Certainly The Beatles were fans of other American rock ’n’ roll artists. But if Elvis had not been there first, would those artists have risen to fame and thus been able to influence acts like the Beatles? Without Elvis as a catalyst, would The Beatles themselves have lacked the push to make music into a career, instead gradually drifting into regular jobs, with music eventually becoming nothing more to them than a hobby? What then would have become of the British Invasion? If there hadn’t been The Beatles, would there have been The Rolling Stones? The Who?
It’s fun to consider such questions, even though it’s impossible to determine what the true answer would be. But it’s safe to say that while The Beatles may very well have still come into existence without Elvis, they would certainly have been a very different group.
By a similar token, innumerable other artists have credited Elvis with giving them the inspiration to pursue a creative career.
“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,” said Bob Dylan. “Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail.”
Dylan told one biographer he listened to Elvis while working on his own early albums (he’d even falsely bragged that he played piano on Elvis’ records), and later stated, “If it wasn’t for Elvis and Hank Williams, I couldn’t be doing what I do today.”
Bruce Springsteen, who first saw Elvis on one of his “Ed Sullivan Show” performances, echoed this theme. “Elvis is my religion,” The Boss said. “But for him, I’d be selling encyclopedias.”
Elvis is the one who got Elton John interested in music, too. “If it hadn’t been for Elvis, I don’t know where popular music would be,” John said. “He was the one that started it all off, and he was definitely the start of it for me.”
David Bowie said Elvis was a major hero of his. “I was probably stupid enough to believe that having the same birthday as him actually meant something,” Bowie said.
Even the late Isaac Hayes acknowledged Elvis’ role in musical history. “Elvis was a giant and influenced everyone in the business,” Hayes said.
What’s interesting about this list is that while none of these artists made music that sounded like Elvis’ — with the exception of some of Springsteen’s work — they all felt a kinship with him as an artist. Remove Elvis from the roster of musicians these artists were inspired by, and how differently would they have developed?
And Elvis’ image was as important as his music. His pompadour, drape jacket and blue suede shoes said “rock ’n’ roll” as much as — well, as much as the song “Blue Suede Shoes” itself does. His gold lamé suit of the ’50s, the leather suit worn in his 1968 TV special, and the bejeweled jumpsuits of the ’70s have become equally iconic.