Elvis Presley and Neil Young
Neil Young with Elvis t-shirt
Ragged Glory Tour, Los Angeles, CA - 4/26/91
Photo by Robert Matheu
There are many connections between Elvis Presley and Neil Young -- both musically and in influence.
When Neil Young linked Johnny Rotten with Elvis Presley in his 1979 song "Hey Hey, My My," many were struck at the generational linking of such disparate musical extremes. Written shortly after the death of Elvis Presley, once dismissed as a dangerous influence himself but later hailed as an icon, the linkage of Sex Pistols' Rotten, Presley, and Young are not quite as foreign as it appears. All three broke down music barriers and crossed boundaries on the front lines of rock and roll music.
On the 1989 performance on televison Rockin' Saturday Night Live:
"Wearing a Elvis Presley T-shirt, Young seemed to be bridging his 1970's classic 'Hey, Hey, My, My' with the lyrics 'The King [Elvis] is gone but not forgotten, this is the story of Johnny Rotten' with the end of the 1980's and the impending advent of the grunge-alternative music explosion."
From a Neil Young Concert Review in Nashville 2005:
"The [concert] brought to mind Mr. Young's Shocking Pinks days, as Mr. Young had fun with a song he wrote about Elvis Presley, standing and almost wiggling, singing 'the last time I saw Elvis,' and 'He was the king!', even pulling off a couple of 'thank you, thank you very much' Elvis impersonations at the end."
Elvis Presley references appear repeatedly throughout Young's career. From the acoustic rave-up toast to Elvis Presley ("He Was the King") about his dog "Old King":
The last time I saw Elvis
He was shooting at a colour TV
The phones were ringing in the pink motel
And the rest is history
He was the King
-- Introduction by Neil Young. Greek Theatre, LA - 9/22/92.
When Neil Young linked Johnny Rotten with Elvis Presley in his 1979 song "Hey Hey, My My," many listeners - including the former Sex Pistols frontman - found the comparison suspect. But "Rotten: No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irish," the singer's 1995 memoir of the Sex Pistols era, recalls how much the two performers had in common.
Each was a working class kid possessed of strange charisma, an extraordinary sense of style and a talent for articulating an individual voice from unheard segments of society. Each used these gifts to change the path of pop music.
From "Les Inrockuptibles" Magazine - July 1997 Neil Young & Crazy Horse Interviews:
"Even when I was a fan of an artist, I was simply 'interested', I was never so enthusiastic that I read everything about him. I remember that, when I was a teenager, I collected the chewing gum wrappings with rock stars short informations. I remember particularly of an Elvis Presley series, like - 'Elvis, why do you wear sideburns ?- Because I like sideburns'. My interest for Elvis go no further in that matter. I liked his records, his music, but I didn't give a damn about his secrets or any of his grey areas. Some people know everything from their heroes, the least point of view - probably a way to live by proxy."
From interview Neil Young Guitars - Pt#2:
"NEIL : Out of the Blue was written in my living room on an acoustic guitar.
Q : What inspired that?
NEIL : I don't remember now. Elvis had just died and I was thinking about that. But I was a year late. That's one reason. Then there was Johnny Rotten."
Over on The East Carolinian, critic Gary McCabe delivers this lofty quote:
"Aside from Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan, Neil Young is arguably the greatest American-born rock 'n' roll star in history."
I suppose that the critic meant North-American-born as Neil was born in Canada.
More Elvis Presley references and influences:
"There have been a lotta tough guys. There have been pretenders. And there have been contenders. But there is only one king." Bruce Springsteen
"...it was like he came along and whispered some dream in everybody's ear, and somehow we all dreamed it." Bruce Springsteen
"I doubt very much if the Beatles would have happened if it was not for Elvis. God bless you Elvis." Paul McCartney
"Elvis had an influence on everybody with his musical approach. He broke the ice for all of us." Al Green
"Ask anyone. If it hadn't been for Elvis, I don't know where popular music would be. He was the one that started it all off, and he was definitely the start of it for me." Elton John
"A lot has been written and said about why he was so great, but I think the best way to appreciate his greatness is just to go back and play some of the old records...Time has a way of being very unkind to old records, but Elvis' keep getting better and better." Huey Lewis
"Elvis was the king. No doubt about it. People like myself, Mick Jagger and all the others only followed in his footsteps." Rod Stewart
"He was a unique artist - an original in an area of imitators." Mick Jagger
"Before Elvis, there was nothing." John Lennon
"This boy had everything. He had the looks, the moves, the manager, and the talent. And he didn't look like Mr. Ed like a lot of the rest of us did. In the way he looked, way he talked, way he acted - he really was different." Carl Perkins
"I wasn't just a fan, I was his brother. He said I was good and I said he was good; we never argued about that. Elvis was a hard worker, dedicated, and God loved him. Last time I saw him was at Graceland. We sang Old Blind Barnabus together, a gospel song. I love him and hope to see him in heaven. There'll never be another like that soul brother. James Brown
"He was the firstest with the mostest." Roy Orbison
"Elvis Presley was an explorer of vast new landscapes of dream and illusion. He was a man who refused to be told that the best of his dreams would not come true, who refused to be defined by anyone else's conceptions. This is the goal of democracy, the journey on which every prospective American hero sets out. That Elvis made so much of the journey on his own is reason enough to remember him with the honor and love we reserve for the bravest among us. Such men made the only maps we can trust." Dave Marsh From his book, Elvis.
"As a musicologist - and I consider myself one - there was always a great deal of respect for Elvis, especially during his Sun sessions. As a black people, we all knew that. My whole thing was the one-sidedness - like, Elvis' icon status in America made it like nobody else counted. My heroes came from someone else. My heroes came before him. My heroes were probably his heroes"--Chuck D, Newsday interview, 2002.
"That's my idol, Elvis Presley. If you went to my house, you'd see pictures all over of Elvis. 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
"When I first heard Elvis' voice I just knew that I wasn't going to work for anybody; and nobody was going to be my boss...Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail." Bob Dylan
More on Neil Young influences.