Thesis: Elvis Presley: Leading the Music Industry

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Elvis Presley: Leading the Music Industry of the 1950s and 1960s -- then going astray

When Elvis Presley came to the forefront of popular music, the type of music geared to teens was, in many ways, still relatively tame. There were two types of musical talent available: the 'doo-wop,' clean-cut stars and crooners like Pat Boone, approved of by parents vs. The African-American rhythm and blues and Motown stars. In other words, there was no happy medium of an artist singing music through which teens could safely explore their budding sexuality while still placating mom and dad, and conventional social norms. Elvis changed all of that. During Elvis' early career he remained true to his core principles and values, and had a strong sense of his personal goals. He was also still surrounded by people who genuinely cared about him, like his mother and later his girlfriend Pricilla Presley. As he advanced in his career, his musical talents were diluted as he became subject to less positive and more rapacious influences. Elvis allowed himself to be swayed by people who did not have his best interests at heart. Thus, it could be said that during his early career, Elvis held fast to leadership author Thomas Nelson Maxwell's 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership but later lost this strong sense of what his music was 'about.' This is common for musical celebrities who reveal their talents to the world very young, like 'King of Pop' Michael Jackson, although some musicians have avoided this trap, despite early tremendous popularity like the Beatles.

According to Maxwell's 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, the first and most important principle of showing leadership is "The Law of the Lid" which states that honing one's leadership ability and sense of mission determines success, not relying upon the promotional skills, ideas, and abilities of other people. Of course, Elvis Presley had great PR support in becoming "the first real rock and roll star," but his charisma was not manufactured, and his style was uniquely his own. Elvis' talent was spotted early on, but the nature of his appeal was not crafted in a public relations or advertising studio. He was a unique combination, a fusion of the two competing strains of popular music vying for teen attention: "A white southerner who singing blues laced with country and country tinged with gospel, Presley brought together music from both sides of the color line. Presley performed this music with a natural hip-swiveling sexuality that made him a teen idol and a role model for generations of cool rebels" ("Elvis Presley," 1996, History of Rock). Elvis' leadership ability and gifts, more so than any social endorsement (on the Ed Sullivan television show, Presley was only shown from the waist up) enabled him to explode as a talent in the new music scene. Although "Presley was repeatedly dismissed as vulgar, incompetent and a bad influence" by adults none of these charges mattered to the adolescents who adored him. "During a summer performance in Jacksonville, Florida, Elvis jokingly invited all the girls in the audience to meet him backstage. But the joke was on Elvis: A swarm of screaming girls chased him all the way to his car and literally ripped most of his clothes off his body" (Doll 2008, p.10).

Ss Elvis grew more popular, he began to be surrounded by managers that had their own rather than his interest at heart. Thus, at the beginning of his career, through exerting his influence, Elvis was able to make a profound impact through his use of records, television, movies, and skilled public relations. Unfortunately, unlike the Beatles, who assumed more control over their careers as they aged as a musical group, Elvis began to cede more and more musical control to others around him. As a result, he lost some of his initial unique style and grit. The Beatles, in contrast, gained credibility by identifying more and more with the counterculture and producing increasingly innovative albums like "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

Elvis' start in music confirms what Maxwell calls the "Law of Influence." Like Princess Diana, another example cited by Maxwell, Elvis faced many naysayers who found his style too suggestive. Far more so than Diana, Elvis did not arrive on the musical scene with any amount of formal social power. He was from a poor family in the deep South, and other than a demo CD and winning a few talent contests in his past, most of his power lay in his voice. He affected people through his music. Elvis drove a truck before he became a rock star, he was no one's public relations dream, but because he drew audiences, record executives were forced to acknowledge him. He embodied what Maxwell calls "Law of E.F. Hutton," when he spoke (or, rather, sang) people listened.

Elvis was determined to make life better for his family, particularly his beloved mother. Knowing Maxwell's "Law of Navigation," he was determined to make her proud, and kept his eyes on his goal of success at all times. Elvis, knowing Maxwell's "Law of Process" as well, built his career over time, adding movies and television as well as music to his repertoire. Unfortunately, later in his career, he left the choice of his movie roles to his handlers, and there was a notable downturn in the quality of his films. Many film and music historians think that Elvis was never better than when he was doing his famous "Jailhouse Rock" segment, which melded his unusual musical and dancing talents with his bad-boy image. His later films projected him in a softer, more romantic and palatable light. Elvis' career began to go awry as he forgot "you are what you attract," another of Maxwell's principles. Initially, he was approachable to teens, as he agreed to enter the armed service, and behave like an ordinary individual. He was spontaneous and unforced, admitting his lack of education and homespun roots. But things began to change, after he bought Graceland and became isolated from those around him, and the changing musical and ideological trends in the country. Elvis' true roots were in gospel, harkening back to when, as a child, he "attended all-night gospel singing sessions with his parents at the Ellis Auditorium, where he would observe some of the more extroverted performers' animated stage movements" (Doll 2008, p.6). More and more Elvis found himself sold as a commodity, rather than had his musical tastes and origins treated with respect. He was no longer the artist who defied all advice and insisted on dancing suggestively, despite parent's and censor's objections.

One great loss of a profoundly influential person was his mother, who died shortly after he was drafted in 1958. Even his girlfriend and later wife, Pricilla, was young and naive and unable to help him resist his handler's influence. Elvis began to lose his way in the entertainment industry, becoming subject to the pressures of unscrupulous people who saw him more as a cash cow than an artist."After a live performance on March 25, 1961 Presley quit performing and spent the next eight years making movies. The soundtracks from his movies were generally poor. By the mid-Sixties Presley was earning $1 million per movie plus a large percentage of the gross" but felt angry about the way that the films had tainted his reputation as a singer ("Elvis Presley," 1996, History of Rock). The studio "did not market or package Elvis' albums very wisely. His soundtrack albums were a hodgepodge of songs that lacked unity and consistency ("Elvis Presley," 1996, History of Rock).

Still, the popular demand Presley's music remained strong, five of the movie's soundtracks went gold, despite Presley's displeasure with these films. He knew he had lost creative control and with it the integrity of his music… [END OF PREVIEW]

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