Elvis Presley's Impact on Popular Music in the USA

Elvis Presley's Impact on Popular Music in the USA

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Elvis Presley's Impact on Popular Music in the USA

Source A is from an article in "Billboard" magazine. This magazine is
written for teenagers, who are Elvis' biggest fans, so a reader could
predict that it would be a positive article with no negative comments
about Elvis to try and sell itself to the teenage readers.

The headline of the article "Presley hot as a $1 pistol" shows that
Elvis is really popular, and many people want to buy his records. It
continues to say "Presley has six hit singles" which tells the reader
that he must have been very successful as he was only signed up in
1955, and the article was written less than a year later in March
1956. This makes clear to the reader that Elvis has had quite a
dramatic rise to stardom as it shows he has become a famous icon in a
very short space of time.

Even if people were not fans of Elvis and so did not buy his music,
they would still hear his songs constantly because his music was so
popular. Many people saw him as someone who was sure to succeed so
there were positive attitudes towards him from an early stage.

Near the end of the article, Elvis is said to be "the label's number
two best seller, right behind Perry Cosmo". This demonstrates further
how Elvis is almost or just as popular as an already well-established
star at this time, a very positive comment for Elvis' fans to read.
The whole article is written in this way and praises both Elvis and
his music.

Q.2. Study Sources B, C and D.
Do Sources C and D support the evidence of Source B about the impact
of Elvis Presley? (8 marks)

Sources C and D do support the evidence of Source B to a certain
extent. Although source B has a very negative attitude and source D
appears to be very positive, while source C does not pass judgement,
they all agree that his music has had a big impact, whether good or

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Source B suggests that Elvis should not have appeared on the Milton
Berle "what amazes me is that Berle and NBC - TV should have let him
appear on TV". This is probably because many people disagreed with his
thrusting hips, tight trousers, and suggestive movements. However,
source C has a more positive response "it was a relaxed and therefore
more effective… topped in the ratings for the first time all season".
This has ignored his suggestive movements and concentrated that it has
been more of a success with Elvis being shown.

Source B shows extracts from various newspaper articles, mainly aimed
at middle-classed people, especially men who would have been horrified
with the image of Elvis. From mid-1956, Elvis became a role model for
American youth and as these newspapers were written shortly after the
show on 5 June 1956, I am positive that he would already have a large
group of young fans.

The "New York Times" says "Mr. Presley has no singing ability" and
"The New York Journal" says "unintelligible lyrics, inadequate voice".
As these newspapers were aimed at adults, there would have been few of
Elvis' teenage fans reading the comments made, so the papers did not
need to be in his favour and would probably sell more copies if it
wasn't, because it dramatises the view of Elvis.

Source B does show that he has had a big impact on the US society,
although it is not entirely positive or negative, just saying that
Elvis has "caused the most heated reaction". The photograph in source
D backs up what source B is saying about his reaction by showing lots
of screaming teenage fans obviously obsessed with Elvis, their icon.

Source C also appears to contradict source B, as it is reporting on
the effects of his performance not passing any judgement about his
singing or suggesting that he shouldn't have gone on the show like
source B has suggested.

Q.3 Study sources E and F.
How useful are these sources as evidence of the impact of Elvis
Presley in the mid-1950's? (10 marks)

Although sources E and F contain very different information, they are
both useful as evidence of the impact of Elvis Presley.

Source E shows very biased opinions of three different people speaking
in 1956 - 1957. These opinions are all very negative towards Elvis

Statement one was a congressman who said, "His animal gyrations
violate all that I know to be in good taste". He probably had a
negative approach to the rock and roll star, because he was trying to
get votes from adults as opposed to teenagers (Elvis' main fans) so
needed to appeal to an adult audience, the majority of which also had
a negative attitude to Elvis Presley.

The second statement in source E was by a member of the Ku Klux Klan,
a racist organisation. Many people who heard Elvis Presley's music
before they saw his appearance on TV thought that he was black because
of the black gospel musical influence in his singing. I think perhaps
this racist organisation also thought this, because they said, "do
away with this cannibalistic, Negro-loving rock and roller".

The final statement also shows a negative attitude towards Elvis. An
evangelical preacher - a very religious man, who would have thought
Elvis' movements were very suggestive and not appropriate for his
daughter who he refers to in the statement, which is probably why he
has a disapproving attitude.

Although all three statements had a negative attitude to Elvis
Presley's singing career, they are still useful because they show the
large impact he had on several different members in society, showing
that many groups in society disliked him.

Source F shows the top five singles of years 1955, 1956 and 1957. This
is statistical data as opposed to opinions, meaning that is unlikely
to be biased unlike the statements in Source E.

The data from the years 1955 to 1957 are useful in different ways. The
data showing the top five singles in 1955 is useful because it shows
the reader how fast Elvis' rise to fame was because it shows he was
not on the scene in 1955, though in 1956, when Elvis was just starting
out, he already had four out of the five top hit singles and continued
to do well having three of his singles in the top five the following
year. This shows that he had a very positive impact in the mid-1950's,
as there were a lot of people buying his singles.

Although sources E and F contradict each other, they are both evidence
that Elvis Presley had a very large impact in the mid-1950's.

Q.4. Study Source G

Source G suggests that attitudes towards Elvis Presley were beginning
to change by 1958. Use the sources and your own knowledge to explain
why this was happening (12 marks)

People's opinions towards Elvis Presley started to change by 1958,
from a negative attitude to a more positive one.

One reason for this is that Elvis Presley served in the U.S. army in
1958. It was compulsory for a man at this time to serve in the army
for two years during his lifetime. However, it was also well known
that many of the people who had money or power would usually "try to
use his influence to buy his way out".

Elvis Presley did not do this though, and was therefore seen as trying
to promote the American way of life. Source G, a magazine article
about his service in the army, says "such a rich and famous man serve
alongside other draftees without using his influence to buy his way

Americans believe in the American dream, which is the idea that if
someone works hard enough, they can achieve what they are aiming for.
The extract from the magazine article in source G refers to this
American dream, "where else could a nobody like Presley becomes a
somebody so quickly". This gives the impression that Elvis has
achieved the American dream, because although I know he was born into
quite a poor family, he had become a well-known icon through his hard
work and attitude, this gained him a lot of respect.

Opinions also became more positive towards Elvis, because he had
started to release music, which was seen as a lot less controversial;
such as soundtracks for his films also he had given up his
performances as these were seen as very rebellious.

Elvis also started to appear in films playing less controversial
characters that appeared more acceptable to America. Many of his films
started to have links to his own life so people got a better
understanding of him, rather than continuing to play the rebellious
characters such as the one in "Jailhouse rock".

Q.5. Study all the Sources

"The impact of Elvis Presley on US society during the 1950's was more
the result of television coverage of his performances than of his

Use the sources and your own knowledge, to explain whether you agree
with this view of the career of Elvis Presley. (14 marks)

To some extent, I agree with the statement "The impact of Elvis
Presley on U.S. society during the 1950's was more the result of
television coverage of his performances than of his music", although I
believe this was only in addition to the impact his music had already

Source A shows how incredibly popular his music was "Presley has six
hit singles in the company's hit list of top 25 best sellers" in 1956.
This was written one year after he became well recognised and showed
that he had a dramatic rise in his career. Throughout the mid-1950's,
Elvis had many concerts. His rock and roll style of music was
considered fresh, new and rebellious, and offered teenagers the
opportunity to explore with a new style of clothing, attitudes and

Source A is an article written for a magazine aimed at teenagers,
Elvis' biggest fans which also backs up source D which shows a
photograph of Elvis performing on stage in 1956. The photograph shows
lots of screaming fans, probably all teenagers, reaching out towards
Elvis. This demonstrates how Elvis' popularity was very much due to
the teenage age group. Part of the teenage attraction to Elvis was
though his television appearances, which showed the way he dressed -
teenagers thought he was a role model for everything they thought
their parents feared they would become.

Source F also shows how popular Elvis was at this time; he topped the
charts for having more number one hits than any other artist. Source F
says he had four "top five singles of the year in 1956" and another
top three in 1957. This is statistical data so is very hard to be
biased but it is useful because it shows that he had a dramatic rise
to his career and suggests that his music was very popular, because at
this time he was not staring in films.

Although Elvis' music had a really positive impact on teenage fans,
responses from other groups within society were negative. His music
had a big impact on many different people and this can be demonstrated
by source E (i) in which a congressman, who had probably seen one of
Elvis Presley's concerts, commented on the way he danced. "His animal
gyrations violate all that I know to be in good taste".

His style of dancing caused offence to many people, and he took the
nickname "Elvis The Pelvis" because of the way he rotated his pelvis
and shook his leg while singing on stage, making "suggestive"
movements. For this reason, many T.V. companies would only show him
singing from the waist up, for example on the "Milton Berle show".
When Elvis appeared on the Milton Berle show "ratings soared" and
according to source B, he "caused the most heated reaction". Source E
backs this up and shows that Elvis had an impact on many people in
society, whether positive or negative.

Elvis, however, did not just make an impact through his appearances;
source E shows the negative impact he had on various people form
society. In Source E (ii), a member of a racist organisation, the Ku
Klux Klan, called Elvis a 'cannibalistic, Negro-loving rock and
roller'. Many people thought that he was black because of the style of
music he sang. This shows that his music did make a huge impact on
people, however I think his T.V. appearances only added to the impact
he had made already. For example, Elvis started to play a rebellious
role in his films, such as the character he played in "Jailhouse
rock". It may also have been that he had no live performances whilst
he was making his films and so the people who did have a negative
attitude, could no longer see his "rebellious" dancing, and pelvis

The change towards Elvis in the late 1950's may also have been because
he joined the army for two years. Source G makes it obvious that U.S.
society though Elvis was a good example of following the American
dream. This dream was the idea that if they worked hard enough, anyone
could get where they wanted, and Elvis had managed to achieve this
dream; he became rich and famous through hard work and determination
even though he came from an extremely poor family. For this reason, on
his return from the army many people began to think differently of
Elvis and he became acknowledged as an acceptable role model.

Once Elvis started to star in films, opinions became more positive
towards him as his music became tamer and his records were mainly
soundtracks to his new films. His film career lasted many years
starting from his first film called "Love me tender" in 1956 and he
continued to play the lead role in many films until 1969. In total
Elvis starred in 33 films, although many agree that his early films
were the best. It wasn't until the mid 1960's however, that Elvis'
acting career made him rich and people finally thought that he had
fully achieved the American dream. At this time, Elvis was demanding a
million dollars for each film that he made, making him the richest
person in Hollywood at that time.

In 1967, Presley's films 'flopped' both among critics and at the box
office. For this reason, he began to focus on his music once again. I
believe his television performances helped him to do this because it
was due to the "singer special comeback" which was televised in 1968
that launched the final stage of his career. Many believe his music
career was more successful than his acting and overall he sold more
than five hundred million records.

However, Elvis began to have less impact on society at this stage. For
these reasons I think that the impact of Elvis Presley on U.S. society
during the 1950's was more the result of his music, however his
television appearances and film career along with society's change in
opinion did add to this impact greatly and because of the great impact
he had on society, he is still remembered for his unique style of rock
and roll music today. Many people remember this unique style because
of the way he pushed the boundaries of acceptability in his earlier
years of fame.
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