Why The Who’s Pete Townshend Thought Elvis Presley Was a ‘Chump’

Elvis Presley is one of the most famous classic rock stars of all time, however, The Who’s Pete Townshend thought he was a “chump.” This was because he had some very specific experiences with Elvis’ music. Here’s a look at which Elvis songs Townshend liked — and which he couldn’t stand.

The Who's Pete Townshend, Keith Moon, John Entwistle, Roger Daltrey
The Who | GAB Archive/Redferns

The Who’s Pete Townshend hated some of Elvis Presley’s early songs

In his book Who I Am: A Memoir, Townshend discusses his boyhood friendship with a rock ‘n’ roll fan named Jimpy. Jimpy was into Bill Haley and Elvis. Townshend, on the other hand, had somewhat different musical tastes.

“I only liked Bill Haley for a few months, but Jimpy was totally hooked and bought several Haley and Elvis records,” Townshend wrote. “While Jimpy was still with me on the Isle of Man, he and a pretty girl named Elaine – with whom we had both fallen in love – started singing Elvis songs together. They lost me there.”

“Love Me Tender”

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Some of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s songs really repulsed Townshend. “To my ear, Elvis sounded corny, a drawling dope singing about dogs,” he said. “I just didn’t get it. Unfortunately, I had missed his first masterful releases like ‘That’s Alright Mama’ [sic] and ‘Heartbreak Hotel,’ and had come in directly on ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Love Me Tender,’ a song that made me want to vomit, especially when Jimpy and Elaine crooned it at one another. In his movies (apart from Jailhouse Rock) Elvis confirmed my view of him as a chump.”

What The Who’s Pete Townshend thought would happen to Elvis Presley and Eric Clapton

This wasn’t the end of Pete Townshend discussing his feelings on the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. During an interview with Rolling Stone’s Jann S. Wenner from September 28, 1968, Wenner asked Townshend how he believed rock ‘n’ roll would change. He believed that a new generation of artists would lead people to stop caring so much about past icons. “That thing of worshiping Elvis Presley, worshiping Eric Clapton—it’s gonna go,” Townshend said. 

“Suspicious Minds”

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It’s notable Townshend said this less than two months before Elvis’ ‘68 Comeback Special, one of the most iconic moments of his career. In addition, Elvis had multiple top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 after Townshend made his comment, including “In the Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds.” It appears that people didn’t stop “worshipping” Elvis for some time after Townshend’s interview.

When The Who performed a tribute to Elvis

“Real Good Looking Boy”

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In addition, Elvis had some influence on The Who’s live performances. According to The Hollywood Reporter, The Who’s Roger Dalton would perform his band’s song “Real Good Looking Boy” as a tribute to Elvis. However, he said Townshend probably didn’t intend the track as a tribute to the “Can’t Help Falling in Love” singer. Townshend wasn’t a huge fan of Elvis, but that didn’t stop Dalton from paying tribute to him.