Elvis Presley

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Elvis Presley : biography

8 January 1935 – 16 August 1977

At RCA, Presley’s rock and roll sound grew distinct from rockabilly with group chorus vocals, more heavily amplified electric guitars and a tougher, more intense manner. While he was known for taking songs from various sources and giving them a rockabilly/rock and roll treatment, he also recorded songs in other genres from early in his career, from the pop standard "Blue Moon" at Sun to the country ballad "How’s the World Treating You?" on his second LP to the blues of "Santa Claus Is Back In Town". In 1957, his first gospel record was released, the four-song EP Peace in the Valley. Certified as a million seller, it became the top-selling gospel EP in recording history. Presley would record gospel periodically for the rest of his life.

After his return from military service in 1960, Presley continued to perform rock and roll, but the characteristic style was substantially toned down. His first post-Army single, the number one hit "Stuck on You", is typical of this shift. RCA publicity materials referred to its "mild rock beat"; discographer Ernst Jorgensen calls it "upbeat pop". The modern blues/R&B sound captured so successfully on Elvis Is Back! was essentially abandoned for six years until such 1966–67 recordings as "Down in the Alley" and "Hi-Heel Sneakers". The singer’s output during most of the 1960s emphasized pop music, often in the form of ballads such as "Are You Lonesome Tonight?", a number one in 1960. While that was a dramatic number, most of what Presley recorded for his movie soundtracks was in a much lighter vein.

While Presley performed several of his classic ballads for the ’68 Comeback Special, the sound of the show was dominated by aggressive rock and roll. He would record few new straight-ahead rock and roll songs thereafter; as he explained, they were "hard to find". A significant exception was "Burning Love", his last major hit on the pop charts. Like his work of the 1950s, Presley’s subsequent recordings reworked pop and country songs, but in markedly different permutations. His stylistic range now began to embrace a more contemporary rock sound as well as soul and funk. Much of Elvis In Memphis, as well as "Suspicious Minds", cut at the same sessions, reflected his new rock and soul fusion. In the mid-1970s, many of his singles found a home on country radio, the field where he first became a star.

Vocal style and range

Music critic Henry Pleasants observes that "Elvis Presley has been described variously as a baritone and a tenor. An extraordinary compass … and a very wide range of vocal color have something to do with this divergence of opinion." He identifies Presley as a high baritone, calculating his range as two octaves and a third, "from the baritone low G to the tenor high B, with an upward extension in falsetto to at least a D-flat. Presley’s best octave is in the middle, D-flat to D-flat, granting an extra full step up or down." In Pleasants’ view, his voice was "variable and unpredictable" at the bottom, "often brilliant" at the top, with the capacity for "full-voiced high Gs and As that an opera baritone might envy." Scholar Lindsay Waters, who figures Presley’s range as two and a quarter octaves, emphasizes that "his voice had an emotional range from tender whispers to sighs down to shouts, grunts, grumbles and sheer gruffness that could move the listener from calmness and surrender, to fear. His voice can not be measured in octaves, but in decibels; even that misses the problem of how to measure delicate whispers that are hardly audible at all." Presley was always "able to duplicate the open, hoarse, ecstatic, screaming, shouting, wailing, reckless sound of the black rhythm-and-blues and gospel singers," writes Pleasants, and also demonstrated a remarkable ability to assimilate many other vocal styles.

Discography

A vast number of recordings have been issued under Presley’s name. The total number of his original master recordings has been variously calculated as 665 and 711. His career began and he was most successful during an era when singles were the primary commercial medium for pop music. In the case of his albums, the distinction between "official" studio records and other forms is often blurred. For most of the 1960s, his recording career focused on soundtrack albums. In the 1970s, his most heavily promoted and best-selling LP releases tended to be concert albums. This summary discography lists only the albums and singles that reached the top of one or more of the following charts: the main U.S. Billboard pop chart; the Billboard country chart, the genre chart with which he was most identified (there was no country album chart before 1964); and the official British pop chart. In the United States, Presley also had five or six number one R&B singles and seven number one adult contemporary singles; in 1964, his "Blue Christmas" topped the Christmas singles chart during a period when Billboard did not rank holiday singles in its primary pop chart. He also had number one hits in many countries beside the United States and United Kingdom.