Friday, March 13, 2009

Denver vs Presley

This morning at "The Perfect Life" blog I took a trip down memory lane. She has a music download for John Denver's Annie's Song, which I listened too and had a nostalgic moment.

When I was a kid, my mother liked John Denver music. She also liked the Carpenters, and a wide variety of music she grew up with in the 40s and 50s. These were the kinds of music I grew up listening to. As I've said in previous blogs, I'm not much of a music person, but there are some songs and artists that bring back childhood memories and, for better or worse, John Denver is one of them. I guess that makes me a victim of circumstance.

Anyway, my best friend when I was a kid (as early as second grade) was desperately in love with Elvis Presley. It would be safe to say she was obsessed. As we grew up I became aware that it was her nature to obsess about just about everything, but when we were younger that wasn't as apparent, so her obsession with Elvis seemed like an isolated incident.

We argued incessantly over which was the better singer, and which music was better: John Denver or Elvis Presley. It was a long term, ongoing battle for us. I'm sure her arguments in favor of Elvis are probably the same universal ones we hear today; after all he is "The King." I honestly can't remember what my arguments were in favor of John Denver.

I now have a better appreciation for Elvis, though I can't say that I'm a huge fan of his music. (I also don't like the Beatles: blasphemy, I know). I like some of Elvis's songs, mostly the biggest hits, and I can appreciate his accomplishments, but I guess if I had to choose between the two, even now, I would favor John Denver, and not just because his music recalls some of the most sanguine moments of my childhood.

Some people may scoff at Denver for being cheesy whereas Elvis is revered as cool. Although their musical styles are significantly different, both were extremely successful by any measure. For me, Elvis's major contribution to American culture is, of course, his blend of "black" and "white" sounds which eventually led to rock and roll. But for the most part I see him and his career as fairly superficial. Fluff movies, popular but fairly superficial songs, self-indulgence.

Denver was certainly not the celebrity Elvis was, but he wrote over 150 songs, recorded over 300, and enjoyed popularity in the country/pop/folk markets. His song, Leaving on a Jet Plane is still popular and has even recently been rerecorded and was a contemporary hit. His songs have as much lasting power as Elvis', and they are often deeper and richer in content. Denver was also known for his humanitarian work and political activism.

I'm sure I could write a comprehensive and convincing academic argument with citation of numerous sources and blah blah blah. But when it comes down to it, that childhood argument stuck with me on some level and when I consider it now, as an adult, with 25+ years under my belt, I guess my conclusion would not be any different (though it would be more well-thought-out and articulate).

In the Denver versus Presley showdown, Denver would win hands down.


Terri Tiffany said...

I enjoyed this read because I knew so many people who loved Denver whereas I was an Elvis fan through and through growing up. Both have their merits but I think are totally different.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Elvis changed the face of music forever, whereas Denver was true to his musical notes and put out incredible ballads. I liked 'em both. :)