There really can't be any dispute about this one, right? I'm going to break the music down to categories and ultimately from the winners in those categories an overall best-ever will be chosen.
But there can't be any dispute about this era. Say what you will about the Beatles, the early Stones, Eric Clapton, or any of the lesser stars that orbited the supernova that is my nomination in this category. Whatever you say about anyone else from this time, it all adds up to the same thing.
None of them are Elvis.
You don't even need the last name. And he was, to my knowledge the first of the no-last-name's in pop music, and maybe the first since the major stars of earlier, pre-pop pre-modern era's (e.g., Beethoven).
I remember when I was a kid, and Elvis died. My mom cried. She cried for days. She saved the newspaper that broke the story to her.
When I was in law school, and feeling down one time, I hopped into Zippy (my Ford Festiva) and drove to Graceland just to tour it.
When I was even younger, in elementary school -- what you kids would call "middle school" now but it was elementary then -- they showed movies on Friday nights, and the one I recall, the only one I recall them showing, was "Blue Hawaii."
But all of that is secondary to the music. The voice. The stage presence. The cool.
I'll take them in that order.
The music. How can you not love the music? I know he didn't write everything he sang, but the music was timeless. Even something as silly as "Hound Dog" still rocks, still has a better driving beat behind it than most of the things you hear on the radio (including anything released by Ashlee Simpson.) But when you get to the real Elvis music, you get even better. "Suspicious Minds?" Awesome. "Viva Las Vegas?" Perfection -- a rock & Vegas roundup that should be their theme song (if it isn't.) And Elvis can be updated. Check out the Paul Oakenfield Remix of "Rubberneckin'" (which I'm listening to as I write this. Elvis' songs get your foot tapping and you humming and rapping your hands on the steering wheel and ultimately singing along.
And part of that is the stage presence, the look, the way he handled himself. I've seen that dance he does, the twisty-foot sort of thing. It's dumb. That is, it's dumb if I do it, or you do it, or Justin Timberlake does it, but it's not dumb when Elvis did it. Whatever he did on stage, from that dance to putting on a scarf and then taking it off, it was great because Elvis did it. You can't teach that. You can't edit that into a film. You're born with it (Elvis) or you're not (me.)
And that's part of his cool, but not all of it. Elvis somehow made everything he did cool, because he was a combination of a super-big rock star (mansion, airplane, giving away pink cadillacs) and a country boy (recording songs for his mom) and a humble person (singing gospel music) and, even a little, a dork (recording "The Battle Hymn of the Republic.") What made him cool, then? What made him so cool he had his own Cabbage Patch Doll modeled after him? Because he did what he wanted and didn't care about us. Because he had that lip sneer that didn't seem calculated like Billy Idol's always did. Because the legend is that he didn't even set out to be a rock star.
It's hard to describe why Elvis had a hold on the nation. Why he captivated kids and scared parents, and still does, to an extent. There's something more sexual about a lot of Elvis' moves and songs and phrasings than even Beyonce could get. Rock and roll would not exist without him, which means that pop music would still be caught up in the Andrews Sisters "Three Little Fishies." He's got to be the consensus choice for best rock star of the 50s and 60s.