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Christina Rose Helmold

March 9th, 2017

Dr. Kohl
Identity in Rock & Roll
First Paper

Elvis Presley vs. the Beatles

There is no denying the tremendous impact that both Elvis Presley and the Beatles had on

the music industry as a whole. In terms of rock & roll as a genre, it is debatable which of the two

had a greater impact. However, Elvis Presley came first. Without Elvis, rock & roll would have

taken far longer to catch on and take off. The Beatles furthered the development of rock, helping

to keep it alive, but Elvis was the first to bring rock & roll to life. This makes Elvis Presley more

important to the genre.

When Elvis first began his career, he had a sound unlike anything ever heard before. In

the article The Man in the Blue Suede Shoes, by James and Annette Baxter it was said that

Elvis took everything to another level, He went too far in every direction. Elvis was making

millions of dollars, owning white Continental Mark IIs, getting into fights and reviving sideburns

and being prayed over and building a house for his parents. The legend should have swallowed

him out of sight, but it was all true all furthermore, palpably American (32). He was an

incredible hit among youth of the day, he sung with the feeling typically seen in African

American artists, so, being white, he attracted young people of all races.

Young people loved how real Elvis was, in his voice the teen-ager hears intimations

of a world heavily weighted with real emotionMost real emotions, the teen-ager knows

without coaching, are daily discredited by his parents and teachers. Their owncheerfully

enlightened code of behavior seem to deny the world that Elvis affirms (34). Youth of the time

were restless, their parents were blissful and happy to be out of war, but their children needed
something new, Elvis provided something this for them, the teen-ager, when he pounds

convulsively at the sight and sound of Elvis, is pounding for entrance into that more enticing

realm (34).

The new world of music Elvis made was based on incredible talent, Vocal pyrotechnics

he has indeedbut they would remain merely curiosities were he not able to manipulate them

into an organic whole. His twisting of tonal quality possesses a diabolical inevitability, and his

phrasing is as flawless as it is intricate (34). If it wasnt for this new sound created by Elvis

Presley, the road never would have been paved for the Beatles to make their mark.

Thats not to say that the Beatles didnt make a mark. They started something incredible,

too. In Hanif Kureishis article, Eight Arms to Hold You, he explains that, this was not

something the Beatles had been born into. Nor had they acquired it in any recognized academy

or university. No, in their early twenties, the Fabs made culture again and again, seemingly

without effort, even as they mugged and winked at the cameras like schoolboys (356).

The Beatles created a new form of culture all together. People like Kureishis school

teacher, Mr. Hogg, had a hard time coping with the fact that boys like the Beatles were such a

big part of modern culture at the time,He thought he knew what culture was, what counted in

history, what had weight and what you needed to know to be educatedHogg knew what the

criteria were But the particular form of certainty, of intellectual authority, along with many

other forms of authority, was shifting. People didnt know where they were anymore (357). The

Beatles also started something new. They, had the voices and looks of choirboys, and their

talent was so broad they could do anythingThey could do rock n roll too, though they tended

to parody it, having mastered it early on (357). They were excellent musicians, but if Elvis
Presley hadnt made rock & roll such a phenomenon, they might never had thought to master the


Both the Beatles and Elvis Presley made an impact on the music world. They were both

incredible talents that came from not so incredible pasts. They showed hope for a better word to

the youth of their times. Despite these similarities, though, its hard to deny that without Elvis

Presley, the King, there might not have been an opening for the Beatles to become such a great

hit. While both produced the sound of a generation, Elvis Presley was most important to the

development of rock & roll.