Letter: Poetry with a bullet: Presley's pop songs

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In His appraisal of Elvis Presley's legacy, "If only the King were dead" (17 August), Michael Bywater lets vitriol cloud his judgement on some essential points. First, rhythm and blues rather than jazz is arguably the music of sex, although no musical genre, black or white, can lay exclusive claim to such a title.

Second, it was rock `n' roll (or "mainstream R&B" as he calls it) that saved popular music from stagnation in the Fifties. The British scene was moribund when "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Hound Dog" shattered the showbiz status quo. At its best, the three-minute pop song he despises was to become a potent, expressive art form in its own right: poetry with a bullet.

Far from instigating "a musical and cultural disaster", Presley sparked the revolution that turned popular music away from ersatz sentiment or sterile sophistication towards material with more bearing on the lives and emotions of ordinary people, particularly the younger generation it had previously ignored. It took an extraordinary talent to do this and no amount of burger jokes nor Vegas jibes can hide that fact.

Bywater is, however, right to revile Colonel Parker for so cynically exploiting his captive star while stunting his artistic development. Had Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller been allowed to take Elvis under their creative wing they might have arrested his decline into banality, depression, self-indulgence and, ultimately, self-destruction.

Andrew Doble

Knaresborough, North Yorkshir

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