Elvis Presley, The King of Rock, or short: The King. And he does that name honour, Elvis is one of the most popular and successful artists that has ever walked on our planet. During his life he sold 500 million records. A week after his death that number raised with 8 million more. His looks made him stand out: long hair, which was uncommon for that time, sideburns and later the jumpsuits. His energized interpretations of songs and his uninhibited performance style made him enormously popular—and controversial.
For example, after a show in Wisconsin there was sent a copy of the local Catholic diocese’s newspaper to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover which said: “Presley is a definite danger to the security of the United States. His actions and motions were such as to rouse the sexual passions of teenaged youth. After the show, more than 1000 teenagers tried to gang into Presley’s room at the auditorium.”
Another example. During the second Milton Berle Show, Berle persuaded Presley to leave his guitar backstage, saying “Let ‘em see you son.” During the performance Presley started an uptempo rendition of ‘Hound Dog’ with a wave of his arm and ‘launched into a slow, grinding version accentuated with energetic, exaggerated body movements.’ That was seen as an outrage. Jack Gould of The New York Times wrote: “Mr. Presley has no discernible singing ability. His phrasing, if it can be called that, consists of the stereotyped variations that go with a beginner’s aria in a bathtub. His one specialty is an accented movement of the body, primarily identified with the repertoire of the blond bombshells of the burlesque runaway.” Just because he was shaking his hips.
Elvis Presley’s performance on the Milton Berle Show
New York Daily News reporter Ben Gross,’ opinion was that popular music “has reached its lowest depths in the ‘grunt and groin’ antics of one Elvis Presley. Elvis, who rotates his pelvis, gave an exhibition that was suggestive and vulgar, tinged with the kind of animalism that should be confined to dives and bordellos.” And Ed Sullivan declared him ‘unfit for family viewing’. He opined that Presley “got some kind of device hanging below the crotch of his pants, so when he moves his legs back and forth you can see the outline of his cock. We just can’t have this on a Sunday night. This is a family show!”
He soon got the nickname ‘Elvis the Pelvis’, which Elvis himself said he thought was ‘one of the most childish expressions I ever heard, coming from an adult’.
When asked if he had learned anything from all the criticism he had gotten because he was being subjected, Presley said: “No I haven’t. I don’t feel like I’m doing anything wrong. I mean, how could rock ‘n’ roll music make anyone rebel against their parents?”
Historian Marty Jezer referred to Presley as the one who set the artistic pace. After that other artists followed. Presley let the young people believe in themselves as a distinct and somehow unified generation: the first in America to feel the power of an integrated youth culture.
The audience went crazy at Presley’s live shows. His guitarist Scotty Moore recalled: “He’d start out: ‘You ain’t nothing’ but a Hound Dog’ and they’d just go to pieces. They’d always react the same way. There’d be a riot every time.’
Written by Amy Vink