Long before the Beatles took America by storm in 1963, there was a young Southern singer with sideburns and a curled top lip from a Tennessee river town that turned American music upside down.

The year was 1956, and Elvis Presley’s version of the old Blues song “Hound Dog” coupled with the rockabilly “Don’t Be Cruel,” recorded together on one 45 rpm record, blew up the radio airwaves. Within days, the two songs swept the nation. 

Popular music took a transformational turn, and Elvis was the Pied Piper leading the way.

Back then, every time girls heard Elvis’ name, they gasped or screamed. All he had to do was wiggle his index finger and they let out shrieks.

Elvis’ male followers wore duck-tailed hair, sideburns, pegged pants, black loafers with white socks and stretched T-shirts, just like their hero.

By the way, pegged pants are back. Guys today wear their pants skin tight, just like we did back in the late 1950s. And the white T-shirt and Henley are again in vogue. 

In last century’s mid-years, we teens were searching for someone to come along and cure our social ills. And Elvis walked through the door — or better, blew it off its hinges — and launched a musical therapy that lifted all of us up.

Elvis hit the switch and put the spotlight on a special time and place in America. “Welcome to My World,” he crooned, and we scrambled to get inside.

Elvis helped free us from the fear of the godless Communists in Russia who were threatening every 15 minutes to blow all of us up in America. This existential fear of nuclear war was with us all the time. 

Listening to Elvis’ music helped calm our fears. Elvis kept the music and the beat going that helped keep our young minds off the horrible thought of total nuclear destruction.

Also, we had the assurance of beloved former President Franklin Roosevelt that we had nothing to fear but fear itself. So, we decided to keep dancing and cool it on the worrying.

Elvis and his music played a big part in our resolution to forget about the Russian menace. Our world was a whole lot more exciting and peaceful with Elvis at the controls.

Then Elvis changed, for the worst. He began wearing space-age looking jumpsuits and performing in Las Vegas gambling palaces. What happened with the plain and simple Elvis we knew and loved, the Elvis of “Love Me Tender” and “Loving You?”

When Elvis became a figure of excess, larger than life, literally, we got a very strange and weird Elvis, a bloated Elvis we couldn’t comprehend.

Elvis imitators began running around out there in yucky silk jumpsuits, making our beloved Elvis into a visual joke. Elvis was the king, not the joker.

Why Elvis chose to become a flamboyant Las Vegas showman is unsure. It must have been for the cash. He didn’t need the fame or the second chance. Really, not even the dough. Elvis was one of the most talented and richest singers of his era. 

Not a bad life for a lad who grew up dirt poor in Tupelo, Miss. But Elvis ended up drowning in dough and drugs before his untimely death from a dope overdose at the very young age of 42.  

Elvis for sure had self-doubts about his talent and his place in musical history, but we, his loyal followers did not. We watched as many famous entertainers like Elvis self-destructed.

We just felt so bad about Elvis, because he was worthy of all the praise and worship. Elvis left behind a great legacy filled with lasting memories. One for sure was his “Jail House Rock” number from his movie of the same name.

As a matter of fact, Elvis’ “Jail House Rock” choreographed dance number is one of the best ever depicted in a musical movie. The Blues Brothers gave “Jail House Rock” everlasting fame for the ending of their wild and flaky movie. 

It was a mind-blowing ending with the Blues Brothers and their band rocking the inmates with Elvis’ great song. It remains one of the great tributes to perhaps the greatest singer America has produced. If you haven’t seen that rocking movie scene, by all means please do so. It’s a shame that Elvis didn’t live to see it, or be a part of the hip-swinging fun.

Let us not forget that the kid and his music up from Tupelo and Memphis is still on top today. His estate still racks in millions annually. Elvis would have celebrated his 85th birthday on January 8. What would Elvis be at 85? Still the all-time, hip-swinging singer, of course. 

Ralph Morris is a retired newspaperman who lives near Auburn. His email is r.morris@ctvea.net. 

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