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.
“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.
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.
“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!
“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.
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.”
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.
Mystically liberal Virgo enjoys long walks alone in the city at night in the rain with an umbrella and a flask of 10-year-old Laphroaig who strives to live by the maxim, “It ain’t what you know that gets you into trouble; it’s what you know that just ain’t so.
I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn, and a college dropout (twice!). Occupationally, I have been a bartender, jewelry engraver, bouncer, landscape artist, and FEMA crew chief following the Great Flood of ’72 (and that was a job that I should never, ever have left).
I am also the final author of the original O’Sullivan Woodside price guides for record collectors and the original author of the Goldmine price guides for record collectors. As such, I was often referred to as the Price Guide Guru, and—as everyone should know—it behooves one to heed the words of a guru. (Unless, of course, you’re the Beatles.)