100 Greatest Men: #21. Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

From the vantage point of history, he is the indisputable King of Rock & Roll.   But he earned that title through his ability to perform country, blues, and R&B successfully, and it is often his impact as a country artist that is most easily overlooked.

Presley was born into deep poverty in Mississippi, laying the groundwork for his exposure to American roots music.  By his teenage years, he was living in Memphis, and it is in that city where he would be discovered by Sun Records owner Sam Phillips.  His work for Sun Records cannot be overstated in its significance.  On those early recordings, he brought together elements of country, blues, and R&B into a sound called rockabilly, which created the very foundation for what would soon be known as rock and roll.  His cover of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” was among these early recordings, as were his first big country hits: “Baby, Let’s Play House”, “I Forgot to Remember to Forget”, and “Mystery Train.”

Presley toured the south during this period, often performing with fellow future legends like Johnny Cash and Wanda Jackson.  As he toured, his regionally successful records grew more popular, and his stage show more intense.  He scored his first #1 country hit in 1955 (“I Forgot to Remember to Forget”), and RCA Records bought out his contract from Sun.  His first single for RCA, “Heartbreak Hotel”, was a career-defining smash, topping the pop and country charts for several weeks.  For the remainder of the fifties, Presley’s hit streak was unparalleled, and his particular blend of genres was being called Rock & Roll.

Throughout the years that followed, which included countless hits, film roles, TV appearances, and a stint in the Army, Presley continued to include country material among his repertoire.  Though the genre remained loyal to him during his initial rock stardom, he found less success at country radio in the early sixties.  But by the end of that decade, he was playing more country than he had in years, setting the groundwork for the seventies, when Presley took the same path as fellow rockabilly stars Jerry Lee Lewis and Brenda Lee, and made country music his primary genre.

A mere two years before his death in 1977, The Sun Collection was released in the United Kingdom, with an American release under the title The Sun Sessions following in 1976.  This collected his seminal work for Sun on LP for the first time, while his newer material was dominating the country charts.  And with his death, his country career reached new peaks, and he scored a series of big posthumous hits, a run that continued through 1981 with the #1 hit “Guitar Man” and the top ten “Loving Arms.”

He was among the first class of inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, though Nashville caught up a few year later, inducting him into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1998, alongside George Morgan and Tammy Wynette.   Even today, he’s viewed primarily as a rock artist, but his impact on country music has been undeniably significant.

Essential Singles:

  • I Forgot to Remember to Forget, 1955
  • Heartbreak Hotel, 1956
  • Don’t, 1958
  • Hard Headed Woman, 1958
  • There Goes My Everything/I Really Don’t Want to Know, 1971
  • Always on My Mind, 1972
  • I’ve Got a Thing About You Baby, 1974
  • Moody Blue, 1976
  • Way Down, 1977
  • Guitar Man, 1981

Essential Albums:

  • Elvis Presley, 1956
  • Elvis, 1956
  • Loving You, 1957
  • Elvis Country, 1971
  • Promised Land, 1975
  • The Sun Collection (a.k.a. The Sun Sessions), 1975/1976
  • Moody Blue, 1977

Next: #20. ?

Previous: #22. Alan Jackson

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List


  1. I always think of Elvis as RnR. I remember seeing him on the Ed Sullivan show and I have a 1969 4 LP album from RCA, Worldwide 50 Gold Hits, Vol. 1 which I bought after he died. It’s been about 7 years since I played it. I always liked him but he was never one of my favorite artists.

    One of my first favorite Presley songs was “Don’t Be Cruel”. Others include “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Hound Dog”, “Jailhouse Rock”, “Love Me Tender”, “A Fool Such As I”, “Are You Lonesome Tonight”, “Return to Sender”, etc.

  2. Cool inclusion, though perhaps a bit higher than I would’ve expected.

    The King of Rock & Roll moniker and image does tend to overshadow his country material and the considerable country elements in his other work, so glad to see that part of the equation get some attention here.

  3. As an influence this spot is good. However, my history may be a bit muddy but I don’t remember “country” ever being his main genre. I would have put him alot lower when looking past the influence part and looking more at the music material. Of course we all have our opinions. I do think his love for country music cannot be disputed. I am sure he was a fan.

  4. Elvis Presley is the mirror image of Johnny Cash.

    Presley is a hugely influential rock and roll legend with a heavy and significant impact on country music.

    Cash is a hugely influential country legend with a heavy and significant impact on rock and roll.

    That they both recorded for Sun Records is jaw-dropping. That Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Conway Twitty, and Charlie Rich did, too, and it makes you wonder how God could tap the same record label founder so many times on the shoulder.

  5. I think the idea that Elvis somehow went in a more “country” direction in the last several years of his life is a touch overrated; much of it was still fairly close to what may be called pop and old-school rock and roll, though at the time that might very well have appealed to country fans. There’s nary any country instrumentation on those 70s hits. You can make a case for “Guitar Man” (which was written by Jerry Reed), but this was a remix of a recording Elvis did in the fall of 1967; the original was more acoustic blues, and was a minor hit (#43 pop) in early 1968, whereas the electric re-mix (both versions feature Reed’s fretwork) went to #1 on the country chart, and #28 on the Hot 100.

    But yes, Elvis’ impact on country music was seismic; and it all started with that one and only appearance of his on the Grand Ole Opry in 1954, which went okay…except that the Opry’s talent manager at the time, Jim Denny, told him he ought to go back to being a truck driver. Famous last words, if ever there were any (IMHO).

  6. If Elvis were recording today would all of his music be a mass of EDM like everything else today? I’m being serious with that question btw!

  7. I would also say this about Elvis: So many artists, particularly in the country genre, when they talk about him, they talk almost exclusively about the image of the man (the suits; the flamboyance, etc.), and not a whole lot about the substance, the actual making of the records and albums, the studio work, that went into making of The King. To focus only on the image and not the substance, especially when it comes to this one singular force of nature, is a dreadful mistake (IMHO).

  8. Elvis had a great voice capable of singing anything. I think he’s place about right in this survey, but if considering just his voice, he would be top ten

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.