Archive for the ‘Rock n Roll 1957 Elvis Part 1’ Category

by Robert Seoane

 


 
Within the first three weeks of 1957, Dwight D. Eisenhower gets inaugurated, Humphrey Bogart dies, Beaver Cleaver is born and the Frisbee, introduced by Wham-O, is spotted flying through the air in back yards and parks all over the country. “Bridge Over The River Kwai” turns out to be the Best Picture Of 1957 and “West Side Story”, a new Broadway musical about the very youth that Rock ‘n’ Roll was profoundly influencing, opens in late September.

 

Rock ‘n’ Roll had snowballed into a juggernaut in just a year and a half since “Rock Around The Clock” exploded on white radio, and The Establishment was not happy. The line of generation demarcation had been drawn firmly on the sand by practically every teenager’s parent, it was these very same parents who also worked their respective jobs as Network TV censors, radio station managers, corporate executives, your average Joes, your poor working stiffs, even blue collar works and common laborers, all of them white; just plain old racists who banded together in ignorance and intolerance and didn’t want their children exposed to “nigra music…”, even if they were sung by a white boy.

So The Establishment got to work and began to stamp out this rock ‘n’ roll nonsense. Yes, Elvis was a good boy, and thank God he was also white, they reasoned. The Establishment however, in their military way of thinking, made stubborn by previous decades of world wars, felt that in order to stop a movement, you have to behead their leader.

So they set their sights on Elvis.

Six days into 1957, Elvis appeared for a final time on “The Ed Sullivan Show”. The “benevolent” conspirators from the side of The Establishment during this crucial episode in Elvis’ life and career, as well as a crossroads in the further development of rock ‘n’ roll music, were Ed Sullivan and Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker.

Legend has it that it was Parker who insisted on censoring his boy from the waist down on TV, for publicity’s sake. Regardless of who made the decision, the bone-headed absurdity of being afraid to show swiveling hips on television did nothing to stop the juggernaut that was called Elvis. It enhanced it instead, confirmed by the squeals and screams of millions of teenage girls around the world whenever Elvis snapped his fingers and looked down at his swiveling self. The still new television medium had focused their collective young lenses on a unique individual that millions all over the world related to, admired and desired. Everybody wanted to see his hips swivel, just to see what all the fuss was about.

Elvis sang four songs on “The Ed Sullivan Show” that evening; “Too Much”, “When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again”, “Peace In The Valley” and “Don’t Be Cruel”, his most famous song to date and one that he had sung on all three Sullivan appearances.

“Too Much” was the current single at the time of the broadcast, having been released just two days before.

Despite the consistently tight waist-up shot, the world was still enthralled with Elvis. As usual, he would spontaneously break into a charming smile for no particular reason and chuckled at times, like an inside joke with his audience over the whole scene he saw himself in. Between songs, he thanked everybody for the best Christmas he ever had, noting that he received “282 teddy bears” from his fans. Then, after telling a lame joke, he stops, looks down at the floor for a few seconds and, without introduction, goes into his next song, with screams practically drowning him out after the word “blues”.

“Well-a when-a my blue-hoos turn to gold again….”

After the cacophonous screaming finally subsides at the end of the song, Sullivan politely scolds his audience, like the “youngsters” they were, and asks them to “rest their larynx” because Elvis was coming back. That was when the mechanism of Operation Stamp Out Rock ‘n’ Roll really and very subtly began.

It happened in three stages . The first stage was the choice of the song. It wasn’t a rock ‘n’ roll song at all, although it was music that Elvis and millions of other dearly loved. Singing the gospel standard “Peace In The Valley” set the White Christian Public’s perception of Presley as a nice, God-fearing young man. So at the end of that song when Ed Sullivan comes out to shake Elvis’ hand, the second stage of Operation Taming The Pelvis began.

Sullivan puts his hand on Elvis’ shoulder, looks straight at the camera and proclaims… “that this is a real decent, fine boy…” As he continues to say “…and wherever you go…” he’s drowned out by pubescent cheering, which is a good thing because he had no follow up to it, causing Sullivan to speed it up and talk in his own idiom, that they’ve “…never had a pleasanter experience on our show with a big name than we’ve had with you…”, then further anointing him by declaring that Elvis was “thoroughly all right” and suddenly looking at the camera dramatically to say “So now, let’s have a tremendous hand for a very nice person.”
Ed Sullivan was an American institution during all the years he was on the air. For him to proclaim someone as a “decent, fine boy” was like giving him White America’s blessing. Despite the fact that Sullivan had declared Presley “unfit for public consumption” just a year before, he had finally told White America he was OK to like. Then, two days after his performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, the third stage of his conversion begins its slow walk to inevitability.

Only two days after the Sullivan appearance, Elvis receives a letter from the Army, giving him a 1-A rating based on the physical exam he had taken just four days earlier, indicating that he was fit for the Army and should expect a draft notice in the following eight months.

In retrospect, it seems clear now that this entire Army stint was thought up by Col. Parker to “clean Elvis up” to America’s parents. Parker could have easily arranged any type of agreement with the military to avoid Elvis getting drafted, with USO tours or a practically limitless variety of other support his popular image could lend to the United States Army that could be vastly influential to millions of impressionable teenagers. Instead, he convinced Elvis that being a buck private and paying his dues for two years would legitimize him with every American family and they will then accept him into their home with a new respect that he’s done his civic duty. Of course, this hawkish, old-fashioned notion of Col. Parker’s has been since proven wrong for years to come, since the very symbol of a rock star will further develop into a rebellious, anti-establishment draft dodger, and soon a war would begin that millions of young men and women around the country will protest, down to burning their draft card and refusing to enlist, and backed by a rock music soundtrack from the radio compelling them to do just that.

But I get ahead of myself.

Showing Elvis singing a gospel song and receiving Ed Sullivan’s blessing on national TV was nothing more than a show being put on for the world to see so that Elvis would become more palatable to mainstream society. Col. Parker assured a pissed off Elvis that going to the Army for two years will make him come out a bigger star than he’s ever been. The Army was offering Elvis cushy assignments, a private room and the opportunity to serve in a platoon filled with all his friends. I don’t know how many stayed his friends if it meant a stint in the Army back then, but Col. Parker convinced Elvis to refuse all special circumstances and enter the Army as a regular Private.

The Establishment figured this would be a valuable lesson to its children. They could now be able to show their sons and daughters that Even Elvis had to toe the line and do what he’s told. They saw a rebellious storm within this rock ‘n’ roll music and this was their first real intention to quash it. This, along with fateful circumstances that would soon happen to other rock stars and those associated with Rock ‘n’ Roll, like Alan Freed for example, did indeed cause rock ‘n’ roll to lay practically moribund by the early sixties, with barely a whimper of the genre being heard, drowned out by the sugary sweetened pop songs to come, with only faint echoes of rock n roll power struggling to survive but being smothered by the Powers That Be.

“Too Much”, a remake of an obscure song recorded in 1954, would be the first of four Number One singles Elvis would have in 1957. His second number one, “All Shook Up” was released towards the beginning of early Spring. Written by his frequent songwriter, Otis Blackwell, it was the final song Elvis would receive co-credit on, and Elvis claimed to having not written the song at all, only having come up with the name when he mentioned to Blackwell that he had woken up from a bad dream that morning all shook up.

At around the same time in March, Elvis purchases the now legendary Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee. He would live there for twenty years, the rest of his life. He lived there, played there and died there. As a result, Graceland has since become the sole architectural structure that is today a symbol of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s opulence, comedy and tragedy.

During the Springtime and between small tours, Elvis filmed his third movie “Jailhouse Rock”.

He had already completed his second film “Loving You” and was currently in post-production. Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller once again stepped in to write a song for the soundtrack. Their rising star status as one of Elvis’ stable of songwriters and the amount of cash they were raking in however, made them lazy, so Music Publisher Jean Aberbach, responsible for Elvis’ new songs, had to block them from leaving their New York City hotel room by placing a sofa against their door and forcing them to stay in their room and write. L&S had been procrastinating for weeks and when they were brought to New York to deliver their songs, they had none. Aberbach had no choice but to barricade them in their room, because instead of getting to work adfter arriving in the Big Apple, they spent their days seeing the sights instead. As a result of their involuntary hotel imprisonment, they wrote six songs. One of them was “Jailhouse Rock”.

As the summer of 1957 loomed, the Elvis PR machine was, as usual, in high gear. They released his third single “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear” on June 11. It was a song that would be featured in Elvis’ second film, which would soon also spawn and his third album, both titled “Loving You”.

(LET ME BE YOUR) TEDDY BEAR

“Teddy Bear”, with a melody reminiscent of a traditional blues song called “Boll Weevil” by Leadbelly, but sped up, is the epitome of Elvis’ unique voice and phrasing. Uttering the words in his uniquely sensual baritone drawl as if he was whispering an obscene suggestion in your ear, the phrasing throughout the song is only as Elvis could do it, with subtle undulating vocal hills and valleys in each line that leads you into a smooth, infectious rhythm.

“I don’t wanna be a tiger, ‘cuz tigers play too rough, I don’t wanna be a lion, ‘cuz lions ain’t the kind you… love enough… Yes. I wanna be…”

His delivery of the song, the way he sings it, makes it distinctively his own. Nobody before ever sang like that. Add his looks, his charm and personality and his ability to move his hips, and you got yourself one sex symbol and permanent rock n roll icon.

“Teddy Bear” became part of the typical teenager’s soundtrack for that summer in 1957, staying at Number One in the Billboard Hot 100 Chart for seven weeks, as well as hitting Number One nationally in the Rhythm & Blues as well as the Country charts, a feat that Elvis was making look easy.

The song was also featured in Elvis’ first film in which he had a leading role, “Loving You” released July 30 when “Teddy Bear” was still riding high in the charts. In his prior film, “Love Me Tender”, Elvis had played a supporting role, but soon Hollywood knew to place him in starring vehicles and make his subsequent film characters more like his own personality. For the next three films released before he was to go into the Army, Elvis played the same character, a rising young star who gets the ladies, gets in trouble and wins out in the end.

Unlike the phenomenal juggernaut that was to follow in the next decade with The Beatles, Elvis movies always featured him playing another character resembling his real self, whereas The Beatles always played The Beatles in all their movies.

 

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