The “Elvis versus Michael” Saga : Who’s the greatest? (1)

Posted: April 5, 2011 in Music
Tags: , , ,

Please note that this is a two part series.

ok, all you Elvis and Michael fans, I’ve decided to finally settle the debate (sorry, permit me to rephrase that) I’ve finally decided to try and settle the age-long debate about who was the greatest pop icon between Michael and Elvis. Thank God they’re both dead now (excuse my morbid humour) so it kinda makes my analysis and comparison a little easier. As I’m writing this, I have got over 3gb of MJ material on my hard disk and I’m feeling a certain kinda bias towards Elvis already (hey, I have something for underdogs). but of course as a critic I’m gonna be as objective as possible, that’s my job right? (Damn!). I’m going to give a ‘brief’ on the facts about both legends and then draw my conclusions at the end via their comparison. So I’m going first with Elvis, since he died before Michael (pardon my morbid humour, once again). So here goes…

Elvis Aaron Presley (January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977) was one of the most popular American singers of the 20th century. A cultural icon, he is widely known by the single name Elvis. He is often referred to as the “King of Rock and Roll” or simply “the King”.

“The King”

Born in Tupelo, Mississippi, Presley moved to Memphis, Tennessee, with his family at the age of 13. He attended Pentecostal churches in his youth, and there he heard gospel music. He also listened to blues and country-and-western music and won a talent contest at the age of ten for a rendition of the ballad “Old Shep” (1933), written by country singer Red Foley. In his teens, Presley taught himself to play the guitar. Following high school, Presley worked as a truck driver. In 1953, while recording some songs as a birthday gift for his mother at a studio in Memphis, Tennessee, Presley impressed the studio manager with his unique vocal style, demonstrating both outstanding range and the influences of African American music.

Studio owner Sam Phillips, eager to bring the sound of African American music to a wider audience, saw in Presley the means to realize his ambition, promptly signed Presley to his fledgling record label, Sun Records. After recording some country-tinged singles in 1954 for Sun (such as “That’s All Right Mama” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky”), Presley switched the next year to a major label, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA).

Accompanied by guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, Presley was one of the originators of rockabilly, an uptempo, backbeat-driven fusion of country and rhythm and blues. With heavy promotion by RCA and a veteran band that included guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, Presley swiftly became a sensation. He had five songs reach the number-one spot on the popular-music sales charts in 1956 alone: “Heartbreak Hotel”; “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You”; “Don’t Be Cruel”; “Hound Dog”; and “Love Me Tender.” Presley’s romantic, suggestive ballads were matched by his erotic gyrations on stage, a style that made him popular with teens but controversial with their parents and other authority figures.

RCA Victor acquired his contract in a deal arranged by Colonel Tom Parker, who would manage the singer for over two decades. Presley’s first RCA single, “Heartbreak Hotel”, released in January 1956, was a number one hit. He became the leading figure of the newly popular sound of rock and roll with a series of network television appearances and chart-topping records. His energized interpretations of songs, many from African American sources, and his uninhibited performance style made him enormously popular—and controversial.

Elvis' eccentric dance moves and performances endeared him to his teenage fans

In November 1956, he made his film debut in “Love Me Tender”. Conscripted into military service in 1958, Presley relaunched his recording career two years later with some of his most commercially successful work. He staged few concerts, however, and, guided by Parker, proceeded to devote much of the 1960s to making Hollywood movies and soundtrack albums, most of them critically derided.

From 1956 to 1958, Presley starred in four motion pictures, all of which featured his soundtracks: Love Me Tender (1956), Jailhouse Rock (1957), Loving You (1957), and King Creole (1958). After serving in the United States Army from 1958 to 1960, Presley starred in several more musical films, including Flaming Star (1960), Blue Hawaii (1961), Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962), Viva Las Vegas (1964), Roustabout (1964), Frankie and Johnny (1966), and Live a Little, Love a Little (1968). His public appeal faded during this period, as his rebellious image gave way to the more wholesome persona developed in his film roles.

The hit songs continued for Presley, however, including “It’s Now or Never” (1960), “Good Luck Charm” (1962), “Return To Sender” (1962), “Crying In the Chapel” (1965), “In The Ghetto” (1969), and “Suspicious Minds” (1969). Overall, Presley is credited with more than 100 singles that made the pop charts—far more than any other artist. In 1968, after seven years away from the stage, he returned to live performance in a celebrated comeback television special that led to an extended Las Vegas concert residency and a string of profitable tours. In 1973, Presley staged the first concert broadcast globally via satellite, Aloha from Hawaii, seen by approximately 1.5 billion viewers.

Presley is regarded as one of the most important figures of 20th-century popular culture. He had a versatile voice and unusually wide success encompassing many genres, including country, pop ballads, gospel, and blues.

He is the best-selling solo artist in the history of popular music. Nominated for 14 competitive Grammys, he won three, and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at age 36. He has been inducted into four music halls of fame.

He is described as one of the most popular and influential entertainers of the 20th century. Presley is renowned as an early pioneer of rock music, fusing the sounds of country music and rhythm-and-blues influences with what was then the new rock-and-roll style. His unprecedented, electrically charged performances also helped make Presley one of the first mass idols of American popular culture.

Presley continued to perform during the late 1960s and 1970s—especially in Las Vegas, Nevada—despite deteriorating health and long-term drug dependency. His death, a subject of some controversy, has been officially attributed to heart failure, a likely result of Presley’s chronic overuse of prescription barbiturates. Presley is buried at his mansion, Graceland, which is a major tourist site in Memphis.

Elvis has often been accused of “stealing” African American music because much of his vocal style, instrumental accompaniment, and physical moves on stage can be traced to African American cultural practices. Furthermore, one side of each of Presley’s first five singles was a cover (remake) of a rhythm-and-blues song by an African American artist, such as Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “That’s All Right (Mama)” (1954). This practice continued even after Elvis found success and moved from Sun Records to the RCA label in late 1955.

While it’s undeniable that Presley owed a considerable debt to African American music, ultimately it is wrong to accuse him of theft in this regard. No matter how much Presley was influenced by African American sources, he was also deeply influenced by contemporary country and pop music. All of his country, pop, and rhythm-and-blues recordings display what was at the time a unique fusion of these three styles. It is worth noting that some African American artists engaged in a similar practice from the other side of the racial equation. Chuck Berry concocted a highly original style embracing country, pop, and rhythm and blues, while Ray Charles found huge success with his album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (1962).

The phrase ‘Elvis has left the building’ was routinely intoned over the public-address system at the conclusion of Presley’s concerts in the 1970s. The logic behind this practice was to try to convince fans that there was simply no possibility that he would return to the stage and therefore they should give up demanding an encore and head on home. Now that is the man they call “King”. It is worthy of note that Elvis died at the age of 42, and was still said to be in his prime.

Now lets take a look at Michael.

Michael Jackson

Michael Joseph Jackson (August 29, 1958 – June 25, 2009) was an American recording artist, dancer, singer-songwriter, musician, and philanthropist. Referred to as the King of Pop, Jackson is recognized as the most successful entertainer of all time by Guinness World Records. His contribution to music, dance, and fashion, along with a much-publicized personal life, made him a global figure in popular culture for over four decades. The eighth child of the Jackson family, he debuted on the professional music scene along with his brothers as a member of The Jackson 5 in 1964 (at age 5), and began his solo career in 1971.

In the early 1980s, Jackson became a dominant figure in popular music. The music videos for his songs, including those of “Beat It”, “Billie Jean”, and “Thriller”, were credited with transforming the medium into an art form and a promotional tool, and the popularity of these videos helped to bring the relatively new television channel MTV to fame. Videos such as “Black or White” and “Scream” made him a staple on MTV in the 1990s. Through stage performances and music videos, Jackson popularized a number of dance techniques, such as the robot and the moonwalk. His distinctive musical sound and vocal style have influenced numerous hip hop, pop, contemporary R&B, and rock artists.

Jackson’s 1982 album Thriller is the best-selling album of all time. His other records, including Off the Wall (1979), Bad (1987), Dangerous (1991), and History (1995), were also ranked among the world’s best-selling.

Jackson is one of the few artists to have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. He was also inducted into the Dance Hall of Fame as the first (and currently only) dancer from the world of pop and rock ‘n’ roll. Some of his other achievements include multiple Guinness World Records; 13 Grammy Awards (as well as the Grammy Legend Award and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award); 26 American Music Awards (more than any other artist, including the “Artist of the Century”); 13 number-one singles in the United States in his solo career (more than any other male artist in the Hot 100 era); and the estimated sale of over 750 million records worldwide. Jackson won hundreds of awards, which have made him one of the most-awarded recording artists in the history of music. He was also a notable humanitarian and philanthropist, donating and raising hundreds of millions of dollars for beneficial causes and supporting more than 39 charities.

Michael popularized several dance techniques such as the Robot and The Moonwalk.

Aspects of Jackson’s personal life, including his changing appearance, personal relationships, and behavior, have generated controversy. In 1993, he was accused of child sexual abuse, but the case was settled out of court and no formal charges were brought. In 2005, he was tried and acquitted of further sexual abuse allegations and several other charges after the jury ruled him not guilty on all counts. While preparing for his concert series This Is It, Jackson died on June 25, 2009, after suffering from cardiac arrest.

Before his death, Jackson had mistakenly been administered drugs including propofol and lorazepam. The Los Angeles County Coroner declared his death a homicide, and his personal physician pleaded not guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter. Jackson’s death triggered a global outpouring of grief, and as many as one billion people around the world reportedly watched his public memorial service on live television. In March 2010, Sony Music Entertainment signed a US$250 million deal with Jackson’s estate to retain distribution rights to his recordings until 2017, and to release seven posthumous albums over the decade following his death.

Wow!!! fanatastic!!… At this point it is extremely difficult to say who indeed was the greatest. but to get a clearer perspective on this issue, we may have to set certain criteria in order to precisely judge who wears the crown and will be called “king”.

So where do we begin? Firstly, a poll was conducted on our facebook page ( ) last week asking our fans and fellow critiques, who is the greatest. I however, doubt the efficiency of the result of such a poll and I’ll give my reasons. It is nigh on impossible to determine each participant’s music orientation and knowledge of these two legends. One would be wise enough to assume that the demographic that did decide the result of that poll would surely favour the choice that was closer to their generation. I’m not suggesting anything, but you do kinda get my drift…

To be continued…

Author: ‘Lola. ‘Lola is the editor here at ‘La Critique’ and can be reached at

  1. DON says:

    this is very very good…as e dey hot…

  2. chuck says:

    fact is..MJ would be the obvious choice due to the fact that most people who particpate in the poll are of d latter “MJ-ish” generation.. but in truth i dont think i can decide who d greatest is.theres just too much similarities in their lifestyles and even in death..not to mention MJ married Elvis daughter at some im on the fence

  3. chingaling says:

    um…based on awards and international recognition, u gotta giv it to MJ. But wen u consider the fact that during the time of elvis presley, d american music industry was not as commercially buoyant as the mid-period of michael’s career. Had elvis sang his last song in d 90s and died in the early noughties sony would surely hav paid more for the 8yr music license. Wat i mean is, given the variation in the times in which these 2 artistes existed, and the varying opportunities present in those times; i’ll hav to give it to elvis

  4. DON says:

    the fact is Michael’s greatest of the two on all grounds… Viva MJ!!!

  5. blacklola says:

    Well gentlemen, All I can say is wait for the concluding part and then you’ll know which side of the fence you really belong. I do go with Chuck and Chingy, they both made salient points on this. but like I said, Watch out for Part Two!!

  6. Mayhem says:

    Dont seem to understand y people compare MJ and elvis . I think if anyone thinks Elvis or Michael is better it is just because they are a fan of that person. Like someone else said, they are from totally different genres so they are probably tops in their genres. For me its elvis by a long shot . . . If MJ sef hear im go vex

  7. Michael Jackson is the Greatest.

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