Why Elvis Presley is called “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll”

Elvis Presley is known as “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” – what does that mean, exactly? It’s not that he was the first to be associated with the term Rock and Roll; in fact, Rocking and Rolling had been around since the early 1900s as a descriptive of the spiritual excitement of African-American church services. The shortened term was popularized by pioneering radio DJ Alan Freed beginning in the early 1950s, and various artists had early Rock and Roll hits before Elvis, notably Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88” in 1951. Even earlier, Roy Brown’s jump blues hit “Good Rockin’ Tonight”, among others, was laying out a blueprint for the music  genesis spawned by the collision of R&B, Gospel, Country, and Rockabilly.

“Rock Around The Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets, recorded just a few months before Elvis’ “That’s All Right”, eventually gave the genre its first mega-hit after being featured in the groundbreaking movie Blackboard Jungle. But it was Elvis who would emerge King of Rock and Roll. His barrage of recordings and live performances from 1954 to 1958 provided the catalytic spark igniting a music and cultural revolution that’s affected every Rock act since.

So, here at Heritage, we’ve gathered up our top reasons why Elvis Presley lives on as the “The King of Rock and Roll”:

1)  No other performer has ever moved so naturally between the genres of Rockabilly, Country, Gospel, and R&B (and been recognized as an icon in each), essentially synthesizing these into a new form: Rock ‘n’ Roll.

2)  The looks, the hair, the sneer, the moves.

3)  Who else?

4)  Mr. Billboard! Most charted hits, Most Top 40 Hits, Most Platinum Hits, Most Gold Hits, Most Two-Sided Hits of all-time.

5)  No one before or since could pull off wearing pink and black with such panache.

And because all these people said so:

1)      “Before Elvis, there was nothing.” “Nothing really affected me until I heard Elvis. If there hadn’t been an Elvis, there wouldn’t have been the Beatles.” (John Lennon)

2)      “A lot of people have accused Elvis of stealing the black man’s music, when in fact, almost every black solo entertainer copied his stage mannerisms from Elvis.” (Jackie Wilson)

3)      “Elvis is the greatest cultural force in the twentieth century. He introduced the beat to everything, music, language, clothes, it’s a whole new social revolution – the 60’s comes from it.” (Leonard Bernstein)

4)      “When I first heard Elvis’ voice, I just knew that I wasn’t going to work for anybody; and noboby was going to be my boss… Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail.” (Bob Dylan)

5)      “There have been a lotta tough guys. There have been pretenders. And there have been contenders. But there is only one king.” (Bruce Springsteen)

6)      “I don’t think there is a musician today that hasn’t been affected by Elvis’ music. His definitive years – 1954-57 – can only be described as rock’s cornerstone. He was the original cool.” (Brian Setzer)

7)      “He’s just the greatest entertainer that ever lived. And I think it’s because he had such presence. When Elvis walked into a room, Elvis Presley was in the f***ing room. I don’t give a f*** who was in the room with him, Bogart, Marilyn Monroe.” (Eddie Murphy)

 

Do you agree with us?  Tell us in the comments below!

Also, don’t forget to check out our featured Elvis Presley items presented in the December 6 Entertainment & Music Memorabilia Signature Auction:

By Jim Steele

Posted by Jim Steele

Cheif Cataloger of Comics

  1. The most compelling reason may be that, as far as I am aware, he never referred to himself by that title.

    Others have tried to assume such stature through self-promotion with the most notable being Michael Jackson who reportedly declared himself the “King of Pop” and, according to authors R. Tannenbaum and C. Marks, he insisted that he be referred to as such by MTV. Regardless of the veracity of that narrative, Jackson may be the only self-proclaimed king to deserve such a moniker.

    However, Elvis, like Jackson, was notoriously humble and while all manner of media may have crowned him repeatedly over the years, he never asserted such himself to my knowledge.

    Give a listen to the open track of his “final concert” recording wherein a quick montage of fans report “He’s the king”, “The king of music” and “He will always be the king no matter what!” among other similar labels before the band can be heard diving into his signature version of “C.C. Rider”.

    I must confess that I wore that 2-album set out when I was a kid. And still today, to me, “He will always be the king no matter what”.

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    1. What a great point! From the first time I saw Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show, I was awestruck. The music, sure, but it was more than that. Here was this supremely talented artist, so stylistically flashy and unique, yet so humble – even self-deprecating at times. No wonder he had such rabid fans and admirers. King, indeed!

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    2. Chuck berry was the king of rock n roll ! Elvis put your guitar down ……when your next to that boy.

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      1. SIMPLE PUT ELIVIS WAS THE ON TOP OF THE HEAP THE BEST HE COULD sing ROCK COUNTRY THE BLUES GOSPEL HE WAS THE BEST that look those moves that stage present he had it all simply put men and women love elvis grand ma grand pa daughter son he is woven into the american fabric and it’s that simple he is love more today after his death its how you remember after your death

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  2. Elvis was the culmination of rockabilly, country and rhythm and blues. He was the first to successfully blend what became the foundation of rock ‘n roll as we know it today. My grandmother bought me my first 45 Elvis record in 1962. I was only 6. I would watch all those early Elvis movies produced during the sixties (on television and in the theaters), and went on the see him perform 7 seven in the 70s when I was in college. The presence could not be reproduced. He had quite an influence on me and the music I enjoy to date. Elvis will always be the King of Rock ‘n Roll no matter what talent comes along. He started it all. Rest in peace Elvis. We all miss you, but remember you fondly and the way you made us feel when you sang.

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    1. My first 45 by any artist was Elvis’ double-sided masterpiece, “Hound Dog/ Don’t Be Cruel”. It was a Christmas gift and came with my first phonograph, a little portable I quickly wore out! That next year (1957), I spent my limited allowance on any Elvis 45 or EP (LPs were out of my price range) I could lay my hands on. Comments have touched on Elvis’ musical diversity, his roots in multiple genres. But whatever the genre, his ability to deliver a heartfelt, soulful performance, whether on a rocker or a slow song, was unmatched. I’m partial to the ’50s and early ’60s songs, but his “comeback” period of the late ’60s-early ’70s is also compelling. Let me throw something out for discussion. What do you think are his most important songs? Not favorites, necessarily – we’ll tackle that one later! I’ll get it started, although I’m wimping out somewhat by listing chronologically rather than actually ranking:

      1) “That’s All Right” – Don’t you have to start at the beginning?
      2) “Heartbreak Hotel” – This was his big-time debut with RCA, and the first time many outside the South were really exposed to Elvis.
      3) “Hound Dog/ Don’t Be Cruel” – Hard to separate these two which traded-off holding down #1 on the charts for 11 weeks in the summer of 1956.
      4) “Love Me Tender” – Practically a capella, an essential love song from his first movie.
      5) “All Shook Up” – His biggest single ever. A mid-tempo classic that both rocks and slow burns.
      6) “Jailhouse Rock” – One of his last real rockers before Uncle Sam took him away the next year, and one of his best.
      7) “It’s Now Or Never” – The epitome of Elvis’ post-Army days “mature” voice. Arguably his best vocal performance ever.
      8) “Little Sister/ (Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame” – Another double-sider that’s hard to separate. Both great.
      9) “Can’t Help Falling In Love” – Most consider it his greatest slow song.
      10) “Suspicious Minds” – The glorious high point of his “comeback” period.

      This took me longer than I expected! I considered many more before I came up with this list. Frankly, I’ll be surprised if anyone comes up with exactly the same Elvis’ Most Important Songs list – give it a whirl!

      Reply

  3. Elvis was a year older than me. I was nuts over his music, like most everyone else. We were both in the U.S. Army at the same time, stationed at Fort Hood, TX. I was there as permanent cadre, but he was there passing through on his way to going overseas. This was between the Korean and Viet Nam wars. I met him in the local PX (Cafeteria) and obtained his autograph, which I subsequently gave to my cousin.

    That’s my story on Elvis and I’m sticking to it!

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  4. There are many artists currently setting new records and breaking old ones in the music industry. A big reason Elvis is The King is because he is still the only artist to have success on mutliple Billboard singles and album charts, as well as around the world. Not only that, he is the only artist to have been inducted to multiple music halls of fame. Elvis was an incredibly talented singer and performer, unlike any in the hisoty of entertainment.

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    1. Thank you for participating in the discussion! We appreciate your input on the The King.

      Reply

  5. Jeffery Foreman June 7, 2016 at 6:12 pm

    Poor ol country who became the king of rock and roll

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  6. Bruce Brooker June 9, 2016 at 10:23 am

    Everybody throwing around these consumerist terms like “Rock n Roll”, “Rock a Billy”…ect ect ad nauseum. Know the difference between genre and derivitive style. These are terms of commercialism. Do not forget that music is evolutionary. There is no KING. Would there be an Elvis without a Charlie Patton?

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  7. I’m 61 years old a Chicago police office and love Elvis! Was at Graceland 5X ,, n when I was thinner I used to do fund raisers doing ELVIS !!!

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  8. […] the international star of television, Hollywood movies, and Las Vegas. The Hillbilly Cat became the King of Rock and Roll and a cultural icon. Elvis Week is in full swing at Graceland, Elvis Presley’s Memphis home, […]

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  9. I love him he was the Best

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    1. He was God’s gift to the world in music that revolution a new kind of music all over the world

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  10. What surprises me is the commentaries are from males, I loved Elvis as did all my girlfriends. Raised down south it was natural but then I moved tot New England and found many males loving his music. Just goes to show.

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  11. Yes I Agree With You

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    1. CSSocialMedia June 14, 2017 at 8:51 am

      Thank you for your comment.

      Reply

  12. j ai 53 ans ; et depuis l age de 13 ans en 1977 j écoute tous les jours ELVIS .il ne c est pas passe une journée sans que sa musique m accompagne que se soit a vélo ; chez mes parents, au travail,l en voiture , et TOUJOURS aujourd’hui , mes enfants le connaissent bien évidement. Il a été une révélation , il a influence considérablement et positivement certains aspects de ma vie professionnelle , tout en lui correspondait a certaines de mes attentes . OUI j aime ELVIS , sa vie , sa musique , l homme qu il etait ; je le remercie pour tout ce qu il m a apporte . JE l écouterai TOUJOURS

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  13. […] more reasons for why Elvis Presley is called the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll? Check out The Heritage Blog for a list of […]

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  14. My Mom loved Elvis. so i grew up listening to Elvis songs and watching Elvis movies. He was so handsome, it was almost unreal to me. And his voice, and move’s, i just loved him. I was married in 1988, i was 21. Our song was “Cant help falling in love with you”. I love Suspicious Minds, Teddy Bear, In the ghetto, and Return to sender, were my other favorite’s. I am 50 now and still watch his movies when they are on Television around his Birthday. And it still seems unreal to me how beautiful he was.

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  15. I grew up in North Hollywood, cruising Van Nuys Blvd after the drive in movies watching James Dean in “Rebel without a Cause” and Marlon Brando in the “Wild One,” but it was the voice of Elvis Presley that exploded from the cars. I remember a disc jockey that commented on the song “King Creole” and said, “Man, that guy’s the King of Rock n roll.”

    It was the sound of Elvis that the “wild and rebel” teens brought out to cruise and pick up chicks. Elvis looked the part of Brando and Dean but Elvis had the voice that went with the looks.

    James Dean died just 4 months before Elvis released “Heartbreak Hotel, and the James Dean lead in “A Stone for Danny Fisher” was shelved, until Elvis, recognized
    by the studio as the next James Dean, that they rewrote the script, and the movie “King Creole” was a smash.

    The pompadour with ducktails epitomized in the movie “Grease” was precisely the Elvis look. Guys wore their skinny silver belts buckled to the side because Elvis did. The funny part is that Elvis had a reason to buckle his belt to the side…he didn’t want to scratch the backside of his guitar, but the fashion fad stuck.

    The freedom of information act disclosesd that the FBI was so concerned about the hold that Elvis controlled over a generation of kids, that J.Edgar Hoover ordered General Hershey of the draft board “to get Elvis off the street.” It was a time in the United States that the possibility of a pied piper was a real concern.

    Church pastors condemned him and his music. Elvis was blamed for juvenile delinquency. It was ridiculous in retrospect, but I remember it well.

    I have to admit, that some of the lyrics were over the top for the times, just listen to “Baby let’s Play House.” Talking about a sound that knocked my white socks off. WOW! That was true “rebel” and “Wild.”

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    1. Hi John, thank you for your comment.

      Reply

  16. Guillermo F. Perez-Argüello January 14, 2019 at 11:40 pm

    The first time that a major newspaper or publication referred to him as the King of Rock and roll was in November of 1956, and the title came from Variety. They knew that in the preceeding eleven months; he had racked 5 #1 singles, 2 #1 albums, sold 10 million units, half the outpit of RCA, then the largest music conglomerate in the world, attracted 500,000 teens to his 245 sold out shows and garnered 235 million cumulative television viewers for NBC and CBS in his 11 appearances. They also knew jhis first film , which opened n TYhanksgiving, recouped its cost in three days, via his beingh able to attract some 7 million teenagers to almost a thousand theatres. They aslo were able to realize that rock had represented 5% of the market in 1955, and that it had exponentially jumped to about 68%, in less than 11 months. Since he was the prme mover in making that happen, that is why they called him the King.Not because he was the first, or the m ost virtuous, or the greatest at anything he did, but because he could do it all, and because Kings musdt have subjects, and Presley had them in the tens of millions. Of the 60 million who watched his first perfoemnce at the Sullivan Show, thirty million can be easily number of people who he had already made his, or became his fans on that night. Now, no one in the history of television had reached this many fans, on his or her own. Another thing Variety knew but did n9ot tell, was that theree dfays after that appeaerance, the proce of an ad in prime time, meaning the top slot, that of Sunday at 9 pm, jumped for US$90,000 to US$250,000 a minute. So, this is why Variety called him the King, but had they waited for the economic data, which for 1956 was only available in the first quarter of 1957, they would have also realized that the sale of trasistor radios, record players, recorders, personal or family oriented, guitars, music instruments as well as televisions jumped to twice, thrice, and sometime ten times the numbers reached in the 1955 year. Eventually, the title stuck because he was as well, little by little, known as his country’s largest personal tax contributor, as the most celebrated regular GI recruit in the history of the US Armed Forces, as the most photographed musician in history and finally, and certainly most importantly, as the most modest, most readily available to his fans, as well as the most eclectic and important singer that ever lived.

    Reply

  17. Guillermo F. Perez-Argüello January 14, 2019 at 11:54 pm

    My previous was sent before I could correct the typos. Here is the corrected version. The first time that a major newspaper or publication referred to him as the King of Rock and Roll was in November of 1956, and the title came from Variety. They knew that in the preceeding eleven months, he had racked 5 #1 singles, 2 #1 albums, sold 10 million units, half the outpit of RCA, then the largest entertainment conglomerate in the world, attracted 500,000 teens to his 245 sold out shows and garnered 235 million cumulative television viewers for NBC and CBS in his 11 appearances. They also knew his first film , which opened on Thanksgiving, recouped its cost in three days, via his being able to attract some 7 million teenagers to more than a thousand theatres. They also were able to realize that rock had represented 5% of the market in 1955, and that it had exponentially jumped to about 68%, in less than 11 months. Since he was the prime mover in making that happen, that is why they called him the King.
    Not because he was the first, or the most virtuous, or the greatest at anything he did, but because he could do it all, and because Kings must have subjects, and Presley had them in the tens of millions. Of the 60 million who watched his first performance on the Sullivan Show, thirty million can be easily be counted as the number of people who he had already made his fans, or became his fans on that night. Now, no one in the history of television had reached this many fans, on his or her own. Another thing Variety knew but did not tell, was that three days after that appearance, when the ratings were announced, the price of an ad in prime time, meaning the top slot, that of Sunday at 9 pm, jumped for US$90,000 to US$250,000 a minute. So, again, this is why Variety called him the King. But had they waited for the economic data, which for 1956 was only available in the first quarter of 1957, they would have also realized that the sale of transistor radios, record players, recorders, personal or family oriented, guitars, music instruments as well as televisions jumped to twice, thrice, and sometime ten times the numbers reached in the 1955 year. Eventually, the title stuck because he was as well, little by little, known as his country’s largest personal tax contributor, as the most celebrated regular GI recruit in the history of the US Armed Forces, as the most photographed musician in history and finally, and certainly most importantly, as the most modest, most readily available to his fans, as well as the most eclectic and important singer that ever lived.

    Reply

  18. Jim;
    I just finished a book titled ELVIS: The King of Rock and Roll. We are looking at a number of publishers at the moment, and mulling offers. The book focuses primarily on Elvis’ rise from nothing to his coronation as The King of Rock and Roll.
    The book dispels all who lay claim to the title, or believed that they were entitled to a title that Elvis clearly earned. It also discusses in detail, the social, political landscape at the time, and also dispels the discussion of “cultural appropriation”. I like to say that my book clearly shows Elvis not from today’s perspective, but from the perspective of the time – from 1954-1956.
    I will put a link to your site on my book website, and hopefully we can trade some discussions.
    The Website is currently in construction….
    Let me know if you are interested in talking .
    F.R. D’Onofrio

    Reply

  19. just wanted to say that Elvis Presley was and still is the king of music and though his music is not played as it once was on the radio and tv the people of all ages are coming to know just how special of a person that this man was and continues to be.
    I remember when I just turned 5 years old and watching him perform on the 1968 nbc comeback special and remember thinking to myself that this is somebody who is really different than anyone else out there and I saw this at only being 5 years old and as I grew older and in school the kids in my class were loving people like Elton John The Rolling Stones Elo etc etc I told all my classmates that Elvis is the best as far as I was concerned.
    And one time I think it was third grade they had on the front cover who is the real king of rock in roll Elvis chuck berry Elton John and I said see see everyone that’s what I have been saying to you guys that he is the best.
    Well the weekly reader at that time said that most likely it was Elvis based on the fact of his popularity record sales and concerts that were sold out in a matter of hours and sometime minutes.
    So ladies and gentlemen I am and will continue to be a fan of
    Elvis Aron Presley and notice Aron with 1a I also think that he did not die on August 16 1977 but that’s a whole nother story.
    Sincerely, a Elvis Presley fan for life!

    Reply

  20. […] matter, what matters is what is comfortable for you and how you regularly practice and as the great Elvis Presley the king of rock and roll used to say; THANK YA THANK YA VERY […]

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