It’s easy to label Presley as one of the founding members of rock n roll, listen to the plethora of rockabilly songs the artist produced and forget about his presence in the meantime. However, the cultural impact Elvis had on 1950’s America was astronomical. A symbol of smooth, hip-shaking liberation that announced a new era for not only 1950’s America but for the rest of the world. A southern blues singer laden with gospel and country aspects, Presley helped blurred the lines between racial boundaries. 60 years on from his death, Presley’s image, influence, and legacy remain untarnished. While the world has seen other artists rise to the altar of rock n roll, the king still remains.
Elvis Presley was rock & roll’s, first superstar. Performing with a natural sex appeal which elevated him to the symbol of a rebellious teen, Presley’s emergence signified that mainstream culture was under threat. Elvis used the power of sexuality, rebellion and demonstrated how to let go and enjoy diversity and individualism. Presley amalgamated different genres such as Motown and Blues.
The appearance on The Milton Berle Show on June 5, 1956, triggered one of the biggest first controversies of his illustrious career. While performing single “Hound Dog,” Presley danced with hip-swings that became infamous around the world. Television critics across the US slammed Elvis for his “appalling lack of musicality,” for its “vulgarity” and “animalism.” Many parents raised concerns about juvenile delinquency and that Presley was damaging the moral values of the young. However, rather than having a detrimental effect, Elvis’s popularity exploded. In the years following the performance, his fame increased, he started staring in movies, became the face of the US military and performed to delirious crowds all over. Elvis was something the US and the world hadn’t experienced before, he was contemporary, remarkable, unique and had the world begging for more.
Elvis had a vice-hold grip on youth culture. During the 50s, teenagers become more confident, expressed themselves and became disillusioned with their parents’ generation. Because of the economic prosperity at that time period, teenagers were able to purchase records, rather than contribute to the household income. With extra finances available, youngsters dressed in the latest fashion trends, attended the movies that featured stars of their generation and interacted with music that wasn’t forced upon them. Every teenager wanted to look and behave like Presley. The hairstyle, fashion sense, and attitude were all desirable commodities amongst teens. Elvis’ emergence ultimately allowed young people explore and express themselves and break the mould of 50’s conformity.
It could be argued that If Elvis hadn’t of have been so bold and so groundbreaking, his actions that defined era’s such as the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s wouldn’t have occurred. Elvis’s changed music forever, the way we listen to music and the way society interacts with it. Without his influence, music, art and individuality, music would never have blossomed into what it has become today.
Words by Matthew Thomas.