The “Elvis Presley 100”

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The best place to start any Elvis collection is with the three “decades” boxes covering the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s respectively.  Released in the 1990s and re-released recently in a smaller, cheaper format, they are essential for any newcomer investigating the Elvis catalogue, providing the complete 1950s studio recordings as well as presenting the “essential” 1960s and 1970s recordings in an attractive, logical way.  But where should someone go beyond those sets?  The following pages present “The Elvis 100” – short reviews and comments on all of the LPs released during Elvis’s lifetime, as well as a selection of recommended posthumous releases outside of the decades boxes for those looking to investigate the Elvis legacy beyond the seven hundred or so master recordings.  All except one of the posthumous albums to make this list contain at least some previously unreleased material.  Each album is from Elvis’s main label (RCA/BMG/Sony), unless otherwise stated.

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  1. Elvis Presley (1956)

Elvis’s first album is also often hailed as his finest.  The striking cover art, with its black and white photograph with green and pink lettering has become iconic.  However, the first album is great not necessarily because of the music it contained, but for what it stood for.  The music itself ranges from the sublime (Blue Suede Shoes, Money Honey) to the bland (I Love You Because) and, being a mish-mash of new recordings and leftovers, was the first indication of how Elvis’s legacy would be tainted by albums put together with little regard for artistic integrity or coherence. 8/10.

  1. Elvis (1956)

While Elvis’s second album contained nothing that reached the dizzy heights of the first (with perhaps So Glad You’re Mine coming close), it was at least a more coherent package, with all but one track having been recorded at a single set of sessions.  This creates a more consistent record, and if the upbeat numbers such as Rip It Up and Long Tall Sally don’t have the sheer energy of the rock ‘n’ roll tracks recorded at other sessions in 1956, then the improvement in the ballad performances more than makes up for it.  8/10.

  1. Loving You (1957)

The first of Elvis’s soundtrack albums contained the seven songs featured in his second film, together with a handful of tracks recorded during the same period.  There are some classic performances amongst the soundtrack songs, even if a couple are ludicrously short.  The second side is, according to the liner notes, made up of well-known love songs even though Don’t Leave Me Now was a new song, so hardly well-known – but such contradictions were common on Elvis albums.  Blueberry Hill and Have I Told You Lately That I Love You are among the most disappointing recordings Elvis made during the 1950s, but fans lapped them up, and the album reached the top spot in the charts.  7/10.

  1. Elvis’ Christmas Album (1957)

Elvis’s fourth album was his first seasonal offering, combining eight Christmas songs and carols with the four tracks released earlier in 1957 on the Peace in the Valley EP.  Elvis’ Christmas Album might have caused some controversy on release (although not as much as we have been led to believe), but it has since become one of the best-loved of all Christmas LPs.  There are no weak tracks here, with the material ranging from the dirty blues of Santa Claus is Back in Town to the beautiful rendition of O Little Town of Bethlehem – and the gatefold packaging of the original LP was stunning.   10/10.

  1. Elvis’ Golden Records (1958)

Elvis had been a national star for approximately two years at the time of the release of Elvis’ Golden Records, which brought together fourteen of his biggest hits and B-sides – a remarkably generous package considering there would be occasions within just a few short years when Elvis’s albums barely reached twenty minutes running time.  Despite the dozens of greatest hits albums that have been released over the years, this remains a must have and a brilliant encapsulation of Elvis’s first two years at the top.  10/10.

  1. King Creole (1958)

Elvis’s greatest soundtrack album was the wonderful King Creole from 1958, in which rock ‘n’ roll became merged with the sounds and instruments of Dixieland jazz.  The title song, Hard Headed Woman and Trouble are some of the best performances in the Elvis catalogue, and Crawfish is wonderfully evocative of the film’s New Orleans setting.  True, there is the disposable Lover Doll and the superfluous Steadfast, Loyal and True, but they don’t distract from the rest of the work here.  9/10.

  1. For LP Fans Only (1959)

There was a concerted effort to keep Elvis in the public eye while he was over in Germany.  Enough single sides had been recorded in advance to keep him in the charts, and three compilation albums appeared during 1959.  Each one of those albums contained just ten tracks, and hardly provided value for money for the fans that bought them.  For LP Fans Only (an ironic title given this was anything but a long-play album) brought together a disparate group of Sun single sides, RCA B-sides and EP tracks.  The album is most notable for making That’s all Right and Mystery Train available on LP for the first time, but it was the first Elvis LP not to reach #3 or higher in the charts, instead peaking at the relatively low #19 spot.  Hardly a carefully compiled album to begin with, and all the music is available elsewhere, and so it’s hardly surprising that it is not currently available on CD from Sony other than in a giant 60 disc set.  6/10.

  1. A Date with Elvis (1959)

A Date with Elvis might have been what many girls (and 5% of males) wanted in 1959, but perhaps not this type.  This second compilation of single and EP sides in 1959 was a more deluxe offering than its predecessor, being housed in a nice gatefold sleeve with a 1960 calendar on the back (hence the title).  Four of the ten tracks were from the Jailhouse Rock EP, which no doubt fans already owned, making this hardly value for money, nice packaging notwithstanding.  Fans agreed and, despite some great tracks, it would be the lowest charting Elvis album until Double Trouble nearly eight years later. 6/10.

  1. Elvis’ Gold Records Volume 2(aka: 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong) (1959)

Along with Elvis’s first album back in 1956, this collection of ten single sides from the previous year and a half is as famous for its cover art as for the musical contents – in this case, the much-copied repeated image of Elvis in a gold lame suit.  Musically speaking, it is a superior album to the other two 1959 compilations, containing hits such as One Night, Don’t, and A Fool Such as I, but it must have been striking to fans at the time that this second volume of gold records was four songs shorter than its predecessor, clocking in at just twenty-two minutes, and, despite its iconic status, it failed to break the top thirty.  7/10.

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  1. Elvis is Back (1960)

With Elvis out of the army, no time was wasted in recording some new single sides and an album that turned out to be possibly the best of his career.  Elvis is Back covered virtually all of the genres that influenced Elvis’s music, concluding with two sensational blues numbers.  There was no gospel here as such, but the beautiful The Thrill of Your Love gave something of an indication of the sound that Elvis would utilise in his first full-length gospel album later in the same year.  Elvis’s voice had deepened and matured while he was away, and fans now got to hear that voice in stereo for the first time.  10/10.

  1. G. I. Blues (1960)

1960 saw a strategy of trying to widen Elvis’s appeal beyond that of his loyal teenage following.   G. I. Blues, a traditional Hollywood musical, helped to achieve that goal.  The Grammy-nominated album was certainly not Elvis’s greatest artistic success, but it was a worthy souvenir for those who saw the film and outsold Elvis is Back by a considerable margin.  As with almost all of the soundtracks to Elvis’s 1960s musicals, the highlight was a tender ballad, the beautiful Doin’ the Best I Can, but there is plenty to enjoy here if you are not expecting a rock ‘n’ roll album.  6/10.

  1. His Hand in Mine(1960)

Elvis’s third album of 1960 was his first full-length LP of gospel songs.  Presley clearly relished the chance to sing some of the songs that had meant so much to him growing up, and he excels throughout, whether on the blues-tinged ballad Milky White Way or the spirituals Joshua Fit the Battle and Swing Down Sweet Chariot (which he would re-record in 1968 for the film The Trouble with Girls).  Crying in the Chapel was recorded at the same session, but withheld for release until 1965, when it became Elvis’s last top ten hit for four years.  8/10.

  1. Something for Everybody (1961)

Something for Everybody was the sequel to Elvis is Back, but little of this effort had the fire or substance of the earlier album.  There are some great moments, most notably There’s Always Me, one of Elvis’s greatest ballad performances, but Elvis’s singing is far more polite and mannered that previously, and the material itself just that little bit blander.  There were still hints of the 1950s sound with Give Me the Right and I Want You With Me, but in the main this was the first sign that Elvis was losing his musical direction – and it had nothing to do with the soundtracks.  7/10.

  1. Blue Hawaii (1961)

Blue Hawaii was the archetypal Elvis movie of the 1960s, and the first of the formula films in that this was built entirely around Elvis.  Unlike G. I. Blues, no other musical performer or dancer got the chance to shine; it was all Elvis from the very beginning of the film to the end.  The soundtrack album was a phenomenal success, and it’s probably true to say that Elvis never sang more beautifully than he does on the ballads here.  Sure, there are a couple of trivial items such as Ito Eats and Moonlight Swim, but the album sounds great from start to finish, and Can’t Help Falling in Love remains one of the great Elvis performances.  8/10.

  1. Pot Luck (1962)

If Something for Everybody showed a softening of Elvis’s singing style and a head towards lighter material, then Pot Luck cemented that direction.  Elvis sings beautifully throughout the album, but there is little denying just how weak or bland many of these songs are.  Still, there are some fine tracks, most notably That’s Someone You Never Forget, a haunting ballad, as well as the seductive Easy Question and the rockers Night Rider and Gonna Get Back Home Somehow.  However, the rest of the album is largely forgettable, although the over-rated Suspicion inexplicably became a hit in the UK fifteen years after its release here.  6/10.

  1. Girls! Girls!  Girls!  (1962)

By this point there was little differentiating the regular studio albums and the soundtracks, and there are some tracks here that surpass the work on Pot LuckReturn to Sender became a classic, and Elvis croons his way through a series of rather pleasant ballads.  Elsewhere, Thanks to the Rolling Sea is an effective sea shanty-type number, and Song of the Shrimp sees Elvis tackling calypso in a song which is a morality tale about the evils of the big city, and remains one of the most divisive songs in Elvis’s legacy amongst fans.  6/10.

  1. It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963)

At just ten tracks and a running time of around twenty minutes, It Happened at the World’s Fair was the most disappointing Elvis album up until that point.  Elvis was still singing well, but the material was mostly second-rate, save for the lovely They Remind Me Too Much of You.  Many of the other songs had a second-hand feel, though, most noticeably Relax, which might as well have been entitled Fever II.   Two of the ten songs were aimed at children, including the tedious How Would You Like to Be, but Cotton Candy Land is beautifully sung, even if it is the creepiest lullaby you ever heard.  4/10.

  1. Elvis’ Golden Records, Volume 3. (1963)

It seems that nobody could make up their mind whether this series was “gold” or “golden,” and the front cover art suggested that nobody probably cared.  Luckily, though, this collection of singles from the post-army period effectively demonstrated that Elvis was still a force to be reckoned with when he put his mind to it, whether crooning the 1927 song Are You Lonesome Tonight or attacking the bluesy I Feel So Bad.  Musically more diverse and impressive than volume 2, this still works even today as a great compilation of the period.  8/10.

  1. Fun in Acapulco (1963)

Fun in Acapulco was one of the best of the formula films, and the soundtrack doesn’t disappoint.  This remains one of Elvis’s most upbeat records and he sounds fully committed to the recording of a full-length album centred around the Latin rhythms he had utilised occasionally on Pot Luck and elsewhere.  There are no ballads here (at least, not outside of the bonus tracks), and I am told that Elvis’s Spanish pronunciation is appalling, but even nonsense such as the much-maligned There’s No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car seems to have a natural home on what might well be Elvis most fun album.  7/10.

  1. Kissin’ Cousins (1964)

Kissin’ Cousins saw a huge drop in the quality of Elvis’s film work, and the soundtrack reflects this, and it is an album with almost nothing to recommend it.  Tender Feeling is probably the best of the soundtrack songs, but even that is marred by the strange instrumentation.  Elsewhere, you get to hear Elvis sing such drivel as Smokey Mountain Boy and Barefoot Ballad.  Only the surprisingly dark bonus song Long Lonely Highway stops this from being a complete waste of time.  2/10.

  1. Roustabout (1964)

Roustabout was a significant improvement on the previous film, and so was the soundtrack, although it is hardly a highlight of Elvis’s recording career.  There are a surprising number of rock-lite numbers here, but it’s just a shame that they are nearly all under-developed.  However, Elvis is in good voice, and seems to be having fun with the kooky Little Egypt and the snarky Poison Ivy League.  The first album released after Viva Las Vegas hit the cinemas, it was Elvis’s last #1 LP for nearly ten years. 6/10.

  1. Girl Happy (1965)

The Girl Happy soundtrack is probably most often remembered for the truly awful Do the Clam (which seems to go on forever), although Wolf Call and Startin’ Tonight are little better, but they are at least shorter.  The ballad Puppet on a String is pleasant enough, but perhaps the biggest surprise is that a song with the title Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce will have you humming its tune for days.  The most significant track here, though, is the three-year-old You’ll Be Gone, Elvis’s only genuine writing credit and another example of his love for Latin rhythms.  5/10.

  1. Elvis for Everyone (1965)

Originally intended as an album to celebrate Elvis’s tenth anniversary with RCA, Elvis For Everyone ended up being something far less ambitious.  With a front and back cover that celebrated Elvis’s sales record rather than his artistic worth, the album featured a dozen tracks recorded between 1954 and 1964, most of which were unreleased.  It could have worked as an anniversary album with a couple of extra tracks to give it a more respectable running time, and some liner notes to inform listeners of the history of the recordings, but sadly no-one seemed to care enough.  Instead, consumers got a pleasant enough twenty-five minute opus with a track-listing with no rhyme or reason.  6/10.

  1. Harum Scarum (1965)

Harum Scarum is arguably Elvis’s worst film, and it is also in the running for worst album too.  The sound quality is particularly awful for the most part, and the LP kicks off with Elvis singing horribly out of tune at the start of the opening Harem Holiday.  Things get little better over the next half an hour, with Elvis only really sounding awake on a couple of tracks, most notably the kitsch Animal Instinct and the ballad So Close Yet So Far.  2/10.

  1. Frankie and Johnnie (1966)

With the film being set on an 1890s riverboat, the Frankie and Johnnie soundtrack contains songs far removed from the type of material Elvis was normally associated with.  Some songs, such as Petunia the Gardener’s Daughter and Look Out Broadway, work fine in the film but struggle to have a life off the screen.  Of the other tracks, Elvis sounds surprisingly disengaged in the limp medley of Down by the Riverside and When the Saints Go Marching In, and the title number never really comes to life in the way it should, although the spunkier early take on the Out in Hollywood release suggests that Elvis might have lost interest halfway through the recording process.  However, Elvis does at least get the chance to sing a semi-decent blues number in Hard Luck, which deserves to be better known.  4/10.

  1. Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966)

Paradise, yes – but only if you listen with the volume set at zero.  The film was a clear attempt to try to recreate the success of Blue Hawaii on a budget, but it failed miserably, and the soundtrack LP is appalling.  Queenie Wahine’s Papaya finds him singing a tongue-twister, while Datin’ and A Dog’s Life are among the most stupid songs ever to be found in an Elvis film (and that’s quite an achievement), although the outtakes on the 1980 Elvis Aron Presley boxed set are a hoot.  Sand Castles is about the only track worth listening to – and even that only sounds more worthwhile due to the company it keeps.  2/10.

  1. Spinout (1966)

Spinout does at least find Elvis in better voice than the previous few albums, and the songs from the film are a better bunch too – and considering one is called Smorgasbord and another has Elvis singing “dum-de-dum-de-dum, yeah yeah yeah”, you can tell just how bad the last few records had been.   Spinout is made particularly worthwhile thanks to the three bonus tracks that had been recorded at the How Great Thou Art sessions.  I’ll Remember You is a beautiful Hawaiian ballad, while Down in the Alley is a wonderfully dirty take on The Clovers’ r&b hit.  Best of all though is the five-minute rendition of Bob Dylan’s Tomorrow is a Long Time.  These were hints that Elvis was finally on the comeback trail.  6/10.

  1. How Great Thou Art (1967)

Elvis’s first Grammy award was for this, his second album of gospel music.  The album is, rather like Something for Everybody, split into a ballad side and an upbeat side – possibly the only mistake here as it doesn’t give enough variety.  The ballads are heavier and darker in nature than those on His Hand in Mine, but the upbeat songs are generally more joyous.  Standout tracks include the title song, Stand by Me, and Where Could I Go But to the Lord.  The album only reached #18 in the charts, but has since been certified as selling over 3 million copies in the USA alone.  8/10.

  1. Double Trouble (1967)

Elvis hadn’t failed to reach the top thirty with an album release since 1959, but the soundtrack to Double Trouble managed just #47, and it’s hardly surprising.  Even the most die-hard fans must have seen Old McDonald amongst the tracks and despaired.  However, that song aside, much of the music here is no better or worse than the Spinout disc, although the bonus songs are not of the same quality.  From the film, City By Night is an interesting attempt at a kind of sleazy jazz club ballad, while Never Ending (one of the bonus tracks) is a beautiful, if slight, attempt to channel Sam Cooke.  4/10.

  1. Clambake (1967)

The Clambake disc is almost schizophrenic as it lurches from the great to the galling.  This is the only time when an Elvis soundtrack would open with one of the bonus songs, but it’s the bonus songs that are worth having here – most notably Guitar Man and Big Boss Man.  Of the film songs themselves, The Girl I Never Loved and You Don’t Know Me are pretty, but Confidence and Who Needs Money rank amongst the most awful things Elvis recorded.  4/10 (mostly for the bonus songs).

  1. Elvis Gold Records, Volume 4 (1968)

This is a nice collection of single sides recorded between 1958 and 1966, but it is clear that it was a tough job to put together an album such as this in early 1968, and Devil in Disguise is really the only big hit on the entire LP.  That said, the record does serve as a home to some of the songs that had got lost as B-sides or poor-selling singles, and the likes of It Hurts Me, Indescribably Blue, and Lonely Man all deserve to be much better known than they are.  6/10.

  1. Speedway(1968)

Speedway was the last of the soundtrack albums, and is rather a limp effort.  While the film had considerably more zest than the rest of the formula films over the previous few years, very few of the songs had a life outside of the film, and Nancy Sinatra chipping in a few lines here and there doesn’t help proceedings – although her solo number is, ironically, one of the best on the whole record.  Let Yourself Go is probably worth the price of admission, and Your Time Hasn’t Come Yet Baby is cute enough, but the rest is very mediocre.  4/10.

  1. Singer Presents Elvis Singing Flaming Starand Others (1968)

Catchy title, don’t you think?  Originally only sold through Singer sewing machine shops before being reissued on the budget Camden label, this little effort is almost an Elvis For Everyone Part 2, with the tracks stretching back ten years and all knew to LP in America.  This is all very pleasant for the first side of the album, but standards fall considerably during the first three songs of side two with the dregs from the Viva Las Vegas and Easy Come Easy Go sessions.  Rather bizarrely, this was the first time that fans got to hear anything recorded for the NBC TV Special thanks to the inclusion of Tiger Man as the final track.  4/10.

  1. Elvis (1968)

This, the soundtrack to the 1968 TV special, contains some great music but is, alas, a sonic disaster.  What was exciting on television doesn’t translate as well to record – especially in chopped up, fragmented form.  Things are hardly helped by the sound quality during the live segments, with one medley having a flaw that sounds like someone vacuuming in the background.   This great music is best heard in the 4CD boxed set released some forty years later, where the sound quality is much better and hearing the tracks in their proper context makes much more sense.  6/10.

  1. From Elvis in Memphis (1969)

Elvis’s set of recordings made in January and February 1969 are now legendary, and spawned four hit singles, including In the Ghetto, which is included here.  This is Elvis at his very best, without a weak track on the entire album.  It is hard to pick out highlights, but it is not an exaggeration to say that Long Black Limousine, Only the Strong Survive, and I’ll Hold You in My Heart are among the best things that Elvis ever recorded and, finally, Elvis was being presented as a singer of adult material – a far cry from his previous proper non-soundtrack album, Pot Luck, which seems very, very flimsy in comparison to the grit and substance here.  10/10.

  1. From Memphis to Vegas/From Vegas to Memphis(1969)

For no logical reason, it was decided to pair a live album from Las Vegas with a second album drawn from the Memphis recordings.  Both albums are extremely good, but the pairing must have seemed an uneasy one from the start, and they were issued separately just a year later.  Elvis in Person as the first album is now known is a good condensation of Elvis’s return to live performances in 1969, and includes a staggering seven-minute Suspicious Minds as its climax.  Back in Memphis is also very strong, even if it takes a number of listens to realise just how good it is, as the songs are not necessarily ones that stick in the memory particularly easily.   8/10.

  1. Let’s Be Friends(1970)

This budget album mostly contains songs from Elvis’s non-formula films at the end of the 1960s, along with some lesser tracks from Memphis and, oddly, a song from Girls! Girls! Girls! It’s a pleasant enough, if unsubstantial, affair, with the slight but beautiful Almost from The Trouble with Girls being one of the highlights.  It is also nice to hear Elvis crooning his way through Bobby Darin’s I’ll Be There in an effortless performance.  The CD issue inexplicably contains a shortened version of Mama – rather unfortunate given how short the LP was to start with.  5/10.

  1. On Stage – February 1970(1970)

On Stage was an attempt at a different type of live album.  This time around the focus was on pop and rock standards that Elvis had never recorded before.  Despite the title, two of the songs were actually recorded in August 1969, and one of those, Yesterday, is the weakest of the tracks here.  The Wonder of You became an international hit, and tracks such as Polk Salad Annie and Walk a Mile in My Shoes became as much associated with Elvis as with the original artists.  On Stage remains one of Elvis’s best 1970s albums.  8/10

  1. Worldwide 50 Gold Award Hits, Vol. 1(1970)

This 4LP set was essentially a greatest hits package released to capitalise on Elvis’s return to form and the charts.  Only released briefly on CD, all of the tracks here are available elsewhere and, forty-seven years and dozens of greatest hits compilations later, this set is now largely redundant, although the track listing is as good a summary of Elvis’s first fourteen years at RCA as one could expect to find.  8/10.

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  1. Almost in Love(1970)

Almost in Love, as with Let’s Be Friends, was a compilation of songs from the late 1960s films and a handful of single sides.  Without doubt, this was the best of Elvis’s budget releases, sounding surprisingly contemporary and hanging together rather well as an album as well.  The UK edition also boasts a rather striking cover art, too, especially when compared to the generic nature of the Stateside release.  A good starting place for anyone wanting to discover the best material from Elvis’s much maligned 1967-1968 recordings.  7/10.

  1. Elvis’ Christmas Album(1970)

RCA were playing a game in 1970 to see how many Elvis albums could be released in the course of a calendar year.  They managed six different titles – plus the individual releases of the 2LP that made up the From Memphis to Vegas/From Vegas to Memphis set from the year before.  None sold as well as this repackaging of the eight 1957 Christmas songs, put together with 1966’s If Every Day Was Like Christmas and the 1969 recording of Mama Liked the Roses, (supposedly by popular demand).  For so many of us, this budget release was the incarnation of Elvis’s Christmas songs that we grew up with, and the seasonal material shines even more here than when paired with the Peace in the Valley EP songs.  10/10.

  1. That’s the Way It Is(1970)

This, Elvis’s best album of easy listening material, was not an official soundtrack to the MGM concert film of the same title.  Instead it pairs together recordings from the August 1970 Las Vegas season with songs from a mammoth session that had taken place in June 1970.  As with On Stage, this is 1970s Elvis at his very best, and featuring stunning versions of I Just Can’t Help Believin’, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’, and Just Pretend.  Only the live versions of I’ve Lost You and Patch It Up let the side down a little, with neither being as good as their studio counterparts.  8/10.

  1. Elvis Country(1971)

Another contender for Elvis’s best album.  Compiled from material recorded in June and September 1970, this fine album contains Elvis’s interpretations of country songs old and new.  Generally referred to as Elvis’s “concept album” due to the strange device of using snippets of I Was Born About 10,000 Years Ago in between each song, but it’s pushing the idea of what a concept album is to the limits, not least because the use of those snippets is one of the few unsuccessful things about Elvis Country.  There are some great performances here, most notably Tomorrow Never Comes, Funny How Time Slips Away and a reworking of Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On that has little to do with either country music or Jerry Lee Lewis’s original.  10/10.

  1. You’ll Never Walk Alone(1971)

This Camden release is a mopping up exercise of some of Elvis’s gospel material.  The four songs from the Peace in the Valley EP are included, alongside soundtrack songs Sing You Children and Let Us Pray, both sides of the You’ll Never Walk Alone single, and Who Am I, recorded in Memphis in 1969 and getting its first release here.  The UK release also reprised Swing Down Sweet Chariot from His Hand in Mine.  Not an essential collection, but pleasant enough. 6/10.

  1. Love Letters from Elvis(1971)

This was the first real sign that the artistic heights of the comeback were effectively over.  Basically a collection of mostly weak tracks from the June 1970 sessions, and overdubbed in such a way with woodwind and horns to make the whole thing sound like elevator music.  It’s not even an album of love songs, with Got My Mojo Working and Cindy Cindy being rockers, Only Believe a religious song, and Life  being about…evolution.  4/10.

  1. C’mon Everybody(1971)

The first of two budget albums that were mostly a pulling together of the tracks from the Kid Galahad, Follow That Dream, Viva Las Vegas, and Easy Come Easy Go EPs.  An example of the strange release policy of the time, but this is still a surprisingly enjoyable concoction.  5/10.

  1. The Other Sides – Elvis Worldwide Gold Award Hits, Volume 2(1971)

This is a 4LP collection of B-sides and EP tracks which had nearly all been issued on album before, but still makes an interesting compilation of mostly non-hits up to and including 1970.  For a long time, this was the only place to find the studio versions of I’ve Lost You and Patch It Up other than on the original singles, but today, with over a hundred compilations in the Elvis catalogue, this is a redundant release.  7/10.

  1. I Got Lucky(1971)

This carries on where C’mon Everybody left off, completing the mopping up exercise of the soundtracks originally released on EP in the 1960s, with the added bonus of Fools Fall in Love.  This is the weaker of the two entries, in no small part due to the inclusion of Yoga is as Yoga Does, although the wonderful I Need Somebody to Lean On almost makes up for it.  4/10.

  1. Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas(1971)

The first album to be released from the May 1971 sessions is one of the most depressing seasonal albums ever recorded, and is a very disappointing follow-up to Elvis’s 1957 effort.  For the most part, Elvis sounds very uninterested, and, saddled with a bunch of morose new songs, one can hardly blame him.  He wakes up for the glorious On a Snowy Christmas Night and O Come All Ye Faithful, and manages to give us a classic recording in Merry Christmas Baby, but otherwise this is hard work. 5/10.

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  1. Elvis Now(1972)

Given the amount of recordings Elvis had made during the 1971 studio sessions, one can only wonder why the powers that be were putting together an album containing leftovers and cast-offs, dating back to 1969’s horrible Hey Jude at this juncture.  As with all Elvis albums from the 1970s, there are a couple of songs that are worth the effort, most notably Early Morning Rain and I Was Born About 10,000 Years Ago, but given what was in the vaults, this should (and could) have been so much better.  5/10.

  1. He Touched Me(1972)

This gospel album gave Elvis his second Grammy, although it is not as good as How Great Thou Art, which got him his first.  Elvis mixes it up here, presenting traditional gospel sounds with more modern Christian rock, but it doesn’t gel particularly as a cohesive album.  Highlights include the title track, An Evening Prayer, and Reach Out to Jesus, but at the same time we are lumbered with There Is No God But God and He is My Everything, both of which are bland in the extreme.  6/10.

  1. Elvis Sings Hits from His Movies, Volume 1(1972)

So this is an album of songs such as Can’t Help Falling in Love, Return to Sender, Bossa Nova Baby and Jailhouse Rock, right?  Errr…no.  This is an album of “hits” like Confidence, How Would You Like To Be, and Old MacDonald.  Completely and utterly pointless.  1/10.

  1. Elvis as Recorded at Madison Square Garden(1972)

Elvis gives an energised performance at Madison Square Garden.  For years it was assumed that the recording was slightly speeded up in order to fit it all on one record.  The truth is that he was simply in a hurry.  Elvis is in fine voice, however, but the highlights are his versions of other people’s songs such as Proud Mary, Never Been to Spain and The Impossible Dream.  Sadly, the original mix left a lot to be desired, making the record sound remarkably dry, although recent remasters have improved on that.  The 2012 Prince from Another Planet release includes this concert as well as the afternoon performance in remixed and remastered sound, and also includes a DVD containing interviews and some amateur footage of the event, and is the best way to obtain this material. 7/10.

  1. Burning Love and Hits from His Movies(1972)

Here we go again, but this time there’s two twists.  Firstly, both sides of Elvis’s current single release was included on the album.  And, secondly, the “hits” from the movies this time all had a connection – they are all songs based on folk songs or pieces of classical music.  If being generous, you could almost class it as a concept album!  4/10.

  1. Separate Ways(1972)

The sixth(!) album release of 1972 was another that saw a hit single used as the headliner on a budget album.  This time, around, the LP was fleshed out with three songs from Wild in the Country, a few early 1960s recordings, and a couple of 1950s tracks.  It’s a pleasant, if low-key, way to spend twenty minutes, but there were better ways to utilise Elvis’s hit singles.  However, whoever thought of the cover image of a giant Elvis straddling a motorway in a jumpsuit has a lot to explaining to do.5/10

  1. Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite(1973)

This double LP was Elvis’s last #1 album in America during his lifetime, propelled up the charts thanks to the historic TV broadcast associated with it.  But this finds Elvis in less than stellar form.  His voice often has a nasally quality here, and the performance is surprisingly laid back given what was riding on it.  Still, songs such as I’m Lonesome I Could Cry, What Now My Love, My Way, and I’ll Remember You show that Elvis was able to deliver when fully engaged.  Overall, though, this is the weakest of the live albums released during his Elvis’s lifetime.  The Legacy Edition release of this album also contains the so-called “rehearsal” show from a couple of days earlier (first released in 1988) and the intimate songs recorded after the main performance, and is the recommended issue of this title. 6/10.

  1. Elvis (The “Fool” Album)(1973)

Just when Elvis needed an album to capitalise on the success of Aloha from Hawaii, RCA released this, one of the most low-key albums of his career.  That’s not to say the album is without merit, most notably through the inclusion of the piano songs from 1971, the folkish For Lovin’ Me and an edit of the Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright  jam, but the other tracks are mediocre at best, and nothing here really make an impact.  Running under twenty-five minutes, one has to wonder how and why the Dylan jam was cut to just under three minutes.  5/10.

  1. Raised on Rock/For Ol’ Times Sake (1973)

Largely made up of songs from Elvis’s July 1973 sessions at Stax studios, this album promises much but delivers relatively little.  On the plus side, the collection contains more upbeat numbers than any other Elvis studio LP during the 1970s, but Elvis often sounds tired.  The title song makes little sense being sung by the guy that started it all, and Three Corn Patches is one of the worst numbers Leiber and Stoller ever wrote (and that’s without taking into account the title sounds like a song about a foot complaint).  On the plus side, the remaining upbeat numbers see Elvis heading into soul and funk territory, and the ballads are much more quiet and reflective efforts than most of those Elvis was recording during this period.  5/10.

  1. Elvis: A Legendary Performer Vol. 1(late 1973 or 1974)

After Elvis sold the rights to his back catalogue to RCA in 1973, the label took little time in putting this package together of master recordings and unreleased live performances and outtakes.  Highlights included three songs from the sit down shows for the 1968 TV special.  While redundant now, the album charted higher than any full-price studio album since Love Letters from Elvis, and the success not only led to three further Elvis volumes, but also to albums in the series dedicated to other artists from Caruso to Glenn Miller.  5/10

  1. Good Times(1974)

Elvis had returned to Stax in December 1973, and this was the first of two LPs culled from the results.  It is also the weakest.  The album comes to life occasionally with the funky I Got a Feeling In My Body and Talk About the Good Times, and there are a few decent ballads for good measure, but the remaining five tracks are very lacklustre, with Take Good Care of Her (recorded in the July sessions) possibly the weakest opening song on an Elvis album since Harum Scarum nearly a decade earlier. 5/10.

  1. Elvis Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis(1974)

The last live album to be released during Elvis’s lifetime is also one of the best.  Recorded in March 1974, Elvis is in superb form on this edited version of the concert.  The emphasis here is on rock ‘n’ roll and, more importantly, having a good time.  While some of the audience reaction might have been overdubbed, it still adds to the atmosphere, and Elvis gives spirited renditions of Trying to Get to You, My Baby Left Me, Lawdy Miss Clawdy, I Got a Woman and How Great Thou Art, with the latter earning him his third Grammy award.  Great fun.  The Legacy Edition of this album contains the complete unedited concert (both a blessing and a curse) as well as a concert from Richmond a couple of days earlier. However, the complete show does not have the impact of the edited version. 8/10.

  1. Having Fun with Elvis on Stage(1974)

From the sublime to the ridiculous.  This is Elvis talking.  Well, sometimes not even talking but, instead, singing “weeellll” a lot and laughing intermittently.  There are no songs at all here.  Completely pointless.  0/10.

  1. Promised Land(1975)

This second album of songs from the December 1973 sessions is superior to the first, helped by a rocking version of the title track and some fine country performances in There’s a Honky Tonk Angel, Help Me, and You Asked Me To.  Not particularly well-received when released but, in hindsight, marked the beginning of a brief improvement in Elvis’s studio albums.  6/10.

  1. Pure Gold(1975)

Another example of RCA cashing in on the 1973 sale of Elvis’s back catalogue, but they could have done better than this rag-bag assortment of ten songs mixing hits and album tracks recorded between 1956 and 1972.  It sold by the bucket load (helped by it being a mid-price album), but the tombola-like track listing seems utterly pointless. 6/10 (for the individual songs, not the album).

  1. Today(1975)

If Promised Land was a better than average studio album for the period, then Today took it one step further.  An album that could easily have been marketed as a kind of sequel to Elvis Country but, for the most part, nobody bothered to market it at all.  But time has been kind to Today, and it now stands as Elvis’s best studio album since early 1971, and he excels on the rocking T-R-O-U-B-L-E, as well as Susan When She Tried, Shake a Hand, and I Can Help.  The recent Legacy Edition release also includes the 1975 concert recordings first issued on the Elvis Aron Presley boxed set, but this time in better sound quality. 7/10.

  1. Elvis: A Legendary Performer, Volume 2(1976)

Following on where the first volume left off, here we have more alternate takes and live performances mixed with well-known masters.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to the songs chosen or their order on the LP – but this is something that has yet to change with regards to many of Elvis’s compilations.  5/10.

  1. The Sun Sessions (1975/6)

Released in the UK in 1975 and in the USA in 1976, this was the first collection of Elvis’s Sun material, with the recordings only having been available spread over a number of LPs prior to this.  It remains a stunning collection, even more so without the wonders of the master recordings being watered down by poor sounding live material and alternate takes as has been the case in Sun compilations since.  10/10.

  1. From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee(1976)

RCA had done a good job of keeping Elvis’s vocal decline a secret up to this point, but there was nothing they could do maintain that with this depressing album, consisting of nine maudlin ballads and just one upbeat number, For the Heart, that never gets off the ground.  Recorded in the Jungle Room at Graceland, the only really worthwhile addition to Elvis’s legacy is a moving Danny Boy.  Some might argue that Hurt is an Elvis classic, but, if so, then the bar had been lowered considerably.  3/10.

  1. Welcome to My World(1977)

This country-themed compilation could have been more worthwhile than it is.  While there are a couple of unreleased tracks included, it seems strange than more unissued live performances were not included to make it of more interest to fans.  Even so, it’s a nice mix of songs, and it still performed better than Elvis’s studio albums of the period.  5/10.

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  1. Moody Blue(1977)

Elvis’s last album before his death is a strange mix of single sides, studio leftovers and live tracks recorded and overdubbed out of desperation.  And yet it all holds together as a surprisingly enjoyable effort.  Way Down and Moody Blue are genuine classics, and Unchained Melody shows that Elvis could still deliver a killer performance when he felt inclined, despite his spiralling health problems.  6/10.

  1. Elvis in Concert(1977)

The first posthumous release was this double album recorded on Elvis’s last tour in June 1977, released to tie-in with the TV special of the same name.  The special is devastating, although the album is a little less difficult to listen to thanks to some post-production overdubs and sweetening.  Still, it’s clear that Elvis was a very ill man by this point, and the good performances are very few and far between, although That’s all Right and I Really Don’t Want to Know are worthwhile.  Sad though this album is, it’s still an essential part of the Elvis story, and has been in print constantly since its release in 1977. 3/10.

  1. Our Memories of Elvis(1979)

This album was intended to be a chance for fans to hear how Elvis sounded in the studio in the 1970s without all the overdubbed instruments.  Actually, that isn’t quite what you get here, but it’s close enough.  At a time when RCA were still lost as to what to release next following Elvis’s death, this was a decent concept and was relatively effective.  Volume 2 was actually better, featuring an eight-minute edit of Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright, and now both have been released on a Follow That Dream CD along with the aborted volume 3. 7/10.

  1. Elvis Aron Presley(1980)

This 8LP boxed set was the first release to mine the vaults in a significant way, and there was something for everybody, ranging from live recordings from 1956, 1961, and 1968-77 to alternate takes and previously uncompiled singles.  A real treasure trove for fans when released, and this still holds its own with some of the later boxed sets – and stands out through being sequenced by theme rather than chronological order.  7/10.

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  1. A Golden Celebration(1984)

This 6LP set is organised in a similar way to the 1980 set, but this time the emphasis is on early Elvis, with a collection of alternate takes from the Sun years, early live recordings and TV appearances, and a batch of private recordings making up most of the box.  The final disc jumped forward to 1968 for a collection of recordings made for the TV special.  Poor sound quality lets the set down, but this was in many ways the start of RCA treating Elvis as an historically important artist, and is still the only way to obtain the audio from the television performances via Elvis’s own label. 7/10.

  1. Essential Elvis: The First Movies (1986/8)

First released in Europe, with the American edition following two years later, this album contained the master takes from the first three movies together with a substantial number of alternate takes.  Quite a revelation on release, this was another sign that Elvis was once again being taken seriously.  All of this material has since been re-released in better sound quality, but that doesn’t take away the importance of this release.  9/10.

  1. Stereo ’57: Essential Elvis, Volume 2(1989)

This follow-up to Essential Elvis saw the focus shift to recordings made in binaural in early 1957.  While this was hardly Elvis’s best few months of recordings from the 1950s, once again we get to hear him working (and, in some cases, struggling) in the studio.  Highlights include alternate takes of Peace in the Valley and That’s When Your Heartaches Begin.  7/10.

  1. Hits Like Never Before: Essential Elvis, Volume 3 (1990)

The third volume of the Essential series concentrates on recordings from 1958.  As with the first volume, this material has been released in better sound quality since but, despite this, the disc is still remarkably enjoyable, and important for giving us almost a full album of unreleased Elvis in his prime.  The highlight was the unreleased takes of King Creole and the unedited version of Crawfish.  8/10.

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  1. Collector’s Gold (1991)

Collector’s Gold took the format of the Essential series further, by putting together three discs of unreleased material from the 1960s.  The first disc concentrates on movie songs, and the second on the Nashville recordings.  But most important was the album of concert recordings from 1969, containing a number of songs previously not widely known to have been ever performed live, such as Inherit the Wind, This is the Story, and Rubberneckin’.  Hugely enjoyable.  8/10.

  1. Double Features (1993-1995)

This series of ten CDs saw the 1960s soundtrack recordings re-released in superior form.  Many were remixed in order to improve the sound quality, while others included previously unreleased songs, alternate takes and unedited masters.  Highlights include the undubbed master of Almost, the unedited versions of the stereo masters of Kid Galahad songs, and the first ever complete release of the Viva Las Vegas soundtrack.  The final disc, concentrating on the non-formula films is particularly good.  7/10.

  1. If Every Day Was Like Christmas(1994)

Despite the amount of errors in the extensive liner notes, this merging of Elvis’s two Christmas albums with some added alternate takes is the best release of this material during the CD era – despite these recordings having been re-released in a different running order virtually every year since.  Sadly, this doesn’t make the 1971 performances any more cheerful, but at least the maudlin numbers are interspersed throughout the disc.  7/10.

  1. A Hundred Years from Now: Essential Elvis, Volume 4 (1996)

This time, the Essential series jumps forward to 1970 for a disc full of alternate takes from the Nashville sessions of June 1970.  Heard without the overdubs, these performances sound really quite different, and highlights include a beautiful alternate version of Bridge Over Troubled Water and a (very) informal version of The Lord’s PrayerFollow that Dream would also mine these recordings for more alternates on The Nashville Marathon several years later, which is also recommended, although it is not quite as strong as this release.  8/10.

  1. Platinum: A Life in Music(1997)

This 4CD set aimed to tell the story of Elvis’s career mostly through the use of live recordings, alternate takes, jam sessions, and private recordings – and it succeeds very well for the most part.  This was the first of a number of 4CD sets of this ilk to be released over the coming years, but none did their job as well (or as enjoyably) as this one.  The decades boxed sets aside, this may well be the best Elvis boxed set ever released.  Highlights include a beautiful home recording of Tennessee Waltz, a stunning alternate take of You’ll Never Walk Alone, and the first release of Steamroller Blues from the March 20, 1974 Memphis show. 10/10.

  1. Brightest Star on Sunset Boulevard, Volumes 1 & 2 (Fort Baxter, 1998)

The only bootleg release to make this list is this collection of recordings made during rehearsals for the August 1970 Las Vegas season.  RCA/Sony have also released performances from these rehearsals, but they have mostly been given over to fragments and novelties, whereas here we get Elvis tackling songs with interest rather than just goofing around.  While Elvis’s off-colour humour might put some people off, hearing Elvis at work in this way is fascinating.  7/10.

  1. The Home Recordings(1999)

Quite a risk was taken issuing a full-length disc of often poor-sounding home recordings, but the result was a fascinating, if flawed CD.  Sadly some tracks were edited for reasons still unknown, and this take of Tennessee Waltz is, alas, one that finds Elvis fooling around far too much.  Still, the performances from 1966 are often real eye-openers, most notably If I Loved You from Carousel.  A further volume of home recordings, entitled In a Private Moment, was later released under the Follow that Dream banner.  6/10.

  1. Such a Night: Essential Elvis, Volume 6 (2000)

This final entry into the Essential series concentrates on recordings made at Nashville between 1960 and 1964.  This is a particularly strong collection of alternate takes that cleverly manages to mask the falling standards in material during this period.  The only issue here is that most of the alternates sound very much like the masters, thus making them of less interest and less importance.  After this release, compilations of this type were mostly reserved for the Follow that Dream label.  7/10.

  1. Live in Las Vegas(2001)

This 4CD has a number of flaws but it still provides a complete concert from 1969 (albeit with the monologue moved to the end of the disc), another from August 1970 (touted as the best Elvis concert ever recorded), and a disc of soundboard recordings from 1974 and 1975.  The last group are rather underwhelming (and needn’t have been), but the two full concerts are worth the price of admission alone.  Reissued recently at a cheaper price and in a slightly smaller format.  6/10.

  1. Memphis Sessions(Follow That Dream, 2001)

This disc is the only complete release given over to outtakes from the 1969 Memphis sessions.  It isn’t quite as satisfying as perhaps it should be, but it’s still a fascinating set, in particular the alternate takes of Power of My Love and Suspicious Minds.  Also, the producers managed to splice something together to make even Hey Jude sound reasonable.  7/10.

  1. Today, Tomorrow and Forever(2002)

Another 4CD this set, this time entirely given over to alternate takes and live performances.  Not as strong as Platinum, with the cream of the unreleased material already having been issued in many cases.  Also some of the songs chosen are head-scratchers.  Was the retail market really interested in outtakes of Never Say Yes?  Still, there are some nice performances here, and the set also provided the first official release of the Little Rock concert from 1956.  7/10.

  1. Close Up(2003)

This 4CD set has one disc dedicated to soundtracks, Nashville recordings, binaural recordings and a concert from 1972.  In other words, it was like four Follow that Dream releases thrown together for no obvious reason.  The main point of interest here is that this is the only official release of any of the concerts recorded for the Elvis on Tour documentary.  6/10.

  1. So High: Nashville Outtakes, 1966-1968(Follow That Dream, 2004)

This disc of outtakes centres on one of the most under-rated periods during Elvis’s career – the non-soundtracks recordings of 1966-1968.  This shows Elvis mostly in fine form, particularly during the How Great Thou Art sessions, but also during 1967 and 1968 as well as with his recordings of Guitar Man, Hi-Heel Sneakers, and You’ll Never Walk Alone. 7/10.

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  1. I Sing All Kinds(Follow That Dream 2007)

This is another of the Follow that Dream discs that feels like an entry in the Essential series.  Concentrating on the 1971 recordings, this is a patchy group of performances, but there is still enough of interest to make this a must for fans (and the only single-disc collection of outtakes from the period).  Mixing seasonal and non-seasonal material together may not have been the best idea, but it is still worthwhile.  6/10.

  1. The Complete ’68 Comeback Special(2008)

Finally, the four unedited live segments of the 1968 TV special were collected together in one package, alongside the original album (with bonus tracks) and the tapes of the dressing room rehearsals.  One only has to wonder why it took until 2008 for this to happen.  Quite why the bonus tracks (such as Let Yourself Go and It Hurts Me) weren’t inserted back into the medley of which they were intended to be a part of is unknown, but that is a small complaint given the quality of music here.  9/10.

  1. Nevada Nights(Follow that Dream, 2008)

This 2CD set contains two concerts from the rather strange August-September 1974 Las Vegas season.  This release is highlighted due to the inclusion of the opening night performance, in which Elvis changed his repertoire a great deal, only to ditch many of the new songs the very next day.  Many have put this down to an unresponsive audience but, listening to the concert, it’s clear that the audience are only reflecting the lack of enthusiasm they see on stage.  Elvis’s singing is largely uninspired, but the inclusion of one-off performances of Good Time Charlies’ Got the Blues, Down in the Alley, and others, make this a must for those wanting to go deeper into the Elvis catalogue, even if the soundboard quality is not the greatest. 6/10.

  1. Elvis as Recorded at Boston Garden ’71(Follow that Dream, 2010)

This fine concert was available for some time on bootleg releases before finally being issued officially on the Follow that Dream label.  It is without doubt the only official release of a 1971 concert that is worthy of this list, and shows Elvis back to performing at his best following the funk he had shown during the two previous Las Vegas seasons.  The sound is not perfect, but decent enough to enjoy this spirited performance.  6/10.

  1. Chicago Stadium(Follow that Dream, 2010)

Chicago Stadium is included as part of an effort to include at least one concert per year from the period 1969 to 1977 within this list.  Recorded on October 15th and 16th, 1976, this double disc set provides two concerts showing Elvis is in surprisingly good form for the year.  Others might suggest that something from the December tour would be more fitting, but in these October shows Elvis seems less agitated and manic than in the later ones, and the sound quality is extremely good (particularly on the second concert) given the soundboard source. While Elvis is still struggling on quieter ballads such as And I Love You So, he is in fine form on the likes of Steamroller Blues and You Gave Me a Mountain.  6/10.

  1. Young Man with the Big Beat(2011)

This 5CD set includes all of Elvis’s studio recordings from 1956, as well as a batch of alternate takes, interviews and live recordings.  Perhaps most important was a newly-discovered Louisiana Hayride performance from December 1956.  Originally issued in deluxe packaging at a high price, this has since been reissued in a smaller format for a little over £10.   8/10.

  1. Elvis at Stax(2013)

If you were wondering why the fifth volume of Essential Elvis from 1998 wasn’t listed here, then this is the reason.  That CD featured alternate takes from the two 1973 sessions at Stax studios.  This 2013 release includes the majority of those takes plus some others besides and the master takes of all the songs recorded.  Not quite as positive a listening experience as the liner notes might have you believe, this is still probably the best way to get hold of the Stax performances.  7/10.

  1. Way Down in the Jungle Room(2016)

This two-disc set attempts to present Elvis’s last recording sessions in the best way possible and, for the most part, succeeds.  The first disc is given over to the master takes, while the second consists of alternate versions, most of which had been issued before on the Follow that Dream label, but not at retail.  The result is a surprisingly satisfying package which, while not being able to demonstrate that Elvis was anything like his best here, still manages to show that he could step up to the mark when he was fully committed.  6/10.

  1. The Hometown Shows(Follow That Dream, 2016)

This double disc set contains two Memphis concerts, one from 1974 and one from 1975.  The 1975 show had been available on bootleg issues for years and here makes its official debut.  The 1974 show, however, had not been released in any form, and it is this concert that assured this release makes this list.  Not only is Elvis in fine spirits and remarkably good voice, but this is also the best-sounding soundboard recording you are ever likely to hear.  7/10.

  1. A Boy from Tupelo(2017)

And we end at the beginning.  This 3CD set includes all of the recordings Elvis made at Sun (including the private discs), as well as all known outtakes and the live recordings from the period that exist in listenable sound quality.  This includes the performance of I Forgot to Remember to Forget that was found a few years ago.  Due for release in July 2017, this promises to be the most historically-significant Elvis release at retail level for many years.    10/10.

Elvis Presley: His Hand in Mine (review)

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As it’s Easter, here are my comment on Elvis’s first gospel album, His Hand in Mine, recorded in 1960.  The following is taken from my book Elvis Presley: A Listener’s Guide, available in paperback and in Kindle format from Amazon.

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Some three and a half years after recording the Peace in the Valley EP of sacred music, Elvis finally found himself in a position to record his first full-length album of gospel music.  His Hand in Mine would have a very different feel to the sombre EP.  Here, traditional up-beat gospel songs would sit next to more serious sacred ballads, but the album would still have a consistency with Elvis essentially acting as the leader of the gospel quartet sound he had loved since his boyhood.

Milky White Way had been originally recorded by the Coleman Brothers in 1944, but Elvis based his arrangement on that by another group, The Trumpeteers.  However, he manages to incorporate a blues element into the material, sliding between notes in some places, and even bending notes in others.  Check out how he does this within the line “I’m gonna sit up and tell him my troubles/About the world I just came from” in the last verse.  This is brilliant singing, and shows Elvis thoroughly in his element, merging gospel, blues and doo-wop sounds to make a two minute masterpiece.

Elvis’s influence for the title song of the LP, His Hand in Mine clearly comes from the original recording by The Statesmen.  However, once again, Elvis makes subtle changes.  Doy Ott’s lead vocal on the recording by The Statesman is square in comparison to Presley’s.  Ott moves from note to note with clarity – there are no slides here – and sings with relatively wide, but controlled, vibrato.  Elvis does neither.  There are a number of changes in dynamics within the recording (not present in the original) and, at times, Elvis is almost whispering into the microphone.  There are also some startling switches from the sections in which Elvis sings in his bass voice to the sections where he sings in his higher register in duet with Charlie Hodge.  While his range had no doubt grown over the previous couple of years, it’s clear that Elvis hadn’t quite got the control at the very bottom of his range that he has at the top – he would be much more confident in this area six years later on the How Great Thou Art album.

Elvis gives The Jordanaires a moment in the spotlight at the beginning of I Believe in the Man in the Sky, with the group singing the verse with the barest of accompaniments before Elvis enters to sing the chorus.  His voice sounds glorious, and he uses all his range to navigate the tricky melody.  This is quite unlike anything on the 1957 gospel EP.  The sound is much lighter, the tempo quicker, and the song almost has a swing feel to it.

He Knows Just What I Need is more sombre and sedate and, in many ways, has a sound much more akin to that being used at the time by Johnny Cash on his albums of sacred music.  It’s possibly the least successful song on the album, but that makes it sound worse than it is.  It simply hasn’t got any of the magical moments that make the other songs so wonderful. In a similar vein is Mansion over the Hilltop, but this is distinguished by Elvis’s beautifully-controlled vocal.

In My Father’s House begins with Elvis singing a full chorus not just with The Jordanaires, but as part of them.  Elvis then sings a verse himself before handing over to The Jordanaires bass singer, Ray Walker, for a section before re-joining the group himself for the end of the number.  It’s brilliantly arranged, adding variety to the ballads on the album, and showing that Elvis was more invested in the music itself than hogging all of the spotlight for himself.

Three up-tempo spirituals were recorded next.  Joshua Fit the Battle was a song Elvis had talked about recording back in 1956.[1]  Here he sings the number with a natural swing, aided and abetted by more sterling work from The Jordanaires, against whose voices Elvis’s own nestles comfortably.  Swing Down Sweet Chariot was in the same vein, although there is the smallest hint of rock ‘n’ roll intonation here, not least in the repeated use of the word “well” in between each section.  Elvis would re-record the number in 1968 for the film The Trouble with Girls I’m Gonna Walk Dem Golden Stairs again finds Elvis as part of The Jordanaires rather than as a soloist, especially during the choruses.  Even in the verses, when Elvis is singing the melody while the group add a rhythmic vocal backing, the mix allows for him to totally blend in – and in the final chorus Elvis can hardly be heard as a soloist at all.

If We Never Meet Again and Known Only to Him see Elvis returning to ballad material, with both songs in waltz time.  Both contain more of the same wonderful selfless musicianship that had dominated the session thus far.

Crying in the Chapel was slightly different.  This was more of a pop song with an inspirational theme – in the same way that I Believe was.  The number wasn’t released until five years later, and became one of Elvis’s few hits during the fallow period of the mid-1960s.  Jorgensen writes that, remarkably “the recording log … says that no satisfactory master was completed.”[2]  In other words, the song wasn’t even deemed as fit for release at the time, something which only goes to demonstrate Elvis’s search for perfection with regards to the project.  There is, of course, another option – that Elvis didn’t feel that the song fitted with the sound of the rest of the album.  That is certainly the case; it has a slightly different feel.  However, it has a fine, restrained vocal that deservedly has become one of the singer’s best-loved songs.

To finish the album, Elvis and the musicians turned to Working on the Building.  Of the upbeat material on His Hand in Mine, this is certainly the weakest.  Unlike the other numbers, there appears to be relatively little thought within the arrangement, which becomes repetitive.  The song was sequenced at the end of the album, thus meaning that an otherwise near-perfect record ended on one of the least effective songs.

His Hand in Mine was an artistic triumph for Elvis.  There wasn’t a single mediocre cut on the whole album, and it had all been recorded in a single night.  Billboard raved.  They called it a “fascinating set of performances,” and stated that “the gospel message has never been put forth with any more greater effect and impact than here.”[3]

[1] Aules Archer, “Stop Hounding teenagers,” True Story, Dec 1956, 22,” 24.

[2] Jorgensen, Elvis Presley: A Life in Music, 142.

[3] “Spotlight Winners of the Week,” Billboard, December 5, 1960, 5.

Elvis Presley: The Memphis Sessions (1969)

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The following is an excerpt from my book Elvis Presley: A Listener’s Guide, currently available in paperback and as a download for the Kindle.  These pages discuss Elvis’s remarkable 1969 recording sessions in Memphis that produced two albums and four hit singles.

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January 13-16 and 20-23, 1969:  Studio Sessions

The TV special that had been filmed in June and which has become known as the “Comeback Special” finally aired on December 3, 1968 and, with If I Can Dream, Elvis scored his first real hit single in years.  Around the same time, or shortly after, Elvis made the decision that his next scheduled recordings should take place at American Studios in Memphis rather than Nashville.  Those sessions, recorded in January and February 1969 formed the second act of Elvis’s comeback.

Producer Chips Moman pushed Elvis in a way that no-one had done since Sam Phillips (and possibly not even Sam).  The recordings that resulted are, arguably, the best that Elvis made.  Many would argue in favour of the Sun recordings, but the tracks cut in Memphis in 1969 are deeper and darker from a lyrical point of view.  They are performances that only the older Elvis could give.  Elvis now had life experiences to draw on and that shines through almost every song recorded here.

A few months earlier, one could have been forgiven for thinking that the bell sounding at the beginning of Long Black Limousine was a death knell for Elvis’s career.  Instead, it signalled the start of the sessions.  Elvis bases his version of the song on the recording by O. J. Smith, or, at least, uses that as a starting point.  As good as Smith’s recording is, Elvis’s is a tour-de-force.  His voice retains some of the harshness utilised in the TV special, but there is something more than just “sound” going on here.  Elvis had seen that there was a chance that his flagging career could be revived and he was determined to work at that chance with everything he had.  Long Black Limousine tells the story of a girl from a small town who left the narrator behind to go and live in the city, boasting that she would return rich and in a “fancy car,” only to fulfil her prophecy at her own funeral.  Elvis gives everything. He knows this story, he knows the frustrations the girl felt, and he also knows that he could one day be her.  By the end of the performance he sounds totally exhausted.

This is the Story might not have the same depth, but Elvis is again in stunning form.  The song itself follows unusual chord progressions, particularly in the verses, and this provides a slightly awkward melody line which Elvis negotiates with ease (and the second take was the master).  The lyrics might not be the most original, but Elvis still digs in deep and gives a performance that is totally sincere without becoming maudlin.

Elvis yells out the opening lines of Wearin’ that Loved on Look, the effective mix of soul, funk and rock ‘n’ roll that would become the first track on the first album released from the sessions.  As he worked on the third great song in a row, he must have wondered why he had been so content singing bland songs for so long.  This was a track that was perfect for Elvis, and he’s clearly having a ball, even adding his own “shoops” during the chorus almost as if he is singing to (and with) himself.

You’ll Think of Me is different and unusual.  It’s a long song that is simple in structure.  There are no real choruses, just verse after verse with a nice twist in the lyrics at the end.  It’s not the most commercial song from the sessions, but it does show Elvis being interested in more challenging material.   As with Long Black Limousine he appears to be relishing the chance to get inside a character and tell a story.

A Little Bit of Green has a more relaxed feel than those recorded so far.  Written by the same writing team as This is the Story, this is a nice mid-tempo ballad with a lovely melodic hook in the chorus that stretches Elvis’s range to the limit.  Once again, Elvis puts in a superb performance and is totally committed to the song.

I’m Movin’ On is an old country standard that Elvis gives a makeover, injecting the song with an element of soul.  While this might at first seem like Elvis using his old technique of transforming a song to suit his own style, he did at least have a version to base his own on here.  The Box Tops had included a great rendition of the number on their third album, Non-Stop, and this was the one that Elvis used as the basis for his own.  What’s added in the Presley recording are his soul-filled vocals and the brilliantly-judged backing vocals during the choruses.

Gentle on my Mind was a much newer song, but it had already become a country standard by the time Elvis recorded it in 1969, with the number having received two Grammy awards in 1968.  The recordings by John Hartford and Glen Campbell had been pure unadulterated country, but Elvis’s version has, in many ways, a much heavier sound that mixes the country sound with elements of soul and even gospel – the latter thanks to the nature of the backing vocals throughout the song.

Don’t Cry Daddy kept things in a largely country vein, and the song would provide Elvis with one of four hits from the two sets of sessions in Memphis.  Views on the song vary depending on how much the listener can stomach the rather saccharine nature of the lyrics.  Billboard called the song a “potent tearjerking ballad handled in standout style.”[1]  Elvis sings the song beautifully and with sincerity, but to this author the song hasn’t grown old particularly gracefully and is just too maudlin for its own good.

The same can be said about Mama Liked the Roses.  However, this brings up the issue of association of where we first hear a song and if and when that matters in our appreciation of it.  Many first heard this (as I did) as the final track of the Camden issue of Elvis’ Christmas Album and, because of that, it holds a special place because of the memories of hearing that album when growing up.  That doesn’t make it any more or less maudlin than Don’t Cry Daddy, but happy memories of childhood Christmases tend to result in us making allowances.  The song itself, though, isn’t a happy one as the singer remembers his now-deceased mother. Considering Elvis’s close relationship with his own mother, it’s hardly surprising that he wanted to record the number, and the fact it first appeared as the flip-side of The Wonder of You can hardly be seen as coincidental given the lyrics of both songs.

Inherit the Wind returned Elvis to rhythmical ballad material that had made up much of the session so far.  The song was hardly top-drawer, especially when compared to some of the songs Elvis recorded at the session, but, by this point, Elvis seemed unstoppable and put in a great performance, almost snatching and biting at words at some points, most notably at the beginning of the final verse.

Similarly, My Little Friend is hardly a great song musically, but the lyrics about a man remembering his first love are interesting and often manage to capture the innocence and excitement of adolescence.  It’s a surprisingly adult song in many ways, if not explicitly then buried just beneath the surface:  “I learned from her the whispered things/The big boys at the pool hall talked about.” We all know what the narrator is talking about and probably also remember those overheard conversations of older kids as we grew up too.  Elvis tells the story simply, and we believe every word.

Between 1968 and 1970, Elvis recorded a number of songs with a social conscience theme – something he never did in other periods during his career.  Following on from Clean Up Your Own Backyard and If I Can Dream, In the Ghetto didn’t, therefore, appear out of nowhere.  Written by Mac Davis (who also wrote the maudlin Don’t Cry Daddy), the track was described in one newspaper as a “message song of the disadvantaged in a Chicago ghetto.”[2]  Elvis immerses himself totally in the story at the heart of the song.  Peter Guralnick writes that “the singing is of such unassuming, almost translucent eloquence, it is so quietly confident in its simplicity, so well supported by the kind of elegant, no-frills small-group backing that was the hallmark of the American style – it makes a statement almost impossible to deny.”[3] Guralnick’s description sums up the number far more articulately than I could ever dream of, and so let’s move on by simply saying that this is Elvis at his very best.

Rubberneckin’, by comparison, is far from being a message song and yet coincidentally turned up in Change of Habit, Elvis’s last scripted film – and one that has a social message at its heart.  The song itself is an infectious mix of rock ‘n’ roll, funk and soul that might not make a great deal of sense lyrically, but which Elvis attacks with abandon, seemingly letting off steam after over twenty takes of In the Ghetto.

This sense of simply playing around and making music at the same time is also apparent in both From a Jack to a King and Hey Jude.  The former is a playful romp through Ned Miller’s song, but it all seems inconsequential compared to almost everything else recorded at the session, and the overdubbed female voices really don’t help matters.

Meanwhile, Hey Jude is an unmitigated mess.  The number was held back from release until 1972 and some commentators suggest we shouldn’t take the song seriously as it was just an informal or incomplete recording.  Had it been released posthumously then it would be easier to take that view, however it was released during Elvis’s lifetime in the guise of a finished master and so that’s how it should be judged.  That Elvis doesn’t know the words doesn’t help, but that’s the least of the problems in a recording that sees the singer hitting a bum note at the same place in each and every verse.  That Elvis thought that this was OK to release shows the lack of interest he must have had in his own career by 1972 and, arguably, a sign of contempt for his fans who were paying good money for a half-finished recording.

The next night, things were back on track.  Without Love is a powerful ballad that Elvis infuses with a gospel feeling.  It’s a song that follows the format of so many Elvis “big ballads” during the 1970s, but here it is performed without the bombastic vocal and arrangement that would mar so many of the later recordings.

I’ll Hold You in My Heart is incredible.  Elvis takes this old country song and sings it over and over in the same manner as take 2 of You’ll Never Walk Alone and Saved during the TV special from the year before. Elvis wrings every last drop of emotion out of the song and yet, surprisingly, none of its lengthy running time seems forced or contrived. Peter Guralnick raved in Rolling Stone, writing that “nothing could better exemplify the absorbing character of Elvis’ unique and moving style.  At the same time nothing could more effectively defy description, for there is nothing to the song except a haunting, painful emotionalism.”[4]

With I’ll Be There, Elvis turned his hand to a pretty pop song written and originally recorded by Bobby Darin nearly a decade earlier.  Darin’s version suffers from a tinny, almost toy-instrument sounding instrumentation and an unusually forced and unconvincing vocal.  Elvis once again doesn’t know all the words, but shows Darin how great the song could be.  He tears it up, giving it a natural flow that is completely missing from the original.

The session ended with the recording of the classic Suspicious Minds, a track that Billboard referred to as an “outstanding performance.”[5] This song of romance gone bad would ultimately become one of Elvis’s most well-known and best-loved recordings.  For a recording so artistically brilliant it was also remarkably commercial.  The sudden drop to half speed during the bridge makes the listener take notice even on the first hearing and, while the fade out-fade-in ending could (and perhaps should) be viewed as a gimmick, it also meant that the song was instantly memorable and recognisable.

The sessions had finally come to an end, but that wasn’t the end of Elvis’s greatest set of recordings – another set of dates were pencilled in at the studio for the following month, and Elvis would pick up exactly where he left off.

February 17-22, 1969:  Studio Session

Rather than seeming like the start of a new session, this seemed simply like a continuation of the previous one.  The personnel were, by and large, the same, and Elvis, buoyant after the January recordings, was in good spirits and ready for work.  However, before getting down to business there was time for a short jam with Elvis and the musicians working their way through a medley that included This Time (written by Chips Moman) and I Can’t Stop Loving You, a song which would become part of Elvis’s live act just a few months later.

Then it was down to the real work.  The first song recorded was the rather clumsily-titled True Love Travels on a Gravel Road, a song that had been recorded the previous year by Duane Dee.  Dee’s version was strictly in the country genre but, as in the previous recordings in January, Elvis took the country element and mixed it with a generous helping of soul.  He also gave the song a more driving rhythm than the original and ornamented the melody a little, giving a looser feel to the number overall.

Stranger in My Own Home Town had been written and recorded by Percy Mayfield in 1963, but here Elvis doesn’t just alter the feel of the song but gives it a complete transformation.  The length of Elvis’s version is nearly double that of the original, with Elvis singing the same two verses over and over again, subtly changing the melody each time.  Unusually, there is an instrumental introduction lasting a full verse, and then a number of instrumental breaks over which Elvis improvises partly off-mic and tells the band to “give it clout.”  Everyone seems to be having a great time and, more than almost any other Elvis recording, this portrays the great joy that music-making can bring.

Neil Diamond’s And the Grass Won’t Pay No Mind is quite different again.  Here, Elvis gives a gentle, delicate performance, while also negotiating the huge vocal range that the song requires.  The overdubbing of the female backing vocals and strings might be a little saccharine, but it can’t hide the beauty of Elvis’s vocal.

Power of My Love is an edgy rock number in waltz time that sees Elvis digging deep and giving a dramatic, almost threatening, performance.  It seems almost bizarre that this great number, one of the highlights of the session, was written by Giant, Baum and Kaye – one of the most prolific (and bland) of all the songwriters of the Hollywood years.

Elvis continues with the same style of attacking vocal with After Loving You, a country song that had been recorded by both Eddy Arnold and Della Reese, although Elvis’s version seems to be based on neither.  As with Stranger in my Own Home Town and I’ll Hold You in My Heart, Elvis seems unwilling to let go of the song, not unlike Reese’s own recording of Someday, in which she repeats the last lines over and over.

Do You Know Who I Am sees Elvis firmly back in quiet, understated ballad territory in a song that lyrically seems like a distant cousin of Just Tell Her Jim Said Hello.  In that song, the narrator has just spotted an ex-girlfriend across a crowded bar or in a restaurant.  In Do You Know Who I Am he takes the opportunity to go over and say hello.  Once again, Elvis gets to develop his story-telling skills, and gives a far more convincing acting performance here than in many of his movies.

The same can be said for Kentucky Rain, a rather more dramatic song with a strong narrative.  Here, the singer is looking for the lover that left him without saying goodbye the week before.  The song was the last of the Memphis sessions to be released as a single, and the only one not to reach the top ten in America, stalling at #16, and only reaching #21 in the UK.  It’s hard to figure out quite why the track did less well than its predecessors for it’s a strong song and Elvis’s performance is totally compelling.  Indeed, James E Perone wrote that Kentucky Rain is “among the strongest 1960s’ performances that Elvis gave” and that it has enough “genre-blurring vitality [that it] transcends many other releases from the 1960s.”[6]

Only the Strong Survive sees Elvis back in soul territory, covering Jerry Butler’s U.S. hit single.  Elvis puts in another strong performance here, but his version follows the original very closely, which is rather a shame when compared to the songs from these sessions where Elvis took a song and transformed it into something purely his.  Even though it took nearly thirty takes to get it right, the arrangement barely moved away from Butler’s own at all.

It Keeps Right on a-Hurtin’ sees Elvis returning to country material.  Here he gives the song a nice, easy-going feel that is less “straight” than Johnny Tillotson’s original.   In a similar style is If I’m a Fool (For Loving You), written by Stan Kesler, who had written two of Elvis’s Sun sides.  In comparison to other material recorded by Elvis at American Studios that winter, these are unremarkable, but they are still good country performances.

Any Day Now, written by Bob Hilliard and Burt Bacharach, has an awkward, hard-to-sing melody, but Elvis seems to manoeuvre around it with ease.  The bridge of the song gives the appearance of dropping in tempo, but it’s just an illusion created by the sparser instrumentation.   Elvis’s performance manages to retain some of the soul aspects of the number that were present in Chuck Willis’s original, but also seems to merge them with a vocal that clearly draws on the influence of Tom Jones, who had released his own version on his Green Green Grass of Home LP in 1967.

Two songs were recorded on the final night of the sessions and, while neither are highlights, both are pleasant enough.  The Fair is Moving On is another song that clearly draws upon the influence of Tom Jones, not least in the big, belting chorus.  Meanwhile, Who Am I is an understated religious number which, while attractive, lacks any real commercial appeal.

The material from the Memphis sessions was spread over two albums, a number of single sides (including four hits) and budget albums, with Hey Jude escaping quietly three years later on the Elvis Now LP.  From Elvis in Memphis, the first album released, is probably Elvis’s greatest album and it received rave reviews.  Billboard stated that “he’s never sounded better, and the choice of material is perfect.”[7]  Meanwhile, Variety referred to the release as a “tightly socked disk with adept Memphis backup.”[8]

The second album, now generally referred to as Back in Memphis, was originally issued as part of a double album also containing an LP of live performances from August 1969.  From Memphis to Vegas/From Vegas to Memphis, the original, rather un-snappy title of the double album, also received very good reviews.  The New York Times stated that the “new pieces become quickly and comfortably familiar.”[9]  A week later, the same newspaper printed a second review, this time by Albert Goldman, author of a posthumous, controversial biography of the singer.  Goldman admits that “this is Elvis Presley’s year.”[10]

Despite the wonders of these sessions, some people still lived in the past, believing that nothing Elvis could do (even when it was this good) would match the wonders of his first recordings.  Despite giving From Elvis in Memphis a glowing review, Peter Guralnick still wrote “And yet it’s still not the same. …You can’t recapture the innocent ease of those first sides, you can’t bring back the easy innocence of new adulthood, whether for listener or singer. What is so striking about the sides cut for Sun Records, even today, fifteen years after their release, is the freshness of style, the cleanness and the enthusiasm.”[11]

The problem here is that Guralnick’s yearning for Elvis’s early style seemingly has little to do with Elvis himself.  In fact, he has just spent two pages of a magazine praising his most recent work.  No matter how much it might be denied, the comments he makes about the Sun sides here have little to do with their quality (wonderful though many of them are), and much more to do with Guralnick’s yearning to recapture the wonders of his own adolescence. By 1969, Guralnick was a grown man, and not a twelve or thirteen year old boy who was, no doubt, captivated by Elvis’s early records.  By his own admission here, no matter how good Elvis was in 1969 (or after), it would simply never be good enough.

Much has been written about Elvis’s work in the final seven or eight years of his life, and much has been said about the material he chose to record, the genre he chose to sing in, and the arrangements he chose to employ.  Blame has been put on all those things when critiquing Elvis’s final decade but they are often just a scapegoat.  Even if the quality of those final years was as high as these masterful recordings in Memphis, they still wouldn’t have been good enough for those critics who were not able to face the idea that they had to grow up, and that their idols had to grow up too and sing about more serious things than “playing house.”

The Memphis sessions provided Elvis with three top ten singles.  He had now conquered both television and the charts. All that was left was for him to return to live performing – the event that would be the third act of the Elvis comeback.

[1] “Top Singles of the Week,” Billboard, November 19, 1969, 48.

[2] “Elvis Cuts a Song of the Ghetto,” The Afro-American, May 3, 1969, 10.

[3]  Peter Guralnick.  Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley. (London: Abacus, 1999), 332.

[4] Peter Guralnick, “Records,” Rolling Stone, August 23, 1969, 34.

[5] “Spotlight Singles,” Billboard, September 6, 1969, 110.

[6] James E Perone, “From Elvis in Memphis (1969),” in The Album: A Guide to Pop Music’s most Provocative, Influential and Important Creations, Volume 1, ed. James E Perone (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2012), 224.

[7] “Billboard Album Reviews,” Billboard, June 7, 1969, 51.

[8] “Baez, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Elvis, ‘Midnight,’ Cowboy, & Lady Dead, Kaleidoscope Top New LPs,” Variety, June 11, 1969, 72.

[9] Don Heckman, “Zeppelin, Elvis, Butterfield – Three Styles of Rock,” New York Times, December 7, 1969, D42.

[10] Albert Goldman, “A Private Bag of Mixed Beauties,” New York Times, December 14, 1969, D44.

[11] Guralnick, “Records,” 35.