Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Dust Off Those Grooves (Chapter 24) Elvis

I’ve always found it ironic that Elvis, the second Long Player from Elvis Presley, has never achieved the fame and respect granted to his first platter because, to my ears at least, it is a more consistently brilliant, thrilling and powerful listening experience.
Featuring tracks from a storming September 1956 session, with mostly the same players who made up the first L.P. aboard, Elvis has a much more consistent feel than Elvis Presley as it doesn’t rely on older Sun material to fill out its running time.

Elvis gets off to a roaring start with "Rip It Up", surely one of the definitive rock numbers of the fifties. Elvis sings with a relaxed power through this iconic Robert Blackwell/John Marascalco track that has been covered hundreds of times from everyone to Iggy Pop to The Stray Cats, but the version heard here has never been equaled. From the electrified guitar runs of Scotty Moore to Elvis opening it with “It’s Saturday night and I just got paid” like he means all the business in the world, "Rip It Up" is one of the great opening tracks in rock history.
The classic Lieber and Stoller track, "Love Me", is up next and it has lost none of its gorgeous power in the fifty years plus since he recorded it. A huge hit upon its release, and a track he would revisit throughout his career, "Love Me" is punctuated by some incredibly smooth background vocals by The Jordanaires, and a dripping honey like vocal by Elvis that must have melted more teenage hearts back in the fall of 56 than almost any other track from the period.
I’ve always loved "When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again", although I guess it can be argued that the track was among the ones that clearly shows RCA still trying to match the always just out of reach ‘Sun sound’. Still, the countrified Wiley Walker/Gene Sullivan track is a wonder and is again helped along by some great background work from The Jordanaires.

The bittersweet twang of "When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold" again is ripped apart by the album’s next track; the ferocious Enotris Johnson penned "Long Tall Sally". Often compared unfavorably to the Little Richard original, I find Elvis’ version to be electrifying and the equal of the more celebrated Richard track. Elvis would continue to revisit the song throughout his career, where it would become one of the most consistently exhilarating moments from his seventies live shows.
The Schroeder/Weisman track "First In Line" is probably the most dated sounding track on the album but it is still quite devastating in its own quaint and quiet way. Featuring a pleading echo drenched vocal by Elvis, "First in Line" took a mammoth 27 takes to get right, which marks it as a song Elvis was obviously committed to although it wasn’t a number he would revisit.

The album rocks out again hard with "Paralyzed", a fantastic Otis Blackwell number driven by some impressive skin work by D.J. Fontana and a terrific vocal by Elvis. Delirious and swinging, Blackwell’s number in Presley’s hand captures the excitement and nervousness of young love like no other.

Even better is Arthur Crudup’s "So Glad Your Mine", a left over track from that first January 56 session. One of the most underrated tracks from Elvis in the fifties, "So Glad Your Mine" has a real sweaty burlesque feel to it heightened by some great Shorty Long piano work. "So Glad Your Mine" sounds like the soundtrack to a lost Bettie Page reel and is a real highlight to the second LP.
The soaked in sin delights of "So Glad Your Mine" collapse into the one ill advised moment on Elvis, namely the sugary and nostalgic "Old Shep", a favorite of Elvis’ and some fans but a song that has always felt totally out of place on this album to me. That said, the song is of course important as it was the one he sang at the Mississippi-Alabama fair as a ten year old and the performance here is fine if just a little too weepy for my taste.

Thankfully, the Blackwell/Marascalco number "Ready Teddy" saves the album from total sentimentality and everything about the track absolutely smokes. From D.J. Fontana’s explosive drummer to a mid song guitar solo by Moore that must have sent many parents running up the stairs to their teenagers rooms to see what all the racket was about in late 1956. "Ready Teddy" has lost none of its ferocious power in the five decades since it was released and it remains one of the most brutal and audacious moments from Elvis in the fifties.

Another gorgeous echo drenched ballad follows with Joe Thomas’ "Anyplace is Paradise", a track featuring some very nice rhythm guitar work by Elvis and a delightfully off kilter solo by Moore. The stuttering piano work by Gordon Stoker in the last part of the song is a real favorite moment a well in this little rarely talked about gem of a song.
The Atkins and Bryant track "How’s The World Been Treating You" follows and it’s not one of the strongest moments on the record. Originally recorded by Eddy Arnold, the track is just a little too dragged out here although the way Elvis lead works with The Jordanaire’s backing vocal is interesting.

The album closes with the odd Wayne Walker/Webb Pierce track "How Do You Think I Feel", a strange sounding country track featuring some of the weirdest Scotty Moore tracks on record. It’s an odd coda for such a powerful record that Elvis wouldn’t revisit, although at just over two minutes it hardly outstays its welcome.
Elvis is one of the first truly great L.P.’s of the rock era. Despite a couple of off numbers, the album is much more consistent and inventive than the more talked about Elvis Presley. It can currently be heard in its entirety on the essential The Complete Fifties Masters box set or on the remastered stand-alone disc which features the singles from the period not included on the original LP. The best way to hear the album is on the rather pricy 24 bit Japanese import which features simply smashing sound quality.

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