ALTERNATE TAKE 14

AFTER ELVIS THERE IS NOTHING

 Steve Barile 

 

Ah the written word.  Poignant and direct.  Profound and provocative.  How I long for the days when proper grammar and correct spelling were not only key elements but essential for conveying one’s thoughts through the dying art of literary creativity.  Those days are long gone. Perhaps forever, I’m afraid, right along with another nearly dead art-form: musicianship.  If it weren’t for the occasional visit to a blues or jazz club, I would doubt if there even are any genuine musicians left.  I am repulsed and offended by most mainstream musical genres of the day.  Pre-programmed, electronic soundscapes do not and cannot qualify as real live musicianship.  Rock-n-Roll unfortunately is practically extinct and mainstream country has been watered down to schmaltz with a twang.  Pop is shot and we won’t so vulgarly display such disrespect as to label rap as music.  Talking along to a computer-generated, repetitious beat is not music or musicianship, and comprehending the complexity of jazz requires far too much musical intelligence and understanding for the hopelessly flummoxed tweeters of today, hence the obscurity of the genre. 

Rewind to the days of Elvis then, for as John Lennon once said, quite appropriately I might add, “Before Elvis there was nothing.”  During the time of Elvis’ initial explosion and throughout his career, there existed the likes of the following accomplished and revered singers/musicians (in fairness I limit this relatively short list to reflect the male gender only):  Jerry Lee Lewis, Bobby Darin, Johnny Cash, Sinatra, Billy Eckstein, The Beatles, James Brown, B.B. King, Zeppelin, Roy Orbison, Jackie Wilson, The Stones, The Guess Who, Clapton, Engelbert Humperdink, Stevie Wonder, Dean Martin, Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Ray Charles, Sammy Davis, Jr., and, of course, Tom Jones.  These were truly the glory days for musicians and their music.  Where these highly respected singers are concerned though, Elvis stood alone, far and away well above the rest.  Elvis Über Alles! (Elvis Over All!)   

With musical dexterity, genre- specific authenticity, vocal power, and, what I call, melodic beauty (all of which can be attributed to Elvis) as our yardstick, allow me to briefly critique the aforementioned singers/musicians.  Jerry Lee Lewis, although a natural pianist, was strictly a rocker whose vocals lacked melodic beauty and power, not unlike the multi-talented Billy Joel.  Bobby Darin also lacked power and was limited in terms of genre-specific authenticity as is Stevie Wonder.  Johnny Cash was strictly country.  Sinatra, although a great singer, was strictly a balladeer.  Engelbert, Dino, Mathis, Billy Eckstein, and Nat Cole, though proficient, were also strictly balladeers. The esteemed accomplishments of The Beatles as lyricists and composers are undeniable, but as individual singers fall far short of our yardstick. Although Roy Orbison and Jackie Wilson had impeccable range, I feel they, too, were limited in the genre department such as country and authentic blues.  Sammy Davis, Jr. and James Brown were no doubt exceptional showmen but hardly to be taken seriously as refined singers.  Tom Jones, being the most vocally versatile and powerful of all the above, lacked the melodic beauty as revealed in such EP recordings as “Mine”,  “Are You Lonesome Tonight”, “I’ll Never Know”, “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”, “You Don’t Know Me”, Memories”, “ The Girl I Never Loved”, “ Until It’s Time For You To Go”, “ Hawaiian Sunset”, “ Love Me Tonight”, “ And I Love You So”, “Young And Beautiful”, “ Crying In The Chapel”, “ In The Garden”, “ I Don’t Want To” , “ It’s Impossible”, “Angel” and nothing’s quite as pretty as “ Mary In The Morning”!  

Fast forward now, if you will, to after Elvis.  What, if anything, has musically moved us so profoundly as Elvis?  Sting?  Michael Jackson? The genius of dance was fully aware of his vocal limitations.  Garth Brooks?  Garth can certainly give Bruce Springsteen a literal run for his money when spastically jumping and running from side to side on stage as both do so innovatively.  Neither are accomplished musicians or singers.  To his credit, Bruce can write and should confine himself to just that. Dylan, as well, is a writer who shouldn’t sing.  Speaking of “shouldn’t-singers”, Michael Bolton, Elvis Costello, BabyFace, John Cougar Mellencamp, Ricky Martin and Bryan Adams come immediately to mind, especially when compared to the above favorites or to Elvis himself!  

At this point, I am hard pressed to think of anyone else worth mentioning since the demise of the King.  He remains truly incomparable, for sadly, there simply isn’t any contemporary competition.  Therefore, it is with extreme pride and confidence that I boldly declare, “After Elvis there is nothing”!  If affirmation is needed, allow Elvis to prove himself once more in the form of the highly recommended DVDs, The #1 Hit Performances Volumes 1 & 2.  Focus on the effortless nature of his intrinsic musical prowess and emotional communication as exhibited in the live performance sequences.  Freely compare him to anyone before or since, and I should think you’d concur with both John Lennon and myself when we respectively say, “Before Elvis there was nothing and After Elvis there is nothing!” 

If anyone so chooses to share any thoughts, please use e-mail only as the number of my Facebook “friends” is limited to zero.  And remember….