Dear Quote Investigator: I greatly enjoy the singing of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, so I was surprised to hear that Sinatra once attacked the type of music that Elvis popularized. Supposedly Sinatra said:
Rock n Roll is the most brutal, ugly, desperate, vicious form of expression it has been my misfortune to hear.
Is this quotation accurate? When was this said?
Quote Investigator: There is strong evidence that Sinatra made a remark very similar to this. The wording of the modern version has been altered somewhat. QI has located an Associated Press article from October 1957 that reprinted an excerpt from a magazine called “Western World” published in Paris. Sinatra denounced rock music and musicians using hyperbolic language [FSWW]:
The famed crooner, writing in the magazine Western World published here, praised the influence of American jazz and popular music as a way of winning friends and influencing people throughout the world.
“My only deep sorrow,” he said, “is the unrelenting insistence of recording and motion picture companies upon purveying the most brutal, ugly, degenerate, vicious form of expression it has been my displeasure to hear—naturally I refer to the bulk of rock ‘n’ roll.
“It fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people. It smells phony and false. It is sung, played and written for the most part by cretinous goons and by means of its almost imbecilic reiterations and sly, lewd—in plain fact dirty—lyrics, and as I said before, it manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth.
“This rancid smelling aphrodisiac I deplore. But, in spite of it, the contribution of American music to the world could be said to have one of the healthiest effects of all our contributions.”
Elvis Presley’s debut album was released in 1956, and by 1957 he was a star and a cultural sensation.
This article continues with Elvis Presley’s response to Sinatra.
Elvis Presley did wear sideburns, but the description “cretinous goon” does not fit. The INS news service distributed a newspaper story presenting the reaction of Elvis. The story modified the Sinatra’s quotation by replacing “displeasure” with “misfortune” [EPFS]:
Presley called a news conference to express righteous wrath over Sinatra’s description of Rock ‘n’ Roll as “the most brutal, ugly, degenerate, vicious form of expression, it has been my misfortune to hear.”
Presley declared: “It’s the greatest music ever, and it will continue to be so. I like it, and I’m sure many other persons feel the same way. I also admit it’s the only thing I can do.”
At least 10,000 fans agreed with Presley last night as the ‘Whirling Hypnotwist’ played Svengali to the crowd in his first Hollywood personal appearance.
During Frank Sinatra’s ascent to stardom he had mesmerized the young women, “bobby soxers”, of an earlier generation. Presley continued his press conference remarks by alluding to Sinatra’s path to fame [EPFS]:
“He has a right to his opinion, but I can’t see him knocking my music for no good reason. I admire him as a performer and an actor, but I think he’s badly mistaken about this.
“If I remember correctly he was also part of a trend. I don’t see how he can call the youth of today immoral and delinquent.”
In conclusion, QI has not obtained a copy of “Western World” magazine to verify Sinatra’s words. But the AP article provides solid evidence that Sinatra did refer negatively to rock in 1957. His opinion changed over time, and he later had kind words for Elvis Presley.
[FSWW] 1957 October 28, Trenton Evening Times, Sinatra Blasts At Rock ‘n’ Roll, [Associated Press: Dateline Paris], Page 6, Column 1 and 2, Trenton, New Jersey. (GenealogyBank)
[EPFS] 1957 October 30, Augusta Chronicle, “Frankie rags Rock ‘n’ Roll; Presley’s sideburns bristle” [INS News Service: Dateline Hollywood], Page 1A, Column 5 and 6, Augusta, Georgia. (GenealogyBank)