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The Musical Characteristics of Elvis Presley

The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Education Bureau 2009

The Musical Characteristics of Elvis Presley

Michael Saffle

Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced in any form or by any means, or otherwise, without the prior written consent of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

1 Elvis: An Introduction 1

Elvis as a Performer: A Summary

Five Representative Songs as Sung by Elvis Presley 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Hound Dog (1956) Baby, Lets Play House (1955) Its Now or Never (1960) Crying in the Chapel (1960) Suspicious Minds (1969)

5 5 9 12 14 16

Elvis: Concluding Observations


Listening Materials


Reading List


References for Further Study




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Elvis: An Introduction
Elvis Presley was more influential as a performer, and only as a performer, than

any other musician in world history. In some respects Elvis resembled other influential performers, including the famous Italian violinist Niccol Paganini (1782-1840) and the Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt (1811-1886). Like them Elvis was wild: an exciting, charismatic, and enormously successful performer. Liszt was the first European performer to attract groupies: young women who followed him wherever he went. Elvis also had his groupies, thousands of them. Unlike Liszt and Paganini, however, Elvis did not compose any of his own music. Yet the ways in which he performed the songs he sang, all of them written by other people, transformed twentieth-century popular music worldwide. As John Lennon, a member of the Beatles, once said: Before Elvis there was nothing. Insofar as the history of rock music goes, Lennon was more or less correct. Elvis was born Elvis Aron (or Aaron) Presley on 8 January 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi, a small town in the Deep South of the United States. Elviss family was poor; his father was often unemployed and once went to jail for fraud. Except for a little instruction on the guitar, Elvis was entirely self-taught as a performer. As a child he listened mostly to gospel music and later sang in several gospel choirs as a member of the First Assembly of God Church. He also listened to the hillbilly music associated with poor white Southerners and their social problems. In 1948 the Presley family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, a good-sized city famous for Beale Street, a fourblock-long collection of hotels, bars, restaurants, and other venues for Black (African American) music-making. After graduating from high school in 1952, Elvis took a job driving a truck. Two years later, in 1954, he came to the attention of Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records. In June of that year Elvistogether with local musicians Scotty Moore (guitar) and Bill Black (bass)recorded Thats All Right, Mama and several other numbers. Until then, Elvis had sung in public only occasionally and

mostly for friends. Suddenly his recordings caught on; their blend of Black and White (Caucasian American) musical elements, combined with his unusually flexible and playful vocal style, rapidly transformed American popular music and led to the global success of rock. Almost before he knew it, Elvis was travelling throughout the American South giving concerts. By the end of 1956, unquestionably the most important year of his professional life, he had appeared a dozen times on national television and sold millions of records. The same year Elvis became a movie star when he appeared in Love Me Tender, the first in a long series of motion pictures; the films title was taken from a song he had recorded the previous year. Meanwhile his powerful stage presence challenged the values of many conservative Americans, who perceived his glamorous bad-boy appeal as dangerous. Although Loving You (1957), Jailhouse Rock (1957), and Kid Creole (1958) earned money for their producers, the songs Elvis recorded for their soundtracks failed to achieve critical acclaim. After serving in the army for two years (1958-1960), Elvis made movies and records with gradually diminishing success. Furthermore, even such hits as Are You Lonesome Tonight? and Its Now or Never, which he recorded after returning to civilian life, marked Elviss willingness to retreat from more dangerous and culturally challenging music, and to adopt a more familiar and conventional performing style. The so-called British Invasion of American pop in 1963-1964 and the subsequent success of younger stars, including the Beatles, temporarily ended Elviss fame as an innovative musician. In 1968, however, he staged a comeback, performing many of his older songs live before a small, informal audience. This performance, televised throughout the United States and known today as the Singer Special (because the programme was sponsored by the Singer Sewing Machine Company), revitalised Elviss reputation. So did In the Ghetto and Suspicious Minds, hit songs he recorded in 1969 and his first hits since the early 1960s. Unfortunately, these songs

and a few gospel albumsespecially How Great Thou Art (1967), which won a Grammy Award, the highest honour the American music industry bestows on performersmarked the end of Elvis as a musical innovator. The rest of Elviss professional life was spent touring the United States and performing in Las Vegas. After 1972 his performances became increasingly erratic, perhaps because he was divorced by his wife, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, after five years of marriage. Elviss health deteriorated, in part because he gained a great deal of weight. It was his abuse of prescription drugs, however, that led to his death in Memphis on 16 August 1977. Oddly enough, Elviss death revived his fame. Today he remains a hero to millions of people around the world. As a performer Elvis was most innovative at the beginning (between 1954-1958) and toward the end (1967-1972) of his career. He made his reputation mostly as a recording artist, but he was even more exciting in live performance; on stage, his famous smile, snarl, and gyrations, together with the unusual clothes he wore and his teasing personality, transformed demure young women as well as their middle-aged mothers into screaming hysterics. Elviss career as a movie star mostly damaged his reputation as a musician. Although a few of his earliest films, including Jailhouse Rock, featured him as a successful actor or actor-singer, his later films were less successful and some were musical and financial disasters. Ironically, Elvis actually improved as a singer throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. Burning Love, one of his few post-1960s hits, demonstrates his ever-increasing vocal skill as well as his lifelong dramatic ability to put a song across. After establishing himself in Las Vegas, Elvis employed larger and larger groups of instrumentalists and vocalists as accompanists. His successes during the early 1970sbased in part on his live performances with these ensembles, in part on his increasingly outrageous costumes contributed to the rise of glam rock as a musical movement. In a similar way, the black-leather jumpsuit he wore for the Singer Special continues to influence the way

rock musicians dress today. Some people even credit Elvis with launching the Goth style or movement, in which men and women dress primarily or even entirely in black.

Elvis as a Performer: A Summary

Elvis was most influential as a Southern White singer who introduced audiences

throughout the United States and around the world to Black American music, especially to rock n roll, a form of rhythm and blues. He was also influential because he combined in his performances elements from different American singing styles, including gospel, rockabilly, hillbilly (sometimes called country-western) and standard pop numbers; he even employed bel canto singing in a few songs borrowed from Italian music. His stage persona was extremely influential; he simultaneously glamorised rock music and made it seem dangerous, inspiring aspects of punk rock in the 1970s. Later, his performances as a touring artist and a Las Vegas entertainer contributed to the birth of glam rock.


Five Representative Songs as Sung by Elvis Presley

Hound Dog (1956) The most important influence on Elviss career, and his most important

influence on popular culture, was rhythm and blues. Known as rock n roll, especially when sung and played by Asian, European, or European-American musicians, the term rhythm and blues is reserved today for music sung and played by Black artists. Many of Elviss most successful recordings, especially at the beginning of his career, were rock n roll numbers based on the so-called twelve-bar blues. Musically the blues is based on a sequence of chords. These chords accompany stories of many kinds: mostly sad and even tragic, but occasionally light-hearted and even humorous. Verbally the blues consists of a series of three- or four-line verses; together these verses comprise the lyrics or complete text of the song. In each three-line verse, each line is set to four bars of music, the first two lines are more or less identical, while the third line differs from the other two but rhymes with them. In four-line verses, each line may contain different words but often at least two lines rhyme with each other. A good example of the twelve-bar blues in terms both of music and three-line verse is the opening chorus from Hound Dog, one of Elviss early influential hits: You aint nothin but a hound dog, cryin all the time. You aint nothin but a hound dog, cryin all the time. You aint never caught a rabbit and you aint no friend of mine. In Hound Dog, the words You aint nothing but a function rhythmically as a clustered upbeat before bars 1 and 5 of the music begin; the words You aint function the same way before the beginning of bar 9. The downbeat in bars 1 and 5 falls on Hound, while in bar 9 it falls on never:

Clustered upbeat bars 1-4 bars 5-8 bars 9-12

You aint nothing but a

hound dog, cryin all the time You aint nothing but a hound dog, cryin all the time You aint never caught a rabbit and you aint no friend of mine.

The music that supports the first line of Hound Dog, or of any traditional blues chorus, begins with a tonic chord and ends by adding a seventh to that chord, giving the altered chord a dominant-seventh feel (I-I7). The music that supports the second line moves from a subdominant chord (with or without an added seventh) back to the tonic (IV(7)-I). The music that supports the third line moves from a dominant chord with added seventh back to the tonic; sometimes, in the middle of such lines, a subdominant chord, often with an added seventh, appears between the two chords (V7(IV7)-I). In discussing numbers like Hound Dog, people sometimes speak of threechord songs and even of three-chord players, implying that rock-n-roll artists cant play anything more harmonically complicated. Although rhythm and blues also gave birth during the mid-1960s to rock, much of which is more harmonically complex than anything Elvis recorded, the popularity, simplicity, and energy of Hound Dog and other blues-based numbers helped launch punk rock in early 1970s England and the United States. Punk rockers like Johnny Rotten, of the Sex Pistols, prided themselves on playing nothing more than what Elvis had played. Elvis recorded other blues-based songs, but not all of them are put together in precisely the same way as Hound Dog. Thats All Right, Mama, for example, is blues-based but altered: a 10-bar blues. In this song, the words that would normally have occupied bars 1-4 are more plentiful and take up more time before the harmonic shift from I-I7. The music that would have occupied bars 5-12 and especially 5-8, on

the other hand, is shorter, compressed in time, in part because there are far fewer words in lines 2-3: bars 1-4 Well, thats all right, mama; thats all right for you; thats all right, mama, just any way you do. bars 5-6 bars 7-10 Thats all right, thats all right, Thats all right now, mama; any way you do.

Throughout the song, however, the twelve-bar blues harmonic pattern holds true. Heartbreak Hotel, another blues-based song, is built from a four-line verse. The first two lines of words are about the same length; they rhyme with each other, and each line takes up the same amount of musical space (bars 1-4 and 5-8). What would have been the third line (bars 9-12) in a twelve-bar blues song, however, is stretched in Heartbreak Hotel to occupy four additional bars (9-16), with some air in the last double of measures: bars 1-4 (I- ) Well, since my baby left me, well Ive found a new place to dwell. bars 5-8 (I-I7) Well, its down at the end of Lonely Street at Heartbreak Hotel. bars 9-12 bars 13-16 (IV- ) Because Im so lonely, baby, well, Im so lonely, (V7-I) Im so lonely I could die.

Again, however, the basic blues harmonic pattern holds true. The other important aspect of rock n roll songs like Hound Dog is their vigour. Known today as rock grooves, the percussive accompaniments typical of such songs put the rhythm in rhythm-and-blues numbers. Furthermore, rock-groove

rhythms are almost always syncopated. Normally, beats 1 and 3 are emphasised in four-beat bars of music. In almost every rock n roll song, however, beats 2 and 4 are emphasised. Some experts consider a syncopated groove the single most characteristic element in every kind of rock. In Hound Dog, snare drums provide a regular beat and fill up empty musical space or air between choruses, but the songs syncopated rhythm is accomplished largely through hand-clapping. In addition to rhythmic syncopation in Hound Dog and Heartbreak Hotel, Elviss intense and slightly wild style of singing is important. Coon shouters were European-American musicians of the late 1800s and early 1900s who specialised in especially vigorous black vocal performances; the word coon is a derogatory term for black. In Hound Dog and other rock-n-roll numbers, Elvis presents himself as a coon shouter, although a comparatively sweet-voiced and gentle one. A baritone in terms of vocal range and chest voice, he pushes the upper limit of his range in Hound Dog. This makes the music sound more exciting. Elvis also mispronounces some words to suggest a southern and possibly black dialect: nothin instead of nothing, for example, and cryin instead of crying. Finally, the lyrics of Hound Dog incorporate poor or dialect grammar: aint for arent. All these stylistic gestures give the song a distinctively uneducated rural and possibly African-American sound that suggests the poorer but perhaps more vital American South. In other words, the most important aspects of Hound Dog and other of Elviss most influential early numbers are the African-American elements incorporated in them. Rhythm and blues had existed for several decades before Elvis began to perform, but until the 1950s it had remained the cultural property of Black artists. Legally discriminated against by most white Americans until the 1960s, Blacks kept largely to themselves, and race music (as rhythm and blues came to be known especially in the South, where anti-Black feelings were especially intense) was forbidden listening for most white teenagers. In fact, Hound Dog was originally recorded in 1952 by Willie

Mae Big Mama Thornton, a talented African-American coon shouter. Embraced by Black listeners, Thorntons performance had little impact among southern Whites or anywhere outside the South. Elvis successfully covered (or re-recorded) Hound Dog four years later. In doing this, Elvis did something no one had done before him: he managed to sound Black even though he was ethnically White. His performance of Hound Dog quickly achieved almost legendary success with Black as well as White listeners everywhere. Many of Elviss most successful songs resemble Hound Dog in most or even all of the ways described above. One of these songs is Jailhouse Rock: a twelve-bar blues-based number that tells a characteristically black story about prison life. Another is Thats All Right, Mama, Elviss very first commercial recording. Thats All Right, Mama is based on a modified twelve-bar blues; Elvis sings this song in a gentler style and without a rock-groove accompaniment. Even Blue Moon of Kentucky, a country song, is blues-based. Furthermore, Elvis sings this numberand especially the chorusesin an aggressive, black style. 3.2 Baby, Lets Play House (1955) In addition to growing up with gospel music and rhythm and blues, Elvis listened to and learned how to sing rockabilly: a musical style that combines aspects of the twelve-bar blues and a few other features of African-American music with the hillbilly vocal sounds of such Caucasian-American country artists as Hank Williams. A derogatory term for poor, uneducated men and women living in the Appalachian Mountains, Ozarks, and southern lowlands of the United States, hillbilly referred musically during Elviss childhood and youth to the kinds of songs sung at the Grand Ole Opry and other country-western entertainment centres and shows in Americas Deep South. Opry songs were always about one of four subjects: God, prison, lost love, and death. Some of the most successful rockabilly and Opry stars became famous because they could yodel as well as sing. Yodelling involves shifting quickly back and

forth between normal singing and falsetto singing (or head voice), producing a bubbling, shaking sound especially popular among the singing cowboys of 1940s Hollywood Western movies. Other country and rockabilly artists played the violin or banjo, wore cowboy hats, or told jokes. In Baby, Lets Play House, Elvis doesnt yodel, but he comes close. In addition to tipping and popping repeatedly on the word baby at the very beginning of the recording, he also throws his voice upward in pitch, producing a vocal break that suggests yodelling and sounds extremely playful. When Elvis sings about school, his high-pitched voice sounds youthful, even baby-like. In other parts of the song, however, he employs a firmer, lower-pitched, and less playful vocal style. In fact, when he sings that hed rather see you dead than in the arms of another man, he sounds much more serious, even threatening. Performed without an emphatic percussive accompanimentonly the bass guitar suggests a regular or drum-like beatBaby, Lets Play House embodies the natural freedom and sounds of the hillbilly and rockabilly styles. Yet the bass-guitar line is subtly syncopated, and the use of an electrically amplified bass-guitar part is typical of the new sound of rock n roll. Other aspects of Black music can also be found in Baby, Lets Play House. Occasionally, for example, Elvis shouts Yeah! as an accompaniment to his companions instrumental break. Finally, Elviss playful shift between more sweetly sung verses and more relentlessly rhythmic (but yodel-like) repetitions of single syllables provides an ironic commentary on, or a subtext for, the songs message. To play house in American slang is to play a childrens game. In this context, young boys and girls who play house pretend to be fathers and mothers, using dolls as children. The phrase suggests innocence and fun. When adults play house, on the other hand, they either marry or to live together out of wedlock. Parts of Baby, Lets Play House, as sung by Elvis, threaten the women to whom it is sung with punishment if she looks at


another man. Obviously Elvis and the imaginary woman to whom he sings are not married. At the same time, other parts of the song feature Elvis as a playful, even childlike performer. It was his ability to move effortlessly between popping and tipping passages, smooth melodic passages, and darker, more threatening passages that made Elviss early performances so remarkable. All these factors made this Baby, Lets Play House of his musically most successful recordings. Elvis uses tipping and popping in other songs, including Heartbreak Hotel. In that song, however, the bubbling sounds he produces sound more like weeping. At the beginning of Heartbreak Hotel, he shouts, then allows his voice to sink almost into silence as well as toward the bottom of his vocal range as he cries over and over again about how lonely he is. Elviss dramatic ability was apparent only occasionally in the movies he made. In songs like Thats All Right, Mama and Heartbreak Hotel, however, he demonstrates enormous skill as a musical dramatist. After he left Sun and moved to RCA Victor, Elvis quit singing rockabilly; it was too much associated with poor Southerners to be popular in the more affluent North. Aspects of rockabilly, however, appear in many of his recordings, including A Big Hunk o Love, I Forgot to Remember to Forget, and Lets Have a Party. A Big Hunk o Love features Elviss playful, vocally bouncing sound and includes a tinkly honky-tonk piano as one of its backup (or supporting) instruments. I Forgot to Remember to Forget is a typical hillbilly or rockabilly song in its subject matter (an abandoned lover), its all-acoustic string accompaniment, and its semi-yodelling vocal moments. This song, like Baby, Lets Play House, was recorded at Sun Studios. Lets Have a Party, a later number, is sung by Elvis in a smoother and sweeter style. At the same time, it features bouncing vocal moment as well as a characteristic hillbilly instrumental sound: that of a steel guitar, which is featured in the instrumental break more than halfway through the number. Finally, Elvis once recorded an actual yodel song: Wooden Heart, an imitation Central European folk song.


Unfortunately, Wooden Heart is one of his least successful (and least playful) performances, partially sung for some reason in over-pronounced English and partially in poorly pronounced German. 3.3 Its Now or Never(1960) Some of Elviss predecessors and contemporariesincluding Mario Lanza, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatramade their reputations throughout the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s singing passionate Italian love songs. They sang these songs in the full-throated vocal style known as bel canto (beautiful singing). Much nineteenth- and early twentieth-century opera, including the works of Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi, employs this style; a famous example of bel canto melody is Nessun dorma (None shall sleep) from Puccinis Turandot. Today most people think of Elvis as a rock-nroller, or possibly as a movie star, but Its Now or Never, recorded shortly after he left the army, demonstrates his ability to sing beautifully and even classically in an arrangement of the Neapolitan melody O sole mio (O Lonely Me). Its Now or Never exemplifies a most important fact: that, after his early rock n roll years, Elviss fame rested as much or more on how he sang a song than on what kind of song it was. Unlike Hound Dog, Now or Never was a conventional song by early 1960s American standards. It consists almost entirely of a 16-bar chorus and verse, both based on a familiar tune. After a brief instrumental introduction, Elvis begins with the chorus: A A1 B A2 bars 1-4: bars 4-8: bars 9-12: bars 13-16: Its now or never, come hold me tight! Kiss me, my darling; be mine tonight. Tomorrow will be too late. Its now or never: my love wont wait.


The first verse, which begins with the words When I first saw you, is followed by a repetition of the chorus; this is followed by the second verse, which begins with the words Just like a willow. The song concludes with a second repetition of the chorus and a coda based on the choruss last line. Nothing about the melodic or harmonic structure of this song is at all unusual, although in this case the music for each A phrase of the chorus is somewhat different. Hence the symbols A1 and A2 in the brief outline above. What is unusual is the way Elvis sings this song: in a strikingly handsome and heart-felt manner. In Now or Never, Elvis is accompaniedas he was throughout most of his careerby an orchestra and chorus of supporting musicians, not simply by a couple of guitar players or a small rockabilly band. The use in Now or Never of a mandolin, a small guitar-like instrument associated with Italian folk music, to provide local colour, is a nice touch. On the other hand, the drums used in Now or Never provide a syncopated groove unnecessary in a gentle love song. After he became established as an RCA Victor star, Elviss songs were mostly chosen for him by Colonel Tom Parker, his manager, and the accompaniments that supported Elvis on RCA Victor LPs were arranged by studio musicians he often didnt know. Occasionally, as in Now or Never, the overall musical result is not entirely fortunate. Other songs in which Elvis sang smoothly and even beautifully include Are you Lonesome Tonight? and Love Me Tender. In the second of these songs, Elvis accompanies himself on acoustic guitar. His performance suggests the intimacy of folk musica fact important insofar as his career was concerned, because the Folk Revival of the 1950s and early 1960s created a large audience in England and the United States for gentler music that carried a message (here, the beauty of true love). Furthermore, Love Me Tender was arranged from a well-known American college song, Aura Lee, itself based on a nineteenth-century melody. On the other hand, Are you Lonesome Tonight? is less folk-like than country-western, and Elvis sings it slightly


less smoothly, using vocal inflections that hint at the tipping and popping of Baby, Lets Play House. Are You Lonesome Tonight? was originally recorded in 1960. In the live-performance version, howeverrecorded in 1977, shortly before his death, and preserved on Elvis: The King (disk 2, track 9)Elvis breaks into laughter midway through the song. Unable to stop laughing, he transforms a sad country-western number into a stand-up comedy routine. His inability to stop laughing is typical of the last few, less-successful years of his performing career. 3.4 Crying in the Chapel (1960) Elvis was raised on gospel music and made a name for himself as a gospel performer. In spite of this, his two albums of gospel music, although artistically successful, were recorded late in his career and never achieved the popularity of his rock-n-roll hits. The deep feeling and stylistic freedom of gospel singing, however, are what make songs such as Heartbreak Hotel so powerful. After his career was well underway, Elvis covered a few classic gospel numbers. Perhaps the best known and most successful of these songs is Crying in the Chapel. Originally recorded in the early 1950s by Sonny Till and the Orioles, a Black gospel ensemble, Crying in the Chapel combines religious faith with the sadness of everyday life. In the Orioles performance the song can be listened to either as gospel or as doo-wop, a term associated with much of the music recorded by Black vocal ensembles during the 1940s and 1950s. Doo-wop refers most often to vigorous and cheerful popular music sung in close harmony and often without accompaniment of any kind. Most doo-wop lyrics describe love-making and partying, although some are less playful. Crying in the Chapel, with its suggestion of disappointed love as well as Christian message, is perhaps the most famous example of this last kind of doo-wop, at least as sung by the Orioles. Elvis, on the other hand, sings this song as a solo and

with quiet sincerity. Instead of striving for a pure bel canto sound, however, he allows his voice to flutter and waver in order to project both sadness and strong religious feeling. For centuries, America gospel singing has inspired musically inventive

expressions of faith. Gospel singers are expected to do more than merely read the notes, and much Black gospel singing is so improvisational, so heavily ornamented that even the most familiar melodies often disappear inside clouds of added notes, vocal swoops and bends, and pauses for dramatic effect. Although inspirational (and written to be performed in a variety of ways), most gospel melodies resemble pop-song tunes and are equally limited in vocal range. Crying in the Chapel, for example, is built from a single 32-bar chorus (or full musical period). Like almost all 32-bar tunes, it consists of two eight-measure phrases, the second more or less a repetition of the first. These are followed by a contrasting bridge phrase, also eight measures long. Finally, the tune ends with a third repetition or near-repetition of the initial eight-measure phrase. Thus: AABA, where A represents repeated melodic material and B the melodic bridge: A bars 1-4 You saw me crying in the chapel; the tears I shed were tears of joy. bars 5-8 the Lord. A bars 9-12 pray; bars 12-16 day. B A bars 17-20 bars 21-24 bars 25-28 accord; bars 29-32 Lord. I know the meaning of contentment; now Im happy with Just a plain and simple chapel, where humble people go to I pray the Lord that we grow stronger, as I live from day to I searched and I searched but I couldnt find; No way on earth to gain peace of mind. Now Im happy in the chapel, where people are of one Yes, we gather in the chapel just to sing and praise the


In a few places the three principal chordssubdominant, dominant, and tonicused throughout Crying in the Chapel are supplemented with additional chords, including a secondary dominant (V/V) chord that accompanies the words No way on earth in bars 21-22. Finally, in Elviss performance of Crying in the Chapel, a vocal quartetthe Jordanairesand a quiet instrumental ensemble that includes piano are employed as accompaniment. The piano itself suggests gospel music, because pianos (or pianos paired with organs) have been employed in both Black and White gospel churches since the 1930s. Although Elvis mostly recorded blues and rockabilly numbers early in his career, he made his reputation as a movie musician singing 32-bar pop songs. Even Suspicious Minds, perhaps his finest and most influential later performance, is pop rather than blues, rockabilly, gospel, or rock n roll. Elviss early 1960s reputation as a pop singer may have been responsible for the delayed release of Crying in the Chapel. Although recorded by Elvis in 1960, the RCA version wasnt distributed until 1965. (An earlier recording of this song by Elvis, released on Sun Records, is more or less unknown today.) Other gospel numbers recorded by Elvis in 1960 including Swing Down, Sweet Chariot, Milky White Way, and In My Fathers Housewere released in 1961 on His Hand in Mine, Elviss first all-gospel album. 3.5 Suspicious Minds (1969) In spite of the emotional conviction of his performance, one of the finest of his career, Elviss recording of Suspicious Minds is more about entertainment than musical innovation. While the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, and the Mothers of Invention were exploring new ways of making music and addressing issues (including psychedelic drugs) important to Americas counterculture, mainstream 1960s performers such as Elvis were producing hit records that mostly looked to the past in terms of melodies and messages.


The first thing one notices today about Suspicious Minds is how rich and full it sounds. To some extent, this song can be considered fusion music, a term more often applied to a more innovative rock style: Suspicious Minds combines the brass instruments often employed in jazz bands with the vocal sounds of gospel quartets and the syncopated groove of rock. In addition to Elviss vocal solo Suspicious Minds features several backup vocal ensembles as well as a small orchestra. So does The Boxer, a hit song by Simon and Garfunkel recorded around the same time. Like The Boxer, Suspicious Minds depends for much of its success on a powerful accompanying sound. It also depends on studio sound effects employed with increasing frequency by rock musicians of the late 1960s. Both Suspicious Minds and The Boxer, for example, employ reverb and fadeout. In 1970 Elvis demonstrated his sympathy for Simon and Garfunkel when he recorded Bridge over Troubled Waters, another of their hits and one featured on the same album as The Boxer. Trust between lovers, the subject of the lyrics for Suspicious Minds, is representative of muchbut not alllate 1960s pop. Simon and Garfunkel, for example, wrote mostly about teenagers as well as for them. The subject of The Boxer is alienated youth; its lyrics contain references to loneliness and poverty in New York City (a favourite destination for young Americans looking for adventure). Songs like The Boxer do not speak as successfully to men and women in their thirties and forties. In contrast, Elvis usually performed songs that spoke to anyone old enough to understand them. One reason Elvis has retained much of his reputation while other performers of the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s have faded from view is precisely this: he sang songs that people of all ages (except children) can understand and empathise with. Suspicious Minds is a good example of such songs: about love, it is nevertheless timeless in its appeal. As an aging Las Vegas casino entertainer, Elvis continued throughout the 1970s to infatuate teenage girls, but he also thrilled their mothersand, sometimes, their grandmothers!


Only a few of Elviss later recordings were as successful as Suspicious Minds, and only two became hits. The more important of these recordings was In the Ghetto. Unlike Suspicious Minds, In the Ghetto is a topical song, one of the very few Elvis ever recorded. Released in 1969, it addressed a timely issue: the oppressive urban lives of Black American youth. In this quieter, beautifully sung number, Elvis tells the story of an African American child who is born into poverty in Chicago, grows up hungry, cold, and ill, turns to crime, and finally diesapparently at the hands of the police (although the lyrics avoid placing responsibility on any one person or group of people for the boys death). Unlike Suspicious Minds, however, the performers who back Elvis in the Ghetto play and sing quietly. Contemporary when it was released forty years ago, In the Ghetto today sounds somewhat dated. It remains, however, an outstanding gospel-style performance of a non-gospel song.

Elvis: Concluding Observations

Although an enormously talented performer, Elvis Presley probably could not

have achieved the success he did were it not for the decade he grew up in. 1950s America was a wealthy and powerful nation, but a troubled one; racial prejudice and political paranoia made cultural innovation difficult. Until 1956, when Elviss personal appearances, TV performances, and recordings transformed popular music throughout the United States, anything Black was generally forbidden to anyone White. Respectable, middle-class White teenagers didnt listen to race music. At the same time, Black teenagers attended segregated schools, ate at their own lunch counters, and rode at the backs of buses so White teenagers could claim the best seats for themselves. Suddenly Elvis appeared, merging Black and White in his music. At first he was denounced as a musical outlaw, a young man who dressed differently, moved suggestively on stage, and drove young women crazy. He was everything forbidden: he came from a poor southern family, spoke hillbilly English, and disrupted every


audience he played and sang for. Nevertheless, people of all agesnot only young womenflocked to see him and bask in his light. Gradually, American music-lovers acknowledged that Elvis was also a good boy: he loved his mother, spoke softly and politely to reporters, and obeyed orders during his years in the army. A Southerner, he embodied not only the less pleasant aspects of that part of the nation (poverty, insufficient education, racial divisions), but also the more pleasant parts. Elvis believed in God, gave generously to many causes, and married his childhood sweetheart. (He didnt stay married to her, but his sometime wife Priscilla made a name for herself as a television actress. Their daughter Lisa Marie later married, and divorced, pop icon Michael Jackson.) Initially received as a White sexual icon, Elvis ended his career as an entertainer for people of all ages and colours. By the time he died in 1977, Elvis had launched rock n roll as an international musical style. In a few of his later recordings he even brought that kind of music closer to rock, a word difficult to define and one that encompassed the various styles and devices employed by the Beatles and other, more experimental popular musicians. Furthermore, throughout his life Elvis inspired a host of imitators; Ricky Nelson, the first Elvis impersonator, also became an important recording star. As late as the 1970s, hopeful bad boys like Elvis Costello (born Declan Patrick MacManus) borrowed his name as well as some of his youthful mannerisms. The Beatles traced their musical roots to Elvis and sang some of his songs. Without Elvis as a role model, it is difficult to imagine what eccentric and flashy singer-songwriters like Elton John might have become. Even Elviss failures became iconic, and even his worst movies continue to be televised around the world. Elvis was, truly, the King of Rock n Roll. Graceland, the estate Elvis purchased for his parents in 1956, remains a pilgrimage site, and Elvis souvenirs are a multi-million-dollar industry. After his death in 1977, in fact, a strange cult grew up around sightings of a resurrected Elvis. A few

people still believe, or profess to believe, that Elvis was carried off by creatures from another world: that he never died at alland, perhaps, never will. Even many twentyfirst-century Americans who have never heard a recording of Elviss singing have heard the name and a few of the legends about him.

Listening materials
All of the recordings by Elvis Presley mentioned in this essay, with the

exception of the first recording of Its Now or Never, can be found on the following CDs: Elvis Presley: The Sun Recordings, 2 CDs (Chrome Dreams, Post Office Box 230, New Malden, Surrey KT3 6YY, United Kingdom). Elvis: The King, 2 CDs (RCA/Sony 886971I8042).

Reading List
Useful and easy to read books about Elvis and especially about his recordings

and performance style include the following: Jorgensen, Ernst. Elvis Presley: A Life in Music (New York: St. Martins, 1998). Useful, clearly written, and comparatively short. Matthew-Walker, Robert. Elvis Presley: A Study in Music (New York: Midas, 1979). Identifies and explains the significance of every Elvis record and recording session; concludes with an essay about Elvis as performer, and with lists of his films and albums.


Robertson, John. Elvis Presley: The Complete Guide to His Music (London and New York: Omnibus, 2004). A compact, detailed account of every Elvis recording, including post-1977 recorded collections of Elviss performances.

References for Further Study

Thousands of books and articles about Elvis Presley have appeared in print.

Many of them are entirely biographical; some are quite technical. The best general discussions of Elvis as man and musician can be found in the Reading List (above) and in the following volumes: Braun, Eric. The Elvis Film Encyclopedia (Woodstock, NY 1997). Discusses Elviss performances as a Hollywood star intelligently and in great detail. Goldman, Albert. Elvis (New York 1981). A controversial early biography and musical study; often critical of Elvis, but filled with insights into American popular culture of the 1950s and 1960s. Guralnik, Peter. Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley (Boston 1994) and Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley (Boston 1999). Probably the most detailed biography of Elvis in print. The first volume covers the years 1935-1958, the second 1958-1977. Halberstam, David. The Fifties (New York 1993). An outstanding study of the decade in American history that influenced Elvis throughout his life, and that was itself influenced by his early recordings and performances. Hardy, Phil, and Dave Laing. Encyclopedia of Rock, 1955-1975 (London 1977). A history of rock n roll, with frequent comments about Elviss influence on a variety of composers, performers, and film celebrities.


Markus, Greil. Mystery Train: Imagines of America in Rock n roll Music (New York 1975). A celebrated survey of the cultural significance of the music Elvis helped create. Rodman, G. Elvis After Elvis: The Posthumous Career of a Living Legend (London 1996). Describes Elviss changing reputation following his death in 1977. West, Red, with Sonny West and Dave Hebler. Elvis: What Happened? (New York 1977). A debunking account of Elviss last years that documents his personal problems and dependency on drugs. Whitmer, Peter. The Inner Elvis: A Psychological Biography of Elvis Aaron Presley (New York 1996). Examines Elviss psychological problems, especially from the perspective of Elvis as a twinless twin; his brother Jesse was stillborn.



Each of the terms defined below appears in either or both of the chapters on Elvis and the Beatles. VII: in any major or minor key, a major triad built upon the lowered seventh degree (i.e., leading tone) in that key. Virtually unknown in pop music prior to the Beatles. 12-bar blues: the standard blues chorus. Harmonically it consists of: I-I7 / IV7-I / V7(IV7)-I. Verbally, it usually consists of three lines of text, the first two similar or identical to each other. Hound Dog is a good example of a 12-bar blues. 16-bar chorus: a musical period consisting of four 4-bar phrases in an AABA (in the case of Its Now or Never, AA1BA2). A common layout for pop songs, especially when preceded or followed by a verse. 32-bar chorus: a musical period consisting of four 8-bar phrases in an AABA configuration. The most common layout for pop songs prior to rock n roll. 45rpm (also 45s): 45 revolutions per minute. The speed of most pop singles (7-inch phonorecords) manufactured during the 1950s and 1960s. 78rpm (also 78s): 78 revolutions per minute. The speed of most albums (12-inch phonorecords) manufactured between the late 1910s and the late 1940s. See also LP.

accento: a Baroque vocal ornament in which a melodic line begins on a higher tone before dropping to the adjacent lower tone. Yesterday by the Beatles begins with an accento on the first syllable of the title word. acid trip: the experience a man or woman undergoes after taking LSD. acid rock (also acid rocker): a style of late 1960s music that artistically simulates or at least refers to LSD and acid trips. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds is an example of acid rock; as its composers and performers, the Beatles could be said to have been acid rockersbut only in relation to songs of precisely that kind.


acoustic: without electrical amplification. Originally, all guitars were acoustic instruments. added ninth: a note nine steps above the root of a given triad and added to that triad. A C-Major chord with an added ninth would consist of the notes C, E, G, and D a fifth above the preceding G. added second: a note one step above the root of a given triad and added to that triad. A C-Major chord with an added second would consist of the notes C, D, E, and G. added seventh: a note seven steps above the root of a given triad and added to that triad. A C-Major chord with an added major seventh would consist of the notes C, E, G, and B. A similar chord with an added minor seventh would consist of C, E, G, and B . added thirteenth: a note thirteen steps above the root of a given triad and added to that triad. A C-Major chord with an added thirteenth would consist of the notes C, E, G, and F a seventh above the preceding A. air: vocal silences in pop songs. Elvis left little air in most of his recordings, while the Beatles left more in many of their skiffle numbers. album: a synonym for LP. See also CD. amplification: electronic enhancement or magnification of sound. See also acoustic. arrangement: a version of a musical composition to be performed for a certain collection of instrumental and vocal forces. A song with guitar accompaniment, for example, might be arranged for brass band. art song: a song composed by a classical or romantic European or European-American master. Also, a song that aspires to similar refinement of musical style. Some Beatles songs have been called art songs. asymmetric melodic structure: any melodic structure composed of phrases of dissimilar lengths. Instead, of a 32-bar chorus, for example, a melodic period consisting of two 7-bar and two 9-bar phrases.

backup: in popular music, a collective term for instrumental and/or vocal accompaniment. One vocalist, for example, sings the lead and the others back her up with non-melodic material.


ballad: in popular music, a slower, more sentimental, and more tuneful song. Love Me Tender and Yesterday are ballads, whereas Hound Dog and Taxman are not. baritone: in vocal music, the male voice with a range lying somewhat below that of a tenor and somewhat above that of a bass. Also, the range of such a voice. Elvis Presley sang baritone. bars: measures of music. Every melodic phrase or compositional passage is composed of one or more bars. bass: in some pop ensembles as in classical European orchestral music, a low-pitched, four-string member of the viol family. Bill Black played the bass in some of Elvis Presleys early recordings. See also bass guitar below. bass guitar: an electric instrument employed by rock musicians especially to support individual notes in harmonic progressions and to add counterpoint to otherwise chordal musical structures. In both respects, the bass guitar functions in ways similar to the solo continuo instrument (cello or viola da gamba) employed in Baroque music. battery: another name for percussion instruments as a group. In popular music, a battery consisting of one or more snare drums, one or more cymbals, and a bass drum is more often referred to as a set or kit. Beatlemania: the enthusiasm expressed by admirers of the Beatles especially during the early and mid-1960s. Often reserved for describing the behaviour of groupies at concerts and other personal encounters. bel canto: Italian for beautiful voice or beautiful singing. Mostly used in conjunction with Italian opera, although some pop singers (Elvis Presley, Mario Lanza, etc.) also sang bel canto effectively. Black: African American. Used to describe certain musical styles as well as the people who invented them. blue notes: flatted or lowered notes employed in blues, jazz, and other pop forms. Usually refers to the third, fifth, and seventh degrees of the musical scale. blues: a Black musical form of expression with limited vocal and harmonic range but considerable expressive power. See 12-bar blues, rhythm and blues, and rock n roll.


break: see instrumental break. bridge: in a standard 32-bar or AABA tune, the third or B 8-bar phrase. Also the instrumental solo that separates one verse, stanza, or chorus from another. British Invasion: during the early 1960s, the introduction of pop music and musicians from England, either in person or by way of recordings, into the United States. The success of the Beatles during their 1964 American tour contributed enormously to the overall impact of the British Invasion. Broadway show tune: any song written for one or more musical comedies performed in theatres located on or close to Broadway in midtown Manhattan. Also: songs similar in style to such tunes.

call and response: musical or other situations in which one voice or voices are answered by a different voice or voices. Associated originally with gospel. calliope: a kind of organ, formerly steam-powered but now usually electric. Associated with circuses, carnivals, and other outdoor European and American entertainments. Calliopes produce harsh, metallic musical sounds. campy (also camp): playful in a sarcastic, exaggerated manner. CD: a common abbreviation for compact disk, a form of commercial digitalised musical recording. See also album and LP. celeste (also celesta): a small keyboard instrument outfitted with metal bars that produce bell-like sounds when struck. Unknown in Western music until the 1890s, when Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky employed it in his Nutcracker ballet. chaconne: a variation form in which a single chord progression defines each in a series of subsequent statements or variations. chest voice: singing with the support of the diaphragm. Chest voice employed in bel canto and other forms of classical vocal music as well as in Broadway musical comedy. chorus: in popular music, the material that follows one or more verses. See also 32bar chorus and refrain. chromatic (also chromatic inflection): moving melodically by half instead of whole steps. Also, chords containing one or more notes bearing sharps or flats. Sometimes considered the opposite of diatonic.

close harmony: ensemble singing based on triads, parallel thirds and sixths, and other closer intervals and chords. Originally a doo-wop and gospel term. club: in popular music, a place of entertainment where pop music can be heard, often live. The Beatles performed in Hamburg and Liverpool clubs during the very early 1960s. clustered upbeat: one or more notes or syllables that function together in anticipation of a downbeat that begins a subsequent measure or section of music. coda: Italian for tail. Any passage of music appended to the end of a longer composition. concept album: an LP or CD devoted to a single idea, story, or theme. Unlike most albums, concept albums are created as compositional wholes. Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band remains the most famous concept album in history. coon shouter: a singer, Black or White, who vigorously sings or even shouts out the lyrics to certain kinds of African American music. count-off (also count down): The numbers spoken to establish the tempo of a pop song immediately before that song begins. counter-culture: collectively, people with eccentric attitudes or habits. Also, the values of such people. In 1960s America, this term was applied mostly to anti-Vietnam War protestors and other individuals who disagreed with certain commonly held American political, social, and cultural values. country (also country-western): hillbilly music. Country musical ensembles often include banjos and mandolins as well as guitars. cover: to perform or record a song composed by someone else.

Deep South (sometimes South): in the United States, the geo-political and cultural area south of the so-called Mason-Dixon Line and east of Texas. This area includes the states of Florida, Kentucky, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, but the term Deep South is sometimes reserved especially for Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. distortion: any form of alteration to a pre-existing or pure musical sound. Reverb, wobble, and amplification are all forms of electronic distortion. Forms of


acoustic distortion are produced by mutes (for brass instruments) and pieces of metal (for prepared pianos). dominant: the fifth degree of a scale, or a chord built on such a note. In C Major, G is the dominant note, a G-Major triad the dominant chord. doo-wop: a kind of Black vocal music, often sung without musical accompaniment and in close harmony. double: to perform on more than one instrument or sing more than one part. A guitarist, for example, may also be able to double as a percussionist. double-track: to record the same piece of music twice, then play back both recordings at more or less the same time. After being double-tracked, singers such as Elvis Presley or Paul McCartney can sing with themselves. downbeat: the first beat of a given melodic phrase, musical passage, or composition.

Elvis impersonator: a singer or actor who dresses up and pretends to be Elvis Presley.

fadeout: to gradually reduce the volume of a musical passage, either by playing or singing it more and more softly, or by decreasing its volume electronically. Also: the conclusions of many pop songs in which the music gradually fades out, becomes too soft to be heard. falsetto: a synonym for head voice. To sing without the support of the diaphragm and especially to sign very high notes without such support. folk music (also folk song): any musical statement that sounds as if it were traditional or ethnic in origin. Sometimes used in opposition to classical or popular as a form of musical expression or culture. Folk Revival: a movement throughout Europe and North America, began as early as the 1890s but especially widespread during the 1940s and 1950s, when both authentic and simulated folk songs were performed as entertainments. Bob Dylan began his career in the early 1960s as one of the last but most influential Folk-Revival singer-songwriters. fusion (also fusion music): in popular music, rock combined with jazz, or sometimes with folk. Many fusion bands include trumpets, trombones, saxophones, and other jazz instruments as well as electric guitars and other rock instruments.

glam rock: from glamour. In popular music, a form of rock largely defined by the elaborate costumes and makeup worn by its performers. Elvis came close near the end of his career to appearing in public as a glam rocker. gospel: in music, certain performing traditions and tunes associated with American religious music and especially with African American Protestantism. Gospel singers often improvise on familiar melodies, ornamenting them elaborately. They also sometimes sing in close harmony; in this respect, gospel resembles doo-wop. goth (or Goth style): in popular music, rockers who dress in black costumes made of leather and wear heavy chains as ornaments or belts, outrageous makeup, facial piercings, etc. Grand Ole Opry: an American radio programme broadcast every week from Nashville, Tennessee, since 1925. As an institution, the Opry has more or less defined hillbilly, rockabilly, and country-western musical styles for post-World War II audiences. groove: see rock groove. groupies: musical camp followers. Often used to refer to young women who follow rock musicians, attend their concerts, and otherwise consort with them. Occasionally used to refer to young men who do similar things.

harmonica: a small, hand-held mouth organ. In popular music, harmonicas are associated especially with folk, hillbilly, and skiffle. head voice: see falsetto. hillbilly: residents, Black or White, of Americas eastern mountains. Also the music made by those residents, either in reality or as simulated in performances and recordings. Hillbilly music is generally considered low-class entertainment, often home-made. In fact, much of it derives from Scots-Irish immigrants to Appalachia as well as from Black musical sources. Characteristic hillbilly instruments include the jug, the banjo, and the washboard bass. hippies: young people in 1960s America who used LSD, wore psychedelic clothing, lived together in experimental communities, etc. Often used as an insult.

honky-tonk (also honky-tonk piano): a tinny piano sound associated with bars and other low institutions of American cities and towns, as opposed to rural hillbilly music. Honky-tonk piano refers not merely to poorly tuned upright pianos played in such places, but to the kind of music often played on them. hook: a musical phrase or sound placed near the beginning of a song to attract attention.

instrumental break: see break. ironic commentary (also ironic or irony): to comment on or present anything in a selfconscious and often critical manner.

jam session: an informal and private rehearsal or performance, as opposed to a public concert. jobber: see club.

label: the name a recording company uses to market music: Sun, Parlophone, Motown, etc. leading tone: the tone lying immediately below the tonic of any scale. In C Major, B is the leading tone. Lieder: German for songs (the singular is Lied). The art songs composed in Germany especially during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Schubert and Mahler were among the most famous Lieder composers. LP: an abbreviation for long-playing. 12-inch, 33rpm phonorecords are LPs. Today sometimes also used for CDs. LSD: an abbreviation for lysergic acid diethylamide, also known as acid, a powerful and dangerous hallucinogenic lyrics: the words of a song, as opposed to its music.

Mandolin: a small, guitar-like instrument featured in many country-western ensembles.


mediant progression: an harmonic progression by thirds. In C Major, a mediant progression might be from I-III (C Major to E Major), or from I-iii (C Major to E minor). melody (also melodic structure): a tune, usually consisting of several phrases organised into one or more periods. The melody of Michelle is the part sung by McCartney on Rubber Soul. Mersey sound: refers not only to songs written or performed in Liverpool (located on the Mersey River), but to songs by Liverpool artists that combined elements of folk, jazz, and rock n roll. Early Beatles numbers, including Love Me Do, are examples of the Mersey sound. Mixolydian: in music, one of the eight Medieval church modes or scale patterns. The ascending Mixolydian scale ends with a whole step instead of a half step (G A B C D E F G), whereas the standard major scale ends with a half step (G A B C D E F G). modal harmony: harmony based on scales other than those identical in structure to standard major and minor scales. In a Mixolydian harmonic passage, for example, the minor triad D/F/A would precede the major G/B/D to form a modal dominant-tonic cadence (v-I). Motown (also Motown sound): the label distributed by the Motown Recording Corporation, as well as the music produced and marketed as Motown. Many Motown artists performed together in small groups, singing and playing rock or doo-wop numbers characterised by lively rhythmic figures and distinctive structural patterns. music-hall songs: in popular music, topical and occasionally risqu songs associated with lower-class theatrical entertainment in England between the later nineteenth century and the 1950s. musical device: any definable way of momentarily manipulating musical material. Counterpoint is a musical device; so is reverb; so is chromatic harmony. Sometimes referred to disparagingly as gimmicks. musique concrte: French for hard (i.e., non-musical) music. Any natural sound recorded and introduced into an artificial musical composition. The airplane noises at the beginning of the Beatles Back in the USSR are examples of musique concrte.

ninth: see added ninth. North: in the United States, the geo-political and cultural area north of the so-called Mason-Dixon Line. Also, any place outside the South, especially the Deep South. Often used in reference to such urban areas as Manhattan, Boston, Chicago, etc.

oblique counterpoint: a kind of contrapuntal motion in which one voice or part remains fixed on a given note while another moves away from that note. Oblique counterpoint was originally employed in Medieval music, especially in organum; for this reason it often sounds antique or exotic, especially when used in popular music. ondioline: a monophonic vacuum tube instrument composed of a single oscillator and a small eight-octave touch sensitive keyboard. Uncommon. open fourths, fifths (also parallel fourths, fifths): notes sung or played a fourth or fifth apart, without the addition of thirds or other musical intervals. In C Major, the notes D/A moving directly to the notes E/B would be considered parallel fifths. ornament, ornamented: in music, additional or extraneous notes added to a familiar tune or pre-existing composition. An accento is an ornament; so are passing notes used to link portions of existing melodies.

parallel harmony: chords moving in parallel motion. In C Major, the triad C/E/G moving directly to the triad D/F/A would be considered parallel harmonies. parallel thirds: voices or parts moving together at the interval of a third. In C Major, the pair C/E moving directly to the pair D/F would be considered parallel thirds. parody: a word with several somewhat different meanings. To parody something often means simply to ridicule it. At the same time, many musical parodies consist of pre-existing material reworked into new forms. First used as a musical term to define the parody masses and motets of Renaissance Europe, in which pre-existing compositions were recomposed to serve new musical and cultural purposes. Back in the USSR utilises both kinds of parody: it pokes


fun at California Girls, a Beach Boys song, even as it incorporates part of the song within its own melodic structure. pastiche: any cultural artifact composed of fragments or sections in different, often extremely different styles. period (also musical period): a group of phrases forming a complete melodic statement. One form of musical period is the 32-bar chorus. Another is the 12-bar blues. persona: from the Latin for mask. A persona is the individual one shows the outside world, as opposed to ones inner self. Elvis Presleys stage persona was that of a vibrant, playful, occasionally cruel singer. In his private life, by contrast, Elvis was often sorrowful, angry, or generous as a son, friend, or business associate. phonorecord: a disk on which music or other sounds are recorded acoustically rather than digitally. LPs, 45s, and 78s are all phonorecords, whereas CDs are digital recordings. piccolo trumpet: a small trumpet used today mostly in performing Baroque music. plagal cadence: a IV-I rather than V-I chord progression. Often associated with religious music, especially hymns. popping: repeating one note over and over, often quickly. A term used in conjunction with Irish and Irish-American folk music as well as pop songs of certain kinds. pre-recorded sound: see musique concrte. psychedelic: see LSD, acid, acid trip, etc. psychedelic art: paintings or other visual forms of expression associated with LSD. Yellow Submarine (1969), an animated movie based on Beatles songs, features illustrations made by Peter Max, a 1960s painter and illustrator. punk rock (also punk rocker): a form of music characterised by extreme harmonic and melodic simplicity, high electrically amplified volume, and social protest or anger. Punk began in the early 1970s; the term is often used to refer to such British bands as the Sex Pistols.

radio DJ: an abbreviation for disk jockey. A man or woman who plays recordings (or disks) during radio broadcasts. A term associated mostly with popular music in 1950s and 1960s America.

raga: in North Indian music, any exotic scale as well as the music constructed using such a scale. Ragas are modes, each with its own tuning system and cultural associations. race music: in America and especially in the Deep South, anything composed or performed by African Americans or suggestive of them. Rhythm and blues was race music until Elvis and other White (and Black) performers transformed it into rock n roll. receive (also reception): in aesthetics, the opinions expressed about a given individual, art work, or artistic style. Elvis was initially received as a sexual icon; later, the reception granted him by music-lovers also embraced his religious faith and family values. refrain: a melodic statement that reappears anywhere in a song, often between or after the chorus. Also used by some people as a synonym for chorus. retro: not merely old-fashioned, but backward-looking. Retro art and music are deliberately and often playfully antique. Honey Pie is a retro song rather than an actual example of 1920s popular music. reverb: an abbreviation of reverberation. In popular music, the result of electronic manipulation that makes music sound larger or more distant, and to create echo-like effects. rhythm and blues: a Black term for rock n roll. Also rock n roll as performed by Black artists. rock (also rock music): a difficult term to define. Today, virtually a synonym for popular music. In the 1960s, the term rock was often used to distinguish the more complex blend of musical styles and sound effects created by artists such as the Beatles from that of the less complex blend of styles and effects employed by artists such as Elvis Presley. rock groove: any continuous syncopated rhythmic accompaniment in rock n roll or related musical idioms. Without a groove or backbeat, at least until the Beatles transformed popular music, any given song cannot possibly be rock. rockabilly: a blend of rock n roll and hillbilly musical styles and devices. Many rockabilly bands, for example, employ banjos or pianos as well as guitars and drums.


rock n roll: a White term for rhythm and blues. Also, rhythm and blues as performed mostly by White artists. This term is sometimes also used to distinguish the more authentic and vital recordings of Elvis and Chuck Berry from the rock and roll of later, more commercialised and less exciting artists and ensembles, including Elvis impersonator Ricky Nelson.

second: see added second. secondary dominant: harmonically, the dominant of a dominant (or other chord) in any key. In C Major, a D-Major triad would be considered the dominant of G Major, itself the dominant of the home key. set: see battery. seventh: see added seventh. single: a 45rmp recording. Sales information for many of the songs recorded by Elvis Presley and by the Beatles before 1965 appeared on singles charts; to have a hit, Elvis or the Beatles would need to rank near the top of such charts. sitar: a large Indian lute-like instrument outfitted with sympathetic strings and movable frets. skiffle: a musical style that originated in both Black and White circles and employed folk sounds as well as instruments such as the harmonica. The Beatles began as skiffle artists. song cycle: a carefully arranged and integrated collection of songs, often one that tells a story or makes a particularly consistent musical statement. A term used mostly in connection with certain collections of Lieder by classical composers such as Schubert. Sgt. Peppers has often been considered a song cycle rather than a mere collection of songs. soundtrack album: any LP or CD that contains the music from a particular musical comedy or motion picture. South: see Deep South. spliced-in: an antique term for cutting and pasting one piece of recorded magnetic tape into another piece. Anything added electronically or digitally to a pre-existing musical recording. Some of the ship and water sounds used in Yellow Submarine were spliced into the music the Beatles themselves sang and played.

steel guitar: an amplified guitar often played lying on a table instead of held in the hands. Its sound is often associated with hillbilly or rockabilly music. stepwise chord progression: a progression, say, from I-II or from II-III in a given key. stylistic gestures: any device employed in part (as opposed to all) of a musical composition. subdominant: the fourth degree of a major or minor scale. Also, any triad built on that scale degree. With regard to some Beatles songs, see also substitute chord below. substitute chord: a chord used to function as another. Often the minor submediant triad is used as a substitute for the dominant triad in pop music. subtext: something suggested but not explicitly explained. One possible subtext for the lyrics to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds is an acid trip. Summer of Love: a term invented by Time magazine to define the summer of 1967 in terms of LSD, and San Franciscos Haight-Ashbury residential district, where many hippies lived that year in counter-cultural communities. The most famous musical product of or associated with the Summer of Love was Sgt. Peppers. surreal: fantastic, dreamlike. swarmandel: a kind of Indian harp. Uncommon in Western music.

tambura (or tamboura): a small lute-like instrument from India. Similar instruments, including the tamburitza from the Balkans, can be found in countries around the world. tape loop: originally a piece of magnetic recording tape spliced to itself so that it could play endlessly without having to be rewound. Anything musical fragment or sound played over and over in a mechanical manner. three-chord songs (also: three-chord players): songs employing only tonic, subdominant, and dominant (I / IV / V) chords. Often used to refer to rock n roll music and the individuals who perform it. thirteenth: see added thirteenth. tipping: moving between two adjacent notes, often rapidly. See also popping. tonic: the first degree of a major or minor scale.

topical song: a song with lyrics that discuss or refer to a current event or situation. Taxman is a topical song insofar as it refers to the British system of taxation, actual politicians involved with that system (including former Prime Minister Wilson), etc. transposition: to move a musical statement from one key to another.

vamp: in popular music, a short, repeatable musical figure usually placed at the end of a songs introduction. vaudeville: a form of entertainment, usually a variety show, popular throughout late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Europe. Vaudeville songs were pop songs associated with such shows. verse: in popular music, either: a) the lyrics of a song; or b) the melodic period that precedes or follows the chorus or refrain. vocal break: the point in any singers range above which he or she cannot sing using chest voice. Shifting quickly between chest and head voice (or falsetto) produces an effect known as yodelling. vocal range: the range, from lowest to highest, that a given singer can sing. Sometimes restricted to chest voice.

washboard bass: a primitive instrument that lends rhythmic support in skiffle and hillbilly ensembles. Occasionally actually fashioned from a washboard, a device used for scrubbing clothes to get them clean. White: Caucasian American. See also Black.

yodel: see vocal break.