Late last night, I was looking through the website of Memphis’ finest publication when I came across a story they had linked from Britain’s The Register. One of the writers from the Register, in a fit of boredom so deep that I hope it never overtakes mer, sat down and compiled a list of the seven best Elvis Presley albums ever.
The problem with this article, with any such article really, is that Elvis’s time came and went before the true rise of the album. An album is a collection of songs that actually sound like they go together, and some thought is actually put into maintaining the listener’s attention past the two or three commercially viable singles.
There was no such strategy in the recordings of Elvis Presley, or for that matter, the Beatles before Revolver, the Beach Boys, or any other artist of the era. Had any of these act screwed up monumentally and recorded eight great tracks during one trip to the studio, the record labels would have sent them back to phone in some blather and spread the good eight cuts over three, perhaps four albums that were designed to consist of two good songs and a half hour of the drummer farting onto a high hat. To put it mildly, any Elvis album was a Hunka Hunka Burning Shit. They were victims of their times, times when the record companies believed in pushing three singles instead of an album.
There are no individual albums that sum up the “legacy” of Elvis, unless you count the fact that the record industry seems bound and determined to go back to the “ten minutes killer, fifty minutes filler” business model. But here is where you can find the best of the best from Elvis— You buy these collections, and you will need absolutely nothing else.
The Top Ten Hits
There are several collections of his that have “all the number one hits”. Of course, if you get one of those, you miss the coolest Elvis song of all time, “Love Me”, which peaked at #2. If you can sing that song to a woman even half as convincingly as Elvis did and not get laid that night, you have less game than anyone I’ve ever met. You certainly get a lot of the Vegas-y schlock of his later years (After all, he was still turning out top ten songs almost to the end), but you easily get the best of the best out of these 38 tracks.
Aloha From Hawaii
Elvis’s music was, towards the end, as bloated as he was. Forget the stripped down rock and roll sound— The jumpsuited man that took the stage that night was surrounded by a 40 piece orchestra, more backup singers than there are members of the average band, and guitar so low in the mix that had the genius Scotty Moore fallen asleep on stage, it would have taken four songs to notice. But the man had a serious set of pipes, and sang “My Way” so incredibly well on this album that no one under the age of sixty thinks of Sinatra when you mention the song. On the downside, I think “See See Rider” makes up half the album (Whose idea was that) and the aforementioned “Love Me” was embarrassing. And— Come on. “Johnny B. Goode” with a horn section? Whose idea was that?
33 year-old Elvis Presley walked down the street one day surrounded by the large and ever-growing number of leeches that managed to make a living by keeping him company, and something strange happened— No one recognized him. He was putting out two or three utterly forgettable movies per year (A bad movie record that rivals Burt Reynolds) and the soundtracks which, unfortunately, didn’t even manage enough memorable songs to draw in anyone but the Elvis diehards. He said “Screw this. I wanna be a rock star again.” In a format that would later be aped by MTV Unplugged, he sat down with a hollow body guitar, Scotty Moore, DJ Fontana, and a few others, and sang his royal ass off. The sound was beautifully stripped down to its most basic elements, and rawer than anything he had recorded since before he joined the army. Forget the “Elvis” collection— Your CD collection is incomplete if you do not own this. It’s like having a kitchen without a saucepan. As if there is further need to explain how ridiculously shit-all stupid Elvis’s manager was, Colonel Tom Parker wanted ‘68 Comeback to be Elvis singing Christmas songs.
“Peace In the Valley: The Complete Gospel Collection”
Play this album for an atheist, and you will make a true believer of him. While he made his living gyrating his hips in a way that gave the old ladies at church the vapors, he was really a nice southern boy that loved his Mama and loved God. You have to listen to this one not only because the vocals are phenomenal (And they are), but because this is where you find the true dichotomy that is Elvis; He was the international sex symbol that ultimately was just as happy singing “How Great Thou Art” as he was making panties wet crooning “Love Me Tender”. Men that sing gospel like this do not overdose on the toilet.
And there, sadly, you have it. Even though they have nowhere near the product, you will spend much more money buying everything memorable released by Pink Floyd than you will buying everything memorable by Elvis Presley. And that’s a sad legacy for a man with that kind of talent.