Elvis Presley, a music icon of such epic proportions that most people just call him “The King,” would have turned 76-years-old this past weekend. He died before a lot of us were even born, so all we know of the man are songs and video clips from days that seem completely foreign to us now. Because of that, it’s easy to forget that he had a lot of years ahead of him and could very well still be around today were it not for that fatal drug overdose in 1977.
So that got us to thinking—what would the career of Elvis Presley after 1977 have looked like? What kind of milestones could we have expected in the past 30-plus years? There’s no way to know for sure, obviously, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make a few guesses.
Here are five things Elvis might have gone on to do if he didn’t die in 1977…
Record One of Bruce Springsteen’s Quirkiest Songs Ever
This really isn’t even speculation, it’s a near certainty. During the sessions for the Darkness On the Edge of Town album, one of his greatest ever, Bruce Springsteen recorded over 20 additional songs that didn’t make it onto the finished product. Among them was a somewhat bizarre sounding love song called “Fire.” What made it bizarre was that it didn’t really sound like anything Springsteen had ever released up to that point. There was good reason for that—he wrote the song with the intention of having Elvis record it.
Unfortunately, a lethal combination of years worth of prescription drug and fried peanut butter sandwich abuse intervened and Elvis never got to take a shot at it. Instead, it was recorded and released by rockabilly musician Robert Gordon in 1978 and again later that same year by The Pointer Sisters, the latter scoring a number two hit on the pop charts in 1979 with their version.
That’s great and all, but the drop down the awesome scale from Elvis to the damn Pointer Sisters is a steep one indeed. As you can clearly hear in the video above of Springsteen’s original recording of the song (which was eventually released on last year’s The Promise album), The King would have rocked it.
Record a Series of Awful Albums in the 80′s
Seriously, we don’t mean this as any kind of disrespect, but there’s an excellent chance that the 1980′s would have been a ridiculously low point in the Elvis Presley catalog. That decade was just not made for artists of his generation. Hell, that decade was tricky for just about everyone. Between punk rock and new wave and everyone’s unholy love affair with the synthesizer, older musicians were relegated to dinosaur status.
Bob Dylan spent most of the 80′s in a downward spiral of alcohol abuse and uninspired throwaway albums that most fans would prefer to have never heard. Neil Young actually used synthesizers on some of his 80′s albums. The results were appropriately awful and painful to listen to. If Elvis even bothered trying to release anything at all, there’s a great chance some skinny tie wearing record company puke would have been like “hey man, we really dig what you’re doing, we just think it would be radical if there was a little keytar on it.” How awful would that have turned out? Approximately as awful as the shit fest happening in the video above.
That’s alright though, because if Elvis knew anything it was how to make a roaring comeback. A certain music series that launched near the end of the decade would have been the perfect place to kick off yet another career resurgence…
We’ve entered into no-brainer territory with this one. Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora may take credit for inspiring the idea (which is total bullshit, by the way) but over 20 years prior to the premier of MTV Unplugged, Elvis Presley showed the world that all you need for a killer performance is an acoustic guitar or two and a bunch of great songs. The video above is from his massively successful 1968 comeback television special.
Looks familiar, right? At least it should if you’ve ever seen an episode of MTV Unplugged. Plenty of seemingly past their prime musicians turned in career highlight performances on the beloved MTV series that led to comebacks of varying degrees of success (Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and KISS, just to name a few). Elvis did it first though, the only difference was MTV wasn’t around at the time to air it. There’s no way of knowing if he would have agreed to perform on MTV Unplugged, but you can be damn sure they would have asked him to.
Replace Roy Orbison in the Traveling Wilburys
We know what you’re saying, kids…”the traveling who what now?” The Traveling Wilburys were a supergroup that featured Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, George Harrison and Roy Orbison. The unlikely yet perfectly suited for each other group released their debut album, The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, in 1988. It sold 3 million copies in the United States and spawned a massive hit single, “Handle With Care”.
Unfortunately, Roy Orbison passed away prior to the recording of their second album and, partly as a result of the loss, it failed to reach the same success as the debut. But what would have happened if The King stepped in to handle Roy’s duties on that second album? A massive classic rock boner of unfathomable proportions, that’s what. We’re talking about a Beatle, Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley on one goddamn album. And if anyone had the voice to fill the noticeable void that Roy Orbison’s passing left, it was Elvis Presley. Who knows how likely that scenario would have been, but damn if it doesn’t make for a fascinating idea.
A Solo Acoustic Album Produced by Rick Rubin
And to round things out much in the same way they started, this one’s another near certainty. Rick Rubin brought Johnny Cash back from the depths of the cheesy, overproduced country music hell that he spent most of the 80′s in and helped reinvent him as a hero to the grunge loving masses of the early 90′s by stripping away all the bells and whistles that had been weighing his music down and putting an acoustic guitar in his hands.
After Johnny died, Rick Rubin set his sights on Neil Diamond and, shockingly, the formula worked again. Neil Diamond! The man that most people thought of as a schlocky cornball with an affinity for sequined shirts was revealed to be far more awesome than anyone expected when he dropped the 600 piece band and just sang good songs accompanied by an acoustic guitar.
Just imagine what he could have done with The King. It’s a damn shame we’ll never get to see it happen.