Elvis Presley [1999 US Bonus Tracks]

by: Elvis Presley

Today it all seems so easy -- RCA signs up the kid from Memphis, television gets interested at around the same time, and the rest is history. The circumstances surrounding the music on this album were neither simple nor promising, however, nor was there anything in the history of popular music up to that time to hint that Elvis Presley was going to be anything other than "Steve Sholes' folly." That was what rival record-industry executives were already whispering about this latest talent acquisition by the head of RCA's country division (there were even whispers that Sholes had left Sam Phillips at Sun with a performer whom he regarded as potentially bigger than Elvis, in one Carl Perkins). So a lot was unsettled and untried at the first of two groups of sessions that produced the songs on the Elvis Presley album -- it wasn't even certain that there was any reason for a rock & roll artist to cut an album, because teenagers bought 45s, not LPs, and it was something of an inspiration on Sholes' part that he was thinking of an LP release on Elvis Presley from his first RCA recording session. The January 10, 1956, Nashville session where the first of Elvis' RCA sides were cut yielded one song, "Heartbreak Hotel," that seemed a potential single, but which no one thought would sell, and a few tracks that would be good enough for an album, if there was one. No one involved knew anything for sure about this music -- Chet Atkins, the session guitarist who usually ran the RCA country sessions out of Nashville and often led whatever band was involved, mostly strummed along on rhythm guitar or sat on the sidelines, deferring to Elvis' established band of guitarist Scotty Moore (ironically, a huge Atkins fan) and bassist Bill Black. Seventeen days later, "Heartbreak Hotel" was released, and for about a month it did nothing; then it began to move, and then Elvis Presley made his appearances on the Dorsey Brothers' show and Milton Berle's show, and had a number one pop single. The album Sholes wanted out of Elvis came from two groups of sessions in January and February, augmented by five previously unissued songs from the Sun library. This was as startling a debut record as any ever made, representing every side of Elvis' musical influences except gospel -- rockabilly, blues, R&B, country, and pop were all here in an explosive and seductive combination. Elvis Presley became the first rock & roll album to reach the number one spot on the national charts, and RCA's first million dollar-earning pop album. For the 1999 remastering, the sound has been upgraded numerous steps so that one gets a much clearer impression of what Scotty Moore, Elvis, and Atkins are playing (and of the rhythm section of Bill Black and D.J. Fontana), and the bonus tracks show just how far Presley's sound evolved in the space of only two months -- in addition to "Heartbreak Hotel" b/w "I Was the One," the extra songs include "Shake, Rattle & Roll" and "Lawdy, Miss Clawdy," rejects from the initial sessions for a projected second album are here, and so is "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You," recorded the month of the original album's release (the single's B-side was "My Baby Left Me," from the album), which shows Presley having developed into a much more dramatic singer, more mature and far more controlled as an artist and technical performer. The notes are a little more sketchy than they need have been, but the quality of everything else -- especially the sound -- makes this an essential part of any collection. ~ Bruce Eder

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