ELVIS PRESLEY: A LISTENER’S GUIDE
By Shane Brown
July 5th, 2014 saw the 60th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s first commercial recording session, the night on which he cut That’s all Right, the song that would launch his career. Less than six months later, on January 8th, 2015, will be celebrations for what would have been Elvis’s 80th birthday. Since Elvis’s death in 1977, hundreds (probably thousands) of books have been written about Presley, but very few concentrate on the most important thing: the music.
When I first became interested in the music of Elvis Presley as a teenager back in the early 1990s, the first book I bought was Elvis Presley: A Study in Music by Robert Matthew-Walker. It was hardly a hefty tome, but it did what I wanted at the time – it gave me some guidance through the minefield of Elvis’s legacy which was then being issued, slowly but surely, on CD. In 1995, Matthew-Walker updated his book, calling the new version Heartbreak Hotel, but much of the new material centred of details of Elvis’s life, rather than his music. In fact, even in this extended work, the author managed to discuss individually virtually all of Elvis’s recordings within less than one hundred pages. As far as I’m aware Matthew-Walker’s book(s) are the only one to discuss the merits (or otherwise) of all of Elvis’s music literally on a song by song basis.
Matthew-Walker’s A Study in Music was/is an important book, and it seems rather strange that other full-length works of a similar nature did not follow it. Bearing this in mind, I hope that Elvis Presley: A Listener’s Guide will manage to be a rather more thorough critique of Elvis’s music. Working through from 1953 to 1977 one session at a time, one song at a time, the book discusses the remarkable (and yet often frustrating) legacy that Elvis left behind. All recordings released during Elvis’s lifetime are discussed, as well as those released posthumously where appropriate.
Why do we need a new critique? Well, times change and opinions change with them. Our views on Elvis’s music are still based on what critics wrote forty or more years ago. Of course, the critics who panned Elvis in the 1950s were quickly proven wrong as the years passed, but the accepted view of the 1960s and 1970s recordings is still based on contemporary reviews, often from rock critics who somehow couldn’t see how or why Elvis was recording material outside of rock ‘n’ roll. As I discuss each session, therefore, I make reference to, and quote from, those contemporary reviews from the 1950s to the 1970s – around 170 of them – in order to put into context my own evaluation of the recordings.
This is not primarily a book of facts or figures – there are plenty of other works on the market that can supply those. What there isn’t on the market is a “listener’s guide” to Elvis’s music, in which each and every master recording is discussed. I haven’t written this because I think people should agree with my evaluations or thoughts but because, as we approach what would have been Elvis’s 80th birthday, it seems important to take a fresh look at the one thing that seems to be ignored most: the music.
Elvis Presley Song by Song: A Listener’s Guide will be available in mid-August, 2014. The paperback edition will be 6in x 9in, and will contain approx. 320 pages. A Kindle version will also be available.