Elvis Today

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Most important, both Sinatra and Presley were their own tastemakers. Joe Esposito, leader of Presley’s entourage, the “Memphis Mafia,” has described how Elvis would work with his recording engineers to mix his own master tapes. He would have a one-off acetate pressed of his mix and later compare it with the mix that RCA released. When the label tampered with his intentions, he’d be annoyed, but rarely to the degree that he did anything about it. He was constantly irked by the idea that the people he worked with on films and record sessions were unimportant because all the audience cared about was Elvis. Like Sinatra before him, he wanted to work only with the best actors and musicians and with superior songs. The difference between him and Sinatra was one of temperament. Sinatra, like Ray Charles, constantly made his own opportunities, and heaven help you if you got in his way. Perhaps Presley was too nice and civil a guy. Perhaps to stick to your standards in Hollywood, you had to be something of a gangster.

Unlike Sinatra’s, Presley’s recorded output looks meager when compared with what it could have been. There are so many songs he should have done: “There Must Be a Better World Somewhere” (a Doc Pomus song for B. B. King that’s far superior to anything he wrote for Presley), “I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone,” “A Rainy Night in Georgia,” “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool,” Louis Jordan’s “Early in the Morning,” “What a Wonderful World,” “Empty Bed Blues,” “Stand by Me,” “On Broadway,” “I Pity the Fool,” Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” “Work Song,” “Señor Blues,” “Don’t Go to Strangers,” “At Last,” “Teach Me Tonight,” Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound on My Trail.” He could have sung entire songbook albums of the works of Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, and Hoagy Carmichael, three old-school songwriters who also bridged the worlds of jazz, pop, and country music.

When the Elvis sightings of the early nineties reached a peak, I couldn’t help wondering how much interest there would be when he really left the building. His death obviously left a gap that no one has been able to fill. And after all these years it seems clear that Elvis Presley was not the beginning of something but the end. John Lennon had it the wrong way around: After Elvis, there was nothing.