It’s hard to imagine three rock icons more perfectly poised than John Lennon, Mick Jagger and Elvis Presley. The King of rock ‘n’ roll was a behemoth star before Jagger and Lennon ever picked up an instrument in earnest. So it’s easy to see how The Beatles and Rolling Stones singers could find a hero in the hip-shaking, lip-sneering crooner. After his own treacherous meeting with The King, Lennon warned Jagger about the dangers of meeting one’s hero.
“Before Elvis, there was nothing,” John Lennon once famously said of The King. The singer’s impact on British culture as a whole can hardly be understated so when a group of teenage boys who were about to call themselves The Quarrymen heard this new rock ‘n’ roll sound you can imagine the fire it sparked within them. Later the band would meet The King and after he released a series of uninspiring tracks the group tended to lose interest in him as an artist, despite in 1968 still being influenced by him if you believe Ringo’s tongue-in-cheek remark about ‘Lady Madonna’: “It sounds like Elvis, doesn’t it? No, it doesn’t sound like Elvis… it IS Elvis. Even those bits where he goes very high.”
In the same year, Lennon revealed, when talking about The White Album, that Elvis had always been an icon from the very beginning: “Rockers is what we really are. You can give me a guitar, stand me up in front of a few people. Even in the studio, if I’m getting into it, I’m just doing my old bit… not quite doing Elvis Legs but doing my equivalent. It’s just natural. Everybody says we must do this and that, but our thing is just rocking. You know, the usual gig. That’s what this new record is about. Definitely rocking.”
When interviewer Paul Du Noyer spoke with The Rolling Stones frontman, he reiterated the wide impact Elvis had on him but was quick to underline it with the kind of knowledge one only gets with age. “There was Elvis, I suppose, though he was so ghastly in other ways and you somehow knew it,” Jagger said. “Plus, he didn’t write, and the other people who were influential, say, Chuck Berry, were all writers, who would inspire you to be a writer and influence your style.”
Chuck Berry may well have been a hero, but he was famous for being a cantankerous man. Not only was he, on the whole, rude and arrogant but he was also known for leaving his band in the lurch financially and often taking physical potshots at those who crossed his path. Keith Richards, a devoted Berry fan, was physically assaulted by Berry for picking up his famous guitar. While Richards deemed it a fair shot, considering the circumstances, “you never touch another man’s guitar,” it had sowed the seeds of doubt for Jagger about meeting any more heroes, especially after what John Lennon had told him.
“I never met Elvis either, because John Lennon once told me he was a real disappointment,” Jagger said. “So I said I’d take his advice because I’d already had it with Chuck Berry and I didn’t want it to happen again with Elvis.” Lennon had come across Elvis with the Fab Four and found him, at best, a little dull: “He just seemed normal to us, you know. And we were asking him about just making movies and not doing any personal appearances or TV. And he seems to enjoy it, you know. I think he enjoys making movies so much. We couldn’t stand not doing personal appearances. We’d get bored. We get bored quickly. He says he misses it a bit, you know. He’s just… he was great. He was just how I expected him.”
Later, The King would offer up his service to then-president Nixon as a secret agent to help rid America of The Beatles’ bad influence. It clearly left an imprint on Lennon who advised his own hip-shaking friend that he was better off keeping the image of Elvis intact. However, for Jagger now, the chance to meet Elvis slipping through his fingers is a painful cross to bear.
“Though now, of course,” Jagger continued, “I wish I had met Elvis, you know what I mean? You never think, ‘Oh, he’s gonna die soon, I’d better hurry up and meet him.’ Because in those days he wasn’t very old. If nothing else, you’d still be able to talk about it, wouldn’t you?” The truth is, Lennon had been let down by Elvis and he didn’t want the same thing happening to his friend too.
We can only dream of the dance contest that, we would imagine, would organically ensue between Elvis Presley and Mick Jagger. Sadly, for us, John Lennon got in the way.