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.


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.


5 thoughts on “Who’s the King

  1. If I had said something along the lines of “only morons like Elvis the Pelvis”, that would deserve an earful, but I wasn’t trolling. When people display their musical tastes publicly, it’s like the religious telling you that they are then acting surprised that people disagree.

    The sort of response people will get (on any topic, really) is usually commensurate with how they said it, hence why I stuck to Chuck Berry being the “king” (IMHO). I reserve the “moron” comment and mention of alleged drug use (and other claims) by Presley for those who say “anyone who doesn’t like Elvis is a moron”. Then again, I’ve met morons who threaten violence simply because I said, “No, I don’t like Presley’s music”. It’s like talking to NASCRASH fans…and they’re often the same people.

    I’ve heard plenty of derision for my musical tastes over the years, so I’m not bothered by it. I’ve liked a lot of groups that weren’t “cool”: Rush, Yes, Queen (before “Wayne’s World”), Steve Miller, Boz Scaggs, heavy metal, punk, funk, Jazz, WWII hit parade, Tin Pan Alley, etc. (It’s futile trying explaining to someone under 60 the value of the Andrews Sisters.) I have to wonder why some people (not inferring you) have such a thin skin about anyone disagreeing with them. It’s just music.

    And no, I don’t remember the 13 Grimy awards incident. I have no patience for awards shows of any kind, except perhaps the Nobel Prizes. Anything people have done that has merit doesn’t need an award. Awards are usually backslapping and self-congratulatory egotrips meant to sell products, not signs of achievement. Milli Vanilli won a Grimy award, which says all you need to know about them.

    • yes, Millie Vinilly did win

      whereas, Elvis and the Beatles never did

      okay, Elvis won three for gospel performances,but that wasn’t the work he was famous for.

      awards tend to skew towards three things:

      middle of the road
      sales too big to ignore
      nearly dead long timers

      I don’t get why people are threatened when other people don’t share their interests either.

      A few years back, our local hockey team was in the playoffs and the city went mad.

      I was trying to get downtown to meet a friend for a movie, so standing on the corner:

      guys in their car at the red light leaning out their window: WOOOHOOO Canucks

      me: whatever

      guys (stunned) you’re not watching the series?

      me: no

      guys Fucking bitch – then peels away from the intersection.

      seriously, was that supposed to make we want to watch the game?

      I think it’s the same reason why fundies have to convert people to their religion.

      unless everyone’s doing it, they are someone invalidated by that, their taste, brains and life called into question

      I think we need to worry less about what others do or like, especially when there’s no harm done to anyone by the doing or liking

    • PS

      I also like a lot of those musical acts – especially Queen

      and the Andrews Sisters were smoking

      I’m 42.

      I like the big band era, there’s not a lot of music I like

      as I get older, I find that my tastes are widening, not shrinking

  2. Jackson was the king of PAP, not pop.

    pap (n.) television, cinema or literature which is entertaining, but has no artistic or educational value

    pap (n.)
    1. soft food for infants or invalids, as bread soaked in water or milk.
    2. an idea, talk, book, or the like, lacking substance or real value.

    I’m no fan of Jackson, but the molestation charges were false, the accusers recanted. Dangling a baby over a balcony and nearly killing the child, however….

    And as for Presley, you don’ t wanna know what I think, except to say that the “king” of rock and roll was its first great songwriter, first great guitarist, its great popularizer, was able to cross the phony “racial” barrier, and had one of the first great scticks in music history. Presley may have had sales and made into an idol of worship, but Chuck Berry made it possible and expanded the form from just blues or R&B, mixing in country and jazz elements.

    I am about as interested in Elvis Presley as I am in Jaime Pressly, and think the same about their “work”. That’s about as polite as I can be. ^_^

    • Hey P!

      Thanks for continuing to drop by.

      Lots of people – even many I know and respect – don’t like Elvis.

      I think it’s kinda sad when people feel insecure or threatened in their choices and preferences because other people don’t share their taste.

      I know the second charges failed to get a conviction, but the first charges fell apart when the victim was paid off and a confidentiality agreement signed.
      Of course, within hours of Jackson’s death, the rumour mill that that first public claimant had recanted was total nonsense – that would break the confidentiality agreement and he’d have to give back the money.

      To me, Jackson was over produced and over hyped. I was always astonished how much the entertainment industry bent over for him. Remeber the mid 80’s grammies where they put him up in 13 (conflicting) categories and gave him a life time achievement to make sure a record was set for most grammy wins?

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