Mariah is a pop queen, but don't forget Elvis is still the King

Observations

April 07, 2008|By Randy Lewis | Randy Lewis,LOS ANGELES TIMES

With "Touch My Body" topping Billboard's Hot 100 as of Wednesday, Mariah Carey's career total of No. 1 singles has hit 18, one more than Elvis Presley. You'd think Western civilization had collapsed overnight.

My advice? Get over it.

I grew up loving Presley's music. I was born the same year he first set foot in Sam Phillips' Sun studio in Memphis, Tenn., and my first memory of music is that of a teenage neighbor belting out "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog!" in 1956, when I was 3.

But this brouhaha? We haven't heard this much racket over who's No. 2 since Florida in 2000.

It's only numbers. Besides, Carey isn't even No. 1 on the all-time list. She's still behind the Beatles, who scored 20 No. 1 pop hits from 1963 to 1970.

It took Presley from 1956 to 1969, almost twice as long as the Beatles, to rack up all his chart-toppers, although 16 of those came in just the six years from 1956 to 1962. His final No. 1, "Suspicious Minds," came straggling in in 1969.

Carey, on the other hand, has taken 18 years to reach the top of the heap 18 times. A No. 1 single per year, on average, is no easy feat, and she clearly deserves credit for maintaining such a lengthy hold on pop audiences' affections.

Those who wish to cling desperately to numerical supremacy can take comfort in the fact that Presley still holds a comfortable lead on the list of Top 500 artists for albums and singles, as compiled by researcher Joel Whitburn. On his sliding scale, in which musicians get points for each recording that reaches No. 1, 2, etc., Presley tops both.

In the most recent editions of his Record Research books from Billboard's charts, Presley has 9,406 points on the singles list. Carey is No. 5 with 4,295 points.

On the album ranking, Presley racked up 17,309 points, ahead of Frank Sinatra (13,313), the Beatles (13,231) and all others. Carey was No. 91, behind the Lettermen, Billy Vaughn and Journey.

Still, it's only numbers. Carey's latest accomplishment doesn't change the seismic impact Presley had, and continues to have, on pop culture.

Sure the number of times he sold more records or got more radio airplay than any other act during his lifetime is impressive. But the real measure of the man is how many other musicians since have seductively swayed their hips, playfully sneered an upper lip or refused to be bound within the confines of rock, blues, country, R&B or any single musical genre.

That number is incalculable.

Gary Bryan, the morning DJ at a Los Angeles oldies station, says that, "while Mariah is a terrific singer, and this is a great accomplishment, you can't quantify someone's place in music history by chart statistics.

"Some people reflect their time, and some define their times. Mariah is a reflection of her time. ... Elvis, on the other hand, defined his time, much as the Beatles later did. Mariah doesn't have that kind of iconic stature."

Need proof?

Ever seen a velvet Carey painting? Me neither. Are couples racing to Vegas chapels to be wed by Carey impersonators? I thought not.

And I guarantee that 40 years from now, no singer will ever quip "Thank you, thank you very much" after a song and make people think of Carey.

So, Presley fans, worry not. The King's place in history is secure, even if Carey manages to score another 18 No. 1 hits.

If that happens, she'd have overtaken the Beatles, in which case, forget everything I just said.

Randy Lewis writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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