probably the biggest year in the history of elvis!

Es­ti­mated reading time is 6 min­utes.

IT’S NOT JUST ELVIS! Jeff Jampol is an es­tate rep­re­sen­ta­tive who han­dles the “brands” and as­sets of such stars as Jim Mor­rison, Janis Joplin, and the Ra­mones. He tells a story of having dinner with friends in their thir­ties and for­ties and asking them to name the ti­tles of three Beatle songs. “And you can’t use your phones!” He prob­ably ex­pected this to be an easy ask.

The group of young­sters came up with one Bea­tles song be­tween them—Day­dream Be­liever. “That’s where we are with the Bea­tles,” Jampol ex­claimed. “Imagine where we are for any­body else.”

In 2017, a poll found that nearly 30% of re­spon­dents 18-24 had never heard a Presley song.

In the world the way it ex­isted be­fore celebrity cul­ture took over and the in­ternet made global su­per­stars of, well, a lot of no­bodies, it didn’t get any bigger than the Bea­tles. While his fans may be­lieve Elvis was al­ways at the top­per­most of the pop­per­most of pop­u­larity, he was never bigger than the Bea­tles. 1

There are many rea­sons why the Bea­tles got bigger than Elvis. For ex­ample, the market for records in the ’60s was sub­stan­tially larger than it had been in the ’50s. The group has re­mained more pop­ular than Elvis since their breakup in 1970 and his death in 1977.

 

Probably the Biggest Year: photo of Elvis Ukelele Starter Kit.
“Elvis helped lay the foun­da­tion for Rock­a­billy on his way to be­coming the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Lessons for 3 of Elvis’ most pop­ular Rock­a­billy songs are in­cluded with this bundle.” The Elvis Sig­na­ture Se­ries Rock­a­billy Con­cert Ukulele can be had for as little as $99.99! 2

Cheesy Elvis merchandise is ubiquitous

One of the main rea­sons for the Fab Four re­maining at a loftier height is that their cat­alog of recorded music has been in­fi­nitely better han­dled and man­aged than that of Presley. Yes, of course, it’s a dras­ti­cally smaller cat­alog and much easier to manage than Presley’s rather vast col­lec­tion of studio, sound­track, and live recordings.

There have been more than a few people in charge of that cat­alog starting with Joan Deary in 1977, and they have had very dif­ferent opin­ions about what con­sti­tuted “good” new Presley re­leases. At this time, the Presley canon is in dis­array more than forty years after his death!

Other than the plethora of tacky trin­kets and doo­dads that were part of the orig­inal mar­keting of Beat­le­mania in the ’60s, the mer­chan­dising of the band has also been rel­a­tively tasteful for decades. On the other hand, tacky/cheesy Elvis mer­chan­dise is ubiquitous.

The han­dling of the Bea­tles’ image ap­pears to have been one steady vi­sion for decades. But like the Elvis cat­alog of record­ings, the han­dling of the rest of the Elvis Presley es­tate has been in sev­eral dif­ferent hands over the past few decades and each han­dler had a dif­ferent per­spec­tive for keeping Elvis in the public eye.

 

Probably the Biggest Year: photo of wall of Elvis memorabilia.
Okay, not all Elvis mer­chan­dise is cheesy. This wall of mugs, wall-hangings, and T-shirts looks good, fo­cusing on just one image of the younger Presley. It’s a far cry from the avalanche of crap that Colonel Parker al­lowed to flood the market in the late ’70s.

Can Elvis probably rise again?

In the ar­ticle “Can Elvis Rise Again?”  and sub-titled “The Presley estate’s earn­ings have slipped in the past decade — but a new team is hell­bent on over­hauling his image,” David Browne ad­dresses these is­sues for Rolling Stone (March 3, 2020):

“Elvis Presley may have died 43 years ago, but on a re­cent morning in mid­town New York, plans are un­derway to res­ur­rect him. In a con­fer­ence room in the of­fices of Au­thentic Brands Group, the firm in charge of li­censing and mar­keting Presley, ex­ec­u­tives are dis­cussing the many projects they’ve been working on since taking over the es­tate in 2013.”

Here are a few salient facts from the article:

•  While the Presley es­tate was an­nu­ally pulling in $60,000,000 a decade ago, that number has since fallen by 30%. 3

•  Sales of mem­o­ra­bilia dropped from nearly $4,000,000 in 2017 to less than $1,500,000 last year.

•  A 2017 UK poll found that nearly 30%of re­spon­dents ages 18-24 had never heard one of Presley’s songs.

 

Probably the Biggest Year: poster for Cirque Du Soleil's VIVA ELVIS.
“Cirque Du Soleil mounted a Las Vegas show, Viva Elvis, fea­turing Presley footage ac­com­pa­nied by dancers. But at­ten­dance was dis­ap­pointing, and the show closed after just more than two years.” 4

Elvis as Agent King

Au­thentic Brands Group’s CEO Jamie Salter con­fi­dently promises that next year will be “prob­ably the biggest year in the his­tory of Elvis Presley.” And what are some of the ideas that the folks he and ABG have in store of fans?

•  An Elvis filter on Snapchat which gives you his face, pom­padour, and be­daz­zled jacket.

•  A plan to re­lease a video of Elvis and all of his beloved an­i­mals on the Dodo, a pop­ular pet site.

•  An an­i­mated se­ries coming to Net­flix next year ti­tled Agent King.

•  An Elvis holo­gram. (Ac­cording to Salter, “Dig­ital hu­mans are very in­ter­esting. That’s going to be the next big thing: Elvis will teach you how to play guitar. I’ve seen it. It’s real. I still can’t be­lieve it. I could lit­er­ally talk to Elvis Presley.”)

Can any of this . . . crap ac­tu­ally ex­tend Preley’s shelf life as a com­modity. Can it reach younger gen­er­a­tions and con­vert kids raised on nothing but hip-hop to want to get to know an artist who sang rock & roll and pop music that is ut­terly alien to them?

Hell if I know!

 

Probably the Biggest Year: poster for ALL SHOOK UP musical comedy on Broadway.
“The good news is that the frothy [All Shook Up] rips off Mamma Mia! more suc­cess­fully than the woeful Beach Boys tuner Good Vi­bra­tions does. The bad news is that the Elvis num­bers often feel wedged into the dopey plot.” The show closed after only run­ning for six months, often to a half-empty the­ater. 5

An iconic American story

There are also plans afoot to de-emphasize Presley’s con­nec­tion to rock & roll. Ac­cording to John Jackson, the Sony Music VP who over­sees Presley’s back cat­alog: “He’s the guy who was 18 and straight out of a not-great high school, trying to make some­thing of him­self. That’s all that Drake and Justin Bieber wanted. You don’t present him as a rocker. You present him as this iconic Amer­ican story.

Jeff Jampol has a re­freshing opinion:

“If each project, each medium chosen, speaks to the core of who Elvis was, what he stands for, his style, his music, and his be­liefs, and if each project is com­pletely au­thentic, cred­ible, and de­livers the mes­sage, music, and life of Elvis ac­cu­rately and truth­fully, without editing, ‘spin,’ or ma­nip­u­lating any­thing, I’m 100% con­fi­dent that the magic and art of Elvis will suc­cess­fully transfer, and be passed on suc­cess­fully to fu­ture generations.”

Fi­nally, if you are in­ter­ested in reading the Rolling Stone ar­ticle in its en­tirety, click here.

 

Probably the Biggest Year: advertisement for AGENT KING animated televisio series.

FEATURED IMAGE: The image at the top of this page was cropped from the art­work cur­rently found on the in­ternet ad­ver­tising the up­coming an­i­mated se­ries Agent King. Ac­cording to the producer’s blurb, “Elvis Presley trades in his white jump­suit for a jet pack when he is covertly in­ducted into a se­cret gov­ern­ment spy pro­gram to help battle the dark forces that threaten the country he loves, all while holding down his day job as the King Of Rock & Roll.” 

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   In fact, at this point in time, he comes in third place be­hind the Fab Four and Queen. The status of Queen soared fol­lowing the suc­cess of the in­cred­ible Freddie Mer­cury biopic Bo­hemian Rhap­sody in 2018.

2   And everyone knows that learning to play the ukelele is a sure­fire way to at­tract younger fans to Elvis.

3   There is one in­ter­esting com­ment on the Rolling Stone ar­ticle from a person who signs off as Or­ange Apple: “Forbes in­formed those who read their yearly lists that the de­crease in Elvis’ yearly tal­lies, from the $55,000,000 range of 2010-2016 to the $27-39,000,000 range starting in 2016 was due to Forbes’ sudden change in the method­ology used to cal­cu­late the in­come gen­er­ated by Grace­land as a tourist des­ti­na­tion, not a re­sult of a fall in their num­bers of vis­i­tors.

4   And everyone knows that Vegas mu­sical re­vues are a sure­fire way to at­tract younger fans to Elvis.

5   And everyone knows that Broadway plays are a sure­fire way to at­tract younger fans to Elvis.

 

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