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Music Review: Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley

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Many people believe that the rock ‘n’ roll era began May 5, 1956 when the album, Elvis Presley, reached Number One on the National charts for the first of ten weeks. It was a far different sound than the other best selling albums of the day which included Belafonte by Harry Belafonte, The Man With The Golden Arm soundtrack, and Songs For Swingin’ Lovers by Frank Sinatra.

Realistically Elvis did not invent rock ‘n’ roll. Bill Haley recorded “Rock Around The Clock” as the B side of a single in 1954. Haley came out of the country swing side of music and added a sax and guitar to that sound. In 1955 “Rock Around The Clock” was added to the opening credits of the movie Blackboard Jungle. The record quickly became the most popular single in the country staying at number one for 8 weeks. Chuck Berry was also in the studio adding his unique guitar sound to his rhythm and blues roots. Elvis’ musical legacy can be found in the rockabilly side of country music. Elvis, however, had something that no other artist of the time had and that was a charisma that would give him mass commercial appeal and quickly make him a lasting cultural icon.

Elvis Presley was a popular southern country artist when his contract was bought by the RCA label for the unheard of sum of $35,000. Elvis quickly went into the studio to record in early 1956. The results were several single releases and his first long playing album. Seven songs from these sessions and five unreleased tracks from his Sun label days were combined to create Elvis Presley. Interestingly the number one single, “Heartbreak Hotel,” was left off the album because RCA did not want the LP to interfere with its sales.

Elvis Presley is essential to rock ‘n’ roll history and in a wider context to the understanding of the youth culture of the late 1950s. In many ways Elvis went far beyond just being a popular artist. He was worshiped by millions of teenagers. Very few artists ever attain that status. Only Frank Sinatra in the 1940’s and The Beatles in the 1960’s would equal Elvis in popularity.

Elvis’ first album reached into many types of music for its songs but all were interpreted and transferred to a rock setting. My favorites are the R&B hits “I Got A Woman” and “Money Honey” which are removed from their roots and become all out rockers. “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Tutti Frutti” were hits of the day and Elvis mainly copied what was popular. I tend to prefer the Little Richard version but feel sorry for Carl Perkins as Elvis gives a classic performance of his biggest hit. “I Love You Because” and “Just Because” find Elvis secure in a country setting. “One Sided Love Affair” was written for this album and eventually all his records would feature many newly created songs.

I usually just review the original release of an album but in this case I am going to recommend the CD reissue. While it will take you away from the intent and impact of the original album, included are six additions that are classic Elvis. The single releases “Heartbreak Hotel” and “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” only add to the quality of the listening experience. Also added are “I Was The One,” “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” “Shake, Rattle And Roll” and “My Baby Left Me” which take Elvis back to his raw rockabilly roots.

The music of Elvis Presley has been released in many forms over the years and has been re-packaged in a hundred or so different ways but if you really want to understand him and his musical legacy, this is the place to start.

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About David Bowling

  • http://somethingelsemusic.blogspot.com/ Pico

    Dsvid, if nothing else you are wildly ambitious in taking on the entire catalogs of legends like Elvis and the Stones. My hat’s off to ya’.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    The one thing you forgot to mention in comparison to Bill Haley & Chuck Berry was Elvis Presley’s voice! Granted Bill & Chuck could freakin rock, no one sang like Elvis did on those first albums never mind his whole career!

    The man not only had charisma but he was the whole package. Listen to songs like “If I can Dream”,”Memories”,”Something Blue” & “Surrender”.
    These songs are from the 60’s and his voice still surpasses 95% of the supposed talent in today’s top 40!

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    *Oops* I meant “Indescribably Blue”…

  • JC Mosquito

    Here’s something a friend asked me to think about, and it makes perfect sense: Take any picture from the early days of rock and roll that has Elvis standing around with a bunch of regular people – audiences, stage crew, radio execs, whatever – then take a good look at the people standing AROUND Elvis. And really, you can’t help but notice – but compared to Elvis, everyone else is just plain UGLY. He had the mojo, the savoire faire, the hot-cha-cha in the right place at the right time.

  • http://blogcritics.org/archives/2008/05/013458.php David Bowling

    I am going with essential and not complete in the case of my Elvis reviews. Some of his soundtrack albums are best left alone. I will probably end my reviews with his death although there are a couple after that time I may include. I figure about 35 reviews. Also I have a new grandson and I will be visiting him in July so my reviews will not be an everyday affair at that time. Since he was named after me, he inherits my record collection when I’m gone. Peace On The Journey, David

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    totally agree on Elvis’ voice.

    i’d like to point out that some people have said that the first rock n roll song was “Rocket 88″, which came out a few years before “Rock Around The Clock”.

  • jburrows

    Presley did not invent rock, but neither did Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Bo Diddley nor Bill Halley. And the reason is simple: each had a different take on “rock”, because each was influenced by different set of R&B and C&W artists. Take this chronology: Fats Domino’s first record was in 1950. Little Richard, whose first record was in 1953, heard it, and so did everyone else of the ones I´ve mentioned, as well as Ike Turner, whose first record came out in 1952. So, would Domino be considered the main guy. No. Presley`s first record came out a year earlier than Berry’s or Diddely’s. So, why is he usually referred as the big guy? Well, what Presley had was that his musical background was ten times more varied than that of anyone of those we know call the founding members.

    Gospel music? Only Domino, Berry and Little Richard. By his own account, neither Ike Turner or Diddley ever played gospel music, let alone thought of it as their life`s work. What Presley first considered was to be a Gospel singer.

    Pop? Perhaps Halley had a certain knowledge of it. Mexican music? Opera? Mario Lanza? Broadway music? Presley was the only one of every musician I´ve mentioned whose mother taught him everything there was to know about all of these musical idioms, and I am talking starting when Elvis was 7. And, he did not just know the music. He could sing it, too. To top it all, of all the founding fathers of rock and roll, guess who was the only one whose first 13 years were spent in one place, Mississippi, the land of the Delta Blues, no less, only to move, in his formative years, to the actual cross roads of American Music, Memphis, TN.

    This guy`s musical palette was, how do I put it, like hard disk so full of different programs, (and this even before he stepped in the SUN Records, in the summer of 1953), that a musical genius such as Sam Phillips, who`d recorded a lot of blues, and R&B performers since 1949, was in total awe at the magnitude of the knowledge that this 18 year old kid had, of every possible musical idiom then in existence, with the exception of jazz, who Elvis himself said, on numerous occasions, he just did not understand.

    And we can forgive him for that. He did not need to…

  • jburrows

    Incidentally, I only referred to Presley and Halley, of the early rock founders who were not African Americans, since each and every one of those not mentioned, can not claim to have fused any set of musical mediums on his own, like Berry did with “Maybelline”, albeit 11 months after Elvis had sone it, with “That’s all right”.

    We start with Carl Perkins. He played rockabilly, which Elvis had come up with 13 months before.

    Take Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochrane, all either not into music or into country and western music until they turned to rocakbilly after either listening to, or seeing Presley live.

    Take Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison, each either singing gospel or working as disc-jockeys until they heard Presley`s first rockabilly record, with both getting into rockabilly as the first step into a life in either country, or pop.

    Take Ricky Nelson, a television child star who turned to rockabilly because he wanted, desperately, for his girlfriend to admire him for that, too.

    The career ( circa 1956-60), of anyone I have not mentioned, that was not an African American, that is, is a direct result of Presley`s influence, as well.

    Of the African Americans early rockers, there was one whom I have not mentioned, and that was Ray Charles. Like Elvis, he could handle pop, straight blues, r&b, gospel, christmas songs and country music.

    That’s a lot of music, not as much as Elvis, granted, but enough.

    Since he started at the same time as Elvis did, the question could be asked:

    Why wasn´t he the King?

    Of course, there are about ten answers to that, some political, some “technical”, some racially-based, etc, etc, but the one that comes quicker to my mind is the following:

    He could not have been the King since he was quoted as saying he never liked Elvis (LOL).

    Of course, I am laughing at my own answer but just think about it, even for ten seconds; can you imagine a King that bad mouthes another performer, without ever having the chance to see him at work?

  • Jordan Richardson

    This is going to be cool. I’m excited to follow along, David.

  • http://www.bradlaidman.com Brad Laidman

    Dig the London Calling inspired Front Cover

    Buy the box set of Elvis complete 50’s output – there literally isn’t a song on it that you wouldn’t want to own

  • http://irelandtoo.blogspot.com Maurice Colgan

    David said quote.
    “Elvis, however, had something that no other artist of the time had and that was a charisma that would give him mass commercial appeal and quickly make him a lasting cultural icon.”

    On the other hand:

    The beauty and charisma of Elvis Presley hardly explains the fact that a great many people on this side of the Atlantic, and the rest of the world outside the USA first heard Elvis Presley on the radio, or like myself on a jukebox,before we actually saw him, and were instantly smitten by his unique voice. That soulful, exciting, inspiring voice that still excites youngsters and oldies alike today, whenever they hear Elvis at his best.

    Jim Burrows more or less wrapped up the rest with his inimitable style.

  • hanarising

    It is truly sad and amazing that the “layman’s” understanding of what Elvis did is so rampant. It is on virtually every website on the internet and even wikipedia. The layman’s understanding of music and history is rooted in ignorance. Scholars know what Elvis did. What was called RocknRoll was a variation of the Blues..it had suggestive dancing and lyrics…and most importantly it was dressed up for white audiences….this is known and described by Chuck Berry and B.B. King. Genre-wise it was the blues with some white pop sound added to draw white audiences. Chuck Berry talks in depth about having done this very intentionally and BB King clearly states as well. There was no FUSION of genres. If you want to understand anything about music you must know that a song is a canvas. Any song can be sung in a different genre. Listen to Big Joe Turner sing Shake Rattle and Roll (which he did not write) It is very BLUESY….with some white pop sound. Listen to Bill Haley do it…it is all WHITE POP. Now hear Elvis…this is something new…never heard…this is a true FUSION of genres. the only genre that was a true fusion prior was Rockabilly (County and R&B) Elvis was a prominent player and innovator of Rockabilly…known as the Hillbilly Cat. Elvis had incredibly diverse early childhood genre influences including gospel…When Elvis sings Shake Rattle and Roll you are hearing Country, R&B, and Gospel fused as one sound. never done before. The manic wild sound you hear is the gospel. this is the new sound that would come to be “Rock” to the world. This new sound excited the world and revolutionized music. All artists stood in awe.

    “Elvis was God-given. There’s no explanation.”
    –Little Richard

    “Elvis and I are the only true American originals.”
    –James Brown

    “He was the greatest who ever was, is or ever will be.”
    –Chuck Berry

    “Elvis had an? influence on everybody with his musical approach.”
    –Al Green

    “Elvis was a giant and influenced everyone in the business.”
    –Isaac Hayes

    “He was? a unique artist–an original in an area of imitators.”
    ?– Mick Jagger, ROLLING STONES

    “Elvis is the best ever, the? most original.”
    –Jim Morrison, THE DOORS

    Words from some of the greatest artists in history. They should be listened to. They were there, were not bias, and are incredible artists who understand greatness. Elvis was unique, revolutionary, extraordinary talented and gifted. If you have any doubts read their words, and the words of scholars who understand music, and history. It is criminal the way the truth is distorted about a truly great and revolutionary artist. He did not write songs but many did not. Chuck Berry also openly and willingly confesses to “stealing” (he says “I stole them”) two songs considered founding songs of RocknRoll…Maybellene (from white country man 1920s recorded by white country singer Roy Acuff) and Johnny B. Goode (from young white man). Little Richard did not write Lucille, Good Golly Miss Molly, Rip It Up, Whole Lotta Shakin, etc….Ray Charles and B.B King sang country songs written by white people. Some of Elvis’s biggest hits were written by white men (such as Hound Dog and Heartbreak Hotel). The whole black, white issue is just a bunch of racist crap that festers through our society. Sad. It is good to be knowledgeable…to truly understand instead of reading easy access information all over the web that is based in ignorance. Good luck and God bless

    “Elvis Presley is Probably the main founding father of Rock music. He was an unheralded genius behind a new music that changed western civilization for all time.”
    –Peter Noone