Elvis vs. Eddie Cochran – Who’s Really ‘The King’?

Elvis vs. Eddie Cochran – Who’s Really ‘The King’?

Introducing a new contributor to RCM: Dr. Bob.

Below, enjoy his musings on the theory of Rock’n’Roll, ELVIS VERSUS EDDIE – Had Cochran lived, who’d be the King, today?

On January 8th, 1935, a young man was born in Tupelo, Tennessee. 3 years later, October 3rd, 1938, another young fellow came into the world. They both shared a gift for music. Not just any music, but the only music that is truly owned by young people, Rock’n’Roll. Sadly, they both died young. Too young. Either one could have been crowned the King Of Rock ’n’Roll.

eddie cochran

But only one was. I’m here to put the case, that Eddie Cochran would have taken Elvis’s crown without any difficulty, because, as I see it, Elvis gave it away from the day he joined the Army.

Plus, the truth was, at 21 years old, Cochran was already making better Rock’n’Roll than Elvis. And getting better all the time. Whereas, Elvis got worse. And by worse, I mean he was no longer making Rock’n’Roll. With Colonel Tom Parker, he embraced popularity and stardom and by doing so relinquished the Throne.

Regrettably, the body of work he produced up to 1968, suggests that he was never hungry enough again to create those magical moments from the first couple of years which were pure Rock’n’Roll genius, like That’s Alright Mama, Blues Suede Shoes and Hound Dog.

You don’t agree? Let’s compare credentials and chronology.

The Elvis Presley that walked into Sam Phillips’ Sun Studios had a fully formed appreciation of Blues, Gospel and R’n’B; recording territories almost exclusively the domain of black Americans.

elvis presley

This was surely a perfect fit for Sam Phillips who liked to experiment, reinvent and give his recording artists total freedom to make something new.

And Elvis was it. The ‘King-thing’ was created between 1954 and ’58. And he deserved it. He was awesome.

From the very beginning, he was creating something bigger than just ‘the best Rock’n’Roll’, he added overt sexuality to the mix. To the point where boy gangs hated him coming to their town because from that day, the girls would compare the local boys to Presley. No contest.

Presley was beautiful to look at and electrifying to watch. Plus, the music was new, ‘our music’ said the young. Teenagers screamed and swooned, parents feared the worst.

Sam Phillips worked hard to give this young phenomenon latitude and support. And it worked. This attracted interest from many a recording and management company. RCA and Colonel Tom Parker won out and, in 1956, Heartbreak Hotel was released.

Around the same time, a young guitarist/songwriter named Eddie Cochran was building a following which generated an invite to play and sing in what would be the first Rock’n’Roll movie, The Girl Can’t Help It. Even with Jayne Mansfield starring, it was an infinitely forgettable rom-com if it were not for the fact that it featured performances from R’n’R giants like Bill Haley, Little Richard, Fats Domino and a 19 year old Eddie Cochran.

That’s when we started ripping up cinema seats and our parents got really scared.

Cochran performed Twenty Flight Rock, a song he made his own both as a co-writer and performer.

He was a natural savant juvenile – gifted guitarist, creative songwriter – girls lusted after his good looks and the way he held his guitar. Skilled musicians sought to emulate his guitar playing style.

He was about to have a run of self-penned hits that included the first true ‘teen anthem’, Summertime Blues that revealed this young guy’s insight into how politics works – “I called my congressman, and he said ‘Nope, I’d like to help you son, but you’re too young to vote” – a line as worldly-wise as any Dylan protest lyric, and years earlier.

Meanwhile, Lieber & Stoller were getting Elvis to suggest you ‘put a chain around my neck and lead me anywhere’. Just like a Teddy Bear. An innocent enough notion at the time. And insightful, but in the wrong way. (Animal rights, like human rights, were not a major consideration yet).

Cochran, on the other hand, was declaring ‘Who cares’ at the thought of being caught drinking under age and wrecking his parent’s house – Come on Ev’rybody.

It seems to me, the rhetorical young Cochran was already speaking more for the Rock’n’Roll generation than Presley was, or would ever again.

To be fair, Elvis might have made more great, ground-breaking R’n’R had he not been drafted into the US Army and sent off to Germany to become a PR ambassador for the White House. And, had ‘Colonel Parker’ not dictated the course of his subsequent career down to the smallest detail.

This is where I struggle to accept how Elvis went along with it. The cheesy movies with mediocre pop songs. Few or no public gigs. Is that anyway for The King Of Rock ’n’ Roll to behave? In my book, if you champion an art form, you live it. When you inspire a generation, you become accountable to it.

elvis girl happy

Was Presley lazy, gullible, easily bullied? Too polite to say ‘No’? Or did he simply have no idea of what he had created?

I can’t imagine ‘The Boss’ Bruce Springsteen, or Neil Young, after a couple of hits, saying ‘ya know what, I think I’ll make movies like Harem Scarem and Clambake. Never in a million years.

You might not like or agree with what I’m about to say, but … I’m only speculating, so forgive me as I present another possible reason for Presley moving away from Rock’n’Roll, but it might be the case that Elvis, seeing the likes of Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Eddie Cochran creating, writing, playing, touring with their own showcases of outstanding Rock’n’Roll, ‘The King’ lost his nerve and couldn’t compete with anything resembling an authentic alternative.

Lieber & Stoller were great pop song writers. But they were not authentic rockers like Jerry Lee and Little Richard. Elvis started the revolution. No doubt about that. But the ‘Kingdom of Rock’ got bigger than Presley. It also had, and still has, integrity.

The body of work attributed to Presley simply does not stack up to him, forever, being The King. He will always be known as the The King. For sentimental reasons only I think. Rock’n’Roll is more important than Elvis Presley.

Photo: Alfred Wertheimer
Photo: Alfred Wertheimer

It has a pulse, it sweats, it bleeds, it tears your heart in two and sucks you into the eye of the storm. Which brings me back to Eddie Cochran. He was described as ‘James Dean with a guitar’.

The youth of that era were becoming more than just fans of the genre. They wanted their music to be a manifesto for their generation. Cochran was an exceptional musician. Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix were heavily influenced by his guitar playing. Hendrix always said he wanted Cochran played at his funeral. And did.

Eddie Cochran had it all going on. Looks, rawness, virtuoso rock guitar playing, creativity that spoke to and for his generation, commitment, a rebel with a cause and a soul that was pure rock. Sadly, like James Dean, he died in a car crash. He was on a UK tour with his buddy Gene Vincent. They were reaching out to all their fans across the world and blowing them away.

How do I know that? I saw them. I was ten years old and my dad took me and my older brother to one of his last gigs a week before the fatal car crash. I’m sure to upset a few people with my assessment of the situation.

Not the least of whom will be my older brother, a life-long, devout Presley fan.

If you agree or totally refute my summation, tell me. We’ll talk more about it. This has been my first contribution to Rock Cellar Magazine. If you’ve found it stimulating, let RCM know. Till next time, I remain your humble practitioner of all things musically provoking, Dr Bob.

21 Responses to "Elvis vs. Eddie Cochran – Who’s Really ‘The King’?"

  1. Dominic carriera   June 27, 2016 at 3:02 pm

    Eddie was as good as Elvis

    Reply
  2. Dominic carriera   June 27, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    Ok

    Reply
  3. Sandy   August 28, 2016 at 7:53 am

    I have never liked Elvis, far too commercial, on the other hand Eddie was raw R & R, who copied who, good question, as Elvis was older I would normally presume he set the standard, but no matter, marketing won the battle but for me Eddie is the true KING.

    Reply
  4. Sandy   August 28, 2016 at 7:54 am

    I have never liked Elvis, far too commercial, on the other hand Eddie was raw R & R, who copied who, good question, as Elvis was older I would normally presume he set the standard, but no matter, marketing won the battle but for me Eddie is the true KING. – See more at: https://www.rockcellarmagazine.com/2016/01/04/elvis-presley-vs-eddie-cochran-the-king-debate-dr-bob/#comment-62317

    Reply
  5. Drew   October 7, 2016 at 6:47 pm

    What a load of crap….Elvis Presley Was the worlds first Rock Star….Elvis didn’t have An Elvis To Copy from lye was ORIGINAL…Elvus sounded like nobody…Eddie was the worlds first most famous Elvis Impersonator….Elvis was outselling Eddie..buddy…Gene..Jerry Lee..put together while they were still alive….Elvis changed because Music Changed…When Elvis came back from the Army Rock n roll had changed..Because music changes you gotta change with it and Elvis Presley was successful in every Genre he recorded…you can have your preferences but don’t turn a blind eye to What Elvis Presley was and still is

    Reply
  6. Leper messiah   October 23, 2016 at 7:34 pm

    Elvis Presley sold out rock and roll in 57 and yeah Eddie did try and sound and act like him in the girl can’t help it but as rock and roll goes Elvis wasn’t he was pop music never really toured the rest had to do it the hard way unfortunately for Eddie it cost him his life. I honestly think Eddie would have been the true king of rock and roll.

    Reply
  7. Guillermo   November 28, 2016 at 11:31 am

    To write an article such as this, the writer should have done the proper research. To not realize that the US Army was meant to change the life, and the music tastes, of the most celebrated US Army recruit in history is wishful think, especially when he was, at the same time, his country’s largest personbal tax contributor inspite of not being in the laiat of the 1000 wealthiest americans. To not know that Leiber and Stoller did not write Teddy bear is incredible. To not realize that Presley did not want the title, and is on record in front of 17,500 aat the University of Notre Dame, as not wanting any title, since in his view Jesus was the only one who deserve it is not to have done the proper research. To not know that the voice of Elvis would have taken him away from rock even if he had not been drafted is to not understyand that the same guy who did Jailhouse Rocvk is the same who three years later did Its now irt Never, and a year katerm, Surrender. And of all the classical singer, male or female, the only one who has not said that Presley is his faavourite singer was Pavarotti, but Carreraas, Domingo, Bocelli and at least a dozen of the top bass, baritones ansds eveb spranos, are also on record as saying TODAY, that for all practical purposes, Presleys is the voice they wish they had had, had they not been classical singers. Presley is on another league

    Reply
  8. Don   December 7, 2016 at 10:00 pm

    Elvis is The Man! Houndog on the Milton Berle show is untouchable in its rawness and provocative style. He had to evolve and change, the guy was so versatile. Eddie was a musician, a brilliant Rocker who was branching out in other styles too, Hallelujah I love her so, has Darin, Sinatra swing, even Eddie knewes RnR had a short fuse and he would have evolved back to alt country, had he lived. Gene Vincent had the best voice after Elvis, full of great range and true emotion and beauty. Chuck is a poet and Jerry Lee is Wow Factor Man. What an era, never to be repeated.

    Reply
  9. mickey seymour   December 22, 2016 at 11:19 pm

    great story – good insight …true too ,methinks.

    Reply
  10. Hazel   April 8, 2017 at 4:17 am

    Eddie Cochran is the best he diidnet try to act or sing like Elvis that’s what the style was back in the day and Eddie didn’t get a big chance he died at 21 I like both but eddies better

    Reply
  11. Hazel   April 8, 2017 at 4:21 am

    I like both Elvis and Eddie Eddie assent copying Elvis that was the style of them days Eddie wins personally Eddie didn’t get a big chance he was only 21 when he died with 15 songs Elvis was 42 still very young but with more than 100 songs they both deserved fame because were they came from but Elvis let it get to him Eddie Cochran wins

    Reply
  12. Music Lover   July 27, 2017 at 3:01 pm

    There is a considerable amount of facts that you have not touched on, and I don’t have time to bring it up. That said, and this has nothing to do with the writers lack of full research, tell me, WHERE is Topelo, Tennessee?

    Funny, I live in Tennessee. I will correct your first error only. Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, MISSISSIPPI.
    Tupelo, Tennessee does NOT exist. LMAO

    🙂

    Reply
  13. Danny Valdez   October 16, 2017 at 8:04 pm

    This article hit the nail on the head, for me. It all rings true. Hell, I have a tattooed portrait of Elvis that just has his head and the words, ‘The King’, but eleven years later and it’s more clear than ever, that Eddie is more deserving of the title. Dark Lonely Street, Cmon Everybody, Nervous Breakdown, the list goes on and on. Pound for pound, Eddie Cochran flat out, outgrew and eclipsed Elvis, musically, as time went on. The same way, that Tupac surpassed Dr. Dre. Because Eddie was CONSTANTLY playing and recording, GROWING, all while Elvis wasn’t doing anything worthwhile, musically. Eddie was just flat out, more Rock’N’Roll than Elvis. And not just that, but, without Gene & Eddie, there would have been NO British Invasion. I was surprised, that the article didn’t touch on that fact. Members of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd, ALL saw Gene & Eddie on that tour, and just like when Eddie first saw Elvis, they were NEVER the same and neither was Rock’n’Roll. Eddie was and still is, just the BEST. Simply incredible.

    Reply
  14. Derek McKenna   October 17, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    I’ve read that Elvis wished he had the voice of Roy Orbison.

    Reply
  15. JOHN. F. KENNEDY   November 5, 2017 at 3:41 am

    ELVIS. WAS. THE. GREATEST. THERE. EVER. WAS. AND. ALWAYS. WILL. BE. THE. GREATEST. THE. KING. KNOW. ONE. WILL. NEVER. TOP. ELVIS. JUST. LOOK. AT. HIS. INCREDIBLE. RECORD. SALES. AND. CHARTS. STATS.

    Reply
  16. Fernando   November 10, 2017 at 6:57 am

    Cochran was the real deal. I’ve been saying this for years. This article pretty much sums everything

    Reply
  17. Arne Metzner   November 18, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    Elvis will always be the best, but I like Eddie too. My wife loves Eddie!

    Reply
  18. Rosemarie Edith Menzies   December 30, 2017 at 9:55 am

    No contest!! Elvis was is and alwats will br the King of RAndR .. period! Eddie was goid but in the looks department no one campares with Elvis.. Elvis was everything rolled into one …
    Unfortunately i think he was just too nice and gullible anf was taken advantage of. Aa were many performers back then.

    Reply
  19. Marcus   April 15, 2018 at 11:13 am

    Eddie was king,He had elvis running scared like a bitch

    Reply
  20. David P.   June 20, 2018 at 5:46 pm

    Had Eddie lived, he would not have the king of Rock and Roll, guys. He would have been the King of Rock. Period. He set the basics of guitar Rock. He was a genius. Still, it makes no sense to compare him with Elvis, another genius on his own. Both of them we absolute greats, even if Eddie has never had the credit he deserved.

    Cheer!

    Reply
  21. john   June 21, 2018 at 7:12 pm

    okay, so lets get this straight…A king is a ruler, someone who dominates. his influence is on his subjects and if they like him… they keep him king. Chuck Berry, Jerry lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and eddie cochran were all kings. Now many of the subjects may have liked elvis the most. but many who wanted to be kings liked what the other kings did…..SO eddie really might be the king because guitar style, lyrical metaphors, and attitude struck many more future kings….jimi hendrix…..jimmy page, eric clapton, brian setzer, stevie ray vaugne, ect. In broad terms many people read the comics and love them…..nothing wrong with that…. then some stumble on shakespeare, simon, george lucas, and say you know what, something deeper is in this talent and what the artist is expressing. This is what eddie cochran was about.If you then understand his infancy.. you could only imagine his potential. RIP the king of rock and roll.

    Reply

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