Today (January 8th) marks what would have been the “King of Rock n’ Roll” Elvis Presley’s 84th birthday. From his meteoric rise to fame in the 1950’s, to his death at the age of 42 in 1977, through to the present-day; the world is still fascinated by everything that is Elvis. After working as a movie theater usher and a truck driver for a Memphis Electrical Company, Elvis began singing locally as “The Hillbilly Cat,” and signed to the late Sam Phillips’ Sun Records, who then sold his contract for $35,000 to RCA Victor in 1955. Elvis went on to become rock’s first true global superstar.
Following years of declining health and prescription drug abuse, Elvis died of a heart attack on August 16th, 1977 at his Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee. He remains among the highest earning dead celebrities. Internationally, Elvis has sold well over one billion records, more than any other artist. His American sales have earned him gold, platinum or multi-platinum awards for 140 different albums and singles. Elvis starred in 31 films, and made history with his television appearances and specials.
Released last November 30th — just days before the 50th anniversary of its original airing on NBC — was Elvis Presley’s ’68 Comeback Special – 50th Anniversary Edition multimedia box set. “The King’s” groundbreaking special put an end to his infamous movie era and catapulted Elvis back into the spotlight as an A-list recording artist and live performer.
According to the press release for the set: “For the first time ever, all previously-released audio and newly-restored video from the taping of the special will be available in one package — including unused performances and studio outtakes that spotlight the real Elvis. The package contains an entire disc showcasing the legendary sessions for the special recorded with Elvis and the ‘Wrecking Crew.'”
This five-CD, two Blu-ray disc deluxe package also includes an 80-page book featuring rare photographs, memorabilia and a new oral history on the special, crafted from interviews conducted for Thom Zimny’s 2018 documentary, Elvis Presley: The Searcher. The newly-restored Blu-ray video was also overseen by Zimny.
Also out now is Elvis Presley – Where No One Stands Alone, a collection featuring “newly-recorded instrumentation and backing vocal contributions from music legends who’d performed on-stage and/or in-the-studio with Elvis.” It also includes a reimagined duet with Elvis and his daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, on the album’s title track and “spiritual touchstone.”
Back in April 2018, the eagerly awaited HBO documentary Elvis Presley: The Searcher premiered on HBO, including never-before-seen photos and footage from private collections worldwide. The doc was directed by Bruce Springsteen’s longtime filmmaker, Thom Zimny and produced by Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau, Priscilla Presley, and original “Memphis Mafia” member Jerry Schilling, who now serves as the president of the Beach Boys’ Brother Records’ Inc.
2016 saw the release of The Wonder of You: Elvis Presley With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The collection, which is the followup to 2015’s first orchestral set, If I Can Dream, also takes Elvis’ isolated vocal tracks and supplements them with modern pop/rock and orchestral backing.
Back on February 27th, 1970 during a rare press conference in Houston, Texas, Elvis shed some light on his earliest musical influences: “I liked all kinds of music when I was a child; of course the Grand Ole Opry was the first thing I heard, probably. But I liked the blues and I like gospel music — gospel quartets and all that.”
Photo Courtesy of RCA