Music

Elvis Presley: Elvis Is Back!

As that other musical chameleon Neil Young has noted, “Rust never sleeps.” The King was no longer gone, but he had not forgotten that the most important rule for an artist is not to stay the same. His revolutionary act was to become an adult.


Elvis Presley

Elvis Is Back!

Label: RCA Legacy
US Release Date: 2011-03-11
UK Release Date: 2011-02-28
Amazon
iTunes

When reporters asked John Lennon about his thoughts on the death of Elvis Presley, the former Beatle wryly commented that he thought the King died when he went into the Army. The conventional wisdom is that when Elvis returned to recording after his release from the service, he was no longer a rock and roller. It is true that he did start recording mellower music, such as “It’s Now or Never” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight”, but while critics have noted the transformation of Elvis from hillbilly stud to church-going G.I., this discussion usually ignores what was going on in the larger culture during the same period.

1960, the year of Elvis’s return, was also the year of the first court case involving rock and payola (deejay Alan Freed was convicted and fined), the US U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union, Civil Rights actions like the Greensboro sit-ins increased in the American South, and John F. Kennedy was elected president. It was a time of change, and the 25-year-old Elvis too was not the same as he was when a teenager. Like other entertainers of his era, he wanted to grow from being a teen idol to an adult entertainer -- and in 1960, the most successful musical star was Frank Sinatra. No wonder Elvis’s first move was a return to television as the guest star on the Frank Sinatra Times Special that included a segment where the two men sang each other’s songs in tribute to each other.

The King’s first album upon returning could have been made by the Chairman of the Board. Elvis, who flopped in Vegas back in 1956, was being primed as a Rat Pack type of performer. Who could blame him for not wanting to be a teen idol? Presley’s voice was still strong and clear. He could belt out the blues one minute (e.g., Lowell Fulson’s “Reconsider Baby”) and then sound sophisticated the next (e.g., Little Willie John’s “Fever”) without changing character. It was all show business, baby, and a little shtick never hurt anyone.

That doesn’t mean Elvis got worse. Indeed, he was more successful than ever. Going away had only made his audience’s hearts grow fonder. They too had grown older. He just became a different type of entertainer. As that other musical chameleon Neil Young has noted, “Rust never sleeps.” The King was no longer gone, but he had not forgotten that the most important rule for an artist is not to stay the same. His revolutionary act was to become an adult. He could have kept on making Sun Records-style music like Carl Perkins had when he signed to Columbia Records, but Elvis had bigger ambitions.

Elvis Is Back! was a big success, reaching number two on the Billboard album chart soon after being issued. While the album yielded no hit singles, he quickly released three of his biggest records recorded during the same period, including the number one “Stuck on You” and the two ballads “It’s Now or Never” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight”. The new RCA Legacy release of the album includes the original 12 songs, plus the hit singles recorded in the same year, plus the complete 1961 LP Something for Everyone and his hit singles from that period. These include the sneering rocker “Little Sister” and the scorcher “(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame”.

The title Something for Everyone explains what Elvis had become. After leaving the Army, he was crooning Italian style ballads, punching out Chicago blues, singing doo wop harmonies with the Jordanaires, returning to country roots, and just about every other musical genre that had formed him as an artist. The main difference was that in an earlier era, he had combined the different modes. Now he was performing them separately. Lennon was not completely accurate. Elvis still rocked. He just did much more than that, and if that made him a square, it’s clear he and his fans did not care.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

Ivy Mix's 'Spirits of Latin America' Evokes the Ancestors

A common thread unites Ivy Mix's engaging Spirits of Latin America; "the chaotic intermixture between indigenous and European traditions" is still an inextricable facet of life for everyone who inhabits the "New World".

Film

Contemporary Urbanity and Blackness in 'New Jack City'

Hood films are a jarring eviction notice for traditional Civil Rights rhetoric and, possibly, leadership -- in other words, "What has the Civil Rights movement done for me lately?"

Books

'How to Handle a Crowd' Goes to the Moderators

Anika Gupta's How to Handle a Crowd casts a long-overdue spotlight on the work that goes into making online communities enjoyable and rewarding.

Music

Regis' New LP Reaffirms His Gift for Grinding Industrial Terror

Regis' music often feels so distorted, so twisted out of shape, even the most human moments feel modular. Voices become indistinguishable from machines on Hidden in This Is the Light That You Miss.

Reviews

DMA's Go for BritElectroPop on 'The Glow'

Aussie Britpoppers the DMA's enlist Stuart Price to try their hand at electropop on The Glow. It's not their best look.

Film

On Infinity in Miranda July's 'Me and You and Everyone We Know'

In a strange kind of way, Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know is about two competing notions of "forever" in relation to love.

Music

Considering the Legacy of Deerhoof with Greg Saunier

Working in different cities, recording parts as MP3s, and stitching them together, Deerhoof once again show total disregard for the very concept of genre with their latest, Future Teenage Cave Artists.

Music

Joshua Ray Walker Is 'Glad You Made It'

Texas' Joshua Ray Walker creates songs on Glad You Made It that could have been on a rural roadhouse jukebox back in the 1950s. Their quotidian concerns sound as true now as they would have back then.

Music

100 gecs Remix Debut with Help From Fall Out Boy, Charli XCX and More

100 gecs' follow up their debut with a "remix album" stuffed with features, remixes, covers, and a couple of new recordings. But don't worry, it's just as blissfully difficult as their debut.

Television

What 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Taught Me About Unlearning Toxic Masculinity

When I first came out as trans, I desperately wanted acceptance and validation into the "male gender", and espoused negative beliefs toward my femininity. Avatar: The Last Airbender helped me transcend that.

Interviews

Nu Deco Ensemble and Kishi Bashi Remake "I Am the Antichrist to You" (premiere + interview)

Nu Deco Ensemble and Kishi Bashi team up for a gorgeous live performance of "I Am the Antichrist to You", which has been given an orchestral renovation.

Playlists

Rock 'n' Roll with Chinese Characteristics: Nirvana Behind the Great Wall

Like pretty much everywhere else in the pop music universe, China's developing rock scene changed after Nirvana. It's just that China's rockers didn't get the memo in 1991, nor would've known what to do with it, then.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.