Written by General Jabbo
John Lennon was famously quoted as saying, “Before Elvis, there was nothing” and the man had a point. Elvis Presley didn’t necessarily invent rock ‘n’ roll, as there were others with songs out before him. What he did do was perfect it, making it exciting for teenagers and dangerous for parents. When Presley released his first two albums — Elvis Presley and Elvis in 1956 — he forever altered not only the rock ‘n’ roll landscape, but popular music in general. Now both of these landmark albums are available in remastered form as Elvis Presley (Legacy Edition).
It was by no means a sure thing. After purchasing Presley’s contract from Sun Records, producer Steve Sholes had difficulty getting enough good takes out of Presley and his band, which featured fellow legends Scotty Moore on guitar, Bill Black on bass, and D.J. Fontana on drums, leading RCA officials to ponder whether they had signed the right artist. They needn’t have worried. Presley’s lead single, “Heartbreak Hotel,” was a smash, selling over one million copies and his debut album, Elvis Presley, was the first RCA Victor album to ever sell more than 300,000 copies. Presley had arrived.
The album leads off with Presley’s cover of fellow Sun label mate, Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes.” Presley and his band speed up the song’s tempo, giving it an edge and raw sexuality Perkins could never hope to achieve. Similarly, their cover of Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman” is an exciting, up-tempo romp at least equalling that of its creator’s version.
The album featured a number of unused Sun tracks as RCA lacked new material from Presley. Among those are “I Love You Because,” a pretty, country-tinged ballad that originally featured a spoken-word part that was later edited out; “Just Because,” a rockabilly number with lightning-fast finger-picking by Moore; and the gritty “Trying To Get To You,” a song Presley would revive during his ’68 Comeback Special and one that featured some of his best-ever vocals. As debuts go, this was as good as it gets, and Presley managed to keep his momentum going for his second album.
Elvis opens with “Rip It Up,” one of three Little Richard covers on the album. From the exciting drum intro, it’s clear the band does indeed intend to rip it up. While Presley’s voice doesn’t match the high-octane power of Richard’s, he puts his own spin on the song making for a different, yet equally exciting, version.
“Love Me” is one of the all-time-great Presley ballads and one he’d feature extensively when he started touring again in 1969. One only needs to hear the opening “Treat me like a fool” to be instantly transfixed. Otis Blackwell’s “Paralyzed” is a forgotten gem on the LP and would have been released as a single had it not been so similar to “Don’t Be Cruel,” also written by Blackwell. Presley delivers a confident vocal that betrays his young 21 years on the track.
The included bonus singles for Elvis aren’t just bonus tracks —they changed rock ‘n’ roll. From the doo-wop-influence of “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” to the aforementioned pop gem “Don’t Be Cruel,” these were legendary songs by a soon-to-be legendary artist.
Presley brought Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog” to a white audience, giving the song a hard edge with a gritty vocal. The track features some tasty lead-playing by Moore and remains one of the highlights of the rock ‘n’ roll era. The CD’s final track, “Love Me Tender,” a reworking of the folk song “Aura Lee,” became the title song to Presley’s first movie and one of his best-loved tracks. The song showed a softer side to the young rocker and became a staple of his live shows for years to come.
It’s easy now to say how influential these songs were, but at the time, no one had ever heard rock albums such as Elvis Presley and Elvis. Women wanted to be with him, men wanted to be him, and parents feared him. Presley changed the game, paving the way for every rock artist that came after him, making Elvis Presley (Legacy Edition) essential for not only Presley fans, but fans of popular music as well.