Elvis Presley to Elvis Presley Enterprises

Solutions are easy – implementation, that’s the rub

Elvis and One Hit Wonders

There is a an apparent curse for actors who play Jesus Christ, it is a career ending role and the actors who play Jesus tend to fade into obscurity.

In music, the curse for up-n-comers is to be compared to Elvis Presley. I think it’s less the pressure to perform – and by perform, I means sales performance – that causes the newcomer to fade or burn out as a one hit wonder – and more that the comparison points out the un-authenticity of the newcomer to Elvis.

When the comparison is made, it is generally in terms of record sales and girl fan response, rather than any artistic or cultural impact comparison. The comparison is a shallow one of appearance, the easy part – big sales are not difficult to achieve with the right marketing and girl fans gone berserk is equally easy to achieve, with the right hype. It’s the entire basis of the industry churning out Teen Idols.

Elvis, was an idol of teens, but he was never a Teen Idol.

Teen Idols are sanitized, packaged and sold to teens. They are largely feminine boys who are not sexually threatening and who evoke romantic fantasies of cuddling, hand hold and kissing. The lyrics of the songs they sing are respectful love letters to their swooning fans, they are the musical teen comparable to Harlequin Romances.

In the 1950’s, Pat Boone was the leader of the teen idol pack – he sang songs originated by black artists with a softer, smoother musical arrangement and coy lyrics – Hot Diggity Dog Diggigty, Boom, what you do to me, when we’re falling in love – is about romantic sexual attraction and places sexual arousal far off into the future, a post marriage future.

Elvis, sang all kinds of music, raw and primal, Baby baby I wanna play house with you, is more than just sexual arousal, it’s a plea to get it on; unvarnished and understood, right here and right now, outside of and well before marriage – let’s play at house by doing the sexual things people who share a house do.

Teen Idols are about romantic yearning for a distant future and Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry were all sexually dangerous and doing it right now. And teens idolized them for that authentic urgency, the celebration of the passion of youth, easily stirred and manipulated.

Both Teen Idols and idols of teens sell records and the music industry is a business and is quick to capitalize on whatever sells. Teen Idols have a short shelf life because at some point, their fans grow up and romantic fantasies are not sustaining or satisfying.

This is the crux of why Elvis is still the king, he was the public’s first lover when he stepped onto the TV screens on the Dorsey Brothers Show and he opened his throat and sang and he moved..moved to the beat, and shook and hollered and waved his hand and Elvis fucked us, hard fast and left us panting and wanting more. We are always the most passionate about our first fuck.

The politicians and the priests in the 1950’s were right to be threatened by Elvis, because Elvis wasn’t a sanitized Teen Idol, despite the unearthly beauty he possessed – the face of an angel atop a bawdy burlesque sinner. Elvis the Pelvis, dry humping the audience and arousing in everyone, sexual desire or immoral outrage, made no difference, he fucked us all.

But in that desire for more, we stopped  discerning between the authentic rockers, who largely burned out quickly, and the sanitized teen idols who croon about romantic stirrings rather than inspiring any loin stirring.

Little Richard left rock n roll for religion and is tormented in his own sexuality, an obvious gay man, unable to accept himself and be comfortable in his own skin; Chuck Berry, arrested for taking minors across state lines, targeted because he was black, and despite all the amazing music he wrote, his only number 1 hit, My Ding a Ling, an ode to masturbation in the early 70’s and a personal disgrace of being charged in the 1980’s with filming women in the bathroom of a restaurant he owned. Jerry Lee Lewis’ fall from grace was in Europe the scandal of marrying a teenager who was distantly related, but more that he was married and off the market for fan fantasies in the US.

So, for the music industry, Teen Idols are better because they sell as well, don’t have career limiting scandals or personal implosions, and, when they reach their “sell before” date, are easily replaced with a younger, cuter and more manageable version.

In current terms, the Hanson Brothers gave way to the Jonas Brothers who were eclipses by Zac Efron and in turn by Justin Beiber.

Just as in the past, The Beatles, who started out as sanitized packaged Teen Idols, but who stepped up and became authentic idols of teens, were replaced by The Monkees, The Bay City Rollers – who continue to serve as the basic boy band template with one goofy/funny, one sweet/shy, one smart and one vaguely sexually dangerous, but all young men you’d be comfortable to bring home to the parents or allow to take your daughter on a car date until 11pm.

The Beatles were boys from the bad side of a blue collar town, tarted up to be nice boys – while the Rolling Stones were upper class boys dressed down to appear as lower class bad asses- until The Beatles put aside the identical costumes and changed musical direction away from imitating Buddy Holly and the Crickets and trying to be Elvis.

It’s the lack of authenticity that makes Teen Idols compared to Elvis be short lived careers – possibility because the Teen Idol starts to believe the press and cannot deliver, lacking the talent or the authentic draw or because they know that they lack the authenticity, so branch out, try to be more than just another Teen Idol and their fans do not follow them, and find another Teen Idol who will deliver what the fans want – the romantic fantasy.

More commonly, Teen Idols, like Child Actors, grow up and just aren’t as cute, and having built a career on being cute, simply never developed or had the talent to sustain a meaningful or authentic career. Adult audiences, especially people who are actually having sex, are less interested in the packaged sanitized romance fantasy that Teen Idols are selling and move onto the real thing.

Which is why Elvis, who pwned us in 1956, was the king for 21 career years and continued to be, 33 years after his death.

Until the Teen Idols of the 50’s, who cleaned up and calmed down black recordings to make them safe and pearly white for white audiences; Elvis sang black music black, more than that, he didn’t distinguish between black and white music, he didn’t even distinguish between sacred and secular music – Elvis took a song and wrung every emotional notes and sexual promise all delivered with a hellfire and salvation fervor, and his voice and body were one and the same instrumentally.

In Elvis, everything was fused together and sex ignited that hot fusion, and he was properly marketed as the Atomic Powered Singer. Elvis’ performances were at once creation and ah, ah ha, I’m, I’m gonna, arggg, armagget-it-on.

it’s not just about racking up fans and scoring hits, it’s about authenticity, and there’s precious little of that in entertainment. Which is why Elvis is still the king.

Measuring Up To Elvis

Following up on my earlier Why Elvis Remains the Bar and some semi-recent news items that would like to proclaim the King is off or at least having to share the throne; specifically about Mariah Carey getting more number 1 singles, Glee surpassing Elvis chart records and most erroneously, Michael Jackson topping Elvis on the Forbes dead celebrity earning list.

Forbes Dead Celebrity Earnings Lists

Elvis has been the number one dead celebrity earner in all but three years that Forbes has calculated the list. The first time Elvis was bumped to number two was the year that Courtney Love sold Kurt Cobains’ catalog for Cobains one and only appearance on the list.

Elvis made is lowest appearance on the list in 2009 with $55 million, the year of Jackson’s death – Elvis ranked at number four with Jackson’s debut at number three with $90 million in earnings – shattering expectations of an outrageous lead of a record first place.

Jackson was defeated in the race to number one by the sale of the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalog for a total earnings of $235 million and the liquidation of Yves St. Laurent’s estate at $350 million.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s earnings were from their catalog sales and St. Laurent’s estate was liquidation of artwork and assets that had been invested and collected – so the earnings, to my mind, should have been credited to the artists who made the sold works, even though the money didn’t flow to their estates.

That brings us to putting 2010 into view. The 2010 list has Jackson as the number one dead earning celebrity and Elvis as the second.

Jackson’s  estate took in $250 million for 2010;  alleged to be largely due to the release of his rehearsal footage for his never given “This Is It” concerts. But, I think a careful review of revenues would show that these earning came from from Jackson’s investment in The Beatles catalog with the Rock Band video game and the final release of The Beatles as a complete catalog box set – in both stereo and mono.

Especially given that in terms of box office, Myles Cyrus’ Hannah Montana concert film had a better opening weekend than This is It.

Elvis holds number two this year with $60 million for 2010. Which is what his estate took in, largely through Graceland Tourism, merchandise and sales of his post 1973 recordings.

What money was earned due to Elvis’ catalog doesn’t get included as part of Elvis’ estate earnings – since all sales of his catalog pre 1973 is Sony’s profits – not Elvis’ earnings – so in terms of what Elvis’ catalog actually earns, this is not reflected in any of the Forbes lists because the estate gets not a penny.

In 1973, Elvis was forced to sell his interest in his back catalog to RCA to refinance his divorce. When Elvis and Priscilla initially divorced, Elvis simply agreed to pay what she demanded – but, Priscilla ended up suing for more money then and spendaholic Elvis didn’t have the cash.

Parker negotiated what he thought was a sweet deal to re-sell to RCA what had already been sold with no thought to the longer term value – Parker simply in his immediate greed for cash, forgot the lessons that they had learned from Elvis sales in the 1950s – that there was no limit to how many times fans would buy re-packaged Elvis.

In 1973, no one suspected that Elvis didn’t have years and decades ahead of him to continue to record more material – but it’s interesting that the urgency of fear that Elvis was just a fad in the 50’s and to get while the getting was good overrode the longer view that Elvis could (and is) endless repackaged and re-sold to fans would be more sustainable income.

Priscilla received a larger settlement, Parker took 50% of the sales and Elvis ended up with a pittance and no back catalog to rely on for future income – it’s no wonder that Elvis would soon be deeper into drugs and not trusting even his longest running friend – Red West.

Elvis the man meant less to the people around him than Elvis the ATM.

Elvis got so little recognition and credit for his work when he was alive that him topping this list is a testament to his lasting legacy – although given that the money is more sourced by Graceland and merchandise than his catalog, Elvis’ placement is a testament to how much he was loved and meant to his fans, who continue to be as disrespected as Elvis in that we are treated as ATM machines and pawned off with ridiculous and tacky merchandise, endless and thoughtless repackages – but, as when Elvis was alive – the marketing of Elvis responds to the market – so the movies got cheaper when we the fans weren’t critical and Elvis became disillusioned – confused why he had such a devoted following, but knowing he was putting out inferior product to his capacity so knew on a level that it was an unearned and uncritical following.

We get the Elvis we deserve, not unlike we get the government we deserve with low voter turnout and disengagement.

It is difficult to quantify subjective things like what a given person’s impact in social and art contributions terms, so we rely on the vulgar measure of money: how much money is generated. Curious then, like with the St. Laurent liquidation that the artists who created the art that he purchased and the estate sold were credited to the investor, not the creator who sold the works for a paltry sum compared to what the investor “earned” for their later sale. – If a painting original sells for a few hundred or thousand dollars it is less impressive than when that same painting later sells for millions or tens of millions.

Charts: Elvis vs Mariah Carey and Glee

A change in technology and the rules of the organizations that maintain charts will always favour current recording artists over decades ago and deceased ones. Which, is rightfully so, since the living should be more important than the dead.

However, it is tricky when you are not giving consideration to the person, but hyping and measuring sales.

In the fifties, a gold record was a million seller and sixty years later,  gold record is a half million seller and a million is platinum.

In the fifties, Elvis was the second artist who ever sold a million copies of a 45 single and he was the first artist who sold consistent million selling singles after million selling singles. So, the fact of assigning gold and platinum records is a result of Elvis’ sales.

So it is difficult to claim that any artist has sold more than Elvis or earned more accolades, when that we even count and measure these accolades is because of Elvis in the first place.

So, how someone else does on a scale that exists because of Elvis compared to Elvis…well no matter how anyone rates on the chart, Elvis will remain the chart itself until some other artist has such an impact as to change how we measure artists against each other.

As for technology, to have a million selling single in the fifties, an artists had to record an A and B side, the record had to have good radio play, the artist had to appear on tv or tour and the record had to sell;which meant that people had to take the time and effort to go to a store and buy the physical record, limited access by number of copies available and distribution and how fast records put be pressed and shipped. Record sales could stall while waiting for more product to be available.

Today, an artist can record one song and put it up on itunes and do an internet campaign and people have to download it. Minimal effort on the part of the artist, the label and the fan.

A download represents less commitment and more curiosity – music is a downloadable and disposal commodity, as opposed to an investment in a physical collection, which requires space and time throughout the ownership of the disc, rather than allocating file space in increasingly unlimited digital media.

Mariah Carey matching Elvis for number 1 hit records, first is not beating Elvis, only matching Elvis – and the market for music is now so fragmented that artists can have a number of huge selling success, but remain largely unknown outside of their specific audience.

Few artists achieve a mainstream/cross over success or even awareness, regardless of how talented or deserving. Mariah Carey is far more known for her diva conduct than her music.

When Elvis started, the music industry was in silos and Elvis broke the barriers of white vs black music – and Elvis recorded any music that appealed to him – he sang country, blues, rock, showtunes, folk tunes from several countries, funk, bossa nova/latin, swamp rock and gospel – Elvis is in more Music Halls of Fame than any other performer – Elvis truly was something for everyone.

While most artists achieve success with a specific demographic and type of music – just repeating the same over and over without ever reinventing or trying new styles.

With the size and ease of music collecting and listening, the audience today is at once cavernous yet still in style silos, as most people tend to be attracted to a narrower range of music.

Although, I find it endlessly hysterical when young people discover the rebellious music that their parents or even grandparents listened to – such was the dismay of the young girl in the late 80’s who, bringing home a cd of the Lost Boys soundtrack was looking forward to freaking out her Mom with this Jim Morrison lead singer of the Door – until it was pointed out to her that Morrison had been dead before she was born and her Mom could probably introduce her to their original vinyl and Janice Joplin besides.

As for Glee – like with Elvis and The Beatles – there was one Elvis who had to have all the appeal for his fans, while there was four Beatles to chose from – so an ensemble cast recording cover tunes of proven hit songs is not at all comparable even to the Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch who at least recorded original songs and are more properly the basis for comparison.

Elvis didn’t have a regular tv show to showcase his performances or songs, like the Monkees did and Elvis, while he recorded covers, did so in a different style as well as original songs – so as fun and good as the Glee cast is – the songs are covers of hit songs that benefit from being a tv show soundtrack and the cast is actors who can sing – not singers who also act. The songs are supported by scripted tv program, not a concert tour, and are not at all comparable to any musical artist, as they are wholly a separate category of repacked and sanitized for increasingly younger audiences.

Glee is to Elvis, as the wholesome and sexually unthreatening white young male teen idol singers that followed the wave of real rockers – Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Eddie Cochrane and other sexually threatening rockers were.

Elvis brought raw black music and urgent sex to the white teens and Buddy Holly make rock n roll into a higher and refined, pure and innocent – Peggy Sue only got laid after Peggy Sue got married – she wasn’t a girl in high heel sneakers or the temptress Woman from way over town.

That it’s that packaged and sanitized music that is downloaded and file allocated today – and its just not comparable either through the effort of acquiring it from the fans or the critical appreciation of music as a force of nature captured for a moment in a raw and unrefined performance of sexual power – but rather, a wall of sound orchestrated, choreographed and controlled to simulate the real thing.