When the Beatles exploded onto the music scene in the 1960s, they brought with them the phenomenon of Beatlemania. Everywhere they went, flocks and crowds of people were right behind them, screaming, shouting, fainting and working themselves into a fluster over the group of four rock stars from Britain. But they weren’t the first group to work up such a huge, fanatical, frenzied–even mentally ill–fanbase. Before there was Beatlemania there was Lisztomania, the visceral frenzy that listeners of Franz Listz’s beautiful piano playing flew into upload hearing his fingers dance along the keys. There are reports of listeners fighting over pairs of the pianists’ gloves, broken piano strings and even locks of his hair simply because of the phenomenon known as Lisztomania.
But Beatlemania–and even Lisztomania–might not be the biggest sensations to take over an entire group of listeners at once. When a young truck driver began to turn heads in the mid 1950s, people slowly began to take notice. Not long after, Elvis Presley was a full-time singer and performer, exciting crowds like no one else could around the nation.
The Elvis Frenzy
In his biography “That’s Alright Elvis,” author Scotty Moore details the frenzy that surrounded Elvis and his live performances when his act took off. Moore stated that when “He’d start out, ‘You ain’t nothin’ but a Hound Dog,’ and they’d just go to pieces. They’d always react the same way. There’d be a riot every time.”
Elvis had a way of whipping crowds into a stir with little effort. His charisma and charm were enough that simply walking onto stage and grabbing the microphone were often enough to send a crowd wild, whether it was filled with men or women. So why were people so enticed by Presley?
Perhaps most obviously, Elvis was an immensely talented singer. Despite being told once that he ought to stick to trucking because he had no future as a singer, Elvis captivated audiences with his deep, smooth voice. This is made clear by his standing among the best all-time musicians on the charts. Though the exact numbers are often debated due to semantics, Elvis is often recognized as having had 18 number one hits and 38-40 top 10 hits. Graceland estimates that Elvis has sold over 1 billion records worldwide thanks to the voice that sent a generation into a fervent hysteria.
Rock n Roll n Charisma
Elvis was, to put it matter of factly, one of the first big, charismatic rock stars. He had a persona of mystery about him and a “bad boy, does-what-he-wants” attitude that was personified by the fact that he got famous by singing a genre of music that was typically associated with African Americans at the time.
And while Elvis’s deep, melodic voice may have secured record deals and piqued listeners’ interests early on, it was his charisma and appearance that drove women wild at his shows.
Elvis was, in essence, a tall, incredibly handsome bad boy whose on-stage presence was something many audiences had never seen at that point. As the climate of musician-crushes shifted from Frank sinatra to Elvis, many younger women were swooned by Elvis’s moves on stage, his sideburns and his outward sexuality. In fact, during one televised performance, Elvis was deliberated only filmed from his waist up because his hip gyrations and overly-sexualized moves were deemed too risque for television at the time.
They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. This may be proven true if you look at Elvis’s career. The King was drafted at what basically amounts to the height of his popularity, forced to serve in the Army. For years, people went from fainting and swooning over live performances to not seeing the King perform at all. When he returned in 1960, however, his popularity exploded all over again. He then began to be featured on television shows, eventually being featured in 27 movies.
All in all, Elvis was an electronic, genre and era-defining performer thanks to a multitude of reasons. While the King may be gone, his music lives on forever.