Who’s the King

I’ve been an Elvis fan since I was a kid and was a teenager in the 1980’s.

I was indifferent to Jackson in the 80’s and not at all surprised when The Charges happened.

Aside: Yes, not only did/do I think Jackson was guilty, but had pretty much thought he was years in advance of the first charges.

When Jackson’s “This is it” concert was announced as being a 50 show series instead of a one off, I also expected Jackson to die before the series of shows was complete.

To me, it was clear from his emaciated appearance and years of drug abuse, that any day would be Jackson’s last – especially stressing his system with rehearsals.

Even thinking these things, I found myself rather indifferent to Jackson.

That is, until I began to encounter Jackson fans in the weeks before his death coming onto Elvis forums that were publicly accessible and dumping on Elvis.

It’s okay to think that the singer you like is the best ever, but there’s something particularly childish about going to a forum for a different singer and trolling.

I began to loathe  Jackson fans and Jackson by extension. Particularly the ones who are bashing on Elvis on the net, hijacking various media polls  and the stupid anti-Elvis crusade. These are only slightly more annoying than the ones who were indifferent to or even disliked Jackson prior to death and suddenly became dedicated fans the news cycle proclaimed his death. Sort of a reversal of people who stopped drinking or smoking suddenly being the biggest advocates against those things.

So, who is The King?

Voice, moves, looks, charisma – these are subjective things and what is one person’s turn on is another’s turn off. Subjective things cannot be used for comparison.

Well, really, even measurable things  are difficult. Record sales, charts, TV ratings and  box office are a measure of popularity in a given time frame – but the world that Elvis dominated was very different than when Jackson dominated and it’s different again.

We like what we like because of the emotional connection and nothing will dissuade anyone from their preferences.

But, that doesn’t mean there still aren’t areas that can be compared.

That Jackson had huge sales of his music after his death was not surprising. He had fewer than 10 albums in his active career and with being able to download from your home makes snagging the song or record very easy.

When Elvis died, if you wanted a record, you had to leave your house, get to a store, stand in line to get in, fight your way to the Elvis records, pick through what was left and then stand in line to pay.

Aside: Elvis had 68 albums released during his career, plus a small number of the infamous Camden/Pickwick releases. Ignoring bootlegs, there’s been over 200 different titled official releases, plus almost 100 on the official fan label FTD – add in all the bootleg and international releases, there’s thousands of Elvis releases.

In 1977, it took a lot of effort to buy a record and there was a limited supply. RCA dedicated all their pressing plants to Elvis record runs to keep up with demand.

In 2009, it took no effort to do a few clicks and download a copy of an endless digital supply.

Elvis’s death occurred when there was three TV Networks and a limited number of major newspapers and the news cycle fit into the morning news, dinner news and evening news.

When Jackson died, the news cycle was 24/7 with anyone who wants capable of being a broadcaster or reporter.

When Elvis died, celebrity deaths weren’t front page, it was vaguely unseemly to get into lurid details and the news that didn’t lead with the Elvis story, found themselves caught unawares and stunned by the public reaction.

When Jackson died, the media created a perception of the public reaction as being far bigger than it actually was. Leaving LA paying a huge bill for crowd control for non-existent crowds.

Jackson raised the bar on music videos with Thriller’s output, but Olivia Newton-John had made videos a requirement in 1980 when she made videos for each song for her new album, Physical, instead of touring. Duran Duran also kicked music videos up from in the studio/stage footage with their 1982 Rio album – each video filmed in different exotic locations and videos too risqué for MTV.

Elvis’ movies are largely extended music videos – packed with songs, a fun storyline, exotic locations and pretty girls. Elvis’ star vehicles became a movie sub-genre all their own and his career is still the template that rock n rollers use today.

Put out hit records, tour, do TV appearances and get into movies. Eminem, Bon Jovi, Mick Jagger, Tupac, and many others. Heck, even actors have gone from acting in movies to recording music.

Winner: Elvis – while both built on what came before, Elvis set the career template and changed the way the industry worked. Jackson wasn’t a game changer, he was adept at improving what came before, but refining is not changing.

Well, insofar as “titles” that have no legal meaning or any really weight in the world can be earned.

Jackson wasn’t the king of anything but capitol S Spectacle – and I mean that in the positive sense – think PT Barnum.

Jackson’s 80’s costumes were not military inspired – they were circus performer inspired.

Elvis’s early stage wear was luridly coloured and diverse, he wore a real uniform while really serving in the military and his 70’s comeback was not initially in the jumpsuit, but rather two piece outfits which morphed into the jumpsuits . Elvis wasn’t too shabby at Spectacle, either. He knew how to put on a show.

Controversies:

Elvis’ image was very controlled during his life, so it was very shocking in the 1980’s when Elvis’ drug use became known as well as the extent of the using. Elvis was marketed as a poor boy who made it big but never forgot his roots, even putting his career on hold to serve his country. Elvis went from rebel rocker to family entertainer.

Jackson controlled his image during his life too, but his choice was to go the other direction and present himself as a spectacle. Jackson started as wholesome family entertainment, went solo and gave his life over to being a freakish spectacle.

The bottom line:

Elvis didn’t want to be called the King, but he was anointed by fans, media and even the non-fan public.  Elvis was an industry and social game changer.

Jackson had a PR guy come up with “King of Pop” sometime after his Thriller peak and got Elizabeth Taylor to use it on a TV broadcast. Media was advised if they didn’t use it, they would not be given access to Jackson. Media folded on it and the title stuck, but demanded, not earned.

Winner: Elvis for being classy.

I would imagine that these pro-Jackson/anti-Elvis people weren’t fans of either prior to their respective deaths; kind of like people who go and stand vigil at the site where someone they didn’t know died.

Both groups are attaching themselves to something that’s tragic and larger than themselves.

But a large number number of the  Jackson group are like the sports fans who only turn out for games when the team is winning; it is unlikely that 33 years after his death that Jackson will be a consistent top earning dead celebrity or that people will still gather in large groups to mourn his passing.

The first anniversary of Elvis’ death, many fans went to Graceland and other Elvis locations to hold vigils. Over time, Elvis Presley Enterprises began to organize events and Elvis week is a major tourist draw for the city of Memphis with tens of thousands of fans arriving to participate.

The first anniversary of Jackson’s death, after a year of various family members trying to get tv shows and tribute concerts, there was very little to mark the day.