His of Rock and Roll
September 21, 1999
Elvis was raised within a poor family that lived “on the other side of the tracks” which exposed him to intermingle with black culture. “He was in a position to absorb a real variety of musical influences, including R & B, white and black gospel, C & W, bluegrass, western swing, and pop.” (Pg. 35) When listening to the radio, Elvis was open to the elements of both pop music and assorted forms of C & W. And because of his living circumstances he was introduced to R & B and gospel, making Elvis racially integrated. He also didn’t dress like your typical white middle-class teenager. “He dressed like a hood, which meant black leather jackets, open shirts, and upturned collars.” (Pg. 35) He also wore his hair slicked back into a “ducktail” and had long sideburns. He had a mixture of black and lower class white image. He could appeal to both races with his mixture of R & B and C & W music style and his outward image. He was musically versatile as well. He was a sex symbol, a rebel, religious, (he recorded many gospel albums, Christmas songs, and hymns) patriotic (he willingly served in the military) and polite. “If your musical tastes ran toward shoutin’ rock and roll, softer rock, romantic ballads, hymns, gospel, country, patriotic anthems, social commentary, escapism, or tearjerkers, you could find and
Elvis song to your liking.” (Pg. 40) Bill Haley was not the person who could continue the development of the “new youth oriented rock and roll.” (Pg. 34) He had the mixture of both R & B and C & W, but not the look. He was nearly forty years old and had a round baby face with a receding hairline. It wasn’t just his image. Bill Haley’s C & W background and sound was too unmistakable. Pat Boone also didn’t fit the desired rock star persona. He was a pretty boy with a clean appearance and performance style. “Many of Pat Boone’s recordings are in a pure pop ballad style, derived from the Tin Pan Alley and Hollywood traditions, containing no pretense of rock.” (Pg. 52) He transformed many of the original R & B songs into pop or big band sounds, taking the soul out of them. It was time for a new “front” man for rock and roll. This man was Elvis Presley. He had both the look and the sound to appeal to all types of racial groups.
Chuck Berry also crossed the same racial barrier from a different direction. He was the first to bring white culture into black culture with his music. He played the blues with white teenage concerns or subjects (girls, school, and cars). “Berry’s lyrics speak to the newly emerging teen society about the everyday concerns of their lives…and the problems of growing up.” (Pg. 62) His singing style was also much clearer than
most blues singers were, even though it preserves a decipherable black quality. This style was more acceptable to parents as well because most of them didn’t even know he was black. He didn’t have the “shouting style” (Pg. 62) of Little Richard.