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Nominated for the 2021 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research

Elvis Presley remains the single most important figure in twentieth century popular music. To many commentators, however, he has simply embodied the benefits and problems of uncritically embracing capitalism. By 2005 the ‘Memphis Flash’ sold over a billion records worldwide, yet his cultural significance cannot be measured by these extraordinary sales figures alone. He cannot quite be reduced to a placeholder for the contradictions of commerce. As the most prominent performer of the rock’n’roll era, then as a charismatic global superstar, Elvis fundamentally challenged the established relationship between White and Black culture, drew attention to the social needs of women and young people, and promoted the value of Southern creativity. He functioned as a bridge figure between folk roots and high modernity, and in the process became a controversial symbol of American unity.

Elvis interprets the image and music of Elvis Presley to reveal how they have evolved to construct a particularly appealing and powerful myth. Following broad contours of Presley’s rollercoaster career, the book uses a range of analytical frames to challenge established perspectives on an icon. Its shows that the controversy around Elvis has effectively tested how far a concern for social equality could be articulated through the marketplace, and ultimately challenged how popular music itself should be assessed.

Published: Apr 7, 2020


Section Chapter Authors
Acknowledgements Mark Duffett
Introduction Mark Duffett
Chapter 1
Roots Mark Duffett
Chapter 2
Image Mark Duffett
Chapter 3
Comeback Mark Duffett
Chapter 4
Phenomenon Mark Duffett
End Matter
Appendices Mark Duffett
Notes Mark Duffett
Bibliography Mark Duffett
Index Mark Duffett

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Do we need another book on Elvis? Yes, we do, if the book is by so sophisticated and well-read a scholar as Mark Duffett. Intersecting and interrogating existing interpretations within a larger musical and cultural context, Duffett sheds new light on a universally-recognized subject.This book is enlightening.
Michael T. Bertrand, Professor of History, Tennessee State University

The book provides a succinct discussion of some of the key facets of Presley's career. Mindful of the need to approach history as more than a mere compilation of dates and places, Duffett seeks to contextualise and understand the singer, his music, and the responses they provoked. He succeeds admirably, and offers a dynamic analysis in which Presley is recognised not just as a revolutionary performer, but as a historical and sociological event.
Ian Inglis, author of The Beatles and formerly Visiting Fellow at Northumbria University

Elvis: Roots, Image, Comeback, Phenomenon is a challenging, but stimulating, release, which examines how Elvis’ image and music worked to engender the powerful myth that has become the “phenomenon” of Elvis Presley. The book is wide ranging and at times complex, which means, that at times, it will be frustrating for some readers, but above all, it is a fresh theoretical conceptualisation of how the Elvis phenomenon should be interpreted. Dr. Duffett’s erudite and intriguing perspectives will likely impress many serious students of the Elvis story. While, as an academic publication, it is not targeted at the general Elvis audience, there is much in it which will engage general fans and suggest lateral, new ways of interpreting the Elvis story. There is a lot to savour in Elvis Roots, Image, Comeback, Phenomenon, and it is a book, while narratively complex, that is always thought provoking, and informative.
Elvis Information Network

A model critical study of individual musical achievement, sociological and political change, commercial and technological influences, and the complexity of media-related fandom. This a volume to study, to reflect upon, and to treasure. It is a rare scholarly work -- brief yet insightful, technical yet understandable. Mark Duffett makes Elvis Presley human again. By emphasizing entertainment joys and musical quality over career pitfalls, personal pathologies, and crass commercialism, the author frees Elvis to reign within the American popular music pantheon.
Rock Music Studies

Mark Duffett's Elvis: Roots, Image, Comeback, Phenomenon... is intentionally short (167 pages of text) and accessible to a broad audience yet grounded in painstaking research and immersion in a voluminous literature... The work of synthesizing so much writing, staking out a clear interpretive position, and presenting it all in a coherent short monograph is no small feat. Historians of the twentieth-century United States and the South who know little about Elvis but feel a need for basic understanding will get an able briefing from Duffett's book.
Journal of Southern History