You would have to be living in a cave somewhere in Siberia to have escaped the fact that since the turn of the millennium the afterlife career of Elvis Aaron Presley
has achieved new levels of popularity. It is almost as if the rest of the world has finally discovered what we - the fans - have known all along. That he really was the King, gifted with the best voice in all of pop / rock and indeed vocally so far ahead of his rivals in terms of ability, depth , interpretation and vocal tone as to be in a class of his own. And I think that there is now general recognition that Elvis made good music throughout his career and not simply in the 1950's. Yet if I cast my mind back 15 years to 1990 Elvis was then a figure of fun to quite a few folk. His image had suffered greatly over the previous decade at the hands of muckraking writers such as the late unlamented Professor Goldman. It seemed as if everything Elvis had ever done in his life was being twisted into a negative by these people. There was no sense of balance or fair play. In vain did those who really knew the man through friendship or work try to redress the score by pointing out what a nice and generally sane person he had been when alive on this earth. In fact other than his admittedly careless attitude towards the use of medicated drugs and his constant womanising Presley actually led a pretty tame life by comparison with many stars of song, stage or screen past and present.
Towards the end of his life Elvis' live performances on stage had obviously deteriorated as a result of his increasingly poor physical condition and mental state which were probably brought about by a combination of factors, including his accelerating use of medicated drugs, together with stress, boredom, and frustration all of which in various ways Elvis failed to tackle or address because in my view he was so clearly suffering from clinical depression. Why his doctors failed to see that this lay at the bottom of it all at the time is something I cannot explain, but I suppose the then knowledge of depression was not what it is today. Only those folk who have been plagued by depression can possibly understand what it does to a man/ woman or why grappling with problems life throws at you when you have this condition becomes so difficult.
Colonel Parker may have been a curiously insensitive man, but he was no fool, and he must have known that the only way to rally Elvis' low spirits following the break up of his marriage was to present him with a challenge. The success of the 'Aloha from Hawaii
' TV special in 1973 represented a distinct career peak for Elvis from which vantage point all things were possible and the Colonel could, and should, have negotiated deals right then and there for a world tour and a well financed action film in Hollywood plus persuaded himself that this was the moment to let the Elvis machine forego the usual song publishing rights and allow Elvis to record some commercial singles by writers dying to get their material to him, together with a concept album to rival 1971's 'Elvis Country
'. I am convinced - like Jerry Schilling
of Memphis Mafia fame-that these creative challenges would have turned Elvis away from sinking ever deeper into a depression and that he would still be with us today had they been implemented. Sadly, as Peter Guralnick wrote in 'Careless Love
' the Colonel seemed to have only one idea when it came to planning Elvis' career. Find something that worked and keep flogging it until it stopped working. Hence the endless films in the sixties and the endless US tours in the seventies. Henri Levin the former maitre'd at the Las Vegas Hilton once described the Colonel as a risk taker. H'mm. Maybe he was a risk taker on the Vegas tables but hardly when it came to handling Elvis' career.
After BMG took over RCA in 1988 they found the Presley catalogue to be in disarray. Its standing had been considerably diminished over the years, cheapened by a flood of budget compilations, tacky art covers and poor selections. Marketing was sporadic and ill directed. These faults went right back to the middle years of Elvis' career and it reflected not only the Colonel's slack approach work and carnival roots but Elvis' unfortunate- if in some ways admirable- employee mentality and his less admirable reluctance to confront the Colonel over issues of the day. For example just consider the countless records which were issued without his knowledge or approval. Supposedly Elvis got to choose his own singles but the evidence suggests that this only applied in the case of a very recent session. Left to his own devices I doubt that Elvis would have released any of the old tracks issued as the "new Elvis single" in the mid sixties or film songs like "Do the Clam". More than one fan reported how taken aback Elvis had been when asked to autograph one of his budget albums of the seventies. "What is this?" He would say.
For years after his death this cheap exploitation of his music went on unhindered. How could anyone take Elvis seriously as an artist if his own record company did not? By the time BMG had taken over RCA I suspect sales were in decline except when a handy anniversary came along and my fear was that we would come to a point when there just was no anniversary around to keep the pot boiling.
With the release of the three box sets of the 50's
, the 60's
and the 70's
between 1992 and 1995, however, the tide turned and interest in Elvis reawakened. The withdrawal of the bulk of the budget and sixties soundtrack albums from the shops also helped to focus attention on his studio work. So did the upgrading of the studio session album milestones which adorned his career. The inclusion of the hit singles from these sessions which were previously held back for gold disc albums was a master stroke. Music critics began to talk about the man's music instead of making cheap cracks about cheeseburgers. Liner notes offering real and intelligent insight into the songs Elvis had recorded and how began to appear on his reissued CD's. A well financed marketing budget with properly defined target audiences sprang to life. From all this Elvis the artist came back into focus.
By the turn of the century the improved climate enabled BMG to set their sights on attracting a new generation of Elvis fans who were not even born during his lifetime. The first signs that something was happening came when BMG released the 9/11 charity single 'America
' which soared up to no 6 in the US sales charts in December 2001 - his highest position in years- but it was the global chart topping success of "A Little Less Conversation" in June 2002 that really grabbed the attention. And when 'ELV1S 30 # 1 Hits
' repeated that coup in November the same year BMG were on a roll. What was remarkable about the ten million plus sales of the latter disc was that it was but the latest in a long long line of greatest hits packages all of which had sold so heavily you would not have thought that bar the committed fan and collector there could be a market for another one. It had to be the kids.
So BMG got what they wanted-a whole new generation of Elvis fans. Since then Elvis has been unstoppable with the singles 'Rubberneckin
' and 'That's all Right
' topping the US sales charts and the reissues of 'Jailhouse Rock
', "One Night" and "It's Now or Never" topping the UK charts accompanied by 14 other Top 5 Hits. On the album front Elvis also scored heavily with Top 10 hits such as '2nd to None
' and 'Love , Elvis
' with a near Top 10 hit in 'Elvis by the Presleys
'. His Christmas and Gospel albums continue to sell well virtually all the year round and the overall impact on the extensive back catalogue must be considerable. On the DVD front both the '1968 Comeback Special
' and the 'Aloha from Hawaii
' releases have hit number one pretty well all over the world and Elvis by the Presleys has far exceeded expectations whether in TV, book
form and as mentioned on disc.
It would however be sensible to have a pause now. As Colonel Parker once said "Give a kid too much candy and he gets sick". Next year will see the 50th anniversary of the release of 'Heartbreak Hotel' which I forecast will generate 10 times the publicity given to "That's All Right" and a reissue should hit number one, and there are no lack of suitable old tracks which could be remixed and turned into further hits plus one or two club favourites such as 'Animal Instinct
' which one trusts will not be ignored by the powers that be. With handy anniversaries likely to decline in number after 2007 the repositioning of Elvis in the market place has been timely but quality control must continue to be rigorous.
Who amongst us could have predicted all this amazing success back in 2000? And so long as BMG continue to move along as they have there will be no end to it. Elvis Presley has at last been given the respect he deserves and above all others in BMG's employ one man should be entitled to claim a major share of the credit for the change in fortunes. And we all know who that is. Just continue to keep the faith Ernst Jorgenson. Keep the faith. And get well soon.