Graham Reid | | 3 min read
There is never any shortage of Elvis Presley reissues but for true fans those exceptional box sets on The Complete 50's Masters and Complete 60's Master are cornerstone releases and a trove of constant revelations. (Although Elsewhere has long had The Memphis Record as an Essential Elsewhere album.)
Every home should have the Sun sessions collection (the singles he recorded at Sam Phillips' studio in Memphis before he signed to RCA) but this particular collection comes highly recommended -- and not just because it is a paltry $20 for five discs in replicas of the original covers and with numerous extra tracks, not noted on the covers which incude classic Elvis like One Night of Sin, Are You Lonesome Tonight? and It's Now or Never).
His '56 self-titled debut for RCA (right, in the cover which the Clash famously copied for London Calling) contained classic songs and interpretations (Blue Suede Shoes, Blue Moon, I Got a Woman, Just Because, Little Richard's Tutti Frutti) and he effortless juggled rockabilly, rhythm'n'blues and rock'n'roll with ballads.
It's a classic . . . from the cover on in.
The Elvis album later that year kicked off with Rip It Up and included Long Tall Sally, Paralysed (on which Presley got a rare but hardly deserved co-write with the great Otis Blackwell), Old Shep, Ready Teddy (the fourth song associated with Little Richard that he would put on album that year, which showed how close his heart was to black music).
Presley's synthesis of white country and rockabilly with black rhythm and blues was extraordinary, and what made him unique.
His third album (from mid '57) was nominally the soundtrack to the film Lovin' You (none on the second side were in the movie) and there were slightly diminishing returns: Cole Porter's True Love beautiful though it is seems a slight sop to a more mature audience (but then Presley admired guys like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin) alongside Mean Woman Blues, Teddy Bear and Ivory Joe HUnter's I Need You So. Hot Dog -- at just 1.15 seconds -- might not have been Lieber and Stoller's finest songwriting moment either.
The next album (Christmas songs) is mercifully not in this collection, but nor unfortunately is the soundtrack to King Creole (which included the cool title track, Crawfish, Hard Headed Woman and Lieber-Stoller's terrific Trouble). One of the shortest albums ever released too: a tidy 21 minutes in total (about the side of a Beatles/Stoners etc album) although he would deliver shorter! Elvis Sings Flaming Star (which included the awful Do the Vega) and Let's be Friends -- cobbled together things -- were a fraction over 20.
The good news is that -- skipping a few albums -- here is Elvis is Back! which was released in '60 when he came back from the army (during which a few key singles trickled out the keep the flame burning).
Needless to say it includes a song called Soldier Boy, but here too are his versions of Lowell Fulson's superb Reconsider Baby, Fever, Otis Blackwell's lesser known Make Me KNow It and Such a Night (not the Dr John song but the old Drifters hit).
Presley was back . . . but he was different now and the edge had gone to be replaced a musical maturity, but one which alienated many who understandably wanted the rocker of just two years previous.
The final album in this set is Elvis as PR man-cum-diplomat for the USA: it is the soundtrack to the movie GI Blues (pretty good Elvis flick actually, and you don't say that about too many) and included Wooden Heart (excellent and catchy song which had MOR guy Bert Kaempfert as one of the co-writers), the title track, a re-recording of Blue Suede Shoes (hmmm) and . . . not a lot really.
But if there are fewer musical returns as this five CD progresses (emblemmatic of Elvis' years immediately pre- and post-army) then you cannot deny there is a swag of excellent listening here -- and more than a few rock'n'roll classics scattered throughout.
So five Elvis albums for a mere $20 (post free in New Zealand) from JB Hi-Fi stores here?
C'mon, that's gotta be this week's Bargain Buy . . . so turn this up loud and . . . . "it's one for the money, two for the show . . ."