Remembering Elvis Presley

His 80th Birthday Prompts Thoughts of What Else He Might Have Accomplished

(Straight From Nashville is a weekly column written by CMT.com managing editor Calvin Gilbert.)

Elvis Presley would have celebrated his 80th birthday Thursday (Jan. 8). If that sounds old, just remember that Tony Bennett is 88 and Willie Nelson is 81, and they’re still booking tour dates.
 
Elvis died in 1977 at age 42. That’s Brad Paisley’s age at the moment. Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban are in their mid-40s, and all of those artists have a lot more music to make.
 
Anytime you travel to Memphis, you have to think of Elvis. I certainly did earlier this week while passing through the city and seeing the exit for Elvis Presley Boulevard and Graceland.
 
I know it’s a futile exercise, but when I see those signs, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened to Elvis had he lived. For that matter, I listen to those first three Jimi Hendrix albums while realizing the astounding work accomplished in the ‘60s and what he could have done with the musical equipment and studio technology that exists today.
 
“Elvis really died the day he joined the army,” John Lennon was quoted as saying. “That’s when they killed him, and the rest was a living death.” (In his defense, Lennon is also credited with saying, “Before Elvis, there was nothing.”)
 
I’ve always contended that what went wrong with Elvis happened sometime after his 1968 NBC-TV special that’s now widely referred to as his “comeback special.” After serving in the military from 1958 until 1960, he embarked on a series of mostly forgettable movies and ultimately became overshadowed musically by the British Invasion led by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and others.
 
Languishing careers seldom get revived, but the ’68 special surpassed anything even his most devoted fans could have predicted. In particular, the impromptu jam session with his longtime guitarist Scotty Moore and drummer D.J. Fontana proved Elvis still had the fire. Still just 33 years old, slim and clad in a black leather suit, he wasn’t just looking good. He somehow seemed dangerous again. And with new songs such as “Memories” and “If I Can Dream,” even the production segments showed a renewed vitality.

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