- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 10, 2002

''I'm just a singer," said the late "chairman of the board" Frank Sinatra. "Elvis was the embodiment of the whole American culture." Paul McCartney explained that "when we were kids growing up in Liverpool, all we ever wanted to be was Elvis Presley." Another former Beatle, the late John Lennon, put it more succinctly when he said, "Before Elvis there was nothing."
Although the White House press office didn't ascertain whether President Bush is an Elvis fan, former President Reagan left no doubt about how he felt when he said that the entertainer "epitomized America, and for that we shall be eternally grateful. There will never be anyone else like him." And Sen. Bill Frist, a Nashville-born Tennessee Republican says that "Elvis shaped the world of music decades ago and clearly continues to influence it today. His music is timeless, and I'm certain that as each new generation hears it, they, too, will come to appreciate his inspiring talent."
But perhaps it is former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who hits the right note concerning the Presley phenomenon when she says, "I love his music because he was my generation. But then again, Elvis is everyone's generation, and he always will be."
Less than a week from the 25th anniversary of the Aug. 16, 1977 passing of Elvis Aaron Presley (1935-1977), a new generation is reconnecting with the "king of rock 'n' roll." A remix of "A Little Less Conversation," a song originally in the 1968 Presley film "Live a Little, Love a Little," was released in June and catapulted to No. 1 on pop charts in both the United Kingdom and the United States. It gives the late singer the distinction of having more No. 1 singles than any recording artist in the history of the United Kingdom surpassing even the beloved Beatles. The single sold 67,000 copies in Britain on the first day, and this means the Beatles have 17 No. 1 hits compared with Elvis' 18.
In the United States the remix of "A Little Less Conversation" only adds to Presley's impressive list of accolades. He still holds the U.S. record for the most chart singles, the most top-10 singles and most weeks at No. 1. Six days after "A Little Less Conversation" was released in the United States, the single enjoyed sales seven times higher than those of the closest contemporary artists.
RCA spokeswoman Julie Horn says that "SoundScan the music equivalent of the Nielsen ratings reported that sales of 'A Little Less Conversation' were nearly 27,000 for the six-day period beginning on the June 25th release date through the 30th. We're all happily surprised, and it's even more interesting how this record has taken off in the United States because it hasn't officially been added to radio-station playlists. It's just quickly catching on."
The firestorm surrounding "A Little Less Conversation" began when Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc. (EPE) and RCA Records granted permission to Dutch musician Tom Holkenburg, a DJ for the techno group JXL, to remix the classic Elvis tune, making it the first Presley song to be remixed by a contemporary artist. The remix was used as part of Nike's Secret Tournament World Cup advertising campaign and was followed by the June 10 release of the single in the United Kingdom. The spectacular reception of the remix was a surprise to all involved.
Todd Morgan, the Memphis director of media and creative development for EPE, says that "in the course of all that is going on for the 25th anniversary, we got a call from Nike Europe. EPE periodically will approve the use of Elvis' name, image, likeness or voice, but permission has to be given by EPE. The Nike proposal was tied in to the World Cup, and there was really high energy, and EPE really liked the mix. It isn't that EPE and RCA are against remixes, but we just had never gone there. When we heard the song and saw the commercial we loved it. Then the Nike commercial was aired and the song caught fire. Everything just went nuts all over Europe and now in the U.S."
The delighted Mr. Morgan says, "The magic that Elvis had in life is forever embodied in his music. His popularity is at an all-time high, and we'll see a new chapter in this story. Whether his popularity will wane in future generations is yet to be seen, but I think he was so good and so strong that he'll continue to be a force and loved by many. Any living entertainer would be happy to have a No. 1 song, and I think Elvis might react by saying 'Cool, man.'"
So this is only likely to continue building? "All the indicators are there," concludes Mr. Morgan, "for Elvis' continued popularity. After all, here we are 25 years after Elvis did his last work and his presence is bigger than ever. As a person and an entertainer, he meant so much to people and he would be so very proud. I like to think that he knows what's happening."
This No. 1 single is just one of the reasons that Elvis might be proud. Consider just a sample of The King's continuing presence.
The original version of "A Little Less Conversation" was featured in the soundtrack of last year's remake of "Ocean's Eleven;" this year's animated Disney movie "Lilo and Stitch" features six Elvis songs; a Florida-based cellular-phone-accessory company, the Art of Sport Inc., has been granted the license to sell phone covers with high-tech, mirrorlike images of the king of rock 'n' roll; and in the fall RCA Records, in cooperation with EPE, will release the album "Elvis' 30 #1 Hits."
This is just the beginning of things to come in coordination with the anniversary of the king's death. Banks will be issuing Presley credit cards, books about him are ready for release and television specials about his life will air in the fall. But perhaps nowhere is his memory more indelible than in Memphis, particularly at his beloved home Graceland.
This year, "Elvis Week" will last nine days with events planned day and night. "In a typical year," Mr. Morgan says, "we see between 3,000 and 5,000 people who participate in the candlelight vigil, but on anniversary years we see upward of 20,000 or 30,000. This year we wouldn't be surprised to see up to 70,000 people, and that really isn't counting the people who just stand in the street and don't take the walk to the grave site."
Mr. Morgan concludes that "there is nothing sad about these gatherings. It's a sincere tribute to Elvis, and there are lots of organizations that participate in the events. It's a celebration and ultimately it's a nine-day party."
Considering the following facts, it isn't difficult to understand why not everyone is joking when they say they saw Elvis last night. Here is why people say the king of rock 'n' roll still is alive:
Graceland mansion was opened to visitors in 1981 and remains the second-most-visited home in the United States, behind only the White House.
A survey conducted by EPE found that nearly half of the 600,000 people who visit Graceland each year are younger than 35.
There are more than 600 Presley fan clubs worldwide more than for any other celebrity.
Presley record sales are in excess of 1 billion globally more than those of anyone else in recording history.
There have been about 1,400 books published about him.
For collectors, there are 100 different Presley porcelain plates.
More than 35,000 Elvis impersonators are officially registered to perform in the United States alone.
"Elvis Has Left the Building" turns up 65,000 hits on Google.com.
Even though Elvis never performed live outside the United States (except for one five-show, three-city tour of Canada in 1957), 40 percent of his record sales come from outside the United States.
His three Grammy awards were all for gospel recordings.
The Elvis Presley postage stamp is the most widely publicized stamp issue in the history of the U.S. Postal Service and the top-selling commemorative postage stamp of all time.
He is the only performer to have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
With a No. 1 hit single more than two decades after his death, it appears that Elvis may have "left the building," but he has not left the hearts of fans both old and new. There is little doubt within the recording industry that Presley albums will pass ever more milestones as the legacy of the king of rock 'n' roll continues with each new generation.

Kelly Patricia O'Meara is an investigative reporter for Insight magazine and a lover of Elvis Presley and other "classical" music.


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