Many people feel Elvis was The King of Rock & Roll. Do you agree?
If you do, you are probably more on the right side of history than others. Of course, it depends on how you define king and what your version of rock & roll is; however, the term “rock & roll” had a very different meaning before the mid-50s. So, although Elvis was not the first one on the rock & roll scene, he wasn’t far behind. And, when he did show up, he awakened a titan of the music world that would be invincible forevermore.
The Billboard charts from that era tell the whole story. In 1954, the top song was “Little Things Mean a Lot,” by Kitty Kallen; a song that has nothing to do with rock & roll. One year later in 1955, Bill Haley & His Comets hit #2 with “Rock Around the Clock,” coming second only to a fun mambo instrumental by Perez Prado called “Cherry Pink.” By 1956, it was all over. Elvis had three of the top ten Billboard songs: “Heartbreak Hotel” at #1, “Don’t Be Cruel” at #2, and “Hound Dog” at #6.
He still topped the charts in 1957 with “All Shook Up,” but an interesting thing started to happen. The #2 spot in that year went to Pat Boone with “Love Letters in the Sand.” Pat Boone? Then, in 1958, #1 went to Domenico Modugno with “Volare,” #2 went to The Everly Brothers with “All I have to Do is Dream,” and Elvis still got up there for #3 with “Don’t (I Beg of You).” What happened to rock & roll? I mean, our king is still there, but with “Don’t”? Do you even know that song? I don’t.
The Army might have had something to do with the slip of rock and roll and Elvis’s streak, but there was something bigger going on. Rock & roll caught a lot of heat from the “adults” who didn’t want anything to do with it. They villainized it and attempted to cleanse the music industry by promoting safer music and artists. Billboard’s top song for 1959 was “The Battle of New Orleans,” by Johnny Horton. Good song, I guess, but definitely not rock & roll!
This anti-rock trend continued in 1960 with chart-toppers “Theme from a Summer Place,” by Percy Faith and “He’ll Have to Go” by Jim Reeves. Definitely not rock & roll. But look who made #9; our king started a comeback with “Stuck on You.” It’s also worth noting that Chubby Checker made the #10 spot with “The Twist.” Now we’re talking! By 1961, rock & roll is back in business with Bobby Lewis and “Tossin’ and Turnin’” You can’t kill rock & roll, it’s here to stay.
We’ve seen this story many times throughout history. In a few years, I will recite the same story arc with a different protagonist—generative artificial intelligence (AI). Earlier this year nobody cared about ChatGPT and now we can’t stop talking about it. For those of us on the inside track with AI (I have been messing around with AI since the 1980s), it’s difficult to know what about AI will catch mainstream attention—similar to the way music producers don’t really know what the next hit song will be. But once the genie is out of the bottle, you can’t stuff it back in!
ChatGPT wasn’t out for more than a month or so before Musk, Wozniak, and over 1,000 other “experts” issued an open letter, beseeching us to put AI back in the bottle for a while because of “profound risks to society and humanity.” They must be kidding, right? The rise of the machines? Really? Yeah, I think I’ve heard that one before—like all my life!
Look. Rock and roll is here to stay, Elvis lives on forever in our hearts, and AI will continue to improve—not replace—the human condition. Trying to censor or govern it is just a fool’s errand that will put you on the wrong side of history. Just let go and rock on with your AI! You might like it.