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By John Tanna
September 14, 2007
Rating: 9.0

In the time between his debut album in March of 1956 and this his second, released in Oct 1956, Elvis was in the middle of a storm of instant superstardom experienced by only a handful of other acts in history. Between that iconic debut album and this release were the now legendary early TV appearances as well as monster singles like "Hound Dog/Don't Be Cruel" and "Love Me Tender", the release of his debut movie of the same name, and also the storm of controversy that now surrounded Elvis everywhere he turned.

This album, simply entitled Elvis, was recorded in a hurry due to Elvis' increasingly relentless schedule; three days of sessions in September of '56 at Radio Recorders in L.A. Elvis' band here is still Elvis on guitar, Scotty Moore on lead guitar, Bill Black on bass, D.J. Fontana on drums, but he now also had the fabulous Jordanaires for his backup vocal group, and they would remain with him for several years. Elvis also shared piano duties with Gordon Stoker of the Jordanaires. The sessions were booked and completed in a hurry, and there wasn't very much time to come up with as much new LP material as was originally planned, so there are some covers, but some great ones.

A cool but smokin' cover of Little Richard's "Rip It Up" starts it off with some slightly restrained but brilliantly cool vocal work from Elvis, and a great band performance. This is straight ahead, driving guitar-based R&R here. Next is the classic album track "Love Me", which was never released as a single but still became one of Elvis' most beloved songs. Another fine performance from Elvis and another fantastic example of his rapidly growing prowess with ballads and love songs.

"When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again" is next, and it's a decent country rocker with some more nice tight work from the band. Next is another Little Richard cover, "Long Tall Sally", and while I prefer Richard's version, this version here still smokes just the same and Elvis' vocal performance is great. Next up is "First In Line". A pretty and echo laced ballad that further displays Elvis' abilities in this area which would very soon become as legendary as his Rock and Roll vocal abilities.
Side One ends with "Paralyzed", and it's a cool little rockin' tune in the same vein as "Don't Be Cruel" with yet another great Elvis performance.

Side Two goes back to a leftover but fantastic cut from a session in New York for Elvis' debut album in January of '56. "So Glad You're Mine". I have no clue why this, like a couple of other cuts, was left off the first album, but it's another killer blues rocker and once again Elvis' vocal performance just hooks you immediately.

Next is the old ballad "Old Shep" which is about a dog and which Elvis won third prize as a kid singing in a talent contest at a local fair. They needed material fast, so Elvis sat down at the piano, remembered it, the Jordanaires joined him, and off they went. If you're any at all into tearjerker ballads, it's a nice and heartfelt performance by Elvis. Then is one Little Richard cover I find straight out superior to Richard's version. Elvis' "Ready Teddy" is just flat out relentless. An absolutely scorching and relentless vocal performance from Elvis is joined by a relentless and thundering band performance. This is a flat out meaner version than Little Richard's. Whenever Elvis covered a Little Richard tune, it wasn't like a Pat Boone version, it was an "Elvis" version, and this is one incredible example of what that means. Right on the heels of that is another fantastic blues rock cut with another all-around fantastic performance. "Anyplace Is Paradise" is a moderately paced blues rocker, and between Elvis' absolutely killer vocals, (the guy just got better with each cut) the Jordanaires' added touch to sweeten it up just a tiny bit, and some fabulous play and interplay by the band, including a biting lead guitar break followed by an equally bluesy piano break, it's always been a slightly overlooked Elvis gem.

"How's The World Treating You" is next and it's a rather bland ballad with Elvis on piano. It doesn't even sound like Elvis was too much into it. I guess it just filled an album spot in an era where big hit singles were considered more important than albums. The album finishes with "How Do You Think I Feel?", a pop rocker with a rather off-beat sounding rhythm. Not great but not bad either.

Like the first album, the latest CD version of this one also has "bonus tracks", and "bonus" isn't a good enough word for them. "Hound Dog", "Don't Be Cruel" and "Love Me Tender", recorded and released in the couple of months just prior to this album, need no introduction. These combined with the chart-topping rocker "Too Much" and "Playing For Keeps", recorded at the same Sept '56 sessions as this album but released as a single, as well as the fantastic rock ballad "Any Way You Want Me", recorded a couple of months prior, make this a stellar release. The original album I give an 8.5, but with the other tracks recorded and released around it now included, it's a 10 easily. Like the first, a great, great early rock album.

To listen to some soundclips from Elvis or to purchase it click on: Elvis [1956]

Elvis Presley
By John Tanna
July 17, 2007
Rating: 9.0

This is not only Elvis' debut album, but it is essentially the first "Rock" album. Released in March, 1956 on RCA following their buying Elvis' contract from perhaps the place where that Blues "baby" called Rock & Roll truly started with him, Sun Records label in late '55, it went straight to a ten week stay at the top of the mainstream national Pop charts; the first "Rock" album to ever hit #1 there, and which very few if any Rock albums did in the 50's besides Elvis'. It also topped the Country and R&B charts and became RCA's biggest selling album to that date. It truly is the "album" that put "Rock" music on the map.

Elvis played the most major part in creating "Rock" music in it's pure form from his unique blending of various styles and genres that were all a part of his own musical make-up and life-long influences. He kicked the door open for everyone else to follow, he put Rock music on the map, and the Rock music world still owes the same huge debt to the boy from Tupelo. This album is all one needs to hear for an example of how and why.

The album consists of five previously unreleased Sun cuts from 1954-55, and seven new cuts laid down in Nashville at RCA in January of  '56 along with the immortal "Heartbreak Hotel" (and others) which was not on this album but released earlier as his first (and smash) RCA single just as Elvis was making his initial and revolutionary TV appearances which would stun 1950's America. With the first track it is/was immediately obvious that something new, special, unique, and "dangerous" to many, had arrived into the music world and into Pop Culture. This was the album debut of the guy with the ducktail, the sideburns, the flashy clothes, the notorious stage act, and that unforgettable and unique voice, style and sound who would soon become "The King", but at this point was just that wild guy creating controversy across the nation as that first RCA single raced up the charts, and his first TV performances, if toned down slightly from his road act, seemed to confirm the notorious rumors.

With the opening track, a revved up cover of former Sun Records mate Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes" that practically immediately and forever became a classic signature "Elvis" song, the first Rock album in history is off and running. But this isn't the moderately paced, gangly, Perkins version, this is a full-throttle Rock & Roll assault with Elvis' wailing vocals and acoustic rhythm guitar, and his now legendary initial bandmates, Scotty Moore on electric lead guitar, Bill Black on bass, and DJ Fontana on drums, wailing relentlessly along with him.

The second track, a ballad called "I'm Counting On You" immediately shows the diversity of this vocalist as he is already displaying the aching and yearning in his voice and the vocal phrasing that would soon become downright seductive and unforgettable in later ballads and love songs.

Next up, another corker of a rocker created from something else entirely. "I Got A Woman" was a moderately paced Ray Charles R&B number that skipped along with honking horns in typical 50's R&B fashion: Elvis' version is a whole 'nother animal. Sharp, fast and menacing, it kicks into high gear instantly, and even the stop and start middle where each line from Elvis is quickly and emphatically answered by Fontana's drums, gives the song the feel of a race car quickly in the pit and revving to immediately get back on the track where it seems to pick up even more steam until it's abrupt and false ending, where it suddenly drops into a half-time, bump and grind striptease tempo for a blistering finish that must have caused near riots in those days during his live shows. It's also another example of Elvis' unmatched Rock vocals and overall vocal range which was growing by leaps and bounds, even at that point. More classic early RCA Elvis. In fact, it's the first song he cut for the label, right before "Heartbreak Hotel", and Elvis would enthusiastically perform it live throughout his career.

On the heels of this comes "One-Sided Love Affair", a cool boogie-woogie rocker with Elvis displaying even more of the vocal personality that would soon become legend, as well as showcasing some great boogie-woogie piano. Next is "I Love You Because", one of his earliest cuts recorded at Sun in 1954, and just a basic country ballad, though it does show yet even more diversity. Side One closes with "Just Because", another early leftover cut from Sun. Best described as uptempo country blues, the track is kinda catchy and quickly settles into a nice groove and gets cookin' pretty good, even without a drummer! Like something you might hear from a front porch in the south at the time, but sharp with two guitars.. acoustic/electric, and some nice thumping acoustic bass.

Side Two kicks off with a cover of Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti." It's a good rockin' take here, but it may be a little too frenetic and doesn't have the great groove of Richard's version. It sounds like they cut it just to get a useable album track in the can.

The next track however is something else all together. "Trying To Get To You", cut at Sun in 1955 was to be Elvis' next Sun single, but it was held off with RCA buying out his contract in late '55, so it saw it's first light here. Here it became another early classic album track that Elvis consistently performed passionately throughout his career right up to his final concerts. An intense and smoldering Rock ballad with a fantastic wailing vocal performance from Elvis, who's also on the piano here, as well as some great lead guitar work from Moore.

Next is "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Cry Over You": A bouncy and bluesy rocker with a nice groove and some more great lead guitar work from the guy who would greatly influence Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, and many others.

Following this are the last two remaining Sun cuts. "I'll Never Let You Go" starts out a slow country blues with an aching vocal from Elvis, but at the end jumps into double-time and becomes an eerie sounding blues swing with a walking Bill Black bass line and Elvis' voice even bluesier and simply basking in that famous Sun Records reverb. Then a strange yet fascinating version of "Blue Moon" that is slow with an overall atmosphere even more "eerie" than the last track and with downright desolate and reverb-laced vocals from Elvis. It is light years away from the well-known doo-wop version.

The album closes with another early album classic that Elvis performed live often at the time, and it's just fabulous. "Money Honey" is a mid-tempo bluesy rocker that finds a great groove and settles in with another fantastic and bluesy performance by both Elvis, and Scotty Moore again with some more delicious and bluesy lead guitar work. Stuff like this was simply not heard before, and this album hit the world like an alien from another planet.

The latest CD version of this also includes some "bonus" cuts which were mostly recorded at the same January '56 sessions as this album but left off of it to be released as singles or used later, including the earlier mentioned debut smash single "Heartbreak Hotel" and it's flip side "I Was The One", as well as another hit single, the ballad "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You", and three killer blues-based rockers, "My Baby Left Me", "Lawdy, Miss Clawdy", and a scorching version of "Shake, Rattle and Roll" with some more blistering lead guitar work from Moore. Elvis is fabulous throughout, the original album alone here is fabulous, and with these six added tracks, it is incredible.

To listen to some soundclips from Elvis Presley or to purchase it click on:

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