Andrew Male
November 2016.

Did Elvis really steal from black music and, if so, is it still OK to like him?

1 answer

Obviously, that’s one of the big stories of the 20th Century, and it’s a vexed question. I think the best way to answer it is to say "Yes he did, but he gave back, so of course it’s OK to like him."

Elvis wasn’t Pat Boone. He didn't limply cover something great and make it awful. Just one listen to ‘Mystery Train’ will prove that. In those Elvis records there is a kind of generosity that’s very important. That generosity came from his experience of black music, and helped transmit the experience of black music.

There are worse appropriators of black music than Elvis Presley. Elvis was regularly photographed with black performers, black musicians. and at least Elvis credited the black writers of the songs he performed. Which, as we know, quite a lot of other people didn’t.

Jon Savage curates the double CD compilation 1966: The Year The Decade Exploded on Ace Records.