Elvis Presley: A different kind of rock idol (1956)

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Elvis Presley’s impact piles up fans, fads — and fears

Singer Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley’s impact piles up fans, fads and fears

Up to a point, the country can withstand the impact of Elvis Presley as a familiar and acceptable phenomenon. Wherever the lean, 21-year-old Tennessean goes to howl out his combination of hillbilly and rock ‘n’ roll, he is beset by teenage girls yelling for him. They dote on his sideburns and pegged pants, cherish cups of water dipped from his swimming pool, covet strands of his hair, boycott disk jockeys who dislike his records (they have sold some six million copies).

All this the country has seen before — with Ray, Sinatra and all the way back to Rudy Vallee. But with Elvis Presley, the daffiness has been deeply disturbing to civic leaders, clergymen, some parents.

He does not just bounce to accent his heavy beat. He uses a bump and grind routine usually seen only in burlesque. His young audiences, unexposed to such goings-on, do not just shout their approval. They get set off by shock waves of hysteria, going into frenzies of screeching and wailing, winding up in tears.

Screaming Elvis fans

In Miami, one newspaper columnist called Presley’s performance “obscene.” In Jacksonville, he was threatened with jail. His impact had brought Presley a welcome taste of wealth and fame. But now it was also bringing him some unwelcome attention.

When Elvis Presley played in Jacksonville, Fla. last summer, his easily-aroused fans ripped nearly all his clothes off. Memories of this visit and of Presley’s growing notoriety stirred up civic leaders, and when the singer headed back to Jacksonville this month to play a two-night stand, the city was ready for him. Juvenile Court Judge Marion Cooding had warrants prepared, charging Presley with impairing the morals of minors. The judge declared he would sign and serve them if Presley repeated the torso-tossing spectacle of his earlier visits.

“I don’t do no dirty body movements,” protested Presley. But he toned down his act noticeably, and the judge took no further action.

Neither this nor clergymen’s denunciation of Presley dampened teenage enthusiasm. and his six performances all sold out. Elvis left town richer in pocket and with the prayers of devout citizens following him.

Elvis - a different kind of idol (1956)

The breaking up

When he starts a show, Elvis takes a few swipes at his guitar, then lurches into one of his scorchers like, “I Want You, I Need You” (“Ah Wa-ha-hunt Yew-who, Ah Nee-hee-heed You-who”) or his first hit, “Heartbreak Hotel.” The girls out front go into their screams and seizures. From then on, most of them do not hear what Elvis sings as he flings about, bringing his susceptible audience to the breaking point.

“He isn’t afraid to express himself,” was one 15-year-old’s defense of his free style. “When he does that on TV, I get down on the floor and scream.”

>> Also see: Young Elvis: Elvis Presley as a child & teenager

The rewards of this fearless expression are almost unbelievable for the young man who gave up his truck driving job two years ago to become a full-time singer. Since the first of the year, he has fallen just short of grossing half a million dollars — $100,000 for over 125 public appearances, $350,000 in record royalties, $20,000 from TV, and $50,000 more due in the fall for three Ed Sullivan appearances.


Elvis Presley fans

Video of Elvis Presley performing “Hound Dog” in 1956

YouTube video

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