Saturday, 1 June 2019

Elvis Presley

"The colored folks been singing it and playing it just like I'm doin' now, man, for more years than I know. I got it from them" - Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley (1956)

Blue Suede Shoes/I Got A Woman/I'm Counting On You/One Sided Love Affair/Just Because/I Love You Because/Tutti Frutti/Trying To Get To You/I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry/I'll Never Let You Go/Blue Moon/Money Honey        

One of the most influential albums in rock music history, if not THE most influential. Obviously, all these years later it doesn’t sound so remarkable, I guess, but you just have to take into account its cultural effect. Nobody had heard too much like this before. It broke down barriers and created a whole new genre. Importantly, white radio stations started to play what was, essentially black rhythm and blues (on many of the tracks). Ridiculous as it sounds, this was a huge breakthrough. Many people still presumed Presley was in fact black, his soulful voice sounded so authentic. White kids were turning on to black music and not before time. This early Presley material, before he went into the army, was the essence of Elvis. No big white suits, no German twee ballads, now “It’s Now Or Never” opera pastiches. Just blues rock ’n’ roll, with one hell of an attitude for 1956.
The songs

There is some classic bluesy rock ’n’ roll on here - from the opener, the iconic Blue Suede Shoes to the rocking, slightly sexist (now) I Got A Woman, the bluesy I’m Counting On You and the upbeat, lively One Sided Love Affair.  Just Because is another pure piece of bluegrass-ish rockabilly. 

I Love You Because is one of those rather morose, low-key ballads that populate early Elvis albums and, to be honest, I always just wait for it to be finished so we can get back to the good rockin’. Elvis covers Tutti Frutti and, while he can cope with anything he takes on, I still prefer Little Richard’s now definitive version. 

Trying To Get To You is pure Ray Charles-ish blues. I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry is not as bluesy, but has that big, throbbing bass line, reproduced here, as is the whole album, in its original, rich, warm monaural sound. It comes straight out of the centre of your speakers and sounds full and crystal-clear, considering it was recorded in 1956.

I’ll Never Let You Go is a return to the mournful acoustic tear-jerkers. These don’t do much for me, if I’m honest. It harks back to mainstream country radio from years before and sure ain’t rock ’n’ roll. However, and here is where Elvis really had something - for the last thirty seconds he rocks out, big time. He transforms the song, utterly. As if that was what he had intending to do all along. I just wish he had rocked from the beginning. 

Blue Moon is a hissy recording and back to the country ballad style. The Marcels’ rock ’n’ roll version is much better. Money Honey was a rocking blues that surely influenced a young Paul McCartney and John Lennon more than anything else. Just think, if Elvis hadn’t got the contract to record this “devil’s music” would there have been a Beatles?

** Bonus material includes the big, bassy and beautiful Heartbreak HotelLawdy Miss Clawdy, the superb blues rock 'n' roll of My Baby Left Me and Elvis’s take on Shake, Rattle And Roll. The wonders of digital technology means these can replace some of those country ballads and you have a good rockin’ tonight of an album.

Elvis Is Back! (1960)

Make Me Know It/Fever/The Girl Of My Best Friend/I Will Be Home Again/Dirty, Dirty Feeling/Thrill Of Your Love/Soldier Boy/Such A Night/It Feels So Right/The Girl Next Door Went A-Walkin'/Like A Baby/Reconsider Baby       

Elvis Is Back was Elvis Presley’s first album upon discharge from the US Army. Released in 1960, it saw Presley wanting to diversify away from the rock’n’roll that had catapulted him to fame. He experimented with pure pop, easy listening, crooning, some r’n’b. His voice seemed to have deepened, it had more soul and more range. Personally, I have always liked that early pre-army period in comparison to this one, but I have a soft spot for his album. One reason for that is the simply sensational stereo sound, which is quite remarkable for 1960. It was advertised as “Living Stereo” on the cover. A new type of sound had arrived, but few people had the equipment to play it on. Thankfully we do now.
The songs

Regarding the music, Make Me Know It is a lively, upbeat opener, while his cover of Peggy Lee’s Fever is soulfully and atmospherically delivered. 

The Girl Of My Best Friend is simply a great pop/rock song. I Will Be Home Again enters easy listening territory, but Dirty, Dirty Feeling is a frantic rockabilly-style song that sounds as if it should be on a movie soundtrack. Some excellent, cutting rockabilly guitar picking in the middle from the now legendary Scotty Moore and some rock’n’roll saxophone. One of the closest songs to rock ’n’ roll on the album. 

Thrill Of Your Love is slow-paced rock’n’roll ballad with a great vocal from Elvis and some bluesy piano. Soldier Boy is a predictably sad, devotional lament relating, clearly, to time in the army. It has a slow doo-wop, fairground slowie feel. While very sentimental, cloyingly so, the rock ’n’ roll ballad feeling is lovely, as is the piano.

Such A Night is jazzily sublime. Addictive cymbal work and saxophone plus killer guitar and, of course a peerless vocal. It is an instinctive toe-tapper. I love it, even now. In many ways, it is Elvis at his best. His voice soars on this. He owns it outright. The “woop” at the end adds to its spontaneous appeal. 

It Feels So Right is more than just a ballad. It has a mysterious bluesy guitar lick throughout and a real atmosphere. This really is some of the best material Elvis ever recorded, in many ways. The Girl Next Door Went A-Walkin' is a jaunty, doo-wop piece of upbeat fun.

Like A Baby is almost a duet between Elvis and his saxophone player. This is once again superior slowed-down bluesy rock’n’roll. This really is far from an easy listening, Sinatra-style crooning album. It has many elements of blues-influenced rock’n’roll. That is confirmed by the gritty blues of Reconsider Baby.  Presley’s vocal is nonchalantly lazy. The saxophone and piano break is intoxicating. Early sixties bluesy rock’n’roll of the highest quality. Superb.

Something For Everybody (1961)

There's Always Me/Give Me The Right/It's A Sin/Sentimental Me/Starting Today/Gently/I'm Coming Home/In Your Arms/Put The Blame On Me/Judy/I Want You With Me/I Slipped. I Stumbled, I Fell   
This album, in its original format, did what the title suggested and had a variety of songs, split in to the vinyl album's two sides. The first side was made up of what were by now familiar Elvis ballads - lots of brush drums, deep lead vocals and barber shop-style harmonious backing vocals. 

The songs

The tracks are all pleasant enough but pretty much indistinguishable. My favourite is the opener, the Sinatra-esque There's Always Me. The second side was populated with typically early sixties upbeat easy rock 'n' roll-ish numbers. The highlights are the lively but brooding Put The Blame On Me, the catchy Judy and the bluesy rock 'n' roll of I Want You With Me.

The sound quality on the remastered stereo version of the album is simply stunning, for 1961 - warm, clear and beautifully bassy, with nice stereo separation. It is an unthreatening album and one that firmly built on the foundations that had Elvis very much as a middle-of-the road artist. The early edginess had gone now.

** The bonus non-album tracks include the excellent, bluesy rock 'n' roll guitar-driven Little Sister, always a great lesser-known Elvis gem, the insistent grinding groove of I Feel So Bad and the hit singles Marie's The Name Of (His Latest Flame) and Good Luck Charm. Often these singles were not on albums so the bonus material is of a high quality.

From Elvis In Memphis (1969)

Wearin' That Loved On Look/Only The Strong Survive/I'll Hold You In My Heart (Till I Can Hold You In My Arms)/Long Black Limousine/It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin'/I'm Movin' On/Power Of My Love/Gentle On My Mind/After Loving You/True Love Travels On A Gravel Road/Any Day Now/In The Ghetto  

After seemingly years of movie soundtrack albums (five), Elvis Presley returned to Memphis after his successful 1968 "comeback tour" rejuvenated and, at last, produced a totally credible album worthy of a "king". It is widely regarded as his finest album, along with his eponymous 1956 debut album. It is considered one of the finest white soul albums as well. Presley, reared on the black gospel voices of the Deep South always had a voice supremely geared to soul anyway, so it was not a difficult task to deal with these Memphis soul songs. Having said that, there is a strong country feel to some of the songs too.  It is definitely not a full-on soul album by any stretch of the imagination.

From an artist who produced some of the greatest singles of all time, it was nice to get a quality album from him, which was something of a rarity.
The songs

Wearin' That Loved On Look is a gospelly, soulful organ-powered opener, with a great vocal Presley and a deep, melodious bass line. 

Only The Strong Survive starts slowly before it bursts into a Motown-esque chorus. This is some of the best material Presley had done for years and years. It almost sounds Northern Soul-ish at times. I'll Hold You In My Heart (Till I Can Hold You In My Arms) is a more typical slow bluesy ballad crooned by Presley in his recognisable style. Again, though, the bass backing is just sumptuous.

Long Black Limousine is a tragic tale of a singer's (possibly, possibly not but that is how I have always imagined her/or him) death that in an awful way, presaged Elvis's own demise. These sort of tear-jerkers are always too much for me to listen to too often, I'm afraid. 

It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin' is a country ballad of the sort that Elvis Costello covered on Almost BlueI'm Movin' On is a delicious piece of country/soul/rock with excellent backing throughout the track, particularly the brass.

Power Of My Love finds Elvis visiting the blues on a cookin' burner of a track. It is full of punchy horns and seriously good blues guitar. Gentle On My Mind is another country crooner of the type Presley does so well. 

After Loving You is a throwback to the early sixties in a One Night fashion. 

True Love Travels On A Gravel Road is a slightly soulful ballad with again more of a country air about it. Any Day Now is a lively piece of pop/soul. Then we get a true Elvis classic to finish in the iconic In The Ghetto, much loved of a million Elvis impersonators. It needs no description from me.

This was a good album, a "proper" Presley album for a change, but it is not really a true soul album. It is a very good soul/country album, for me.

Back In Memphis (1969)

Inherit The Wind/This Is The Story/Stranger In My Own Home Town/A Little Bit Of Green/And The Grass Won't Pay No Mind/Do You Know Who I Am/From A Jack To A King/The Fair's Moving On/You'll Think Of Me/Without Love (There Is Nothing)          

This quickfire follow-up to the critically-acclaimed From Elvis In Memphis has often suffered, somewhat unfairly, in comparison to it illustrious forbear. While neither of them are fully the "soul albums" many critics claim them to be (the first one was very country in places), they both still feature some soulful songs, backed by an excellent Memphis soul band. Indeed, for me, there is possibly more soul on this one than on From Elvis. This one needs checking out, there is some good stuff on it.

The songs

Inherit The Wind is a deep, soulful ballad with one of those lovely bass lines that so enhanced From Elvis In Memphis. It is an excellent track that would have sat well on its predecessor. 

This Is The Story is a grand, orchestrated ballad with a soul feeling to it, some church organ backing but the strings take it a bit away from soul to easy listening. 

Stranger In My Home Town has an infectious rumbling bass and funky drum intro and a swamp rock feel to it. Its bluesy vocal helps to make it one of the album's best tracks. A proper credible number that would stand up in its own right against any blues or soul song. This is Elvis at his best, forget all that cheese he did. He should have done more stuff like this. It is a real hidden gem in the Elvis songbook. Check out those horns and Temptations-style strings.

A Little Bit Of Green has a catchy rhythm and a bit of an easy listening vocal. I can't help but like it though, largely because of the bassy backing. Neil Diamond's And The Grass Won't Pay No Mind is delivered beautifully. Diamond's songs are invariably good ones anyway. This one is perfectly suited to Presley's voice. Do You Know Who I Am is a slowed-down, typical Presley ballad.

From A Jack To A King is very reminiscent of Presley's earlier sixties material. The top notch backing here renders it more appealing than it might have been. 

The Fair's Moving On is the sort of song that is straight out of an Elvis movie soundtrack. Elvis always got away with gushing heartbreakers such as this, somehow. I guess because of the sheer emotional strength of his delivery. 

You'll Think Of Me has a Stax-ish guitar backing to it and a bit of an upbeat Motown feel to its beat. This is another of my favourites. 

Without Love (There Is Nothing) is a slowed-down gospel-ish ballad that breaks out into a bass, drum and backing vocal slice of glory on the uplifting chorus.

This album, as I said at the beginning, matches up well with its more popular sibling. Recommended.

On Stage (1970)/Elvis In Person (1969)


This Elvis On Stage Deluxe Edition includes the full fourteen track version of 1970's On Stage and eighteen tracks from Elvis In Person from 1969.

The two concerts have a different emphasis on their set lists, which makes for a varied, interesting listen. In Person is still hanging on to the coat-tails of the leather-outfitted 68 Comeback gigs and Elvis and his band are on fine, upbeat rocking form as they run through rock'n'roll hits like Blue Suede Shoes, All Shook Up and Hound Dog. The set is a mix of this sort of material, older ballads like Are You Lonesome Tonight and new, but becoming popular songs like the wonderful In The Ghetto and the rousing, singalong Suspicious Minds. Elvis is chatty and enthusiastic and the band seem very "up for it". Backing vocalist Cissy Houston seems a bit too committed on Are You Lonesome Tonight with some pseudo-operatic additions that sound as if they were done as a joke. Unfortunately they were deadly serious and the vocals grate throughout the entire song. Not as much as the member of the audience at the end of I Can't Stop Loving You though.

A thumping My Babe is an excellent inclusion and Elvis really rocks out as do the band. Good to hear.

As with all Elvis live performances, however, there was always, even on the 1968 material, an overbearing essence of cabaret/"supper club" to the whole thing. The flow of the concerts is usually broken by Elvis's between song chatter. Many find this an endearing characteristic, and I can understand it as he seems a fun kinda guy, but in terms of live performance, I would prefer more music and more continuity. As soon as the music kicks in, it is mostly superb. The band are not too overwhelmed by orchestral brass, but they still are just a little. It was always that way. When they strip it back, as on Mystery Train/Tiger Man, that is when it becomes raw and essential. The musicianship on this is top class. Imagine a whole concert played like that.

On Stage was from 1970, the leathers had gone, the suit started getting white and spangly. A new era was dawning. The album does not include the classics, concentrating mainly on covers such as Del Shannon's RunawayNeil Diamond's Sweet CarolinePaul McCartney's Yesterday and Little Richard's Long Tall Sally. The album is notable for a live cut that became a hit single in Elvis's atmospheric cover of swamp bluesman Tony Joe White's Polk Salad Annie.

Although it is interesting to hear some different songs, they are mostly all covers and some of them pretty cheesy ones, and many of them are not as good as the versions done by the original artists. Of the two albums, I much prefer Elvis in Person. There are more appealing rarities on there like Baby, What You Want Me To Do and the bluesy Reconsider Baby. On On Stage, Elvis was doing Release Me. Elvis did not need to do Engelbert Humperdinck songs, surely?

Some have had problems with the sound, particularly on In Person, but as far as I'm concerned the sound is fine. There is a "live" feeling to it, but, for me, that is as it should be. On Stage, however, has superb sound.

Live At Madison Square Garden (1972)

This is the full two disc set of live recordings from Elvis's show at Madison Square Garden in June 1972. It is pretty much a set based on those he had been delivering in Las Vegas - some classics, some newer material and some covers of other artists' songs. The leather jacket and trousers of the late sixties had gone and Elvis was now in full-on white suited mode. There was a new enthusiasm for Elvis's music from both his original fans and now a new generation of them.

Elvis is backed by his trusty band, an orchestra and lots of backing singers. The sound is excellent, particularly considering the cavernous nature of the vast Madison Square Garden arena. As with all his concerts, though, the orchestra often takes any raw, rock 'n' roll edge that the music had away, burying it in a blanket of brass and strings. This was always a shame because Elvis's band was a really good one. Every now and again, you get some good bits from James Burton's guitar and Ronnie Tutt's drums, but there should be more. I wish there had been some stripped down, bass, guitar drums and keyboards only Elvis concerts. How good would that have been?

It always mystified me why Elvis peppered his set lists with covers of stuff like You Don't Have To Say You Love MeProud Mary and You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'. By 1972, he had a mountain of back catalogue that would have filled any number of sets. I always prefer it when he does the material he made famous himself, even if they were covers, such as the wonderful swamp blues of Tony Joe White's Polk Salad Annie and the anthemic An American Trilogy.

Other highlights on here are the always enjoyable romp of Suspicious Minds, a rocking opener in That's All Right and the frantic energy of All Shook Up.

30 No. 1 Hits (1956-1976)

Number one hits from 1956-1976

What can one really say about one of the biggest recording artists that ever walked the earth, probably the biggest? This is an excellent compilation of 30 of his number one hits spanning his career from 1956 to 1976. The sound is remastered and outstanding. The ones before 1960 are in superb mono (check out the full, bassy sound on Jailhouse Rock) and the rest in very impressive stereo. The stereo starts at Stuck On You, and, considering these recordings are from the early 1960s, the stereo is truly outstanding. Great clarity and excellent bass reproduction.

Regarding the music, for me, it is the early rock ’n’ roll material that is my favourite along with some of the late sixties early seventies stuff. The immediately post Army period “easy listening” material - It’s Now Or NeverWooden Heart and Are You Lonesome Tonight are my least favourites.

Rather than talk about them track by track, my own personal favourites are:- Heartbreak Hotel, Hound DogTeddy BearAll Shook Up, Jailhouse Rock, Hard Headed Woman, Can’t Help Falling In Love, In The Ghetto, Suspicious Minds and Burning Love. Despite this being the number ones, I actually find that a lot of my preferred Elvis tracks can be found on the 2nd To None compilation of songs that reached number two, King CreoleAmerican Trilogy and Promised Land immediately spring to mind, among others.

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