Elvis and the Beatles

Thank you for the music, Fats Domino, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Peter, Paul and Mary, Drifters, Everly Brothers, Mamas and Papas, and too many to name here. I love you all, but most of all I love the Beatles and Elvis Presley.

John Lennon (October 9, 1940 – December 8, 1980) would have been celebrating his 76th birthday today had he been alive and Elvis Presley (January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977) would have been 81.

Elvis and John Lennon

Both died young. Lennon was shot dead outside his New York apartment at 40 in 1980. Elvis died three years before Lennon in 1977, at the age of 42. The King suddenly fell down in the bathroom in his Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee, and was rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The coroner who examined the body said “preliminary autopsy findings” indicated that the cause of death was “cardiac arrhythmia,” which a hospital spokesman defined as “an irregular and ineffective heart beat”, said the New York Times in its obituary.

“After his death became known yesterday, radio stations around the country began playing nothing but old Presley records,” said the New York Times.

Lennon’s assassination sparked the same outpouring of grief.

Poems on Elvis and Lennon

I just came across a poem on John Lennon. It begins:

The music was already turning sad,
those fresh-faced voices singing in a round
the lie that time could set its needle back

and play from the beginning. Had you lived
to eighty, as you’d wished, who knows? —you might
have broken from the circle of that past

You can read the full poem by Mary Jo Salter on the Poetry Foundation website.

Elvis has inspired poetry too. Bono of U2 wrote a poem called Elvis: American David.

Elvis obit

The New York Times said in its Elvis obituary:

“He was a generous and often sentimental man. He deeply mourned the death of his mother, and kept a suite for his grandmother, Minnie Presley, at his home in Memphis.

“The house, Graceland, was an 18-room $1 million mansion with a jukebox at the poolside. Mr. Presley surrounded himself with a retinue of young men called the Memphis Mafia, who served as bodyguards, valets and travel agents. He had a passion for cars, especially Cadillacs, which he tended to acquire in multiples.

“Mr. Presley also gave Cadillacs away with startling frequency. He would from time to time see some stranger, nose pressed against a car-showroom window, and invite the person to go inside and pick out the color he or she liked best. Mr. Presley would then pay the entire cost of purchase on the spot.

“Mr. Presley was a nocturnal person who thrived when most others were asleep…”

After Elvis, the Beatles

Elvis made rock and roll popular. Nobody had even heard of the Beatles when Elvis became an international star.

But I was struck today by how soon after Elvis John Lennon and his friends began performing.

Elvis, who was only five years older than Lennon, cut his first single in 1953 — and his first album in 1956 when he turned 21.

Lennon formed his skiffle group The Quarrymen in 1956 when he was 15 years old. He persuaded Paul McCartney to join the group the same year and McCartney brought in George Harrison.

The Quarrymen became the Beatles in 1960 and released their first single, Love Me Do backed up by PS I Love You, in October 1962, two months after Ringo Starr joined the band.

Elvis had his No 1 hit singles as early as 1955, when he was only 20 years old, when I Forgot to Remember to Forget topped the country chart and Heartbreak Hotel topped both the pop and the country chart in America. Elvis scored more No 1 hits in 1956 – I Want You, I Need You, I Love You; Don’t Be Cruel; Hound Dog; Love Me Tender; Too Much; All Shook Up; and (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear.

The Beatles enjoyed similar success in 1963, a year after they started recording, when Lennon was 23, Paul 21, George 20, and Ringo 23. It was in 1963 that the Beatles had their first No 1 hits — I Want to Hold Your Hand and Can’t Buy Me Love – in the UK.

“Was Elvis Presley better than the Beatles?” someone asked on Quora.

One said the Beatles were better because they wrote their own songs, were better musicians and were consistently one of the best bands throughout their musical career while Elvis declined during the 1970s. But the Beatles were no longer playing together as a band in the 1970s; they split up in 1970 after the release of their album, Let It Be.

“Elvis had a great voice,” said another. “His rock and roll numbers were electrifying and his slower ballads were beautiful. His ability to command a song was just fantastic. The Beatles all had good voices (except Ringo obviously) but they couldn’t touch Elvis for vocal ability.”

But he added, “John and Paul were the greatest songwriting duo ever”, and “The Beatles totally changed music forever. The impact they had on the creation of albums, live performing, studio production and even where music was supposed to come from was massive. Their constant desire to reinvent, move forward and progress was one of the things that set them apart from their competitors who were often left in their wake. Elvis wasn’t really a pioneer. He was a white guy playing ‘race music’ but other than that he wasn’t a revolutionary.”

Elvis might not have been a revolutionary but he was great. And there can be no doubt, of course, about the Beatles’ greatness.

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