Literary Explorations of Elvis

Elvis is in two new books that offer a fresh look at the King of Rock and Roll. The books address the man who helped propel him to fame, the song “Hound Dog,” and the wider cultural implications of different streams of pop and rock music.

McDonald, Greg & Marshall Terrill. Elvis and the Colonel: An Insider’s Look at the Most Legendary Partnership in Show Business. St. Martin’s. Nov. 2023. 400p. ISBN 9781250287496. $32. BIOG 

Entertainment producer McDonald and film/sports/music journalist Terrill (Steve McQueen) remarkably refurbish the reputation of Colonel Tom Parker (born Andreas Cornelius van Kuijk, 1909–97), who helped propel Elvis Presley to fame. Using information gleaned from McDonald’s close personal relationships with Parker and Presley, the book offers new details about Parker’s early life: his upbringing in a small Dutch seaport, his migration to the U.S., his adoption by the Parker family in West Virginia, his three-year stint in the U.S. Army, his work for the Humane Society, and his years in circuses and carnivals. The authors outline Parker’s initial foray into the music business with crooner Gene Austin and country stars Eddy Arnold and Hank Snow. The book chronicles Parker’s pivotal role with Presley’s RCA record deal and appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, his promotional genius during Elvis’s time in the army, Parker’s lucrative negotiations of 31 Presley movies, and his savvy dealings for the superstar’s later live performances. The authors contend that Parker pioneered promotional techniques but left artistic decisions to the good-hearted, spendthrift singer. VERDICT This book successfully explodes the myth of Parker as a manipulative puppeteer by portraying him as a shrewd but fair, loyal, and hardworking marketing innovator.—Dave Szatmary

Weisbard, Eric. Hound Dog. Duke Univ. Sept. 2023. 160p. ISBN 9781478025085. pap. $19.95. MUSIC

Although the Elvis Presley bookshelf contains dozens of titles, Weisbard (American studies, Univ. of Alabama; Songbooks) takes a fresh look at the King of Rock ’n’ Roll by investigating both the eponymous song and the wider cultural implications of different streams of pop and rock music. The book spans from the mid-1950s to Baz Luhrmann’s 2022 Elvis biopic. Weisbard draws upon a wealth of music critiques and literary source writings. He combines a modern sensibility with genuine curiosity about both famous musicians influenced by Presley—Bruce Springsteen, for example—and lesser-known independent artists. The author confronts the implications of racism in how Big Mama Thornton’s original “Hound Dog,” released in 1953, was nearly eclipsed by Presley’s cover three years later, and the book provides valuable context as well. Chapter notes and a bibliography encourage further exploration. Though some passages may be challenging for readers not attuned to the vagaries of identity politics and revisionist musicology, on the whole, this is a both entertaining and informative traversal of the evolution of pop/rock, exemplified in one well-remembered song. VERDICT Will likely appeal to both music scholars and readers investigating the intersection of race and society in the U.S.—Barry Zaslow

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing