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At Graceland, Elvis makes music history real

You may not fully understand how important Elvis Presley was to American music unless you visit his family homestead in Memphis, Tenn. That's just what CNET Road Trip 2014 did.

Dozens and dozens of gold and platinum records line Graceland's Hall of Gold. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Boy, did the King live large.

It's hard to walk away from Graceland, the longtime homestead of Elvis Presley and his family, and not appreciate what fame, stardom, and a huge bank account, can get you -- even if you don't necessarily appreciate Elvis' personal sense of style.

As part of CNET Road Trip 2014, I've come to Memphis for a quick tour of Graceland, hardly a center for technology, but without a doubt home to a nearly unmatched collection of music-industry memorabilia that provides valuable context to anyone interested in the history of American music and entertainment.

For me, coming to Graceland, in this city of 655,000 in the southwest corner of Tennessee, was a way of closing the book on a story I began six years ago. That year, as part of Road Trip 2008, I had arranged for a behind-the-scenes tour of Elvis' home. Because that trip focused on the American southeast, we at CNET had decided it would be fun to top the official Road Trip project page with a photo of me wearing an Elvis outfit.


More adventures from Road Trip 2014

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It turns out that didn't go over very well with the staff at Graceland, who discovered the photo halfway through the trip and called me to tell me that because they don't work with any kind of Elvis impersonators, I needed to leave the suit in the car when I came to visit. That was no problem, as I had rented the suit for a single day in San Francisco. But the second condition, that we remove the photo from our site, was an issue, as it had been live for weeks. I politely told them it wasn't possible, and just as politely, they told me I couldn't come for my visit.

That was tough, but I understood.

This year, though, as I was planning Road Trip 2014, I set up a visit in Memphis to FedEx's package lab, and its express hub. Given that this was my first trip back to the city since 2008, I thought it was time to take care of this old unfinished business. When I wrote to the folks at Graceland, I promised up front that there would be no Elvis suit.

So visit I did. And if you've never been to Graceland, you should consider coming as well. The southern Colonial mansion sits on a 13.8-acre wooded estate. According to, Elvis bought the home on March 19, 1957 for $102,500 after putting down a $1,000 cash deposit.

It's not as huge or as garish as you might imagine, and the property offers a rich look at Elvis' short life and his outsized role in the music industry. Though others have come along since to rival his stardom -- the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, for example -- no one has ever sold more records, and it's safe to say his legacy in the entertainment industry will never matched.

According to Graceland, Elvis sold more than a billion records worldwide, and in the United States alone, he had 150 gold and platinum records. He also had 149 songs on Billboard's Hot 100 Pop Chart in America, including 114 that reached the top 40, 40 in the top 10, and 18 No. 1 hits. He also demonstrated his cross-cultural appeal by charting not just with pop hits, but also with country, R&B, and gospel songs. Plus, his career spanned dozens of films, as well as TV specials, and many sold-out concert tours. Yet the star, who was born in 1935, died of heart failure in 1977 at just 42.

At its heart, it's clear from a Graceland visit, Elvis Presley was generous, caring, and down-to-earth, or at least as much as one can be when you own a fleet of luxury cars, multiple airplanes, and have earned many dozens of gold and platinum records.