love Letters, and Indescribably Blue. So 1966 - 1968 was the decline. They tried some rockers which were not good enough: Big Boss Man, US Male, Long-Legged Girl, Guitar Man, A Little Less Conversation. They hardly made the Top 40.
But there were also some gems in that period: You'll Be Mine, Judy, Come What May, Tell Me Why ... which deserve attention.

The Comeback Special
So in 1968 Colonel Parker arranged a TV special. Instead of a Christmas theme, Elvis succeeded in making it a general rock&roll theme. He harked back to his early days, rocked in black leather, and had his original trio back.
The following singles were then geared to a new style, fitting the hippie era. There were the liberal themes decrying Negro poverty. Songs like In the Getto and Don't Cry Daddy probably caused the Detroit black riots, because they stirred up the feelings of guilt or bitterness. The music was not the same as the earlier era either.
I call this his third phase, and I relate it to the Second era of rock&roll. The first era was late 50s/early 60s. The second era being late 60s/early 70s. You know how it goes. Second era people don't recognize any music before the Beatles. Oldies start with the Beatles and Supremes, nothing earlier even exists.
So Elvis continued in this vein til 1977.
By the way I don't believe he died at that time. But it sounds like he died maybe a couple years ago. There was talk of Priscilla being left out of the inheritance.