One of the most scorching 45s of the sixties is Elvis Presley's 1961 double sided masterpiece, (MARIE'S THE NAME OF) HIS LATEST FAME backed by LITTLE SISTER. It is hard to imagine a better single release than these Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman compositions that Elvis recorded in late June of 61 at Nashville's famed Studio B.
With Steve Sholes in the producer's chair and a studio full of musicians including legendary guitar players Hank Garland, Scotty Moore and Neal Mathews, the recording of HIS LATEST FLAME was described by Elvis historian Ernst Jorgenssen as "like a party." The song through several takes started out life as an almost Bo Diddley tribute but quickly merged into something altogether more progressive and astonishingly fresh sounding. Jorgensen points out in his great book A LIFE IN MUSIC that the musician's kept switching roles searching for the songs right sound while the 26 year old Elvis nailed each vocal take like he was possessed by it. After working through the night the song was finally completed and the results were sublime. HIS LATEST FLAME is one of the most masterful recordings of Elvis Presleys' career, from his honey dripped vocals to the astonishing tempo changes featuring Floyd Cramer's brilliant brief piano bursts.
HIS LATEST FLAME would hit the number one spot in the Fall of 61 and is one of the great moments on 2002's smash ELVIS 30 #1 HITS where that album's remastering brought out some incredibly sweet previously buried subtle moments. The Smiths would cover the song in the mid 80s to great effect and it remains one of the seminal Elvis A sides in a period often ignored.
Possibly even better was the singles B side, the ferocious LITTLE SISTER with the twin guitar attack of Scotty Moore on acoustic rhythm and Hank Garland's stunning electric lead. Garland's screaming electric opening on a borrowed Fender Jazz Master signals this as one of the greatest rock songs ever recorded and a middle finger to anyone who says Elvis didn't rock after the army.
The great Doc Pomus would remember that, "Elvis cut the tempo in half and slowed it down" which brought out the inherent menace of the recording even more. Recorded in just four takes with Elvis leading off the third one with one simple word, "BURN", the track sounds several years before its time and has been re-recorded countless times through the years.
LITTLE SISTER was also a hit but didn't chart as high as HIS LATEST FLAME. It's arguable which cut is better as they both could have been A sides. Elvis certainly revisited LITTLE SISTER more and would perform all the way up to that fateful year of 1977. A highlight to his concert film THAT'S THE WAY IT IS was him rehearsing the track and combining it with The Beatles GET BACK, as song which owed much to Elvis and LITTLE SISTER. The clip I am posting from Youtube is an unreleased moment from THAT'S THE WAY IT IS featuring Elvis performing the song along with GET BACK.
With the 45 becoming more and more of a distant memory it is great to remember a record that featured not one but two of the great moments in sixties rock. These are two masterpieces from one of the most underrated periods in The King's career.