News

Encyclopedia supplies all things Elvis Presley

Robert K. Elder
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

It was the King's 74th birthday Jan. 8, and he lives on not only in music, but on paper.

The latest King-ly tome, Adam Victor's 598-page "The Elvis Encyclopedia" ($65, Overlook Press), isn't as thick as DK Publishing's 608-page photo book "Elvis: A Celebration" (2002). And it isn't as chronologically obsessive as "Elvis: Day by Day" (1999). But it is an engaging, often insightful and frequently maddening work.

First, the maddening: "The Elvis Encyclopedia," released in October, offers no index. Even regular encyclopedias have indexes so, say, you could look up every time "Chicago" or even "Mitt Romney" shows up in the volume. (Romney is mentioned at least once: The politician used Presley's "A Little Less Conversation" during his 2008 presidential bid.)

The omission of an index will be frustrating for those wishing to cross-reference and find names in multiple entries. For example, the entry for "girlfriends" forces the reader to scan through three pages of small type before finding the paramour of interest.

Now, the engaging. After many entries, quotes from Presley's associates and fans are printed. For example, after Sun Records' founder Sam Phillips sold Presley's contract to RCA, he thought his former star's first single with the label, "Heartbreak Hotel," was a "morbid mess."

That bit is included in the body text, but directly after the entry, Victor includes a quote from famed British radio DJ John Peel about the song: "It might sound pretty safe now, but in the context of what was happing in the 1950s, hearing 'Heartbreak Hotel' was as shocking as if someone was dancing naked in your living room."

Unfortunately, Victor does not tell his readers who Peel was and doesn't include an entry for him and many of the speakers, so context is lost.

Though this isn't a photo book, Victor includes 420 images. They include most of the King's iconic photographs, including his famous portrait with President Richard Nixon in 1970 and various publicity shots. Slightly out-of-focus shots of Presley with family and friends create a blurred sense of intimacy.

Also, check out his photo ID when he drove a truck for an electrical contractor (Page 100).

Because this isn't a narrative account of Presley's life, it's difficult to get a cohesive sense of his career, talents and magnetism. It's not designed to do that. But the individual entries are captivating, colorful and gleefully geeky.

Victor, whose previous work includes "The Marilyn Encyclopedia," notes in his "Elvis" volume under the "Marilyn Monroe" entry that although the two sex symbols never met, Monroe sings "Specialization" in the movie "Let's Make Love," with lyrics about Presley. (Victor's book does not, however, point out that the Presley lyrics are sung by her co-star Frankie Vaughan in the duet.)

Even without an index, "The Elvis Encyclopedia" is a jewel in the King's crown for aficionados, academics and casual fans.

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OTHER NOTABLE ELVIS BOOKS

  • "Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley," by Peter Guralnick (1994): The first volume of Guralnick's authoritative Elvis biography.

  • "Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley," by Peter Guralnick (1998): This sequel documents the King's fall into drug abuse, failed relationships and a string of cinematic turkeys.

  • "Elvis: What Happened?" by Red West, Sonny Hebler and others (1977): Pure tabloid, purely gripping. Elvis' entourage members write this tell-all about the King's drug use and eccentricities. Released two weeks before his death.

    ___

    DID YOU KNOW?

  • Elvis Presley was a rabid Monty Python fan, often reciting the troupe's comedy routines from memory. His favorite sketch: "Nudge nudge."

  • When Presley bought Graceland, it was already named Graceland - for Grace Toof, the daughter of a previous owner of the property.

  • Actor Kurt Russell has had a long association with the King in movies: At age 11, he appeared with Presley in 1963's "It Happened at the World's Fair," played Presley in the TV biopic "Elvis: The Movie" (1979), provided the voice of Presley in "Forrest Gump" (1994) and portrayed a Presley impersonator in "3,000 Miles to Graceland" (2001).

  • He dyed his hair. Elvis was a natural dirty blond but dyed his locks jet-black because he thought it would look better in movies.

  • Presley met Priscilla Beaulieu, his future wife, when she was 14 and he was 24.

  • In the midst of a "spiritual quest," Elvis took LSD with Priscilla and friends in 1965.

  • Barbra Streisand lobbied fruitlessly for Elvis to play the mentor role in her remake of "A Star Is Born" (1976).

  • Elvis was an insomniac most of his life.

    _His own movies to the contrary, Elvis had great taste in cinema. Favorite films included "Rebel Without a Cause," "Dr. Strangelove," "The French Connection" and his most beloved movie, "Patton."

  • Elvis won three Grammy Awards - all late in his career, all for gospel songs and two for the same song ("How Great Thou Art").

    (Sources: "The Elvis Encyclopedia," by Adam Victor; "Last Train to Memphis" and "Careless Love," by Peter Guralnick; and "Elvis and Me," by Priscilla Beaulieu Presley with Sandra Harmon)

  • From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


    60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

    White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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    Music

    The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

    Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

    From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

    In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

    So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

    For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

    As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

    10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

    Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

    Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

    9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

    The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

    Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

    8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

    Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

    With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

    7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

    Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

    In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

    Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

    6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

    Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

    The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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