Elvis Presley was king of the American music scene from 1956-1962. Such songs as “Hound Dog,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and “Love Me Tender” are still instantly recognizable fifty years later. His impact upon the culture of The United States was extraordinary as he was worshiped and emulated by millions of teenagers.
Elvis’ popularity would remain until the end of his life (and ever thereafter), but his command of the record charts as well as his place as the dominant artist of the day would end when The Beatles and other British artists invaded America. Before the end of the decade, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, and The Jefferson Airplane, among many others, would take rock ‘n’ roll in directions far from the Elvis Presley sound.
During the 1960’s Elvis Presley produced a lot of good material, but some not so good as well. From Nashville To Memphis: The Essential 60’s Masters, which covers 5 CD’s and 130 tracks, gathers most of his superior material and fortunately ignores a great deal of the inferior. Mercifully, the soundtrack material to his movies is left off except for those songs issued as 45’s. On the especially negative side, all of his superior gospel material is also not included. Elvis rarely, if ever, recorded a poor sacred song and their absence here reduces the overall quality of this set.
On the positive side, though, the first two discs concentrate on his releases from 1960-1962, which is on a par with his best fifties work. Songs such as “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” “His Latest Flame,” “Stuck On You,” “Good Luck Charm,” “(You’re The) Devil In Disguise,” and “(Such An) Easy Question” remain classic and eternal performances. His best albums from the period — Pot Luck, Elvis Is Back, and Something For Everybody – are presented in their entireties. Even better, RCA has done a good job remastering these tracks (from their original sources) as the sound is pristine.
The real heart of this massive release is Elvis’ sixties singles. While his albums became somewhat spotty as the 1960’s progressed, his single releases were consistently brilliant. From the great “U.S. Male" to “In The Ghetto” to “Kentucky Rain” to “Suspicious Minds," these particular two discs are wonderful. They are presented in chronological order so Elvis’ musical progression in this era can be followed and appreciated.
My only real complaint is the fifth disc being half taken up by a series of previously unreleased takes of familiar songs. There's just not enough difference in his performances of such songs as “Kentucky Rain,” “It’s Now Or Never,” and “Surrender” to help them rise much above the curiosity level. In addition, unreleased tracks were not issued for a reason, which is usually because they were inferior to the originals.
The RCA label has done a good job with the packaging, as well. In addition, it comes with a huge booklet that covers each recording session and presents an extensive biography of Elvis complete with pictures.
If you do not own much of Elvis’s sixties material — or are a fan — then From Nashville To Memphis: The Essential 60’s Masters is a good buy. Most of the material presents Elvis at his best and finds him creating good music throughout the decade.