We all know Elvis in his studded white jumpsuit, swinging his hips on a huge stage in Vegas saying, “thank you, thank you very much.” But let’s not forget that he started as an indie/emo little dancer experimenting with his sound just like the indie stars of today.
His debut record, Elvis Presley Rock ‘n Roll was the first rock album to top the pop charts back in 1956 and was the first to sell millions in that genre. Today it’s 62 years old and still one of the best rock albums out there. But it’s much more indie compared to later albums like Moody Blue or Good Times, which are chock full of choir parts and schmaltzy ‘70s strings.
But this was before the glitz. This is when Elvis is just an innocent musician playing around with an acoustic guitar. What’s more indie than that?
Did that first record put the Elvis Presley name into the rock ‘n’ roll history books? I suppose it’s debatable, but “Heartbreak Hotel” was a single released prior to the debut album. The single topped the charts for seven weeks straight and is one of his most well known songs. And that one is quintessentially indie. It’s emotional (lyrics were inspired by a real life suicide note) and paced like jazz, only with breaks that burst with power.
Either way, the album was an insight into a world we would eventually know as “indie rock.”
Indie rock is always hard to define, but generally we can agree it’s rock ‘n’ roll that’s isn’t afraid to be moody or experimental. Elvis Presley Rock ‘n’ Roll experiments with vocals and percussion like in “Blue Moon” with his trembling voice and the soft galloping beats, all while simply strumming the acoustic guitar.
Compared to the everything but the kitchen sink production of “Burning Love” from the ‘70s, it’s practically Bon Iver.
Elvis’ transition into pop/rockstar from indie/rockstar was a seamless one that tends to be ignored. But Elvis Presley Rock ‘n’ Roll is a reminder that Presley is a huge influence in this genre called “indie,” even though it was created decades after his passing.