Written by Fantasma el Rey
Elvis Aron Presley would have been 75 years rocking on January 8th 2010 and to celebrate RCA has issued Elvis 75: Good Rockin’ Tonight through their Legacy series. The four-disc box set contains 100 songs from Elvis’ hit-filled career, spanning 1953 to1977. The set is a good overview of Elvis’ music and includes well-known hits and some album cuts that many folks may have never heard or knew existed, all remastered for superior sound. An 80-page booklet provides photos and track information that make the set an even better chronicle of the work put out by the “king of rock ‘n’ roll.”
Disc one covers the years 1953-57 and looks at his early rockabilly days and rise to all out rock ‘n’ roll star. We get some of his first recordings on the Sun label, which saw Elvis lay down some killer rockabilly versions of blues and country classics, “That’s All Right,” “Blue Moon Of Kentucky,” and “Good Rockin’ Tonight.” Disc one then moves into his early records for RCA and covers his frantic rock ‘n’ roll hits like “Jailhouse Rock” and “I Got A Women,” and the tender ballads “I Was The One” and “Love Me Tender.” Elvis began to record original material on RCA with help from the team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller as well as Otis Blackwell among others. Well covered ground here for most fans but some may have never heard “My Happiness,” the tune Elvis says he made for his mama. Disc one also gives us a taste of the gospel songs Elvis loved all his life, such as “(There Will Be) Peace In The Valley,” and includes his holiday classic “Blue Christmas.”
Disc two takes us from 1958 to1962 and provides big hits from solid rockers, “Hard Headed Women” and “Little Sister” to rocking ballads “Return To Sender” and “(Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame.” These are the years that produced the heartfelt love songs we know so well, “(Now And Then There’s) A Fool Such As I,” “It's Now Or Never,” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” Elvis also covered “Reconsider Baby” and “I Feel So Bad,” good blues/R&B tunes that show his continued interest in what other artists put out. Some songs not heard so often are the doo-wop inspired “Thrill Of Your Love” and “Doin’ The Best I Can,” the rocking “Judy,” the quiet “There’s Always Me,” and the “Suspicion”-like “Pocketful Of Rainbows.” Some nice gems mixed with major hits make this disc enjoyable.
Disc three spans 1963-69, the years that Elvis spent concentrating on making silly movies instead of turning out solid music, but some of those movie tracks stand out and are included here, “Bossa Nova Baby” from Fun In Acapulco and of course “Viva Las Vegas.” Lucky for us, Elvis 75 avoids too many soundtrack songs and instead pulls tracks that were buried on those albums or released as B-sides. Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” stands tall as does Elvis’ version of Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business” and covers of “Guitar Man” and “Big Boss Man.”
The last half of disc three highlights the strong material that came from Elvis’ ‘68 Comeback Special and the albums he made in ‘69, where his focus was turned back to music. His song selection took a more somber tone and shows more depth than the throwaway stuff he’d done for films. Songs like “If I Can Dream,” “Memories,” “Don’t Cry Daddy,” and “In The Ghetto” announce that the artist is growing and his vocals are getting stronger. His songs “Stranger In My Own Home Town,” “Kentucky Rain,” and “Only The Strong Survive” carry a Memphis soul vibe complete with horns, solid drums, and thick bass lines.
Disc four, 1970-77 takes us through Elvis’ live recordings and right up to his last hurrahs before his sad passing in August of ’77. Swamp rock crept into his songs alongside the Memphis soul around this time too as “Polk Salad Annie” and “Promised Land” display. From “I Just Can’t Help Believing” and “An American Trilogy” we get just a taste of the kinds of songs he was doing in his live act and the kind of stage show he put on and the humor he possessed. “Always On My Mind,” “T-R-O-U-B-L-E,” and “Way Down” represent the kinds of rock that an Elvis album consisted of at that time. “The Fool,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” and “Steamroller Blues” display the fact that Elvis never lost or strayed too far from his country or blues roots.
The last two tracks represent the parody the man became on one hand and his lasting power and influence on the other. The sadly operatic “Unchained Melody” brings to mind every jumpsuit-clad, bad, fat Elvis impersonator that would spring up to pay “tribute” to the fallen king. To counter this “A Little Less Conversation” the JLX remix proves that the world still loves Elvis and that his music will last as that mix became a worldwide hit in 2002, over twenty years after his death.
Most everyone knows Elvis’ general story and history: the poor country boy who became “king” of a new music genre that set the world on fire in the mid 1950s. His distinct looks, generosity, and the controversy he stirred with his hips is legendary and well documented as is his music in more in-depth, multi-disc sets but here we have a chronological breakdown of the songs that stand out the most and represent his career best.
From his early primitive, greasy rockabilly to his over-the-top operatic vocals Elvis 75 has it all for you to sample and decide which phase of the man’s career you like best. Elvis may not have written his songs but the songs he selected fit him well as he made them his own and he could speak through them, whether rockin’ hard or pining for his love. He’s our raucous party buddy, wise old pal offering advice, and a friend that picks us up when we’re down. Listen again and you can hear the distinct vocal phases and hear the punk kid become a strong, powerful-voiced man in whose music and sincerity we find comfort, hope, and inspiration.