There are few artists in the world whose cultural impact has continued to be felt so long after their death. The man who brought elements of rock ‘n’ roll, blues and gospel to the mainstream during his tragically short life, is still an ever-present figure in modern culture and continues to influence generation after generation of artists across all genres.
Elvis’ reach has been phenomenal. There are an army of fans who worship the “King” with an almost cult-like fervour, while there are others who simply appreciate his prowess as a performer. And of course, there are those for whom it is all about the music and the voice.
Most musicians at some time or other would have worked their way through the Tupelo-born icon’s back catalogue and found spurs of ingenuity and innovation to incite and stimulate their own creativity.
Much has been written about the influence of Elvis Presley on other artists and that impact has recently been mapped by Spotify through deep data analysis. The result is the Elvisualization, a graphic demonstrating the direct and indirect influence that the singer has had on musicians over the decades.
But the appeal of Elvis as a cult phenomenon can perhaps be best explored through the popularity of items related the artist that have sold at auction. Only this year, a suit worn several times by Elvis during live performances in 1975, sold at auction for $250,000. And just a couple of weeks ago, divorce papers signed by the star and his ex-wife Priscilla fetched $26,600. There was a time when such items had begun to drop in value. But recently, prices have risen again with more and more music memorabilia collectors registering an interest.
The enduring popularity of the Elvis brand has produced a myriad of products bearing his name and image. In the past, there have been Elvis board games, toys and jigsaws, and more recently, Elvis has popped up in the online gaming world via a branded video slots game, an 11-reel title that includes iconography and music associated with the star. And of course, there are countless impersonators in clubs and bars all over the globe who still make a living by dressing up and pretending to be the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll for the night.
Some recent studies have suggested that the performer’s popularity is beginning to slip, with many youngsters now unfamiliar with his work. But this kind of slump followed by a boost always seems to go in cycles – the 2002 revival being a prime example – as new generations eventually stumble across his work by joining the musical jots of today’s artists with those of the past. It has been suggested that when one embarks on such a musical journey that all roads lead back to Elvis, and the Spotify map seems to support this.
The man who pioneered the kind of successful cultural appropriation that was later emulated by the likes of Eminem, was perhaps the spark that caused the rock ‘n’ roll powder keg to ignite. And like many explosions, the repercussions can still be felt long after the initial bang.