Wednesday, August 15, 2007

John Peel on Elvis Presley: Something frightening, something lewd, something seriously out of control

Elvis Presley died exactly thirty years ago on August 16th 1977.

At the time I was working at Butlin’s holiday camp, Minehead, feeding the huge beast which was the camp dishwasher and trying to experience some summer romance helped by the likes of “I feel love” by Donna Summer in the camp disco.

I turned up for work as usual at 7am and I noticed a fifty-something lady doling out the baked beans was sobbing. “What’s wrong dear?” I asked. “The King has died” she replied. I briefly formed the words “The King of where?” on my lips before I twigged that the sound of “Crying in the chapel” on the radio in the background told me which “King” it was who had died.

I suspect that Elvis shares the title of the most successful popular music singer of all time, along with Frank Sinatra. It is very difficult to think of anyone who equals them.

After starting his career singing relatively unadulterated rock and roll, he made a lot of cheesy films and was guided towards middle of the road and country and western music. Add to that mix several thousand peanut butter and banana sandwiches and a cocktail of various other substances, and the result was a huge man who died on the toilet in 1977. Rather sad, when you think that when he started singing as a svelte young man he was an electric rock and roll performer with unbelievable charisma. See him singing “Heartbreak Hotel” in 1956 below.

In his auto-biography “Margrave of the Marshes”, which he wrote with his wife Sheila Ravenscroft, John Peel wrote:

Since I was, oh, I don’t know, about that high, I’ve always described the moment in which I first heard Elvis on the radio as being the defining moment in my life. It’s certainly up there with the first time I saw Sheila and Alan Kennedy’s goal against Real Madrid in the Parc des Princes anyway. I heard Elvis, as I had probably first heard Lonnie (Donegan), on “Two-Way Family Favourites”. I’m sure that somewhere out there in the wilder reaches of the internet there is probably a site that would tell me exactly where and when “Heartbreak Hotel” was played – and for whom – but, you know, life’s too short. I’ve always characterised the record as being played for a L/Bdr Higgins in BFPO 15, but this, I’m afraid, is something that I have made up. Suffice to say that Elvis was described as “the new American singing sensation” and that certainly hit the nail on the head. It may not sound like much today, but “Heartbreak Hotel” had the effect on me of a naked extraterrestrial walking through the door and announcing that he/she was going to live with me for the rest of my life. As Elvis walked in, Frankie Laine and Johnny Ray tiptoed out and nothing was ever the same again. There was something frightening, something lewd, something seriously out of control about “Heartbreak Hotel” and alarmed though I was by Elvis, I knew I wanted more. And I got it.

1 comment:

  1. The quote of John Lennon: "Before Elvis, there was nothing." says it all about that great artist of all times. Here I've tried to collect all notable tributes paid to Elvis Presley by peers: