Sunday, March 4, 2012

Artist Profile: Elvis Presley

He was known as the King of Rock and Roll, a title not just bestowed but earned after decades at the top of the charts. He compiled a massive list of accomplishments which most popular musicians would kill to have just a piece of today. And his legacy, even 35 years after his untimely demise, remains stronger and more relevant than ever.

His name was Elvis Presley - just "Elvis" is usually sufficient - and he is the first subject of this new project, Song Bytes.

Presley was active from 1954, when he first made recordings for Sun Records in Nashville, until his death in 1977. And given his legendary status toward the end of his life, it is not surprising to find that "he" was still releasing hit singles as late as 1981. From 2002, his music has found further success in the hands of remix specialists. All told, Presley's songs cracked Billboard's Hot 100 list over a hundred times, and made the Top 40 rankings as many as thirty to fifty times (sources vary depending on how some songs are counted). He is usually regarded as the most successful recording artist in history, with only a few other acts even coming close.

While most artists in the modern era are categorized into one type of music or another, Presley's career began as an open book and ended much the same way. His early recordings tended toward the rhythm-and-blues category, with occasional forays into traditional gospel and spiritual music. As the rock and roll era began to take shape, he worked heavier elements into his repertoire. When the Elvis machine made its way to Hollywood, the music changed to become lighter and more pop-friendly in tune with what the films often required. In 1968, Presley began moving away from the film industry and back into mainstream musical culture, while incorporating the once-forgotten elements of his former rock persona. As soul music became a force in American music during the early 1970s, he worked these influences in as well, while also continuing to be a force on country-and-western charts and radio stations. Elvis Presley's depth and breadth of stylistic influence made him a force to be reckoned with throughout his career, which never truly saw a decline during his lifetime.

Mr. Presley is a perfect subject for the first effort of Song Bytes, a blog that will attempt to catalog all instances in which a particular artist's songs have been captured in some sort of digital form. This most often will include early compact disc (CD) or MiniDisc (MD) releases, but will also include downloads from popular DLC sites like iTunes or Rhapsody. Effectively the entire collection of Presley's works is now available on disc or download in some form, though the catalog has been re-shuffled many times over the years. Song Bytes will work through the Presley discography in a chronological way, dealing with each song or album at the time it was released originally, but making sense of where those songs are now. This can be very helpful especially when deciding what to download from music services: you may find many important songs on one particular album collection, but still need to piece together a few tracks here or there to get the complete picture. For an artist like Elvis Presley, whose songs have been recompiled in countless varieties since the 1950s, we will attempt to rein in some of the chaos.

Another effort of Song Bytes, however, is to record all instances in which an artist's songs have appeared in some sort of video form. The obvious focus for most artists in this case will be on the now-traditional music video. But for artists like Presley whose careers predate the MTV era, the more important focus will be on finding the early live (or simulated live) television performances of their songs. Sometimes these videos can be found on YouTube, but in other cases they may only be found on older VHS or DVD releases as part of compilations. Presley's earliest appearances on network television have not always been easy to find since they were originally broadcast, but his film output (obviously) and his later TV specials have found their way to DVD in recent years, often with extra footage and behind-the-scenes footage included as well.

Let me know how you like it - I'll be checking to see what works and what doesn't, and making changes as needed to suit. But for now, Viva Elvis!