Music Monday: Time With The Pelvis

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 5/250

I did say that I would remain amongst the earlier years of this list when I looked at Frank Sinatra so this week I will be spending time with the King himself; Elvis Presley. The two albums that Elvis have on the most acclaimed list are very different which makes for an interesting listening experiment first we will have his 1956 eponymous debut and then the album which marked his comeback in the late sixties. In a way he made his best work when he really needed to which is remarkable… especially considering he didn’t write a word of them.

ElvispresleydebutalbumTitle: Elvis Presley
Artist: Elvis Presley
Year: 1956
Position: #123 (Previously: #102)

Elvis Presley’s eponymous debut truly hit’s the ground running with the catchy and upbeat ‘Blue Suede Shoesloses a bit of momentum on the next track (don’t get me wrong it’s still good) but just fails to keep up the pace and falls completely flat at the next track along. This pattern does repeat itself very often as the album goes along with the latter half of the album really being more miss than hit. This is a real pity as when it is good it is VERY good with foot-tapping music that you just can not help but bop along to. But this is very quickly extinguished by some of the schmaltz that makes you want to reach for the next track.

While there are exceptions to the rule (such as ‘Suspicious Minds’, ‘In The Ghetto’ and, from this album, ‘I’m Counting On You’) Elvis truly does sound at his best when the songs are more upbeat and are better to swing-dance to. Songs like ‘Tutti Frutti’ just conjure up the images of teens in diner’s sharing vanilla malts listening to the new music. Okay maybe I’ve watched Pleasantville one too many times but that’s just an opinion I am venturing

Historically speaking there is no question that this album does belong on a list of albums that you need to listen to, just because of what this album did. Firstly, it launched the career of arguably the most famous singer of all time (I would happily argue more than John Lennon or Michael Jackson) and for that this album is truly impressive. Secondly this has the great distinction of being the first truly successful rock ‘n roll album. So again this album has some historical value.

However, being a purely preferential escapade of mine I am probably unlikely to listen to the whole album again, with the exception of the highlights. Other than that it is a tad disappointing.

ElvisinMemphisTitle: From Elvis In Memphis
Artist: Elvis Presley
Year: 1969
Position: #259 (Previously: #219)

From Elvis In Memphis is an interesting album as in many ways it marks a homecoming for Elvis. Having moved there with his family at the age of 13 and getting his music career started there back in 1953 the city of Memphis, Tennessee is central to Elvis as a person. Thus, for a comeback album (after years in the wilderness of crappy films) it is completely right that he chose to return to his roots.

Between the release of his debut and this album the Memphis sound had truly evolved into something that was not what you would have associated with Elvis. In many ways it was a brave move of Elvis to try and make a comeback with such a different sound. The young man who was the face of rock n roll and rockabilly has been through military service and was now the victim of multiple additions. If he had ever had the talent or inclination to become a song-writer then he could have churned out some amazing things.

Instead here we are at From Elvis In Memphis where the production is lush and the main influences are gospel and soul (something that had always been part of Elvis’s background but  never done as well as it was here). Elvis here sings with tenderness and conviction where you feel that he is living and breathing every word that he says (although the whole “this is why I wrote this song” on ‘Only The Strong Survive’ annoys). He is easily able to inhabit the characters from these songs which speaks to his acting and empathetic abilities.

He could have been a good actor, something he proved in King Creole, but the industry insisted on quick and cheap films that were, almost exclusively, formulaic and terrible. I mean Viva Las Vegas was a fun romp but it was incredibly empty. I can not remember where I was meant to go with this…

Anyway, with the exception of the somewhat melodramatic backing singers in ‘In The Ghetto’ the album as a whole feels earnest and genuine. It smacks of a man clambering for his second chance and who wanted to be loved once more after a series of bad choices. It worked.

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