Monthly Archives: April 2006

ELVIS AND THE NATIONAL RECORDING REGISTRY

Last Sunday, an Associated Press story appeared in the entertainment sections of many American newspapers.  It was titled AUDIO ARCHIVES – Library of Congress picks 50 Recordings To Save For Posterity.  There was a list of the 50 selections, which I immediately scanned before reading the article itself.  I wanted to see what recordings from the fifties they included.  There were three:  “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” by Jerry Lee Lewis, “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino, and “That’ll Be The Day” by Buddy Holly and The Crickets.

 

I love all three of these songs, and still have the original 45’s of each that I purchased as a teenager.  However, instead of being happy at their selection for this honor, I was annoyed.  Even though I didn’t know what the National Recording Registry was all about, it just seemed like there should be an Elvis song in it.  At that point, I figured I’d better read the article.

 

This quickly revealed that 2006 is the fifth year of these selections, so it figured Elvis certainly had to be in the previous groups.  This prompted a visit to the Library of Congress website for a complete look at the whole National Recording Registry thing.  The Library of Congress has registered recordings since 2002 that are culturally, historically or aesthetically important.  The Librarian of Congress, who makes the selections, certainly thinks it is a big deal.  He proudly states, “The National Recording Registry represents a stunning array of the diversity, humanity and creativity of our sound heritage.”

 

These honored recordings are not limited to just music.  Here’s a sample of some non-musical items:  FDR’s “Fireside Chats,” “Who’s On First “ by Abbott and Costello, the first official trans-Atlantic telephone conversation in 1927, Martin Luther King’s speech “I Have A Dream, and “Casey At The Bat” by DeWolf Hopper, who recited the poem over 10,000 in performances.

 

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library with 126 million items, including 500,000 LP’s, 450,000 78-RPM discs, 200,000 CD’s and 100,000 cassettes.  Now that’s what I call a record collection.

 

And, yes, Elvis is included in the National Recording Registry.  His complete output from the 1954 and 1955 Sun Records recording sessions was honored as a group in the inaugural listing in 2002.  So my initial fear that Elvis didn’t receive the recognition he deserved turned out to be unfounded.

 

Similar recognition to other fifties’ songs has been rather limited.  Besides the titles mentioned above, the only other fifties’ songs honored so far are:  “Earth Angel” by the Penguins, “Roll Over Beethoven” by Chuck Berry, and “What’d I Say” by Ray Charles.  That leaves a lot of great tunes to be honored in future years.  It will probably be a long wait, but someday we should see “Heartbreak Hotel added to the National Recording Register.  If the Library of Congress ever starts a National Video Register, Elvis doing “Hound Dog” on the Milton Berle Show is a cinch to make the inaugural list.

 

©  2006   Philip R Arnold   www.elvisblog.net

 

TEN DAYS THAT CHANGED AMERICA

Did you watch the documentary about Elvis on the History Channel last Wednesday, April 11?  It was titled “When America Was Rocked,” and it was part of the series Ten Days That Unexpectedly Changed America.  Not the ten most important days, however, or the list would have included Pearl Harbor and 9/11.  Instead, the producers selected days that weren’t obvious but still caused significant change.

 

The focus on ten specific dates worked well with subjects like the Battle of Antietam on Sept 10, 1852, or the discovery of gold in California on January 23, 1842.  However, to fit that format, they had to pick a date for Elvis, and they chose September 6, 1956, Elvis’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.  I’m glad the History Channel presented something about Elvis, but I had problems with the show.

 

For one thing, it contained far too many talking heads and not enough Elvis.  I guess all the bloviating was directed to the curious viewers with little knowledge of Elvis.  Fair enough, we Elvis fans can be understanding while the rest of the folks are brought up to speed.  The show certainly reinforced the fact that Elvis changed everything – music, clothes, hairstyles, and attitude.  But instead of all the talking, they should have shown much more of Elvis performing on the Sullivan show.  I was very disappointed that we got to see Elvis sing just one complete song, “Don’t Be Cruel,” plus about half of “Ready Teddy”.

 

Any student of Elvis knows the changes he caused in American culture can be traced to the entire year of 1956 and beyond, not just to one appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.  One talking head even called the September 6 show “The moment where the pop explosion of the 50’s crystallized.”  I’m sure he is proud of his well-crafted quote, but it’s just not accurate.

 

Elvis’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show was actually his tenth TV show, following six on the Dorsey Brothers Show, two on the Milton Berle Show, and one on the Steve Allen Show.  By September 6, 1956, Elvis already had three top-forty hits:  “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Blue Suede Shoes,” and “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You.”  His concerts during the spring and summer of 1956 were regularly accompanied by mass hysteria and even rioting by his mostly-female teenage fans.  So, Elvis caused changes in American popular culture through this entire period leading up to the Sullivan show.

 

If there were one date that truly could be singled out as one where Elvis made his biggest impression on America, it would be June 5, 1956, the day Elvis made his second appearance on the Milton Berle Show.  This is when Elvis unveiled “Hound Dog” with so much pelvis-shaking intensity that it immediately set off huge repercussions.  TV critics across the country slammed his performance for its vulgarity and animalism.  Preachers and civic leaders complained bitterly that Elvis and his music would turn America’s teenagers into a bunch of wild juvenile delinquents.  Some disc jockeys even staged break-Elvis-records events.  The History Channel did give brief mention about the fireworks Elvis set off with his second Milton Berle appearance.  In my mind, this is the date they should have featured.

 

All in all, the History Channel deserves our thanks and congratulations for including Elvis in a series about events that changed America.  However, rocket ship “Elvis” had already blasted off and was moving at warp speed when he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.

 

©  2006   Philip R Arnold    www.elvisblog.net 

ELVIS HAS LEFT THE BUILDING

Surprise, this is not an article about the phrase made famous by Al Dvorin.  It is a review of a movie of the same name that went straight to video.  I figure you ought to get the word on it now while the DVD is still available.  A year from now it may be hard to find.

 

Elvis Has Left The Building is a quirky little film starring Kim Basinger, who still looks terrific at age 50+.  Her character is Harmony Jones, a traveling cosmetics saleslady.  The male lead is John Corbett.  Remember him from TV’s Northern Exposure or the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding?  Among the lesser players are Angie Dickenson, Annie Potts, and several hundred of the worst looking Elvis impersonators you ever saw.  Even gorgeous Denise Richards looks pretty bad in an Elvis wig and outfit.

 

At the beginning of the film, a legend appears on screen:

 

At the time of his death there were 3 known Elvis impersonators.  Today there are over 50,000.

 

If that figure continues to grow at its present rate, by the year 2012, one out of every four people on the planet will be an Elvis impersonator.

 

In the face of this potential threat to world sanity a miracle occurred, and her name was Harmony Jones.

           

If you think the movie might not be very positive toward Elvis impersonators, you are right.  I wonder if there really are 50,000 of them in the world now.  Anyway, Harmony Jones comes in contact with a string of Elvis impersonators who all kick the bucket in weird ways.  Believe it or not, the movie’s light tone continues very well in spite of these demises.  Elvis impersonators are treated as expendable.  (Remember they pose a threat to world sanity.)

 

Harmony believes she is transmitting some evil jinx to these men, so she tries to avoid contact with any more Elvises.  John Corbett’s hunky character is not an Elvis impersonator, but Harmony sees his soon-to-be ex-wife’s Elvis jump suit in his car and spends half the movie trying to avoid him.  He is very persistent, and the ensuing escapades lead to a happy ending.  At least, happy for them.  Several hundred Elvis impersonators don’t fare so well.

 

Elvis Has Left The Building is not classic cinema, but I liked it.  There’s an offbeat love story and a bunch of laughs (the gay guy is an absolute hoot).  Kim Basinger is perfect in her role.  Tom Hanks adds a short cameo appearance as the head in the mailbox.  That’s too difficult to explain, so just watch for it.

 

I recommend you see Elvis Has Left The Building.  Unless you have a family member who is an Elvis impersonator, you will enjoy it.

 

©  2006   Philip R Arnold    www.elvisblog.net

ELVIS COMMENTARY MINI-NUGGETS — # 1

There were a few Elvis items in the news recently, and they have interesting aspects to mention in this week’s blog.

 

Graceland was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service, joining a select list of 2300.  That actually sounds like a lot, so I wondered why it took so long for Graceland to get the honor.  A little research on the internet gave some answers.  There is a lesser category called the National Register of Historic Places, which has over 79,000 designations.  Graceland has been on this list since 1991.  Historic Places are primarily of state or local interest and significance. 

 

Two of the criteria for elevation to Historical Landmark status are that a property achieves national significance in American history and culture, and that it illustrates the nationwide impact of the person associated with the property.  Graceland certainly meets these standards.  It appears that the delay in getting the Historic Landmark recognition was this rule: “Properties that have achieved significance within the past 50 years are not eligible for designation.”  Well, Elvis bought Graceland in March 1957, so I guess it just got past that hurdle.  By the way, Sun Records Studio was designated a National Historic Landmark on July 31, 2003, just 50 years after Sam Phillips changed the name of his company from the Memphis Recording Service to Sun Records.

 

A few weeks ago Elvisblog paid homage to the late Charlie Hodge.  Recently I found an interesting little tid-bit on him while surfing Elvis-related web sites.  Do you know which room was Charlie’s when he lived at Graceland all those years?  It was one of several downstairs bedrooms occupied by various members of the Memphis Mafia.  Most are being used for storage now.  If you take the Graceland tour again, make a note when you enter the yellow-and-blue “TV Room.”  The blue door to the left is Charlie’s old room.  At least he didn’t have far to go when the parties were over and it was time to go to bed.

 

On Monday, March 27, the PBS series Antiques Roadshow broadcast from Los Angeles.  One of the featured items was a collection of clothes from the late designer Nudie Cohn.  Does that name sound vaguely familiar?  Congratulations, if you knew Nudie was the man who designed Elvis’ famous Gold Lamé Suit.  This creation rocketed Nudie to stardom and cemented his place in fashion history.  He is also given credit for being the first designer to put rhinestones on the outfits of country music singers, which led to the term Rhinestone Cowboy.  Nudie has an interesting website.  Go to www.nudiesrodeotailor.com to check it out.

 

Last week’s article was about the Johnny Cash movie “Walk The Line.”  Here’s a strange little fact.  Remember the actor who played Arnold Schwarzenegger’s nemesis in Terminator 2?  His name is Robert Patrick.  Well, thirteen years later, looking older and heavier, he played Johnny Cash’s father in “Walk the Line.”  Last summer he also played Elvis’ father in the CBS TV mini-series “Elvis.”  If they ever do a movie about Carl Perkins, maybe Robert Patrick can play his dad, too.

 

©  2005   Philip R Arnold    www.elvisblog.net