A typical Presley concert of the 1970s was more like a series of rituals and ceremonies than a performance by a mere entertainer. Elvis made his grand entrance to Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra, popularly known as the “Theme from 2001,” charging into the spotlight as though propelled by some supernatural force. He incorporated karate kicks and tai chi arabesques into his act as well as other dramatic postures.
Elvis also mocked his 1950s sex-symbol image by exaggerating the pelvic thrusts and sexual posturings of his old performing style, while making jokes about the “old days.” A peculiar part of his act was wiping the sweat from his brow with his scarf or a towel then throwing it into the audience. This gesture became so popular that dozens of white towels were kept in the wings for Elvis to throw to fans at frequent intervals.
Although Elvis’ enormous popularity forced him to live a remote life secluded from the public, his act onstage gave the illusion of intimacy. His rapport with his audiences was based on treating them like old friends or an extended family. Much interaction occurred between Elvis and the audience members, such as the exchange of “gifts.” Elvis threw towels and flowers into the audience; fans returned the gesture by throwing underwear, hotel keys, teddy bears, bouquets, and other mementos. If there is one symbol that has come to represent this period of Elvis’ career, it is the bejeweled jumpsuit. As Elvis launched each new tour or Las Vegas appearance, his jumpsuits became more elaborate. Sometimes accompanied by a waist-length or floor-length cape, these costumes were decorated with real gems, jewels, and semiprecious stones. With the addition of chains and studs, the outfits could weigh as much as 30 pounds.
Elvis’ repertoire of songs varied after the early 1970s, but his style of music and the format of his act did not change. Fans like to find parallels between Elvis’ personal life and the songs he chose to sing at certain points in his career. Around 1972, when Elvis and Priscilla were experiencing marital problems, he included “Always on My Mind” and “You Gave Me a Mountain,” two songs about the trials and tribulations of life and love.
The following year, Elvis included “My Way” in his act, which is about a man reflecting back on his life as death draws near, with Frank Sinatra in mind. Yet, the song became a personal anthem for Elvis, one that seemed to explain his eccentric lifestyle and larger-than-life image. A Vegas-style comedian always opened Elvis’ concerts, even when he was on the road, his responsibility included announcing, “Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building,” at the end of each performance. The 1970’s were an incredibly creative time for Elvis. He returned to performing live and developed a new sound and a new image that completely replaced the singing-movie-star image that he believed never really matched his talents. Dressed in gold and jewels, this Elvis Presley lived up to the titles “World’s Greatest Entertainer” and “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”