Elvis Presley - Elvis 75
Elvis 75, a phrase which conjures up some disturbing images of a fast fading star clad in garish Vegas rhinestone stagewear, mumbling and giggling his way through his past glories. Thankfully this isn’t a 1975 concert recording but a comprehensive collection of 75 of Elvis’ greatest hits, each one a top twenty smash in its own right. Why 75? Well, January 8th 2010 would have been his 75th birthday and, with Beatlemania back in the box (set), now is the optimum time to remind people of the legacy of the man they called The King.
The collection, spanning three discs, is in no apparent order but it starts off with a couple of the big guns from his early career, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and ‘Blue Suede Shoes’. What strikes you immediately is the thin, sparse arrangement which, to the modern ear, sounds almost fragile; it’s virtually impossible to reconcile these recordings with the cultural explosion they instigated. This is the problem with marketing Elvis in 2010; some of us are old enough to have grown up in times where he was just accepted as The King but now he seems closer in spirit and delivery to someone like Frank Sinatra than the madcap, pop genius of Lennon & McCartney. Put simply, Elvis got old.
If you are seeking the spirit and essence of rock n roll then, sorry, you won’t find it here; for that you need to check out the outrageous, howling Little Richard, the unhinged pounding of Jerry Lee Lewis or even the wild west ramblings of the genuinely insane Hasil Adkins. Those guys exploded like a nail bomb and music was never the same again, you can draw a direct line from their incendiary energy and the bezerk antics of bands like Lightning Bolt or Pulled Apart By Horses today. It’s on the edge, it isn’t meant for mass consumption. What those raving lunatics lacked however was Elvis’ voice, and his ability to tap into the most important thing in the world or pop music- the hearts and minds of the teenage girls. Elvis may not have been the heart of rock n roll but he was pure sex and the little girls understood that all too well. Rock n roll energy endures but the little girls grew up and thus, today, Elvis just seems a tad passé when compared to Jerry Lee.
So, let’s just forget rock n roll because, looky here, Elvis had something else. His voice may have been parodied and sullied by legions of Elvis impersonators but, listen, he had something truly unique. Track 5, disc 1 and we’re right back at the beginning of the legend and if you’ve not heard the Sun sessions then you are in for a treat. His rendition of ‘Blue Moon’ is almost avante garde in its reverb drenched, ethereal intensity. This isn’t rock n roll, but it is the sound of cultures clashing – this was truly revolutionary music and, even now, it has a shocking honesty and soul which, sadly, Elvis lost as his star ascended. There’s only a few months separating them but there’s a million light years between ‘Blue Moon’ and ‘(Let me be your) Teddy Bear’, by which time Elvis has already set the blueprint for the likes of Robbie Williams. But even then, as the archetypal pop star, Elvis had that voice and it covers a multitude of sins and a multitude of styles. Over a career of twenty years the journey from the hip shaking ‘Jailhouse Rock’ to the mawkish middle aged spread of ‘Suspicious Minds’ may have been fairly organic but here, spread over three discs, it seems almost impossible.
Elvis 75 does the job as a career spanning document of success and maybe it even brings a dose of reality to the legend of the King, as across 75 tracks there’s a dearth of rock n roll and a plethora of throwaway pop. If you don’t own these songs then this is a great insight into the history of popular music and a short, sharp introduction to the legend. If, however, you want to get into the heart and soul of Elvis, before the industry chewed him up, then grab yourselves a copy of his Sun sessions to accompany this. You won’t regret it.