Saturday, July 12, 2008

Who was the greatest?

In a 'comment conversation' with my friend from the US John O’Leary we considered the question who is the greatest The Beatles or Elvis Presley?

I would be fascinated by your opinions.


John O'Leary said...

Trevor, this is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. I can't resist...

Just as when you posed the question "Elvis vs. John Lennon?" in an earlier comment, I'll stick with my original argument. If "greatest" means the most influential, I'd give it to Elvis, who kicked the door open for rock & roll (and even R&B). No Elvis, no R&R, no Beatles. If no Beatles, there would still be rock & roll (thanks to Elvis and then Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, etc.) - and probably an even healthier Motown & R&B scene (which Beatlemania and the British R&R invasion sucked oxygen from in the mid to late 60s).

If "greatest" means the most talented, that's clearly the Fab Four, who are the most commercially AND critically successful popular music act in history. Elvis was an enormous talent as a singer and performer, but the Beatles were unequaled as songwriters, musicians, recording artists, etc., selling over one BILLION units.

But for those Elvis fans out there, you can take solace from the fact that there were 4 Beatles but only 1 Elvis.

judith ellis said...

John, my dear friend, you can't be serious. Elvis opening the door for R&B? Do you think Elvis was not influenced by the music of R&B performers long before they were so called? Hmmm?

And what about all those jirations, those dance moves? Elvis' creations? My deference for all things O'Leary is pretty deep, but this one's got me wondering. Talk to me, John.

Who was the greatest? I most certainly cannot say. But I love Elvis for his smooth voice, dashing looks, awesome background singers, gentle spirit, fairness, honesty, and his gospel and hymn recordings.

But who doesn't love the Beatles?

Trevor Gay said...

I just can’t make up my mind - each time I look at the question I see it from different perspectives ...

My heart definitely tells me the Beatles as a 60's teenager!

I used to be indecisive now I’m not quite so sure...

spinhead said...

As much as I respect the performing prowess Elvis had, I'm much more impressed by the creativity required in great songwriting. And, truth be told, I'm young enough to be a Beatles fan naturally, but an Elvis fan by inheritance (from my mom.)

John, not sure I'd go for Elvis being more influential than the Beatles. Catalytic, definitely. He made people aware of music they might have ignored otherwise. But I guess I'm looking at influence on other musicians, where Lennon and McCartney have it pretty much sewn up in this particular face-off.

Of course, for sheer influence on music, nobody tops two very different guitar players: Robert Johnson, and Chet Atkins. Ain't a guitar player in popular music the past 50 years who wasn't influenced by either, or both.

I'm sorry; what was the question? Ah; let's have another round, drop another dime in the jukebox, and after "Hound Dog" and "Can't Buy Me Love" we'll try again.

John O'Leary said...

Judith, by "kicking the door open for" I mean "popularizing" -- exponentially. Elvis was of course heavily influenced by the great blues and R&B traditions, growing up in Memphis, including artists such as Arthur Crudup, Rufus Thomas and B.B. King (who knew Elvis before Elvis was Elvis). But Elvis by virtue of his overnight media success - including regular appearances on prime time American television (Ed Sullivan & Steve Allen shows) and string of million selling singles (including Bib Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog") - introduced R&R and R&B to a larger audience by a factor of at least 100. This made possible the success of the singer/songwriter/musicians of even greater R&R and R&B talent (in my opinion) such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard who almost overnight had a nationwide audience for their hits. Once that train got going, a lot of middle America (i.e. white America) developed a love affair for music they had been unaware of before the mid 50s - helped along by showcases of R&B talent such as American Bandstand.

Now, it's too bad, one might argue, that even greater talents (Robert Johnson, for one, years earlier) didn't ALREADY have the success they deserved. Such are the cruel fates. But it finally came together for this charismatic, white crooner and popular music was never the same after 1955, for better or worse. (Immeasurably better in my opinion, worse in my late parents' opinion.)

Spinhead, I can only say that before Presley, pop pablum dominated the mainstream airwaves. EP's success changed everything, virtually overnight. I was there and I remember. Now the Beatles had a strikingly similar effect on pop music, which was beginning to slip backward by 1964. (The Singing Nun had a #1 song the year before!) But I go back to the fact that there would be no R&R to speak of - and literally no Beatles, as they were the first to admit - without the contribution of Elvis the Pelvis. And this from the mouth of one who believes the genius of the Beatles has been UNDERESTIMATED.

judith ellis said...

Thank you, John. Your brilliant comments and explanations are reasons for your being one of my main men. You really are :-) I value your words.

rocky said...

That is a tough one. Both had a profund effect not only on music, but popular culture. I am quite sure there is no way to truly find an answer to this one. I think the biggest difference is the test of time. The Beatles continue to be huge in the music industry. Elvis is still big in music, but has evolved into some sort mythical character. People just do not want to let go of him. He became something to a segment of the American culture that I cannot explain. Some people revere him the same way that they do the founding fathers. Many think his image should be on currency. I don't have an explanation for it and I don't necessarily agree with it, but in America, I would have to say that Elvis would win that vote.

However, the real answer is that the greatest is Muhammad Ali. (I had to say that being from Louisville)

Trevor Gay said...

Hey Rocky - that’s cheating- extending the candidates to include Muhammad Ali ... mind you I do agree with you ... Ali remains hugely popular here in Britain … a living legend – loved by millions of Brits.

Maybe the only person to come up to him in sport for me is my beloved late great George Best - a football (soccer) genius sadly no longer with us.

Mark JF said...

George Martin.

Without his support, discipline, insight, help, guidance, criticism, enthusiasm, tolerance, mentoring and general input, I'm not convinced The Beatles would have been quite the band they were.

Trevor Gay said...

Good point Mark ... and what about Brian Epstein the visionary manager who was way ahead of his time?

Mark JF said...

Trevor - I'm glad you have acknowledged (for once and the only time I can recall!) that front line staff don't have all the answers. If the backroom boys do their jobs properly and contribute to the overall result, it works so much better.

Trevor Gay said...

You got me Mark - I agree!

John O'Leary said...

Wow, I didn't realize this thread was still chugging along. Rocky, what you said about Elvis is SO TRUE, especially in the southern US! He's a veritable deity in some quarters. I met a woman at a songwriters workshop in the mid-1990s who had written this incredible song about her mother loving Elvis more than her! It was funny but savagely truthful!

And Ali is one of my all-time heroes, as a performer and as a political/cultural pioneer. Bet you never knew that Ali's rhyming couplets most likely came from rock & roll pioneer Bo Diddley - a truly overlooked genius. (You heard it first at simplicityitk!)

Mark JF and Trevor, yes, both Martin and Epstein clearly had a huge part to play in the Fab 4 success. I can't imagine what would have happened to the boys with a different producer. Even the mega-successful Phil Spector left an unwelcome footprint on their sound (there's a mixed metaphor for ya) in the Let It Be sessions. But ANY alteration in their early career might have changed history forever. I think Pete Best, for instance, was a very positive influence on them during his reign as drummer, from August 1960 to August 1962, helping them become one of the best pure rock & roll bands in England at the time.

Trevor, I just ran the interview you did with me awhile back on my own blog. Hey, it saves me from having to think up something new. Thanks again!

Trevor Gay said...

Hi John – fabulous feedback as always - thank you my friend. It was my pleasure to do the ‘Friend of Simplicity’ with you. I value your opinion on all matters business and Rock n Roll!!

worldpeace said...

I love Elvis..

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks 'worldpeace' - appreciated

d.edlen said...

Passion abounds for both. I've had requests for paintings of them the most of any artist.

I went to a dictionary for "greatest": It split the definition into big (most important), famous (most famed), good (best), and extreme (most). So I guess one needs to consider all contexts of the word?

Big - (Resisting a corny young/old Elvis joke) I think the Beatles take this because I hear almost all musicians say they were the bigger influence on them.

Famous - At this point in history, I would say this goes to Elvis because he, as an individual, has so much mystique and such a strong iconic, almost mythical status. He is the more "famed" person.

Good - This one is hard because it's difficult to compare the Beatles to Elvis because they produced such different music. If, though, you look at each within the groups of musicians closest in style, I would say the Beatles take this because as they evolved and as history has viewed their legacy, they are considered the best within their types of music. While Elvis is hugely popular, he maybe not be considered the best in his type of music.

Extreme - I think the Beatles take this one because they pushed music with their own innovations, always evolving and never accepting the status quo. Elvis aggregated great influences and produced brilliant work. The Beatles also did their best to stay true to themselves, while Elvis considered popularity and his yes-men's opinions.

So, all told, I'd say the Beatles were the greatest because they fit the term in the most of its contexts.

Make sense at all?


Trevor Gay said...

Daniel - Yes – It makes an awful lot of sense. I like those four elements of making the decision. I also agree with your take on all four. Sounds like a fascinating thing you do - I have to ask you (forgive me please John O’Leary) do you get requests for painting The Eagles or not?

Lgr said...

Famous Elvis Quotes: What famous people had to say about Elvis

A few more things to add to the remembrance of Elvis' death. Here's a fairly all-encompassing collection of quotes about Elvis, mostly from his peers. Some of them will surprise you:

"Before Elvis, everything was in black and white. Then came Elvis. Zoom, glorious Technicolor." – Keith Richards

"If it hadn't been for Elvis, I don't know where popular music would be. He was the one that started it all." – Elton John

"I remember Elvis as a young man hanging around the Sun studios. Even then, I knew this kid had a tremendous talent. He was a dynamic young boy. His phraseology, his way of looking at a song, was as unique as Sinatra's. I was a tremendous fan, and had Elvis lived, there would have been no end to his inventiveness." – B.B. King

"Elvis is the best ever, the most original. He started the ball rolling for us all." – Jim Morrison

"The cutting edge of it was Elvis singing 'Hound Dog.' There was something about that music that got me excited. Elvis was dangerous in a way that even Buddy Holly wasn't." – Eric Clapton

"No-one, but no-one, is his equal, or ever will be. He was, and is supreme. He was a unique artist ... an original in an area of imitators." – Mick Jagger

"Last time I saw him, we sang 'Old Blind Barnabus' together, a gospel song. I love him and hope to see him in heaven. There'll never be another like that soul brother." – James Brown

"Elvis was such a nice guy, and so talented and charismatic ... He loved cheeseburgers, girls and his mother, not necessarily in that order." – Johnny Cash

"Describe Elvis Presley? He was the greatest who ever was, is or ever will be." - Chuck Berry

"When we were kids growing up in Liverpool, all we ever wanted to be was Elvis Presley." – Paul McCartney

"Elvis was God-given. There's no explanation. A messiah comes around every few thousand years, and Elvis was it this time." – Little Richard

"Nothing really affected me until I heard Elvis. If there hadn't been an Elvis, there wouldn't have been a Beatles." – John Lennon

"When I first heard Elvis'voice I just knew that I wasn't going to work for anybody; and nobody was going to be my boss...Hearing him was like busting out of jail." – Bob Dylan

"I'm just a singer. Elvis was the embodiment of the whole American culture." – Frank Sinatra

"Elvis is my religion. But for him, I'd be selling encyclopedias. It was like he came along and whispered some dream in everybody's ear, and somehow we all dreamed it" – Bruce Springsteen

“A lot of people have accused Elvis of stealing the black man’s music, when in fact, almost every black solo entertainer copied his stage mannerisms from Elvis.” - Jackie Wilson

“Elvis is the greatest cultural force in the twentieth century. He introduced the beat to everything, music, language, clothes, it’s a whole new social revolution - the 60’s comes from it.” - Leonard Bernstein

“Elvis had an influence on everybody with his musical approach. He broke the ice for all of us.” - Al Green

“He was an instinctive actor...He was quite bright...he was very intelligent...He was not a punk. He was very elegant, sedate, and refined, and sophisticated.” - Walter Matthau

“He was the firstest with the mostest.” - Roy Orbison

“That’s my idol, Elvis Presley. If you went to my house, you’d see pictures all over of Elvis. He’s just the greatest entertainer that ever lived. And I think it’s because he had such presence. When Elvis walked into a room, Elvis Presley was in the f***ing room. I don’t give a f*** who was in the room with him, Bogart, Marilyn Monroe.”
-Eddie Murphy

"I'm sitting in the drive-through and I've got my three girls in the back and this station comes on and it's playing "Jailhouse Rock," the original version, and my girls are jumping up and down, going nuts. I'm looking around at them and they've heard Dad's music all the time and I don't see that out of them." - Garth Brooks

“I know Elvis was a racist." – Mary J. Blige

"Elvis was a giant and influenced everyone in the business."- Isaac Hayes

"Elvis Presley is like the 'Big Bang' of Rock 'n' Roll. It all came from there and what you had in Elvis Presley is a very interesting moment because, really, to be pretentious about it for a minute, you had two cultures colliding there. You had a kind of white, European culture and an African culture coming together - the rhythm, okay, of black music and the melody chord progressions of white music - just all came together in that kind of spastic dance of his. That was the moment. That's really it. Out of all that came the Beatles and the Stones, but you can't underestimate what happened. It does get back to Elvis." - Bono of U2

"Elvis was a major hero of mine. I was probably stupid enough to believe that having the same birthday as him actually meant something." - David Bowie

“Elvis' version of Peace in the Valley, was one of the best gospel recordings I've ever heard." –Rev. W. Herbert Brewster, whose gospel songs were recorded by Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward

"If life was fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead." - Johnny Carson

Trevor Gay said...

Thank you lgr for sharing those terrific quotes. I loved Elvis too.