Saturday, August 15, 2009

The King Is Dead

Thirty-two years ago today, Elvis Presley slumped over and died upstairs in his Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee.

The King was dead.

But, as journalist Tony Scherman put it, by the age of 42, "Elvis Presley had become a grotesque caricature of his sleek, energetic former self," and that's not how we want to remember him. We want to remember the man they called The King - who exploded forth in Memphis in 1954 to announce to the world that rock 'n' roll had arrived. Elvis didn't invent rock 'n' roll - he just happened to be very close by when it happened, and was the first to nail it.

But he did much more besides. There didn't appear to be single musical style beyond him. He had both the voice and the ear, rarely writing new material but transforming old stuff, redefining songs to the point where no one else need bother recording them again. I'm not much one for marking deaths - I much prefer birthdays, so I've kept this playlist short. We'll be back in January to do it properly when we celebrate the 75th anniversary of his birth.

But in the meantime here are six songs that speak to his lasting influence - they are about, but not by, Elvis, and no other artist in musical history has provoked such an outpouring of creativity from his successors.

Emmylou Harris - The Boy From Tupelo (Red Dirt Girl, 2000)

Cowboy Junkies - Blue Moon Revisited (Song for Elvis) (Trinity Revisited, 2007)

Bob Dylan - Went To See The Gypsy (New Morning, 1970)

Neil Young - He Was The King (Prairie Wind, 2005)

Drive-By Truckers - Carl Perkin's Cadillac (The Dirty South, 2004)

Gillian Welch - Elvis Presley Blues (Time (The Revelator), 2001)

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